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NOMINATIO

NOMINATIO and NOMINO are the technical words used to denote the first stage in the appointment to the augurship and other priestly colleges, under the law of Labienus, B.C. 63. On a vacancy in their college, each of the augurs “nominated” a candidate for the post, and the choice between those so nominated was decided by a popular vote of seventeen tribes chosen by lot. In order that the assembly might exercise an effective choice, a sufficient number of candidates was secured by a rule that not more than two augurs might give their nomination to any one candidate. (Cic. Phil. 2.2, 4.)

The term nominare is likewise used of a function of the emperors in the election of magistrates from the time that these elections were transferred (Tac. Ann. 1.15) to the senate. This “nomination” is different from the right of recommending candidates which the emperor possessed; for Tacitus (l.c.) tells of Tiberius that he limited himself “ne plures quam quattuor candidatos commendaret, sine repulsa et ambitu designandos;” while in the previous chapter he says, “candidates praeturae duodecim nominavit, numerum ab Augusto traditum, et hortante senatu ut augeret, jure jurando obstrinxit se non excessurum.” In the same way when Asinius Gallus proposed (Tac. Ann. 2.36) [p. 2.236]that appointments for five years on should be made at once, he added, “princeps duodecim candidates in annos singulos nominaret.” This passage however, as it merely repeats the words of Ann. 1.14, and extends the system there described to suit a quinquennial arrangement, may be left out of account. The description (Ann. 1.81) of the consular elections, on the other hand, cannot be passed over: “plerumque eos tantum apud se professos disseruit, quorum nomina consulibus edidisset: posse et alios profiteri, si gratiae aut meritis confiderent.” Lastly, we have an electioneering letter of the younger Pliny (2.9): “Anxium me et inquietum habet petitio Sexti Eruci mei . . . ego Sexto latum clavum a Caesare nostro, ego quaesturam impetravi, meo suffragio pervenit ad jus tribunatum petendi, quem nisi obtinet in senatu vereor ne decepisse Caesarem videar.”

The last passage would naturally be taken to mean (see Nipperdey ad Tac. Ann. 1.81) that the emperor's leave was necessary before a candidate could offer himself for election, and it would be further natural to identify such leave with the “nomination” mentioned by Tacitus. In that case we should expect to find the emperor “nominating” a long list of candidates (beside those specially recommended) and the senate choosing out of this list. When, however, we find that the senate begs Tiberius to increase the number of his nominees, it becomes clear that “nomination” can have no such meaning as has been suggested. Twelve was the ordinary number of annual vacancies for the praetorship; so that if the emperor gave leave only to twelve candidates, these twelve persons must necessarily be elected; the distinction between those of them who were and those who were not recommended would vanish; nominatio and commendatio (which are always contrasted by our authorities) would have precisely the same effect. The value of such a nomination would manifestly be diminished by every addition to the number nominated. It is quite impossible, considering the relations between Tiberius and the senators, that they should at the beginning of his reign have urged him to lessen his own powers by giving them greater freedom of choice, and that he should have positively refused to do so. We have indeed a somewhat similar question of appointment, in Ann. 3.32 and 35, but there the senate wish the emperor to give them one name, and he insists on giving two for them to choose from.

It is clear from Pliny's letter that there were contested elections in the senate to the office of tribune. As regards the praetorship, we may draw the same conclusion from the account in Tacitus (Tac. Ann. 2.51) of the election of a “praetor suffectus,” and still more clearly from an incident in Nero's time (Ann. 14.28): “Comitia praetorum arbitrio senatus haberi solita, quoniam acriore ambitu exarserant, princeps composuit, tres, qui supra numerum petebant, legioni praeficiendo.” On the other hand, we never hear of contested elections to the consulship.

Mommsen (Staatsrecht, ii.3 pp. 917 ff.) has an explanation which lessens though it does not remove the difficulty of reconciling these passages. He first gets rid of Pliny's canvassing letter by the supposition that “meo suffragio pervenit ad jus tribunatum petendi” does not refer to any fresh privilege obtained by him for Erucius, but merely sums up what he had got for him before, namely the latus clavus and the quaestorship, these being the qualifications which now enabled him to be a candidate for the office of tribune. This interpretation would seem very forced if we were dealing with a simple and straightforward letter-writer, but it is not inadmissible in the case of the artificial epistles of the younger Pliny. Mommsen proceeds to point out that under the Republic the msgistrate conducting an election had the duty of examining the legal qualifications of the candidate, and was bound to accept only those votes which were given to persons legally eligible ( “rationem alicujus in comitiis habere” ). Under the principate this ministerial duty would belong jointly to the emperor and to the consuls. Either of the two co-ordinate powers might examine the qualifications of a candidate, and declare him capable or incapable of standing. Manifestly the emperor's certificate would be the more prized; all candidates would press to have their claims vouched for by him, and (if this tendency were not checked) on the emperor alone would fall the responsibility of deciding who was, and who was not, to be on the list of candidates. This responsibility the senate press Tiberius to assume, but he insists on the consuls taking some part of it, and will only certify in a limited number of cases. Such is Mommsen's explanation of “candidatos praeturae duodecim nominavit.”

It may be objected to this that we should expect that the candidates who were sent to the consuls would be at a disadvantage compared with the eight candidates who, though not “commended,” were selected by the emperor for the honour of his certificate. The senators, we might suppose, would be as unlikely to vote against the eight “nominated” as against the four avowedly “commended.” The system seems to have led to precisely this result in the elections to the consulship. Tiberius (Ann. 1.81) does not commend anyone for this office; he merely announces that two qualified candidates have sent in their names to him; any others may send in their names to the consuls. The effect naturally is that no one does so; the emperor's certificate to the consular candidate, by driving all others from the field, has the same result as commendation. Mommsen (op. cit. p. 923) quotes an inscription where such a one actually describes himself as commended by Tiberius for the consulship.

How then are we to account for the practical difference between the consular and the praetorian elections? There must have been some understanding, by which candidates more numerous than the vacancies were encouraged to stand in the one case and discouraged from standing in the other. We may suppose that all candidates laid their names, formally or informally, before the emperor. If he announced (as Tacitus says he did in the case of the consulship) that only two properly qualified candidates had come to his official knowledge, this would be a sufficient hint to the rest of the competitors that they were to efface themselves. If, on the other hand, he brought forward the names of all, and ordered the consuls to examine the [p. 2.237]qualifications of some of them while he himself undertook that duty in the case of others, this may have been done in such a way as to imply that he wished them all to be voted for indifferently. This would be especially the case, if we may conjecture that the emperor did not arbitrarily pick and choose the candidates he was to “nominate,” as he undoubtedly did those whom he was to “commend.” A passage of Dio Cassius (58.20), relating to Tiberius, may perhaps throw some light on this. After saying that Tiberius commended certain candidates, who were elected at once by all voices, he proceeds to describe his practice in the case of those not commended--τοὺς δὲ ἐπί τε τοῖς δικαιώμασι καὶ ἐπὶ τῇ ὁμολογίᾳ τῷ τε κλήρῳ ποιούμενος. It may perhaps be allowable to interpret this as meaning that certain ancestry or certain services (δικαιώματα) gave a man a claim by custom to have his certificate from the emperor, and that in some other cases persons were marked out for the honour by general acclamation of the senate or by consent of their competitors (ὁμολογίᾳ); but that for the rest Tiberius in the case of the praetorship decided by lot which names he should examine for himself and which he should refer for examination to the consuls. In the latter case, as chance alone would decide, it can have been no indication of disfavour that a man should not come armed with the imperial certificate.

[J.L.S.D]

hide References (7 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (7):
    • Cicero, Philippics, 2.2
    • Cicero, Philippics, 2.4
    • Tacitus, Annales, 2.36
    • Tacitus, Annales, 1.15
    • Tacitus, Annales, 1.81
    • Tacitus, Annales, 2.51
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 2.9
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