assemblies of the people at Rome, for the
purpose of transacting business. They were thus distinguished, on the one
hand, from the contio
), which was a meeting summoned to listen to an
address from a magistrate, but incapable of passing any resolution, and from
the general term for a
gathering; hence applied to meetings of sections of the people, especially
the concilium plebis,
or to meetings in foreign
nations, either of the whole people or of delegates. According to the
primitive conception in the time of the kings, all power ultimately rested
with the assembly of the citizens; it was only so far as it delegated power
to the king and vowed obedience to him that this supreme authority of the
people was limited; and according to the spirit of the constitution, every
innovation in practice or change in the existing law required the assent of
the citizens. Every proposal (rogatio
) had to
be laid before the people by the king himself: no one was allowed to discuss
it, but those to whom he gave permission; and the people then gave or
refused their assent. The assembly was summoned (comitia
) regularly twice in the year, on March 24th and May
24th, and as often besides as seemed good to the king. They met in the
curies [CURIAE, and apparently the answer to be
given to the king was decided by the vote of the majority of the curies.
The first step towards the reform of this primitive constitution was that
which is associated with the name of Servius Tullius. The historical
circumstances of this change are veiled in the darkness which covers the
whole legendary history of the kings. But it is clear from the facts implied
that it was brought about only when the community had outgrown its earlier
limits, and when its territory included at least that which had belonged to
the neigh-bouring state of Alba. The primary purpose of this change was to
incorporate all owners of land in the Roman territory in the ranks of the
army, so that military service should not fall, as heretofore, solely upon
the citizens. Hence all members of the state were classed according to the
property which they possessed, and this classification was made the basis of
the military organisation of the state. But by degrees the assembly of the
citizens so classified, representing, as it did, the fighting force of the
state, acquired important powers, and in fact came to be regarded for many
purposes as the
representative assembly of the
citizens. It has been conjectured with much probability, but it can hardly
be said to be demonstrated (Mommsen, Hist.
1.264), that this important change was brought about at the time of the
expulsion of the kings.
The plebeians were now admitted to a share in the popular assembly, but with
such restrictions that the power lay entirely in the hands of the wealthier
citizens (see below). The financial distress of the poorer classes
necessitated further reforms: and in B.C. 495 tribunes of the commons were
It was probably at this time that the division of the Roman territory into
four tribes (introduced by the Servian constitution) was replaced by the
creation of twenty tribes-four belonging to the city, sixteen to the country
districts; but the assembly over which the tribunes presided still met in
curies, in which the voting was by heads--a circumstance which gave great
power to the wealthier families, inasmuch as all their clients had a right
of voting. By the Publilian law of B.C. 471 a most important change was
introduced. One more tribe, the Crustuminian--deriving its name from the
place where first the plebs
by secession won
the right to an independent organisation--was added, in order to preclude
the possibility of an equality of votes; and henceforward the assemblies of
the commons were held, not by curies, but by tribes. But the basis of the
tribes was the possession of land, whether in small or large amount; none
voted but freeholders, and thus the clients were excluded, and the assembly
of the tribes became an assembly of the independent middle classes, where
there was a property qualification, but where the large landholder had no
more weight in voting than his poorer neighbour. (Cf. Mommsen, Hist.
1.282 = Röm. Gesch.
We thus find in existence within the first half century of the Roman republic
three distinct assemblies of the people, which now call for separate
consideration in greater detail.
I. COMITIA CURIATA (ἐκκλησία φρατρική
). Under the kings, as we have seen, this was the only
assembly of the people. It was always presided over by the king in person:
the statement in Dionysius (4.71
apparently confirmed by Livy (1.59
), that the tribunus celerum
had this right in the absence of
the king, rests upon a complete misapprehension of the nature of this
office. Under the republic the presiding magistrate was always a consul,
praetor, or dictator (Liv. 9.38
; Cic. de Leg. Agr. 2
, 11, 27). The
citizens were summoned by a lictor (Gel. 15.27
Dionys. A. R. 2.7
). The votes were
given by curies, each citizen having one vote, and the majority of
individual votes determining the vote of the curia (Gell. 1. c.;
A. R. 2.14
). We have no means of knowing what was done in the case of an
equality of votes, a result not impossible with an even number of curies.
The votes of the curies were all taken at the same time; but it was decided
by lot in what order the votes should be announced: that first reported was
called the principium
). The meetings
of the curies were always held in the comitium.
The functions of the comitia were limited, as has been already noticed, to
giving or refusing assent to any proposal laid before them by the presiding
magistrate. In theory the power of the king was as unlimited over all
citizens as that of the father over all members of his family. But in
practice he was bound to keep within the limits prescribed by custom, and
every change in the law had to receive the previous sanction of the
assembled citizens. The most important duty of the citizens was to vow
allegiance to the head of the state. Normally it was the privilege of a king
to nominate the successor, who was to make the solemn contract in his turn
with the people. But in the case of a king dying without having done so, the
supreme power (imperium
) and right of invoking
the divine protection (auspicia
) of the state
reverted to the general body of the citizens. They assembled unsummoned and
named an interrex,
a temporary holder of these
rights, who could lawfully convene them, for the election of a second
interrex. It was the duty of the latter then to nominate a king, who might
challenge the allegiance of the citizens. Doubtless he would take means, by
consulting the senate or even the assembled curies, to ascertain who would
be generally acceptable; but legally nothing was necessary but a nomination
by the actual holder of the supreme power. When the citizens had assented on
their part to the formal compact (lex curiata de
) which bound them to allegiance to the king thus
nominated, he was formally installed as the absolute head of the state.
Livy's account (1.17) of the election of Numa is misleading, as suggesting
that as a main feature which was but a subordinate and unessential portion
of the election, viz. the nomination by the senate. When once the reins of
government had been transferred to the new king, the assembly of the people
had nothing further to do with the administration. An appeal to this body
from the judgment of the king was allowed as a matter of grace, but not of
right. It was the custom to consult the assembly in the case of aggressive
war, and in the extension of the franchise to those who were not citizens ;
for both of these involved a change in the circumstances of the original
contract. (Liv. 1.32
; Dionys. A. R. 8.91
.) Hence a lex curiata
was necessary for all acts of adoption (Gel. 5.19
; Tac. Hist.
), and for admission into the curies, whether of foreigners
or of plebeians. Similarly the sanction of the people was required for all
transfers of property, which were to take place after the death of the
owner; that is, for all wills.
After the recognition of the comitia centuriata
as the representative assembly of the people, whether this took place
immediately upon their institution, as is commonly supposed, or in connexion
with the expulsion of the kings, as seems more probable, the power of
passing laws, of electing magistrates, and of declaring war was transferred
to them. But the comitia of the curies continued to meet for various
purposes, mainly formal.
In the first place, the compact by which the citizens bound themselves to
obey the commands of an elected magistrate was still made under the form of
a lex curiata de imperio.
Until this was
passed, no-magistrate could enter upon his office, or be regarded as in
possession of all its privileges (magistratus optima lege
or optimo jure
). In the latter days of the republic this became a
mere form. The curies were represented by thirty lictors (Cic. de Leg. Agr. ii. 12
who met in the presence of three augurs (Cic. Att.
; ad Fam.
13.1) to give the necessary vote;
and their meetings attracted so little attention, that plans might be formed
for prevailing upon three augurs to declare that they had been present at
the passing of a lex curiata,
though no meeting
of the curies had been held (Cic. Fam. 1.9
ad Quint. Fratr.
Secondly, the comitia of the curies continued to meet for business in which
their functions were passive rather than active. In such cases they were
known as comitia calata.
They met when summoned
) in the presence (not, as is often
asserted, under the presidency) of the three pontiffs (pro collegio pontificum:
) on the Capitol in front of the curia
Calabra, an official building assigned to the pontiffs (Varro, de
6.27; Paul. Diac. p. 49, M.). They met (1) to witness
the making of wills, for which purpose in the earlier times meetings were
held regularly twice in the year (Gaius, 2.101), though this custom after
fell into disuse (Gaius, 2.103); (2) to witness the detestatio sacrorum,
a solemn renunciation of the sacra
of the original gens, which was made in cases
or adoption; (3) to inaugurate the
flamens and the rex sacrorum; and (4) to hear from the pontiffs on the
calends of each month on what days the nones and ides would fall, and the
nature of the other days, whether fasti
nefasti, comitiales, feriae,
; Serv. ad Aen. 8.654
; Varro, de Ling. Lat.
It is possible, however, from the language of Gellius (15.27
), that in the last case the comitia
consisted of the centuries, rather than the curies.
II. COMITIA CENTURIATA (ἡ
). In the legislation ascribed to Servius
Tullius, the whole body of Roman citizens was divided into six property
classes and 193 centuriae (λόχοι
) or votes,
from which the assemblies in which the people gave their votes were called
comitia centuriata [CENSUS
this means the poor citizens were compelled to bear their share in military
service, but were unable to exercise any great influence upon public
affairs, for the wealthier classes voted first; and if they agreed among
themselves, they formed a majority before the poorer classes would be called
upon to vote at all. The whole people was conceived as an army (exercitus,
or, according to the more ancient term,
Dionys. A. R. 4.18
; Fabius Pictor in
), and was therefore divided into
two parts: the cavalry (equites
) and infantry
), though it is not by any means
necessary to suppose that the people assembled in arms. The infantry was
divided into five classes, or, as Dionysius has it, into six classes, for he
regards the whole body of people, whose property did not come up to the
census of the fifth class, as a sixth. The class to which a citizen
belonged, determined [p. 1.505]
or war tax, he had to pay,> as well as the
kind of service he had to perform in the army and the armour in which he had
to serve. But for the purpose of voting in the comitia, each class was
subdivided into a number of centuries (centuriae:
probably because each was conceived to contain 100
men, though the centuries may have greatly differed in the number of the
and the other of the juniores.
Each century, further, was counted as one
vote, so that a class had as many votes as it contained centuries. In like
manner, the equites were divided into a number of centuries or votes. The
two principal authorities on these subdivisions are Livy (1.43
) and Dionysius (4.16
), and the annexed table will show the
census as well as the number of centuries or votes assigned to each class,
and the order in which they voted.
According to Livy.
|I. CLASSIS. Census: 100,000 asses.
|II. CLASSIS. Census: 75,000 asses.
|III. CLASSIS. Census: 50,000 asses.
|IV. CLASSIS. Census: 25,000 asses.
|V. CLASSIS. Census: 11,000 asses.
||centuria capite censorum.
According to Dionysius.
|I. CLASSIS. Census: 100 minae (= 100,000
|II. CLASSIS. Census: 75 minae.
||centuriae fabrum (one voting
with the seniores and the other with the juniores).
|III. CLASSIS. Census: 50 minae.
|IV. CLASSIS. Census: 25 minae.
||centuriae cornicinum and
tubicinum (one voting with the seniores, and the other with the
|V. CLASSIS. Census: 12 1/2 minae.
|VI. CLASSIS. Census: below 12 1/2
||centuria capite censorum.
According to both Dionysius and Livy, the equites voted in eighteen centuries
before the seniores of the first class; and hence there were, according to
Livy, altogether 194, and, according to Dionysius, 193
centuries or votes. Livy's even number
of 194 centuries would have rendered it impossible to obtain an absolute
majority in the comitia; and it has been assumed, that he made a mistake in
the three centuriae accensorum, cornicinum, tubicinum, which he adds to the
fifth class. The account given by Cicero (de Rep.
agrees with that of Dionysius, except that he assigns seventy centuries to
the first class. According to him, the centuries of the knights (18) and of
the first class (70), with one of fabri tignarii,
eight of the other centuries voted with them, made up a clear majority (97)
of the whole. Cf. Madvig, Verf.
i. p. 114 (note). The other
discrepancies between Livy and Dionysius are not of great importance. They
consist in the places assigned to the two centuriae fabrum, the two of the
cornicines and tubicines, and in the census of the fifth class. With regard
to the last point, Dionysius is at any rate more consistent in his
gradation, and in so far deserves to be preferred to Livy.
In this manner all Roman citizens, whether patricians or plebeians, who had
property to a certain amount, were privileged to take part and vote in the
centuriata comitia, and none were excluded except slaves, peregrini, women
and the aerarii. The juniores were all men from the age of seventeen to that
of forty-six; and the seniores, all men from the age of forty-six upwards.
The order of voting was arranged is such a manner, that if the eighteen
centuries of the equites and the eighty centuries of the first class were
agreed upon a measure, the question was decided at once, there being no need
for calling upon the other classes to vote. Hence, although all Roman
citizens appeared in these comitia on a footing of equality, yet by far the
greater power was thrown into the hands of the wealthy.
All the business which had before belonged to the comitia curiata, in the
early days of the republic had been transferred to the comitia centuriata;
that is, they had the right of electing the higher magistrates, of making
laws and of deciding upon war, and afterwards also of concluding peace with
foreign nations. (Cic. de Leg.
, 10; de Div.
(a.) The election of magistrates.
After the presiding
magistrate had consulted with the senate about the candidates who had
offered themselves, he put them to the vote. The magistrates that were
elected by the centuries are the consuls (whence the assembly is called
the praetors (hence comitia praetoria,
military tribunes with consular power (Liv.
), the censors (Liv. 7.22
), and the decemvirs (Liv. 3.33
). There are also
instances of proconsuls being elected by the centuries, but this happened
only in extraordinary cases (Liv. 33.30
). [p. 1.506]
The legislative power of the centuries at
first consisted in their passing or rejecting a measure which was brought
before them by the presiding magistrate in the form of a senatus consultum,
so that the assembly had no right of originating any legislative measure,
but voted only upon such as were brought before them as resolutions of the
senate. (Dionys. A. R. 5.27
. This is not
explicitly stated by any Latin writer.) When a proposal was passed by the
centuries, it became law (lex
). The first law
passed by the centuries of which we have any record was the Lex Valeria de
provocatione (Cic. de Rep.
, 53), and the laws of the Twelve Tables were sanctioned by the
centuries (Liv. 3.34
(c.) The decision upon war,
on ground of a senatus consultum,
likewise belonged to the centuries, and is often mentioned. This was from
the constitutional point of view an act of legislation (Liv. 4.30
). Peace, however, was concluded by a mere senatus
consultum, and without any co-operation of the people, in the early part of
the republic, and perhaps down to the peace of Caudium. (Cf. Rubino,
Ueber Röm. Staatsverf.
(d.) The highest judicial power.
The comitia centuriata were
in the first place the highest court of appeal (D. C.
, &c.; comp. APPELLATIO
), and, in the second, they had to try all
offences committed against the state: hence all cases of perduellio
case involving the life of a Roman citizen, could be decided by any other
court. (Cic. pro Sest.
30, 65; 34, 73:
2.36, 61: de Leg.
3.4, 11: Plb. 6.4
.) This last
right was revived or introduced by the Valerian law (Plut. Publ. 11
), and Spurius Cassius was
condemned by the comitia of the centuries. There is no reason for believing
that the laws of the Twelve Tables increased the power of the centuries in
All the powers which we have here mentioned as possessed by the centuries had
to receive the patrum auctoritas
became valid and binding. But, in the course of time, the assembly shook off
this control, which became merely a formality, and, in the end, the patres
were obliged to give their sanction
beforehand to whatever the centuries might determine. This was effected by
the Publilian law, in B.C. 337 (Liv. 8.12
thus the centuries gradually became powerful enough to dispense with the
sanction of the patres,
so they also acquired
the right of discussing and deciding upon matters which were not brought
before them in the form of a senatus consultum; that is, they acquired the
power of originating measures. In reference to the election of magistrates,
the comitia originally were not allowed to elect any other except those who
were proposed by the president, who himself was entirely guided by the
resolution of the senate; but in the course of time, the people asserted
their right so far as to oblige the president to propose any candidate that
might offer himself, without the previous sanction of the senate. This
change, according to Zonaras (7.344
place in B.C. 482. In legislative measures a senatus consultum was
indispensable, and this senatus consultum was brought before the people by
the consul or the senator who had originated the measure, after it had
previously been exhibited in public for seventeen days, to give the people
an opportunity of becoming acquainted with the nature of the proposed law.
(Appian, App. BC 1.59
; Cic. pro Sest.
51, 109; in
15, 34.) Whether the comitia required a senatus consultum
in cases where they acted as the supreme court of justice, is uncertain ; at
least we have no example of a senatus consultum in such a case on record.
The comitia centuriata could be held only on dies
on which it
was lawful to transact business with people, and the number of such days in
every year was about 190 (Varro, de L. L.
6.29; Fest. s. v.
); but on dies
(that is, dies festi,
and at first also on the nundinae, no comitia could be held (Plin. Nat. 18.13
; Paul. Diac. p. 171),
until in B.C. 287 the Hortensian law ordained that the nundinae should be
regarded as dies fasti (Macr. 1.16
), so that
henceforth comitia might be held on the nundinae, though it was done rarely.
Comitia for the purpose of passing laws could not even be held on all dies
fasti (Cic. de prov. Cons. 19
45). The comitia for elections took place every year at a certain period
), though it depended upon the
senate and the consuls as to whether they wished the elections to take place
earlier or later than usual (Cic. pro
, 24; ad Fam.
The place where the centuries met was necessarily outside the pomoerium;
the place selected was sometimes in luco Petelino
), or in aesculeto
(Plin. Nat. 16.37
), but usually in the
Campus Martius (Cic. ad Q. Frat.
; Dionys. A. R. 4.84
), which contained the saepta
for the voters, a tribunal for the president, and the villa publica for the
augurs. (Cic. pro Rab. Perd.
, 11; Gellius, 14.7
; Varro, de
6.87.) The president at the comitia was the same
magistrate who convoked them, and this right was a privilege of the consuls,
and, under some circumstances, of the praetors. (Cic. Fam. 10.1. 2
) An interrex and dictator also, or his
representative, the magister equitum, might likewise convene and preside at
the comitia. (Liv. 8.23
; Cic. de Leg.
, 10.) At the beginning of the republic, the praefectus urbi held
the comitia for the election of the first consuls (Liv.
); and the censors assembled the people only on account of
the census and the lustrum (Varro, de L. L.
6.86). In cases
when the assembly was constituted as a court of justice, the tribunes of the
plebs, after having obtained the permission of the consuls, sometimes appear
as prosecuting (Liv. 26.3
). One of the main
duties devolving upon the president, and which he had to perform before
holding the comitia, was to consult the auspices (auspicari
). For this purpose, the magistrate accompanied by
an augur went out of the city early in the morning, and chose a tabernaculum
or templum. There the augur began his observations, and gave his opinion
either that the comitia might be held, or that they must be deferred till
another day. This declaration was given to the magistrate; and when the
auspices were favourable, the people were called together, which was done by
three successive and distinct acts: the first was quite a general invitation
to come to the assembly (inlicium,
de L. L.
6.94; comp. 86, [p. 1.507]
At the same time when this invitation was proclaimed circum muros
or de muris,
was blown, which being the more audible signal, is mentioned by some writers
alone, and without the inlicium (Gellius, 15.27
Varro, de L. L.
5.91). When upon this signal the people
assembled--in the earlier days armed, as for a march--there followed the
second call by the accensus, or the call ad
to a regular assembly, and the crowd then separated, grouping themselves
according to their classes and ages (Varro, de L. L.
Hereupon the consul appeared, ordering the people to come ad comitia centuriata;
and led the whole exercitus
--for in these comitia the Roman people are always
conceived as an exercitus--out of the city, to the Campus Martius (Varro,
). It was customary from the earliest
times for an armed force to occupy the Janiculum, when the people were
assembled in the Campus Martius, for the purpose of protecting the city
against any sudden attack of the neighbouring people; and on the Janiculum a
red flag (vexillum
) was hoisted, during the
whole time that the assembly lasted. This custom continued to be observed
even at the time when Rome had no longer anything to fear from the
neighbouring tribes (Liv. l.c.;
; D. C.
, &c.; Serv. ad Aen.
). When the people were regularly assembled, the business was
commenced with a solemn sacrifice, and a prayer of the president, who then
took his seat on his tribunal (Dionys. A. R.
; Liv. 31.7
; Cic. pro Muren. 1
; Liv. 26.2
). The president then opened the business
by laying before the people the subject for the decision upon which they had
been convened, beginning with the formula quod bonum,
felix, faustum fortunatumque sit
(Cic. de Div. 1.4. 5
, 102), and concluding his
exposition with the words velitis, jubeatis
e.g. bellum indici,
ut M. Tullio aqua igni interdictum sit,
or whatever the
subject might be. This formula was the standing one in all comitia, and the
whole exposition of the president was called rogatio
; Cic. de Fin.
2.16, 54; in
29, 72; pro Dom.
17, 45; Gel. 5.19
). When the comitia were assembled for the purpose of
an election, the presiding magistrate had to read out the names of the
candidates, of which a list had been published at least a trinundinum
previously, and might exercise his influence by
recommending the one whom he thought most fit for the office in question
). He was, however, not obliged to announce the names of all
the candidates that offered themselves; as, for example, if a candidate had
not attained the legitimate age, or when he sued for one office without
having been invested with those through which he had to pass previously, or
if there was any other legal obstacle; nay, the president might declare,
that if a person, to whom he had any such objection, should yet be elected,
he would not recognise his election as valid (Liv.
; Velleius, 2.92). If the assembly had been convened
for the purpose of passing a legislative measure, the president usually
recommended the proposal, or he might grant to others, if they desired it,
permission to speak about the measure, either in its favour or against it
&c., 42.34; Appian, App. BC 1.11
D. C. 38.4
; Quint. Inst. 2.4.3
). In this case, however, it was customary for
private persons to speak before any magistrate. When the comitia acted as a
court of justice, the president stated the crime, proposed the punishment to
be inflicted upon the offender, and then allowed others to speak either in
defence of the accused or against him. Sometimes, however, although the
consul presided, the tribunes acted as prosecutors (cf. Bouché
Leclercq, Institutions Romaines,
When the subject brought before the assembly was sufficiently discussed, the
president called upon the people to prepare for voting by the words ite in suffragium, bene juvantibus dis
). If the number of citizens present at
the assembly was thought too small, the decision might be deferred till
another day, but this was rarely done, and a question was usually put to the
vote, if each century was but represented by a few citizens (Liv. 7.18
; Cic. pro
51, 109; de Leg. Agr.
2.9; Plut. TG 16
; D. C.
). The leges tabellariae ordained that the votes should be given
in writing [LEGES TABELLARIAE]. But previous to
the leges tabellariae, the rogatores, who subsequently collected the written
votes, stood at the entrance of the saepta, and asked every citizen for his
vote, which was taken down, and used to determine the vote of each century
(Dionys. A. R. 7.64
). In legislative
assemblies, the voter, probably from the earliest times, signified his
disapproval by the word antiquo,
approval by uti rogas
; Cic. de Leg. 2.1.
, 24). The two tablets which were given to each person for the
purpose of voting on legislative measures were marked the one with VR, and
the other with A (uti rogas
Cic. Att. 1.1. 4
). At elections, the name
of the successful candidate was mentioned to the rogator, who had to mark
the favourable votes by dots which he made by the side of the name: hence
to be successful (Liv. 10.13
; Hor. Ep. 2.2
). The custom of voting at elections by
tablets with the name of the candidates written on them, was introduced in
B.C. 139, by the Lex Gabinia tabellaria (Cic.
de Leg. 3.1. 6
, 35); two years later L.
Cassius introduced the same custom, in cases of the comitia acting as a
court of justice (Cic. Brut. 27
), and afterwards it was established
also in legislative assemblies, and in cases where the comitia tried persons
for perduellio [LEGES TABELLARIAE]. At elections,
the citizens obtained blank tablets, that they might write upon them the
name of the candidate for whom they voted (Cic.
; Plut. C.
5, Cat. Min.
46; Plin. Ep. 4.25
). In judicial assemblies, every citizen received
two tablets marked A (absolvo
) and C (condemno
), and, according to Pseudo-Ascon. p.
108athird tablet containing the letters N. L. (non
); but this last statement is probably transferred by
mistake from the practice in the law-courts. There were in the Campus
Martins saepta or enclosures, originally marked off only by ropes, but
afterwards formed by palisades, tabulata
(Cic. pro Mil. 15
, 41; Ovid, Ov. Fast. 1.53
; Serv. on Verg. Ecl. 1.34
), and later on [p. 1.508]
by marble walls
(Cic. Att. 4.1. 6
), into which one
class of citizens was admitted after another for the purpose of voting. The
first that entered were the eighteen centuries of the equites; then followed
the first class, and so on. It very rarely happened that the lowest class
was called upon to vote, as there was no necessity for it, unless the first
class did not agree with the equites (Dionys.
A. R. 4.20
; Liv. 1.43
). In this case, however,
was kept quite distinct from the
comitia (Cic. pro Flacc. 7
15), and was held not in the ovile,
but in some
neighbouring place, e. g. the circus Flaminius,
before the final summons of the consul (exercitum
). On entering the saepta, the
citizens received their tablets (Cic. Att. 1.1.
; de Leg.
3.17; in Pis.
6, 14); and when they had consulted within the
enclosures, they passed out of them again by a pons
at which they threw their vote
into a chest (cista
) which was watched by
Hereupon the diribitores
classified and counted the votes, and reported
the result to the presiding magistrate. That there was a separate body of
who again checked them off by
points marked on a tablet, is a very doubtful inference from Cic. in Pis. 15
rogatores, vos diribitores, vos custodes tabellarum.” The order
in which the centuries voted was determined in the Servian constitution, in
the manner described above; but after the union of the centuries and tribes,
the order was determined by lot; and this was a matter of no slight
importance, since it frequently happened that the vote of the first
determined the manner in which subsequent ones voted. The voting, of course,
was continued, until the majority was ascertained. In the case of elections,
the successful candidate was proclaimed twice,--first, by the praeco, and
then by the president, with a prayer that the choice might have the blessing
of the gods (Cic. pro Mur. 1
1), and without this renuntiatio the election was not valid. After all the
business was done, the president dismissed the assembly with the word
Cases are frequently mentioned in which the proceedings of the assembly were
disturbed, so that it was necessary to defer the business till another day.
This occurred--(1) when it was discovered that the auspices had been
unfavourable, or when the> gods manifested their displeasure by rain,
thunder, or lightning; (2) when a tribune interceded (Liv. 45.21
; Dionys. A. R.
; Cic. in Vat. 2
(3) when the sun set before the business was over, for it was a principle
that the auspices were valid only for one day from sunrise to sunset (Varro,
de L. L.
7.51; D. C. 39.65
; Dionys. A. R. 9.41
when a morbus comitialis
occurred, i. e. when
one of the assembled citizens was seized with an epileptic fit (D. C. 46.33
; Gellins, 19.2; Macr. 2.8
); (5) when the vexillum was taken away from the
Janiculum, this being a signal which all citizens had to obey (Liv. 39.15
; D. C.
; Macr. 1.16
); (6) when any tumult
or insurrection broke out in the city, as happened now and then during the
latter period of the republic (Cic. pro Sest.
36, 78). In all these cases, the assembly had to continue its business on
some other day, sometimes on the next. The only exception seems to have been
in the case of the election of the censors, for if both could not be elected
on the same day, it was necessary to begin the election afresh; and if one
had been elected, his election was not valid (Liv.
The organisation of the comitia centuriata, as constituted by the Servian
legislation, under-went during the time of the republic a very material
change, as to the date, purpose, and nature of which we are unfortunately
reduced to conjecture. The only positive statements upon the subject are
contained in two passages, one in Livy and one in Dionysius, which have been
made the subject of the most various inter-pretations. Livy (1.43
) says: “Nec mirari oportet hunc ordinem,
qui nunc est post expletus quinque et triginta tribus duplicate earum
numero centuriis juniorum seniorumque, ad institutam ab Servio Tullio
summam non convenire.”
Dionys. A. R. 4.21
, after describing the
Servian constitution, goes on to say: ἐν δὲ τοῖς
καθ᾽ ἡμᾶς κεκίνηται χρόνοις, καὶ μεταβέβληκεν εἰς τὸ
δημοτικώτερον, ἀνάγκαις τισὶ Βιασθεὶς ἰσχυραῖς, οὐ τῶν λόχων
καταλυθέντων, ἀλλὰ τῆς κλήσεως αὐτῶν αὐκέτι τὴν ἀρχαίαν
ἀκρίβειαν φυλαττούσης, ὡς ἔγνων ταῖς ἀρχαιρεσίαις αὐτῶν
The fact of such a change is also implied in
the phrase of Cicero turn quidem,
in his description
of the Servian centuries (de
2.22, 40), and in the use of the term tribus
in connexion with assemblies of the centuries (Cic.
20, 49, &c.). The date
of the change may be assigned with some probability to the year B.C. 241.
Two passages in Livy seem at first to point to an earlier date; but in 5.18
(B.C. 396) there is little doubt that for jure vocatis
we should read with Mommsen iis
and in 6.21 (B.C. 383) the phrase omnes tribus bellum jusserunt
is unquestionably an
inaccurate expression, corrected by his own language in 10.22. The chief
reason for the Servian classification had indeed been removed by the
introduction of the custom of paying soldiers in B.C. 408, but it by no
means follows that the institution was remodelled as soon as it ceased to be
theoretically equitable. Livy assumes the existence of the change in his
third decade (24.7-9, 26.22), where we find the democratic party able to
carry their candidates in the comitia
It is not likely that it was one of the measures
carried by C. Flaminius in his censorship (B.C. 220), or it would have been
mentioned among his other popular acts (Liv. Ep.
xx.; Plb. 2.21
); hence it is most natural to assume that
it accompanied the creation of the last 35th) tribe Quirina
in the censorship of C. Aurelius Cotta and M. Fabius
Buteo in B.C. 241. As to the nature of the change, it is clear, in the first
place, that the division into centuries was not abandoned. This is proved
beyond doubt by all our authorities. Nor was the principle of division into
abandoned. The five classes also continued to exist, but
probably with an alteration in the amount of property required of the
several classes, corresponding to the altered value of money [AS
]. The first satisfactory
explanation of the relation of the tribes to the centuries was given by
Octavius Pantagathus (died 1567; quoted by Ursinus on Liv. 1.43
). His view has been much attacked, but with some
modifications it has been accepted [p. 1.509]
by the best
modern authorities (e.g. Marquardt, Lange, and Mommsen), and has been
confirmed by epigraphic evidence. According to this theory, each of the 35
tribes contained 5 centuries of seniores
so that the total number was 350.
Whether the equites were included in the centuries of the first class, or
formed 35 distinct centuries of their own, or continued to be divided into
18 centuries, which, along with the 4 centuries fabrum,
&c., and the century capite
would make the total 350 + 18 + 4 + 1 (the view
defended by Lange, 2.477 ff.), it is perhaps impossible to determine. It
appears from many inscriptions (cf. Mommsen, Röm.
p. 76 f.) that the half-tribes consisting of the centuriae seniorum
and the centuriae juniorum
respectively were usually considered as
distinct bodies, so that we find tribus Esquilina
or tribus Palatina corporis junioris,
and the like. This appears to be what Livy means in the ambiguous words
duplicato earum numero
in the passage
quoted above. Madvig, however (Röm. Verf.
still holds to the view of Niebuhr, that this must mean that the number of
centuries was twice that of the tribes, and therefore assumes that the
of each tribe formed one century, so that the total number
was 70. He confesses that it is not possible to explain how this hypothesis
can be reconciled with the continued existence of the classes, which is an
unquestioned fact (Cic. Phil. 2.33
; pro Flacc.
3.3, 7, &c.: cf. Sal. Jug. 86
; Gel. 16.10
; Lex Agr.
C. I. L.
1.200, 5.37), and it is quite needless to
interpret the words of Livy in such a way as to create this difficulty. It
is true that the term centuria praerogativa
(Cic. pro Plane.
20, 49; Liv. 26.22
) is used always in the singular, except where there
is a reference to several elections (Fest. p. 249), of the reformed comitia,
as against the centuriae praerogativae
equites under the earlier constitution, and that this now bears the name of
the half-tribe to which it belonged: e.g. Aniensis juniorum
), Veturia juniorum
). But it is natural
to suppose that it was only the centuries of the first class in the several
tribes, which drew lots for the right of voting first, and that hence the
addition of the tribe-name was quite enough to distinguish them. There is no
reason to suppose from the accidental circumstance that the three
prerogative centuries, whose names happen to have been preserved, were all
that these enjoyed any right of
previous voting: the very fact of the addition of the term juniorum
points in the opposite direction.
III. COMITIA TRIBUTA. The researches of Mommsen
have established satisfactorily, against the views previously current and
supported by Niebuhr and his followers, that the Servian tribes were a
division of the land and not of the people of Rome. Hence the fact, for
which there is abundant evidence (Liv. 4.24
, cf. 5.30, 32; Cic. Phil. 9.7
), that the patricians were included in the tribes, and that
several of the tribes bore the names of patrician families. But as citizens
possessed of no freeholds were not included in a division based upon landed
property, there could be no comitia
tribes in the earliest times, for it was essential to the character of
that all citizens should have a
right of taking part in them. It was only after the action of the censors
Appius Claudius (B.C. 312) and Q. Fabius (B.C. 304) had admitted the
landless citizens into the four city-tribes, that comitia
could be held in accordance with the principles of
Roman public law. The earliest extant instances of resolutions passed in the
patricio-plebeian assembly of the tribes dates from the year B.C. 443; but
these are at first limited to the election of quaestors under the presidency
of a consul. In B.C. 367 the same procedure was adopted in the case of the
curule aediles, and it was extended subsequently to the election of minor
ordinary or extraordinary officials, the earliest instance of which is the
election of a part of the military tribunes in B.C. 362 (cf. Cic. de Leg. Agr. 2.7
There is no clear case of a law passed in the comitia
before B.C. 332 (Liv.
), when the praetor L. Papirius brought before the tribes a
proposal to confer the franchise on the people of Acerra. But it is probable
that this procedure had been adopted immediately after the introduction of
the praetorship; for the praetor had no power to summon the centuries except
for criminal proceedings. The comitia tributa
were known as comitia leviora
(Cic. pro Plane.
3, 7); the auspices taken before they
were held were auspicia minora;
elected by them were magistratus minores.
were presided over by patrician magistrates who had the jus cum populo in comitiis tributis agendi,
i.e. the consuls,
the praetors, and (for judicial business only) the curule aediles (Liv. 10.23
Cic. in Verr.
1.12, 36; Gel.
). This view appears to be inconsistent with the statements of
), that in B.C. 449 the
Lex Valeria Horatia ordained ut quod tributim plebs
jussisset, populum teneret,
and of Livy that in B.C. 339 the
dictator Q. Publilius proposed a law ut plebiscita omnes Quirites
But it is highly probable that our authorities have
here simply transferred to resolutions of the plebs
what really applied only to resolutions passed by the
tribes under the presidency of the patrician magistrates (cf. Mommsen,
1.164-5). The correct legal phrase
would have been quod tributim populus jussit.
If we accept this view, the two laws are brought into a natural connexion,
the former with the election of quaestors, the latter with the extended
powers given to the praetor by another Publilian law. The same theory
accounts for a statement in Zonaras (7.19
in B.C. 449 the right of taking the auspices was granted to the tribunes.
This is evidently incorrect as it stands; but it may well be a perversion of
the fact that from that date forwards laws could be passed auspicato
in the assembly of the tribes, under the
presidency of a magistrate who had the right of the auspices.
The comitia tributa,
presided over by a consul
or an extraordinary magistrate replacing him (Liv.
), or by a praetor, elected the quaestors (Tac. Ann. 11.22
), the curule aediles (Liv. 6.42
; Gel. 6.9
), the regular and extraordinary lesser
magistrates (Gel. 13.15
; Cic. de Leg. Agr. 2.7
, 17), and of the tribunes
of the soldiers after B.C. 362 [p. 1.510]
six, after B.C. 311
sixteen (Liv. 7.5
), and at a later date twenty-four (Liv.
). These elections, like those of the comitia centuriata,
required to receive the patrum auctoritas,
which however, after the Lex
Maenia, passed some time in the third century B.C. (Cic. Brut. 14
), was given beforehand in incertum comitiorum
At the election of the pontifex maximus,
according to Livy (25.5
), a pontifex presided;
but if the evidence of Cicero's letters to Brutus (1.5) may be trusted, a
consul presided in his time. The college of pontiffs was first completed by
co-optation, and then seventeen tribes chosen by lot (a minority of the
whole number) voted for the election of one of these as the pontifex maximus
(Cic. de Leg. Agr. 2.7
18; Liv. l.c.
39.46, 40.42; Suet. Jul. 13
). After the Lex Domitia de Sacerdotiis (B.C. 104)
the members of the three great and politically important colleges of
) viri sacris
were elected in the following manner. The
candidates, usually three in number, were nominated, each by not more than
two of the college (Cic. Phil. 2.2
1, 1); the election
was made by the people in seventeen tribes (comitia
) chosen by lot, and the elected candidate co-opted
into the college, as previously.
The Lex Domitia was repealed by Sulla in B.C. 83, but its provisions were
re-enacted by the Lex Atia of B.C. 63. The purpose of this curious method of
election was to take the real selection out of the hands of the college,
without formally resorting to election by the whole people.
For the legislative and judicial functions of the comitia
We must keep entirely distinct from the comitia
the assemblies of the tribes under the presidency of the
plebeian magistrates, i. e. the tribunes and the plebeian aediles, who had
the jus cum plebe agendi
(Fest. p. 293; Cic. de Leg. 2.1. 2
, 31). The
technical name for these was concilium plebis;
and the term comitia tributa,
applied to them by modern writers, is quite destitute of authority. But it
will be convenient to treat of them under the present head, inasmuch as they
constituted one, and in course of time one of the most important, of the
assemblies of the people at Rome.
The distinguishing feature of the concilium
was that, as it was summoned and presided over by
magistrates who had no right of summoning patricians (Gel. 15.27
), it could not be regarded as an assembly of the
whole people, and any resolutions which it passed were not strictly speaking
but only plebi
although we find the term lex
sometimes employed, and ultimately even lex.
(Cp. Mommsen, Röm.
1.195.) The two requisites which were necessary for leges
--(1) that they should be proposed under
favourable auspices, and (2) that they should receive the auctoritas patrum
--were both absent in the case of the
From the legal point of
view the assemblies of the plebs were nothing more than the meetings of any
other recognised corporation under the presidency of its elected head,
passing resolutions which were binding upon all its members. But doubtless
there was from the first a desire to shape these concilia
as much as possible upon the model of the comitia,
as is shown by the adoption of the
patrician calendar as regards the lawful days of meeting. The first separate
meeting of the plebs, that held on the Mons Sacer in B.C. 494, may perhaps
have been held under the military forms of the centuriate comitia; but the
earliest regular meetings after the institution of the tribunate were
doubtless organised by curies. This explains the statement, which according
to the theories of Niebuhr and his school is so utterly inexplicable, that
the tribunes of the commons were elected in the comitia curiata (Cic.
in Ascon. p. 76; Dionys. A. R. 6.86
cf. Liv. 2.56
). In B.C. 471 the plebs resolved,
on the proposal of Volero Publilius, to hold the elections of tribunes, and
doubtless to pass their other resolutions also, according to tribes (Liv. 2.56
; Dionys. A. R. 9.41
). The importance of this lay in the
fact that thus the landless clients of the patricians were excluded from all
share in the elections, which henceforward lay in the hands of the plebeian
freeholders. The Publilian law thus created the independent organisation of
the middle-class plebeians (excluding the turba
), which was destined within the next hundred years to win
them equal civic rights with the patricians.
The regulations of the concilium plebis
resembled those of the comitia curiata, and were contrasted with those of
the comitia centuriata. The vote of each tribe was determined by the
majority of the votes of the citizens belonging to it; and although the
votes were taken simultaneously, they were reported in an order determined
by lot, the same name (principium
) being given
to the curia
and to the tribe whose vote was
first announced. As no meeting of the centuries could be legally held within
the pomoerium, so no meeting of the curies or of the tribes was, as a rule,
held without it, and the Comitium was the regular place of assembly for
both, the Capitol being also allowable in both cases. But while we have no
instance of a meeting of the curies outside the pomoerium, there are some
cases of meetings of the tribes, not merely on the Aventine, but also in the
Prata Flaminia (Liv. 3.54
), and the elections
presided over by the tribunes were in the later days of the republic usually
held in the Campus Martius (Cic. Att. 1.1
; pro Planc.
&c.). It is a common but erroneous view that the Comitium was
regarded as especially proper for the curies, the Forum generally for the
tribes, though doubtless the Comitium itself must have been too small for
the meetings of the tribes. The concilia plebis
were never held auspicato:
this is shown by the
positive statements of Livy (6.41
) and Dionysius (9.41
), which we have no
reason to consider as referring simply to the earliest times. At the same
time, although it was not necessary to seek for the approval of the gods,
any indication of their disapproval could not be overlooked (Cic. in Vat. 7
, 17); a storm would
break up a meeting of the commons as much as a meeting of the people. We
must explain in this way cases of plebeian magistrates who resigned as
), and of plebiscita
annulled as invalid (Cic. pro
in Ascon. p. 68). Anyone, but especially a magistrate,
who noticed a lightning-flash, was bound to report it to the [p. 1.511]
president of the assembly, who, acting on his own
judgment or on that of the augurs, might declare the meeting at an end; and
after the laws of Aelius and Fufius (about B.C. 150) he was required to do
so. Hence after this date we find obnuntiatio
commonly employed as a means of obstruction (Cic. Or. cum sen. gr.
, 11; in Vat.
5.3, 7). The days specially reserved for the concilia plebis
were the nundinae
], which the Lex Hortensia seems to have made non-comitial
for this purpose (Macrob. 1.16, 29-34). The commons were summoned by
after the usual prayers, the
presiding magistrate read the rogatio
(preceded, if he thought fit, by a contio
then the tribes were summoned to vote (Liv. 3.71
&c.). The functions of the concilia
may be arranged under three heads.
- 1. Elections.--After the Lex Publilia of Volero
(B.C. 471) the tribunes of the commons and the plebeian aediles were
elected (as noticed above) by the commons organised as tribes (Liv. 2.56; Dionys. A. R. 9.49).
- 2. Legislation.--Resolutions adopted by the
concilia plebis were in theory
binding only upon the commons (Liv. 3.55;
Gel. 15.27; Gaius, 1.3). But if they
received the sanction of the senate, they were valid for all
citizens. We have no definite information as to when this principle
was formally recognised, but Mommsen's view seems the most probable,
that a lex centuriata, earlier than the
plebiscitum Terentilium (B.C. 462), first
formally sanctioned it. It is certain that the necessity for the
sanction of the senate was removed by the Lex Hortensia in B.C. 287,
and that from this time forward the concilia
plebis formed the principal legislative organ of the
Roman people (Plin. Nat. 16.15,
15.27; Gaius, 1.3). Here the tribunes proposed rogationes, to which, when passed, the term
lex was commonly, though not
strictly applied. These leges must be
carefully distinguished from the leges
praetoriae which were passed by the comitia tributa under the presidency of the praetors
(see above), and from the leges
consulares, which, especially in the later times of the
republic, were frequently carried in the same body under the
presidency of a consul.
- 3. Judicial.--The concilium
plebis attempted to assert its right to pronounce a
capital sentence in the case of Coriolanus (B.C. 491) (Dionys. A. R. 7.69), on the ground
of a violation of the leges sacratae;
and in the next half-century there are several similar instances
(Liv. 2.52, 54, 61; 3.12, 31); but the decemviral
legislation expressly enacted de capite civis
nisi per maximum comitiatum ne ferunto (Cic. de Leg. 3.4, 11,
19, 44; de Rep. 2.36), a provision which was not
obsolete in the time of Cicero (pro
Sest. 34, 73). Henceforward the assemblies of the
plebeians could inflict no punishment more severe than a fine
(inrogare multam); the amount
imposed at the discretion of the magistrate was strictly limited by
the Lex Aternia Tarpeia of B.C. 454: hence, in all graver cases, it
was necessary to obtain the sanction of the tribes assembled either
in the comitia tributa or in the
concilium plebis. In political
cases the tribunes generally presided; in questions of police, the
Sulla, according to some, abolished the comitia
altogether, or, according to others, deprived them of the
right of electing the sacerdotes, and of all their legislative and judicial
powers. (Cic. in Verr. 1.13
15; de Legg.
3.9; Liv. Epit.
; Appian, de Bell. Civ.
1.59, 98; comp. TRIBUNUS
) But the constitution,
such as it had existed before Sulla, was restored soon after his death by
Pompeius and others, with the exception of the jurisdiction, which was for
ever taken from the people by the legislation of Sulla. The people suffered
another loss in the dictatorship of Caesar, who decided upon peace and war
himself in connexion with the senate. (D. C.
.) He had also the whole of the legislation in his hands,
through his influence with the magistrates and the tribunes. The people thus
retained nothing but the election of magistrates; but even this power was
much limited, as Caesar had the right to appoint half of the magistrates
himself, with the exception of the consuls (Suet.
; Cic. Phil. 7.6
; D. C. 43.51
), and, in addition to this, he
recommended to the people those candidates whom he wished to be elected: and
who would have opposed his wish? (D. C. 43.47
Appian, App. BC 2.18
.) After the death of
Caesar the comitia continued to be held, but were always more or less the
obedient instruments in the hands of the rulers, whose unlimited powers were
even recognised and sanctioned by them. (Appian, App. BC 4.7
; D. C. 46.55
.) Under Augustus the comitia still sanctioned
new laws and elected magistrates, but their whole proceedings were a mere
farce, for they could not venture to elect any other persons than those
recommended by the emperor. (Suet. Aug. 40
&c.; D. C. 53.2
.) Tiberius deprived the people even of this shadow of
their former power, and conferred the power of election upon the senate.
(Tac. Ann. 1.15
.) When the elections were made by the senate, the result was
announced to the people assembled as comitia centuriata or tributa. (D. C. 58.20
.) Legislation was taken away from the
comitia entirely, and was completely in the hands of the senate and the
emperor. Caligula placed the comitia again upon the same footing on which
they had been in the time of Augustus (D. C.
; Suet. Cal. 16
); but this
regulation was soon abandoned, and everything was left as it had been
arranged by Tiberius. (D. C. 59.20
.) From this
time the comitia may be said to have ceased to exist, as all the sovereign
power formerly possessed by the people was conferred upon the emperor by the
Lex Regia. [LEX REGIA
people only assembled in the Campus Martius for the purpose of receiving
information as to who had been elected or appointed as its magistrates,
until at last even this announcement (renuntiatio
) appears to have ceased.
In addition to the works on Roman history in general, the reader may consult
Unterholzner, De Mutata Centuriatorum Comit. a Servio
Tullio Rege Institutorum Ratione,
Breslau, 1835; G. C. Th.
Francke, De Tribuum, de Curiarum atque Centuriarum
Schleswig, 1824; Huschke, Die Verfassung des
Untersuchungen über die röm.
1839: [p. 1.512]
Zumpt, Ueber die
Abstimmung des röm. Volkes in Centuriatcomitien.
[The views previously held as to the comitia
and comitia tributa
largely modified by the researches of Mommsen, Römische
vol. i. The most complete statement of the theories
commonly accepted previous to these researches will be found with full
references to ancient and modern authorities in Becker and Marquardt's
vol. ii. part 1,
pp. 353-394, and part 3, pp. 1-196. Cf. Lange, Röm.
2 [1.341-355, 391-491;