previous next


ORATIO´NES PRI´NCIPUM Many of the orationes of the Roman emperors, such as are quoted by the Augustae historiae scriptores, are merely communications to the senate, e. g. the announcement of a victory (Capitol. Maxim. duo, 12, 13), but those which are the subject of this note relate to legislation only. Under the earlier emperors the orationes were projets de loi submitted by the princeps either personally or by memorandum (epistola, libellus: e.g. Dig. 5, 3, 22; 24, 1, 32; 27, 9, 1) to the senate, which in appearance, though not in reality, still possessed legislative power: the consuls, as presidents of the assembly, would then open a discussion on the proposal (e. g. Dig. 5, 3, 20, 6), which we cannot doubt was invariably embodied in a senatusconsultum with little or no alteration, and so constitutionally invested with the force of law. Instances are found in Gaius (2.285), “ex oratione divi Hadriani senatusconsultum factum est;” and in Dig. 23, 2, 16 (Paulus), “oratione divi Marci . . . . quam senatusconsultum secutum est.”

But the fact that, either through his jus edicendi, or in virtue of the Lex Curiata de Imperio, the emperor's own ordinances had the force of law, and the ostentatious unwillingness of the senate to make even a false show of independence by pretending to discuss his legislative proposals, gradually led to the recognition of the oratio as itself law, apart from the senatusconsultum which was founded on it: so that the two are often cited indifferently by the classical jurists--the oratio as containing the reason or grounds of the law, the senatusconsultum for its particular terms and provisions (e. g. Dig. 2, 15, 8; 23, 2, 60; 5, 3, 20, 22, 40; 11, 4, 3: so too “divi Pertinacis oratione cautum est,” Inst. 2.17, 7): and the actual consultation of the senate gradually sank into a merely formal acclamation. As to the mode of communication, unless the emperor delivered the oratio in person, which seems not to have been very usual, it was embodied in an epistola or libellus (Dig. 5, 3, 20, 22), which was read to the senate by one of the quaestors (Dig. 1, 13): for instance, Suetonius (Suet. Tit. 6) says that Titus sometimes read his father's orationes in the senate “quaestoris vice,” and the practice is frequently referred to: e. g. Suet. Aug. 65; Tac. Ann. 3.52, 16.7; D. C. 54.25, 60.2. The mode of proceeding upon the receipt of one of these orationes may be collected from the preamble of the senatusconsultum in Dig. 5, 3; and when it was drawn up with much regard to detail, the subsequent senatusconsultum was clearly a simple reproduction of its terms.

It is not quite clear when the practice of formally giving the force of law to orationes by embodying them in senatusconsulta went out of use. Senatusconsulta originating in this manner [p. 2.294]are found in the reigns of Septimius Severus and his son Caracalla (e. g. Dig. 24, 1, 32), but under the Christian emperors the oratio appears simply as one of the modes of publishing or promulgating emperor-made law, by addressing it to the senate ( “leges, quae missae ad venerabilem coetum oratione conduntur,” Cod. 1, 14, 3: cf. Cod. Theod. 4, 1, 1): if addressed to a magistrate, it would rather be called mandatum or rescriptum; if “ad populum” or “ad omnes populos,” an edictum or edictalis constitutio. Genuine senatusconsulta now occur only in relation to the senatorial games or other burdens which the senate had to bear as a corporation (Symmach. 10.28, 10).

There has been much discussion on the amount of the influence exercised by these orationes on the legislation of the senate. But it seems to be tolerably clear, from the evidence that we have and from the nature of the case, that the oratio might recommend generally some legislative measure and leave the details to the senate, or it might contain all the details of the proposed measure, and so be in substance, though not in form, a senatusconsultum: and it would become a senatusconsultum on being adopted by the senate, which, in the case supposed, would be merely a matter of form. [SENATUSCONSULTUM] In the case of an oratio expressed in more general terms, there is no reason to suppose that the emperor's recommendation was less of a command: it was merely a command in more general terms. (See Dirksen, Ueber die Reden der ròm. Kaiser und deren Einfluss auf die Gesetzgebung, in Rhein. Mus. fùr Jurisprudenz, vol. ii., and Vermischte Schriften, part i., No. vi.)

[G.L] [J.B.M]

hide References (4 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (4):
    • Suetonius, Divus Titus, 6
    • Tacitus, Annales, 16.7
    • Tacitus, Annales, 3.52
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 65
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: