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AUCTOR´ITAS PATRUM Few points in the constitution of Rome have been more discussed, and still divide opinion more, than the nature of the patrum auctoritas. Livy (1.17) tells us that on the occasion of the election of Numa Pompilius, the senate, with the intention of securing the favour of the people, enacted that when the people had chosen (iussisset) a king, it should be valid si patres auctores fierent. The same phrase occurs in describing the elections of Tullus (100.22) and of Ancus (100.32). The first question that arises is whether by patres is meant senators or patricians. Cicero (de Rep. 2.13, 17, 18, 20) does not mention expressly the patrum auctoritas (though in 100.13 he has the phrase patribus auctoribus), but in each case speaks of a Lex Curiata de imperio proposed by the king to the Comitia after his election. Niebuhr, whose opinion was long generally accepted, identified the two (cf. Becker, Handbuch, 2.1, 316-331; Marquardt, 2.3, 184) as the same thing under different phrases. But this is based upon two theories, both of them now shown to be erroneous. In the first place it identifies the populus with the patres (patricians); for Cicero says expressly of Hostilius, “de imperio suo exemplo Pompilii populum consuluit curiatim;” but there is not the slightest warrant for this assumption (cf. Seeley on Livy, 1.17). Secondly, it supposes the Comitia Curiata to have been a purely patrician body, which it certainly was not [COMITIA]; and, besides, the patrum auctoritas was given to laws as well as to elections. Hence Niebuhr's view now finds few defenders. The most important of these is Lange (Röm. Alterth. 1.265 ff.); the strongest argument he adduces is drawn from Livy, 6.42, where we are told in reference to the election of the first plebeian consul, “patricii se auctores futuros negabant:” and then a decree was made by the senate, “ut patres auctores omnibus eius anni comitiis fierent.” This is certainly fatal to the view commonly held before Niebuhr, which Livy's language in 1.17 seems to show that he held himself, that the patres were identical with the senate. It is not inconsistent with the second explanation, put forward by Huschke and Rubino, and now supported by Mommsen (Röm. Forsch. 1.233 ff.) and Madvig (Verf. 1.233 ff.). These scholars hold that in this case, as in that of an interregnum, patres denotes the patrician portion of the senate, and that the Lex Curiata de imperio was totally different from the patrum auctoritas. This is certainly the most natural interpretation of the language of Cicero (de Rep. 2.13). And it appears to be proved to demonstration by a comparison of Livy, 6.41, “nec centuriatis nec curiatis comitiis patres auctores fiant,” which makes it impossible to identify patres with Curiata Comitia, with the passage above quoted from 6.42, which is as great an obstacle to identifying them with the senate. It is further to be noticed that the term auctoritas, “sanction,” is well suited to the act of a portion of the people, but quite inapplicable to the resolve of the whole body. It is no serious objection to this view that the term patricii auctores fiunt is sometimes used (Liv. 6.42, 27.8, 1; Sall. Frag. Hist. 3.82, 15, Kr.; Dion. H. 2.60, 6.90; Gaius, 1.3), for the term patricii would be a natural one to use of the patrician section of the senate.

We have five instances on record of the attempted refusal of this patrum auctoritas, all instances in which some constitutional change was contemplated. Hence it seems to have held in earlier times something like the place of the action of the augurs at a later day (Mommsen, R. F. 1.240 ff.). The significance of the Publilian Law of 339 (Liv. 8.12) was therefore that no merely formal objection should be allowed to interfere with the deliberate choice of the Comitia Centuriata, but “ut legum, quae comitiis centuriatis ferrentur, ante initum suffragium patres auctores fierent.” A Lex Maenia early in the 3rd century B.C. (Cic. Brut. 14, 55) extended the same rule to elections.

A third view, which has found some support of late, is that put forward by Peter (Epochen der Verfassungs, Leipzig, 1841), adopted with some modifications by Schwegler (Röm. Gesch. 2.155-173) and Walter (Röm. Rechtsgesch. 1.23, n. 55, 56; § 41, n. 16 ; § 66). This ascribes a double meaning to the term, assuming both in elections and in laws passed by the centuries, first a permissive resolution on the part of the senate, and then, after the voting, a confirmatory decree on the part of the curies, both described by the same term patrum auctoritas. This procedure was then followed in the case of a consul's election by the Lex Curiata de imperio, proposed by the consul himself. There does not appear to be any evidence requiring such a complicated hypothesis. The recorded facts are well explained by Mommsen's simpler view.

The patrum auctoritas must be carefully distinguished from the Senatus auctoritas [SENATUS].


hide References (6 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (6):
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 27, 1
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 27, 8
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 6, 42
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 6, 41
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 8, 12
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 1, 17
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