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The popular assemblies of the Romaus, summoned and presided over by a magistratus. In the comitia the Roman people appeared as distributed into its political sections, for the purpose of deciding, in the exercise of its sovereign rights, upon the business brought before it by the presiding magistrate. The comitia must be distinguished from the contiones. The contiones were also summoned and presided over by a magistrate, but they did not assemble in their divisions, and they had nothing to do but to receive the communications of the magistrate. In all its assemblies at Rome the people remained standing. The original place of meeting was the Comitium, a part of the Forum. There were three kinds of comitia, viz.:


The Comitia Curiāta. This was the assembly of the patricians in their thirty curiae, who, until the change of the constitution under Servius Tullius, constituted the whole populus Romanus. During the regal period they were summoned by the rex or interrex, who brought before them questions to be decided Aye or No. The voting was taken first in each curia by heads, and then according to curiae, in an order determined by lot. The business within the competence of this assembly was: (a) to elect a king proposed by the interrex; (b) to confer upon the king the imperium, by virtue of the lex curiata de imperio; (c) to decide on declarations of war, appeals, arrogationes (see Adoptio), and the reception of foreign families into the body of the patricians. The Servian constitution transferred the right of declaring aggressive war and the right of deciding appeals to the Comitia Centuriata, which, from this time on ward, represented the people, now composed of both patricians and plebeians. After the establishment of the Republic, the Comitia Curiata retained the right (a) of conferring, on the proposal of the Senate, the imperium on the magistrates elected by the Comitia Centuriata, and on the dictator elected by the consuls; (b) of confirming, likewise on the proposal of the Senate, the alterations in the constitution decided upon by the Comitia Centuriata, and Tributa.

The extinction of the political difference between patricians and plebeians destroyed the political position of the Comitia Curiata, and the mere shadow of their rights survived. The assembly itself became an unreality, so much so that, in the end, the presence of the thirty lictores curiati and three augurs was sufficient to enable legal resolutions to be passed. (See Lictors.) But the Comitia Curiata retained the powers affecting the reception of a non-patrician into the patrician order, and the powers affecting the proceeding of arrogatio, especially in cases where the transition of a patrician into a plebeian family was concerned. Evidence of the exercise of these functions on their part may be traced down to the imperial period.


The Comitia Calāta were also an assembly of the patrician curiae. They were so called because publicly summoned (calare). The pontifices presided, and the functions of the assembly were: (a) to inaugurate the flamines, the rex sacrorum, and indeed the king himself during the regal period. (b) The detestatio sacrorum, previous to an act of arrogatio. This was the formal release of a person passing by adoption into another family from the sacra of his former family. (See Adoptio.) (c) The ratification of wills twice a year; but this applies only to an early period. (d) The announcement of the calendar of festivals on the first day of every month.


Comitia Centuriāta. The assembly of the whole people, patrician as well as plebeian, arranged according to the centuriae established by Servius Tullius. The original founder of the Comitia Centuriata transferred to them certain political rights which had previously been exercised by the Comitia Curiata. It was not, however, until the foundation of the Republic, when the sovereign power in the State was transferred to the body of citizens, that they attained their real political importance. They then became the assembly in which the people, collectively, expressed its will. The right of summoning the Comitia Centuriata originally belonged to the king. During the republican period it belonged, in its full extent, to the consuls and the dictator alone. The other magistrates possessed it only within certain limits. The interrex, for instance, could, in case of there being no consuls, summon the Comitia Centuriata to hold an election, but he could summon them for this purpose only. The censors could call them together only for the holding of the census and the lustrum; the praetors, it may be conjectured, only in the case of capital trials. In all other instances the consent of the consuls, or their authorization, was indispensable.

The duties of the Comitia Centuriata during the republican period were as follows: (a) To elect the higher magistrates: consuls, censors, and praetors. (b) To give judgment in all the capital trials in which appeal to the people was permitted from the sentence of the magistrate sitting in judgment. This popular jurisdiction was gradually limited to political trials, common offences being dealt with by the ordinary commissions. And in the later republican age the judicial assemblies of the Comitia Centuriata became, in general, rarer, especially after the formation of special standing commissions (quaestiones perpetuae) for the trial of a number of offences regarded as political. (c) To decide on declaring a war of aggression; this on the proposal of the consuls, with the approval of the Senate. (d) To pass laws proposed by the higher magistrates, with the approval of the Senate. This right lost much of its value after B.C. 287, when the legislative powers of the Comitia Tributa were made equal to those of the Comitia Centuriata. After this time the legislative activity of the latter assembly gradually diminished.

The Comitia Centuriata were originally a military assembly, and the citizens accordingly, in ancient times, attended them in arms. On the night before the meeting, the magistrate summoning the assembly took the auspices on the place of meeting, the Campus Martius. If the auspices were favourable, signals were given, before daybreak, from the walls and the citadel by the blowing of horns, summoning the citizens to a contio. The presiding magistrate offered a sacrifice and repeated a solemn prayer, and the assembly proceeded to consider the business which required its decision. Private individuals were not allowed to speak, except with the consent of the presiding magistrate. At his command the armed people divided themselves into their centuriae, and marched in this order to the Campus Martius, preceded by banners and headed by the cavalry. Arrived at the Campus, they proceeded to the voting, the president having again put the proposal to the people in the form of a question, Velitis iubeatis Quirites? (“Do you wish?” “Do you command?”). While the voting was going on, a red flag stood on the Ianiculum. The equites, who in ancient times used to begin the battles in war, opened the voting, and their 18 centuries were therefore called praerogativae. The result of their vote was immediately published, and, being taken as an omen for the voters who were to follow, was usually decisive. Then came the 175 centuries of the five classes of infantry in their order. Each century counted as casting one vote; this vote was decided by a previous voting within the century, which was at first open, but in later times was taken by ballot. If the 18 centuries of equites and the 80 centuries of the first class, with whom went the 2 centuries of mechanics (centuriae fabrum), were unanimous, the question was decided, as there would be a majority of 100 centuries to 93. If not, the voting went on until one side secured the votes of at least 97 centuries. The lower classes only voted in the rare cases where the votes of the higher classes were not united. The proceedings concluded with a formal announcement of the result on the part of the presiding magistrate, and the dismissal of the host. If no result was arrived at by sunset, or if unfavourable omens appeared during the proceedings, or while the voting was going on, the assembly was adjourned until the next convenient occasion.

This form of voting gave the wealthier citizens a decided advantage over the poorer, and lent an aristocratic character to the Comitia Centuriata. In the third century B.C. a change was introduced in the interest of the lower classes. Each of the thirty-five tribus, or districts, into which the Roman territory was divided, included two centuriae of iuniores and seniores respectively. (For the five classes, see Exercitus.) Thus each of the five classes included 70 centuries, making 350 centuries in all. To this number add the 18 centuries equitum, and the 5 centuries not included in the propertied classes—namely, 2 of fabri (mechanics), 2 of tubicines (musicians), and 1 of proletarii and liberti (the very poor and the freedmen), and the whole number of centuries amounts to 373. The centuries, it must be remembered, had by this time quite lost their military character. Under this arrangement the 88 votes of the equites and the first classis were confronted with the 285 votes of the rest. Besides this, the right of voting first was taken from the equites and given to the centuria praerogativa chosen by lot from the first classis. The voting, it is true, was still taken in the order of the classes, but the classes were seldom unanimous as in former times; for the interests of the tribus, which were represented in each classis by two centuries respectively, were generally divergent, and the centuries voted in the sense of their tribe. The consequence was that it was often necessary—indeed, perhaps that it became the rule, at least at elections—to take the votes of all the classes.

In early times the military arrangement was sufficient to secure the maintenance of order. But after its disappearance the classes were separated and the centuriae kept apart by wooden barriers (saepta), from which the centuries passed over bridges into an open inner space called ovile (sheepfold). On the position of the Comitia Centuriata during the imperial age, see below.


Comitia Tribūta. This was the collective assembly of the people arranged according to the local distribution of tribes. (See Tribus.) When the tribuneship of the plebs was established (B.C. 494) the tribunes were allowed the right of summoning assemblies of the plebs in its tribes to consider questions affecting its interests. Out of these councils of the plebs (concilia plebis) were afterwards (B.C. 449) formed the Comitia Tributa, in which the patricians were represented as well as the plebeians; but the plebeians had the preponderance, as they were the more numerous, and as the voting qualification was exactly equal. By a law passed in B.C. 449, and finally ratified in 286, the plebi scita, or resolutions of the Comitia Tributa, were declared binding upon the whole populus. The consequence was that this assembly, side by side with the Comitia Centuriata, became the representative of the popular supremacy, and, indeed, its proper and constitutional organ. This was specially the case in regard to legislation, the more so as it was far simpler to summon the people by tribes than by centuries.

The right of summoning the Comitia Tributa lay chiefly, though not exclusively, with the tribuni. Their consent was regarded as an indispensable condition, if another magistrate wished to summon or preside over the Comitia Tributa. Until the latter years of the Republic, the assembly usually met upon the Capitol, and afterwards on the Campus Martius. The functions of the Comitia Tributa, gradually acquired, were as follows: (a) The election of all the lower magistrates, ordinary (as the tribuni plebis, tribuni militum, aediles plebis, aediles curules) and extraordinary, under the presidency partly of the tribunes, partly of the consuls or praetors. (b) The nomination of the pontifex maximus, and of the coöpted members of the religious collegia of the pontifices, augures, and decemviri sacrorum. This nomination was carried out by a committee of seventeen tribes chosen by lot. (c) To give judicial decisions in all suits instituted by the tribunes and aediles of the plebs, for offences against the plebs or its representatives. In later times these suits were mostly instituted on the ground of bad or illegal administration. The tribunes and aediles had, in these cases, the power of inflicting pecuniary fines ranging up to a large amount. (d) To pass resolutions on proposals made by the tribunes of the plebs and the higher magistrates on foreign and domestic affairs —on the conclusion of peace, for instance, or the making of treaties. Their power was almost unlimited, and the more important because, strictly speaking, it was only the higher magistrates who required the authorization of the Senate. Nor had the Senate more than the right of quashing a measure passed without due formalities.

The Comitia Tributa were summoned, at least seventeen days before the meeting, by the simple proclamation of a herald (praeco). As in the case of the Comitia Centuriata, business could neither be begun nor continued in the face of adverse anspices. Like the Comitia Centuriata, too, the tribal assembly met at daybreak and could not sit beyond sunset. If summoned by the tribunes, the Comitia Tributa could only meet in the city, or within the radius of a mile from it. The usual place of assembly was the Forum or the Comitium (q.v.). If summoned by other authorities, the assembly met outside the city, most commonly in the Campus Martius. The proceedings opened with a prayer, unaccompanied by sacrifice. The business in hand was then discussed in a contio (see above, p. 391 a); and the proposal having been read out, the meeting was requested to arrange itself according to its thirty-five tribes in the saepta, or wooden fences. Lots were drawn to decide which tribe should vote first. The tribe on which this duty fell was called principium. The result of this first vote was proclaimed, and the other tribes then proceeded to vote simultaneously, not successively. The votes given by each tribe were then announced in an order determined by lot. Finally, the general result of the voting was made known.

The proposer of a measure was bound to put his proposal into due form and publish it beforehand. When a measure came to the vote, it was accepted or rejected as a whole. It became law when the presiding magistrate announced that it had been accepted. The character of the comitia had begun to decline even in the later period of the Republic. Even the citizens of Rome took but little part in them, and this is still more true of the population of Italy, who had received the Roman citizenship in B.C. 89. The Comitia Tributa, in particular, sank gradually into a mere gathering of the city mob, strengthened on all sides by the influx of corrupt elements. The results of the voting came more and more to represent, not the public interest, but the effects of direct or indirect corruption. Under the Empire the Comitia Centuriata and Tributa continued to exist—in a shadowy form, it is true—down to the third century A.D. Iulius Caesar had deprived them of the right of deciding on war and peace. Under Augustus they lost the power of jurisdiction, and, practically, the power of legislation. The imperial measures were, indeed, laid before the Comitia Tributa for ratification, but this was all; and under the successors of Augustus even this proceeding became rarer. Since the time of Vespasian, the emperors, at their accession, received their legislative and other powers from the Comitia Tributa; but this, like the rest, was a mere formality. The power of election was that which, in appearance at least, survived longest. Augustus, like Iulius Caesar, allowed the Comitia Centuriata to confirm the nomination of two candidates for the consulship. He also left to the Comitia Centuriata and Tributa the power of free election to half the other magistracies— the other half being filled by nominees of his own. Tiberius transferred the last remnant of free elective power to the Senate, whose proposals, originating under imperial influence, were laid before the Comitia for ratification. The formalities, the auspices, prayer, sacrifice, and proclamation, were now the important things, and the measures proposed were carried, not by regular voting, but by acclamation. See Mommsen, Römische Forschungen, vol. i.; Becker and Marquardt, Röm. Alterthümer, vol. ii., pt. i., pp. 353-394, and pt. iii., pp. 1-196; Lange, Röm. Alterthümer, i. 341-355, 391- 491; ii. 418-682; and the articles Tabellariae Leges; Lex; Pons.

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