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CENTUM´VIRI

CENTUM´VIRI The history of the court of the Centumviri is obscure. It formed one of the two permanent courts or collegia of plebeian judges, instituted probably by Servius Tullius (Niebuhr, 1.472), and exercising jurisdiction at least from the time of that king until, perhaps, the fall of the Western Empire. The other [p. 1.405]collegium--that of the decemviri--was, according to Pomponius (Dig. 1.2, 2, 29; confirmed by Plin. Ep. 5.21, and D. C. 54, 26), in some way combined with the centumviri in the presidential functions, though they had an exclusive jurisdiction in questions relating to free-dom. The actual number of centumviri varied at different periods. Festus (s. v. centumviralia judicia) says that they were nominated by the praetor, three being taken from each of the thirty tribes: the ninety thus obtained would, with the presiding decemviri, make up the exact sum which the name denotes. When the number of tribes was increased in B.C. 241 to 35, there were 105 centumviri; but the old name was retained, according to Festus, “quo facilius nominarentur,” and under the empire the number had risen to 180 (Plin. Ep. 6.33). At this time it is improbable that they were any longer selected from the tribes, between whose number and their own there was no relation: from the passage of Dio Cassius referred to above, one might conjecture that they were taken by lot from the decuriae judicum instituted by Augustus, and from Ovid (Ov. Tr. 2.96) that no one could escape the duty if drawn. It would seem that under the republic the court had no jurisdiction unless the whole number of members sat together, for it was only in the aggregate that they represented the people; but later (probably under Augustus) it was divided into four divisions or sub-courts, which sat and judged apart and independently of each other for the quicker despatch of business (Quintil. Inst. 13.5, 6), though some causes were heard by two divisions sitting together (ib. 5.2, 1), and others even by the whole united body (ib. 6.33), which then (Plin. Ep. 5.21), as under the republic, was presided over by a praetor. The old custom was for the court to sit in the open forum, but in Quintilian's time (12.5, 6) the four divisions sat on raised seats (tribunalia) in the Basilica Julia.

The procedure before the centumviri was always that of the legis actio called sacramentum. Even when the legis actiones in the aggregate were swept away by the Lex Aebutia, circ. 240 B.C. (Voigt), the old process was expressly retained by that statute for centumviralia judicia (Gaius, 4.31; Gel. 16.10) ; so that where an action was to be tried in this manner the solemn formalities of sacramentum (described by Gaius, 4.16, 17) had first to be gone through in jure, before the praetor, who then remitted it for trial to the centumviri: but the latter were never instructed (like a judex privatus) by formula [ACTIO], probably because they could get all the information which a judge got from the formula from the praetor himself, who was their president.

It seems to be the better opinion that the jurisdiction of the centumviri was limited to civil causes: the assumption that they dealt also with criminal matters (for which the only substantial authority is Phaedrus, Fab. 3.10) is rebutted by Dionys. A. R. 4.25, and appears improbable from all our knowledge of the subject. The civil suits which fell under their cognisance specially were those known as Real actions (Cic. de Orat. 1.38, 173), while the decemviri were more particularly concerned with questions of status (libertas, civitas, familia: Cic. pro Caec. 33, 97; pro Domo 29, 78). The Real actions comprise all suits claiming property or jura in re aliena, such as a right of way, a usufruct, &c., and those relating to inheritances; the scope of the centumviral jurisdiction is denoted by the planting of the hasta (the symbol of Quiritarian ownership) in the ground where the court was sitting (Suet. Octav. 36; Quintil. Inst. 5.2, 1; Gaius, 4.16), and by the use of the festuca in the sacramental procedure.

The constant tendency, however, was to narrow the jurisdiction of the centumviral court. The effect of the Lex Aebutia was to establish an alternative procedure in Real actions: they might in future be tried before the centumviri by sacramentum, or before a single judex (instructed by formula), either by formula petitoria or per sponsionem (Gaius, 4.91); and all the evidence goes to show that either the praetor or the parties preferred trial by a single judex. At least, under the empire, actions relating to inheritances and causae centumvirales are almost considered synonymous expressions (Plin. Ep. 5.1, 7; Quintil. Inst. 3.10, 3, 7.2, 5; Paul. Sent. rec. 4.16, 2; Hieron. Ep. ad Dom. 50), and it is not improbable that the Lex Julia de judiciis privatis of Augustus (Gaius, 4.30) limited the centumviri to causes of this kind. The special sphere of their activity was the Querela inoffciosi testamenti; a remedy which had entirely originated in the practice of their court. Cicero (Cic. de Orat. 1.38, 56; pro Caec. 18, 53) and Quintilian (Inst. 4.2, 5) speak of the subtle, nature of many of the questions which came before the centumviri; and the younger Pliny, who practised in their court (Ep. 2.18), makes frequent allusion to it in his letters (1.5, 5.50, 9.23): it is also referred to in Dig. 5, 2, 13; ib. 17, pr.; 34, 3, 30; and in Cod. 3, 31, 12, pr.; 6, 28, 4, pr.

Fuller information on the subject will be found in Bethmann-Hollweg, Ueber die Competent des Centumviralgerichts (Savigny, Zeitschrift, 5.11); Tigerström, de judicibus apud Romanos; C. A. Schneider, de Centumviralis judicii apud Romanos origine; Zumpt, Ueber Ursprung, Form, und Bedeutung des Centumviralgerichts; C. Janssen, in Monogr. liber verschied. Theile der Rechtswissenschaft.

[J.B.M]

hide References (7 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (7):
    • Cicero, For Aulus Caecina, 33
    • Cicero, On Oratory, 1.38
    • Pliny the Younger, Epistulae, 5.1
    • Pliny the Younger, Epistulae, 5.21
    • Pliny the Younger, Epistulae, 5.7
    • Pliny the Younger, Epistulae, 6.33
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 16.10
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