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INTERREX (in Greek historians, μεσοβασιλεύς). The fundamental principle of the Roman constitution was that the people, though sovereign, could only act through their representatives the magistrates; and hence when the regular magistracy was through any reason vacant, the political life of the people ceased. Originally there was but one supreme and responsible magistrate at Rome, the king holding office for life; and it was to supply the vacancy caused by the complete cessation of this magistrate's functions that the interrex was instituted. The interregnum had a long history in the Roman state, and was one of the most distinct survivals of the early regal constitution. It dates, tradition tells us, from the earliest transmission of the supreme power, and the last recorded demand for the office was in 43 B.C., on the death of the two consuls for the year (D. C. 46.45). As an institution it finds no parallel in governments outside Italy (Cic. de Repub. 2.12, 23, “prudentes illi principes novam et inauditam ceteris gentibus interregni ineundi rationem excogitaverunt” ); but that, like the monarchy, it was not a purely Roman but an essentially Latin institution is shown by its presence, in the constitution of the Italian municipia (C. I. L. 9.1635, 10.6232; Mommsen, Staatsr. 1.647, n. 3). Since the interrex was, through the vacancy of the supreme office, the sole representative of the people, he is not a delegate in the sense in which the praefectus urbi was, who was merely the king's representative, nor yet in the sense in which the proconsul was during the Republic, when strictly delegated authority was not permitted within the walls. He is not pro magistratu, but magistratus, and still continued to be a magistrate under the Republic in spite of the fact that he was not elected by the people. For the interrex was a survival, and dates back to a period when popular election was unknown; although, if we exclude popular election from the original regal constitution, the position of the interrex in this period is extremely doubtful. The question raised is, whether the interrex was merely an occasional institution in the regal period, as in the Republic, employed only where the regular transmission of the regal office had been interrupted through exceptional circumstances, or whether, as represented by our authorities, it was a standing part of the procedure in the appointment of a king. The question is, therefore, whether the king of Rome was usually nominated by his predecessor, recourse being had to an interregnum only in exceptional cases, or whether he was nominated in every case by the interrex. The former view would, on the whole, seem most natural, and, if we refuse to attribute popular election to the regal period, is the one most usually held [REX]; but there is one serious objection that has been brought against it,--namely, that nomination of the future king during the lifetime of his predecessor would be a breach of the Roman legal principle that no formal act can be conditioned by time or other circumstances (Mommsen, Staatsr. 1.214). The appointment of a successor would certainly belong to those “actus legitimi qui non recipiunt diem vel condicionem,” under which fall the hereditatis aditio and the datio tutoris, and which “in totum vitiantur per temporis vel condicionis adjectionem” (Dig. 50, 17, 77). Mommsen concludes, therefore, that the king was in every case nominated, not through the rex, but through the interrex (Staatsr. 1.213, 214), and that the interregnum as a part of the standing procedure of the Roman commonwealth ceased when the election of successors by those in office was permitted in the supreme magistracy, as it was on the institution of the consulate. It then became only an occasional office, necessarily resorted to where there were no supreme magistrates of Rome, and no one duly qualified to hold the election for their successors. In the case of the death of both the consuls, or of a complete vacancy in the office through any impediment to the elections, this state of things was realised. The praetor, though technically a colleague of the consul, could not hold the consular elections (Cic. Att. 9.9, 3, “in libris habemus non modo consules a praetore sed ne praetores quidem creari Jus esse” ) ; and consequently, on the vacancy of the consular office, recourse was had to an interregnum.

The conditions of an interregnums are fully expressed by Cicero (de Leg. 3.3, 9), in the words “ast quando consulari potestate magistratus magisterve populi (i.e. dictator) nec erunt, reliqui magistratus ne sunto, auspicia patrum sunto, ollique ex se produnto qui comitiatu consules rite creare possit.” The condition “reliqui magistratus ne sunto” refers to the [p. 1.1022]patrician magistracies, as they were called; that is, to the magistratus populi, but not to the magistratus plebeii, which represented only a part of the community. This condition is fully explained by the original position of the interrex. He was then appointed by the senate, when the auspices had lapsed to the patres through the vacancy of the regular patrician magistracy (auspicia ad patres redeunt); and in republican times the auspices could not return to the patres, as long as they were held, whether as majora or minora auspicia (Messala ap. Gel. 13.15, 4), by patrician magistrates (Ps.-Cic. ad Brut. 1.5, 4, “dum unus erit patricius magistratus, auspicia ad patres redire non possunt” ); and consequently the retirement of all the patrician magistrates was a necessary preliminary to the introduction of an interrex (Dionys. A. R. 8.90, ἀποδείκνυται μεσοβασιλεύς, αἱ δὲ ἄλλαι κατελύθησαν ἀρχαί). When a sudden occasion arose for the appointment of an interrex, it was the duty of the senate to give notice to the patrician magistrates and request them to retire from office. In the year 43 B.C., when the death of the two consuls Hirtius and Tansa rendered an interregnum necessary, the absence of many of the patrician magistrates from Rome rendered it impossible for this communication to be made in time; the interregnum was thus rendered impossible, and the extraordinary measure was resorted to of appointing two privati with consularis potestas to hold the election for the consulship (D. C. 46.45). The resignation of plebeian magistrates was not required, and it was apparently not necessary for delegates such as the proconsuls to lay down their commands, since they were not magistratus (Mommsen, Staatsr. 632, n. 4).

The interregnum is said by tradition to have dated from the first vacancy of the regal officer, after the death of Romulus (Cic. de Rep. 2.1. 2; Liv. 1.17; Dionys. A. R. 2.57; Suidas, s. v. μεσοβασιλεύς). With the vacancy in the sole magistracy, the auspices under which the state had been founded and which were the mark of divine acceptance of the kingly rule, returned to the patres; that is, in the regal period, to the patrician senate. The first interregnum was an exercise of collective rule by the senate, which however, on the model of the kingly rule, took the form of the creation of a succession of interreges. The accounts of this system given by our two chief authorities, Livy and Dionysius, do not quite correspond; but the general principle was that the senate was divided into decuries (Serv. in Aen. 6.809, “Romulo mortuo cum senatus regnaret per decurias” ): each decury having fifty days' government allotted to it, within which period each individual of the decury exercised rule for five days. The succession of the decuries was determined by sortitio according to Dionysius (2.57, διακληρωσάμενοι); and both Livy and Dionysius represent the rule as being based on the collegiate principle, the whole decury possessing the imperium (Dionys. ib. τοῖς λαχοῦσι δέκα πρώτοις ἀπέδωκαν ἄρχειν τῆς πόλεως τὴν αὐτοκράτορ᾽ ἀρχήν), while the one who ruled for five days had the fasces and all the external symbols of the regal power (Dionys. ib.; Liv. 1.17, “decem imperitabant, unus cum insignibus imperii et lictoribus erat” ). There are many points in this system which were not observed in republican times; the collegiate system disappeared, and no portion of the body qualified to appoint an interrex became his colleague or shared his imperium. Again the sortitio had disappeared as a means of appointing the interrex, and comparatio which took the form of election had superseded it (Liv. 5.31, 8, “interrex creatus M. Furius Camillus;” App. Civ. Bell. 1.98, τῇ βουλῇ προσέταξεν ἑλέσθαι τὸν καλούμενον μεταξὺ βασιλέα). The first interrex was elected in republican times, and he nominated his successor, as the consul nominated the dictator, each successive interrex holding office for five days. There was no definite limit for the number of interreges that might be nominated in succession. The number that succeeded one another during a single interregnum varies from the mininum of two (Liv. 6.1, 8) to the known maximum of fourteen (Liv. 8.23, 17), and possibly in one case reached a still higher number (Mommsen, Staatsr. 1.658, n. 4); the only fixed rule being that there must be at least two interreges, the first interrex being incapable of holding the consular elections, probably because he was regarded as having received the auspices irregularly. The technical expression for the appointment of an interrex is prodere interregem (Liv. 6.41, “sed nos quoque ipsi sine suffragio populi auspicato interregem prodamus” ); and this expression refers, in republican times, not only to the appointment of the first interrex by election, but to the nomination of each of the other interreges by his predecessor (Liv. 5.31, 8). The existence of an interregnum and the creation of an individual interrex are not always identical. The interregnum often lasted some days before a special interrex was appointed, as in the year 52 B.C., in which fully twenty-one days elapsed before an interrex was elected (Mommsen, Staatsr. 654, n. 4). But during this period the supreme authority had not lapsed, it was only dormant; the auspices were in the hands of those members of the state who in republican times were qualified to appoint an interrex: and who these members were remains to be considered.

On the one hand, we are told that the interrex could only be chosen by patricians (Cic. pro Dom. 14, 38, “a patricio prodi necesse est;” Liv. 3.40, “patricios coire ad prodendum interregem” ); on the other hand, we find that the republican senate, which was not exclusively patrician, was sometimes bidden to appoint an interrex (App. l.c., τῇ βουλῇ προσέταξεν ἑλέσθαι κ. τ. λ.). There is no doubt, however, that in strict law the republican senate as such had nothing to do with the appointment of an interrex; in the early Republic their active existence ceased with the interregnum, since, before the tribune gained the right of transacting business with the senate, there was no magistrate who could consult them. They might, however, in the later Republic, suggest that the patricii should meet for the appointment of an interrex, the tribune, no doubt, putting the question. This probably became their duty, so that the patricii felt no obligation to meet except on the suggestion of the senate; and it is on a senatusconsultum of this kind that the tribune's veto might be put (Ascon. in Milon. p. 32, “dum Pompeius et T. Munatius tribunus plebis referri ad senatum de patriciis convocandis qui [p. 1.1023]interregem proderent non essent passi” ). Who these patricii were that met to appoint the interrex, and how they assembled, has been a matter of much dispute. One view that has been advanced is that they were the members of the Comitia Curiata, but this is rendered untenable through its having been shown that this was not a purely patrician assembly; another is that they were the patres familiarum patriciarum gentium assembled in the concilium populi; but the most probable view is that of Mommsen, that they were the patrician members of the senate, who met for this purpose (Staatsr. 1.654). This is most in accordance with the traditions of the regal period, which limits the interregnum to the patrician senate (Dionys. A. R. 2.57, τῶν πατρικίων οἱ καταγραφέντες εἰς τὴν βουλήν). Two necessary qualifications of the interrex were that he should be a patrician (Cic. pro Dom. 14, 38) and a senator. The list of the known interreges shows that these were always senators, and in this respect the original idea of the interregnum as an intermediate senatorial rule was upheld. From this list it also appears that out of the thirty-five known interreges, thirty-three are known to have held curule office, while the remaining two probably had. Hence Willems concludes that past curule office was a necessary qualification for an interrex: that they were chosen, therefore, from the senatores curules patricii, the senatores patricii pedarii being excluded (Willems, Le Sénat de la République romaine, ii. pp. 14, 16). It seems further shown from the names we have that for the nomination of the successive interreges neither the sortitio nor an appeal to the ordo senatorius was employed, and that the interrex was free in nominating his successor, provided the above-mentioned qualifications were observed; although this does not prevent us from supposing that the succession of interreges was arranged beforehand, and that it was not wholly unknown whom the interrex for the time being would nominate as his successor (ib. p. 16).

The interrex was, as already stated, a magistrate, and before the institution of the plebeian offices a sole magistrate, the principle of colleagueship being absent from the institution as known to us under the Republic. Originally during his short tenure of office he must have consulted the senate and administered the state; but when the tribunes obtained the Jus agendi cum patribus, the necessity for the former duty was dispensed with, and the chief object of the interregnum came to be that the Comitia Centuriata might be consulted as to the appointment of a consul. He need not apparently have taken the oath of office, which was not due till five days after entrance, and the interrex's tenure of office terminated with this period (App. BC 1.20; Mommsen, Staatsr. 1.660). With the creation of the supreme patrician office--that is, with the election of a single consul--the existence of the interregnum necessarily terminated and the interrex retired. (Mommsen, Römische Staatsrecht, 1.647-660; Willems, Le Sénat de la République romaine, ii. pp. 7-31.)


hide References (18 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (18):
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 9.3
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 9.9
    • Cicero, Letters to Brutus, 1.4
    • Cicero, Letters to Brutus, 1.5
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 1.3.20
    • Cicero, On his House, 14
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 1, 17
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 8, 17
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 8, 23
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 3, 40
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 5, 31
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 6, 1
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 6, 8
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 5, 8
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 6, 41
    • Cicero, De Republica, 2.12
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 13.4
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 13.15
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