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CON´TIO

CON´TIO often erroneously spelt CONCIO is a contraction for conventio; that is, a meeting, or a conventus. In a loose mode of speaking it denotes any popular assembly, even among non-Romans (Liv. 24.22; Cic. pro Flacc. 7, § 15), and any speech or harangue addressed to such an assembly; hence the common phrase contionem habere means indifferently “to hold a meeting” and “to make a speech.” Written speeches are sometimes called contiones (Cic. in Vat. 1, § 3; ad Att. 14.20). In the technical sense, however, a contio was an assembly of the Roman people convened regularly (per praeconem) by a magistrate or a sacerdos publicus (Fest. p. 66 M.). A general in the field by virtue of his imperium could summon his troops as often as he pleased to hear what he had to say to them (in contionem vocare; contionem habere, Liv. 27.13); and what he said before the assembled army was pro contione (Sal. Jug. 8). But when L. Paullus after his triumph (with which his imperium came to an end) wished to make an explanatory statement, he had to obtain leave from a magistrate, who was said contionem dare (Liv. 45.40 extr.; cf. Cic. Att. 4.2). A contio thus lawfully convened was the usual mode of initiating public discussion, e. g. of measures which were to be brought before the comitia, and of working upon the people either to support or oppose the measure. Contiones were also summoned for other purposes, e. g. of persuading the people to take part in a war (Dionys. A. R. 6.28) or of bringing complaints against a party in the republic or an individual (id. 9.25; Liv. 39.15; Plut. C. Gracch. 3). But no question of any kind could be decided by a contio, and this constitutes the difference between contiones and comitia (Gell. N. A. 13.16 [in old edd. 15, § § 8-10]; Cic. pro Sest. 50.106; 54.115). Contrasting Roman and Greek methods, Cicero says that the former went to the poll and voted deliberately, summota contione; while the Athenians in the days of their glory were governed by the hasty decisions of the assembly, contionis temeritate (pro Flacc. l.c.).

Meetings of this kind naturally were of very frequent occurrence at Rome. The earliest that is mentioned is one held immediately after the death of Romulus by Julius Proculus in the Campus Martins (Liv. 1.16; Plut. Rom. 27); the first after the expulsion of the kings was held by Brutus (Liv. 2.2; Dionys. A. R. 5.10, &c.), Every magistrate had the right to convene contiones, but it was most frequently exercised by the consuls and tribunes, and the latter more especially exercised a great influence over the people in and through these contiones. A magistrate who was higher in rank than the one who had convened a contio, had the right to order the people to disperse, if he disapproved of the object (avocare, Gell. l.c.); and such a command and the vehemence of the haranguing tribunes rendered contiones often very tumultuous and riotous, especially during the later period of the republic (Cic. pro Sest. 50.106); so that their powers were curtailed by Sulla (id. pro Cluent. 40.110). The convening magistrate either addressed the people himself, or he introduced other persons to whom he gave permission to speak, for no private person was allowed to speak without this permission, and the people had nothing to do but to listen. (Dionys. A. R. 5.11; Liv. 3.71, 42.34; Cic. Att. 4.2) The place where such meetings were held does not seem to have been fixed, for we find them in the Forum, the Capitol, the Campus Martius, and even the Circus Flaminius (Cic. pro Sest. 14.33).

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