The Roman Constitution
I have given an account of the constitution of Lycurgus,
I will now endeavour to describe that of Rome
at the period
of their disastrous defeat at Cannae
I am fully conscious that to those who actually live under
this constitution I shall appear to give an inadequate account
of it by the omission of certain details.
The Roman constitution at the epoch of Cannae, B.C. 216.
Knowing accurately every portion of it from personal
experience, and from having been bred up in
its customs and laws from childhood, they will
not be struck so much by the accuracy of the description,
as annoyed by its omissions; nor will they believe that the
historian has purposely omitted unimportant distinctions, but
will attribute his silence upon the origin of existing institutions
or other important facts to ignorance. What is told they depreciate as insignificant or beside the purpose; what is omitted
they desiderate as vital to the question: their object being to
appear to know more than the writers. But a good critic
should not judge a writer by what he leaves unsaid, but from
what he says: if he detects mis-statement in the latter, he may
then feel certain that ignorance accounts for the former; but
if what he says is accurate, his omissions ought to be attributed
to deliberate judgment and not to ignorance. So much for
those whose criticisms are prompted by personal ambition
rather than by justice. . . .
Another requisite for obtaining a judicious approval for an
historical disquisition, is that it should be germane to the
matter in hand; if this is not observed, though its style may
be excellent and its matter irreproachable, it will seem out of
place, and disgust rather than please. . . .
As for the Roman constitution, it had three elements,
Triple element in the Roman Constitution.
each of them possessing sovereign powers:
and their respective share of power in the
whole state had been regulated with such a
scrupulous regard to equality and equilibrium, that no one
could say for certain, not even a native, whether the constitution as a whole were an aristocracy or democracy or
despotism. And no wonder: for if we confine our observation
to the power of the Consuls we should be inclined to regard it
as despotic; if on that of the Senate, as aristocratic; and
if finally one looks at the power possessed by the people it
would seem a clear case of a democracy. What the exact
powers of these several parts were, and still, with slight modifications, are, I will now state.