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The Roman Constitution And Army

The career of foreign conquest upon which the Republic had now entered continued with little or no interruption till the establishment of the Empire. We may here pause to take a brief survey of the form of government, as well as of the military organization by which these conquests were effected.

The earlier history of the Roman constitution has been already related. We have seen how, after a long struggle, the Plebeians acquired complete political equality with the Patricians. In the Second Punic War, the antagonism between the two orders had almost disappeared, and the only mark of separation between them in political matters was the regulation that, of the two Consuls and two Censors, one must be a Patrician and the other a Plebeian. Even this fell into disuse upon the rise of the new Nobility, of which we shall speak in the next chapter. The Patricians gradually dwindled away, and it became the custom to elect both Consuls and Censors from the Plebeians.

I. THE MAGISTRATES. - Every Roman citizen who aspired to the consulship had to pass through a regular gradation of public offices, and the earliest age at which he could become a candidate for them was fixed by a law passed in B.C. 179, and known by the name of the Lex Annalis. The earliest age for the Quæstorship, which was the first of these magistracies, was 27 years; for the Ædileship, 37; for the Prætorship, 40; and for the Consulship, 43.

All magistrates at Rome were divided into Curules and those who were not Curules. The Curule Magistrates were the Dictators, Censors, Consuls, Prætors, and Curule Ædiles, and were so called because they had the right of sitting upon the Sella Curulis, originally an emblem of kingly power, imported, along with other insignia of royalty, from Etruria.

1. The Quæstors were the paymasters of the state. It was their duty to receive the revenues, and to make all the necessary payments for the military and civil services. There were originally only two Quæstors, but their number was constantly increased with the conquests of the Republic. Besides two Quæstors who always remained at Rome, every Consul or Prætor who conducted a war or governed a province was attended by one of these magistrates.

2. The Ædileship was originally a Plebeian office, instituted at the same time as the Tribuneship of the Plebs. To the two Plebeian Ædiles two Curule Ædiles were added in B.C. 365. The four Ædiles in common had the charge of the public buildings, the care of the cleansing and draining of the city, and the superintendence of the police. They had also the regulation of the public festivals; and the celebration of the Ludi Magni, or Great Games, was their especial function. Originally they received a sum of money from the state to defray the expenses of these games, but the grant was withdrawn about the time of the First Punic War; a measure attended with important consequences, since the higher magistracies were thus confined to the wealthy, who alone could defray the charges of these costly entertainments. After the Macedonian and Syrian wars, the Curule Ædiles often incurred a prodigious expense, with the view of pleasing the people, and securing their votes in future elections.

3. The institution of the Prætorship in B.C. 366 has been already narrated. There was originally only one Prætor, subsequently called Prætor Urbanus, whose chief duty was the administration of justice. In B.C. 246 a second Prætor was added, who had to decide cases in which foreigners were concerned, and who was hence called Prætor Peregrinus. When the territories of the state extended beyond Italy, new Prætors were created to govern the provinces. Two Prætors were appointed to take the administration of Sicily and Sardinia (B.C. 227), and two more were added when the two Spanish provinces were formed (B.C. 197). There were thus six Prætors, two of whom staid in the city and the other four went abroad. Each Prætor was attended by six Lictors.

4. The Consuls were the highest ordinary magistrates at Rome, and were at the head both of the state and the army. They convoked the Senate and the Assembly of the Centuries; they presided in each, and had to see that the resolutions of the Senate and the People were carried into effect. They had the supreme command of the armies in virtue of the Imperium conferred upon them by a special vote of the People. At the head of the army, they had full power of life and death over their soldiers. They were preceded by twelve lictors, but this outward sign of power was enjoyed by them month by month in turn.

The magistrates above-mentioned were elected annually, but it was the practice frequently to prolong the command of the Consuls or Prætors in the provinces under the titles of Proconsuls or Proprætors. In the later times of the Republic it was usual for both Consuls and several Prætors to remain at Rome during their year of office, and at its close to take the command of provinces, with the titles of Proconsuls or Proprætors.

5. The Dictatorship, which occurs so often in the early history of the Republic, disappears altogether after the Second Punic War. As the Republic became powerful, and had no longer to dread any enemies in Italy, there was no necessity for such an extraordinary magistracy as the Dictatorship, but whenever internal dangers seemed to require a stronger executive, the Senate invested the Consuls with dictatorial power.

6. The Censors were two in number, elected every five years, but they held their office for a year and a half. They were taken, as a general rule, from those who had been previously Consuls, and their office was regarded as the highest dignity in the state. Their duties, which were very extensive and very important, may be divided into three classes, all of which, however, were closely connected.

(a). Their first and most important duty was to take the Census. This was not simply a list of the population, according to the modern use of the word, but a valuation of the property of every Roman citizen. This valuation was necessary, not only for the assessment of the property-tax, but also for determining the position of every citizen in the state, which was regulated, in accordance with the constitution of Servius Tullius, by the amount of his property. Accordingly, the Censors had to draw up lists of the Classes and Centuries. They also made out the lists of the Senators and Equites, striking out the names of all whom they deemed unworthy, and filling up all vacancies in the Senate.

(b.) The Censors possessed a general control over the conduct and morals of the citizens. In the exercise of this important power they were not guided by any rules of law, but simply by their own sense of duty. They punished acts of private as well as public immorality, and visited with their censure not only offenses against the laws, but every thing opposed to the old Roman character and habits, such as living in celibacy, extravagance, luxury, etc. They had the power of degrading every citizen to a lower rank, of expelling Senators from the Senate, of depriving the Equites of their horses, and of removing ordinary citizens from their tribes, and thus excluding them from all political rights.

(c.) The Censors also had the administration of the finances of the state, under the direction of the Senate. They let out the taxes to the highest bidders for the space of a lustrum, or five years. They likewise received from the Senate certain sums of money to keep the public buildings, roads, and aqueducts in repair, and to construct new public works in Rome and other parts of Italy. Hence we find that many of the great public roads, such as the Via Appia and Via Flaminia, were made by Censors.

II. THE SENATE. - The Senate was in reality the executive government of Rome, and the Magistrates, of whom we have been speaking, were only its ministers. The Senate consisted of Three Hundred members, who held the dignity for life unless expelled by the Censors for reasons already mentioned, but they could not transmit the honor to their sons. All vacancies in the body were filled up by the Censors every five years from those who had held the Quæstorship or any higher magistracy. The Censors were thus confined in their selection to those who had already received the confidence of the people, and no one could therefore enter the Senate unless he had some experience in political affairs.

The power of the Senate was very great. It exercised a control over legislation, since no law could be proposed to the Assemblies of the People unless it had first received the approval of the Senate. In many cases "Senatus consulta" were passed, which had the force of laws without being submitted to the Popular Assemblies at all. This was especially the case in matters affecting religion, police, administration, the provinces, and all foreign relations.

In foreign affairs the authority of the Senate was absolute, with the exception of declaring war and making peace, which needed the sanction of the Centuries. The Senate assigned the provinces into which the Consuls and Prætors were to be sent; they determined the manner in which a war was to be conducted, and the number of troops to be levied; they prolonged the command of a general or superseded him at their pleasure, and on his return they granted or refused him a triumph; they alone carried on negotiations with foreign states, and all embassadors to foreign powers were appointed by the Senate from their own body.

In home affairs they had the superintendence in all matters of religion. They had also the entire administration of the finances. When the Republic was in danger the Senate had the power of suspending the laws by the appointment of a Dictator, or by investing the Consuls with dictatorial power, as already mentioned.

III. THE POPULAR ASSEMBLIES. - 1. The Comitia Curiata, the Patrician assembly, had become a mere form as early as the First Punic War. The gradual decline of its power has been already traced. It continued to meet for the transaction of certain matters pertaining to the Patrician gentes, but was represented simply by 30 lictors.

2. The constitution of the Comitia Centuriata, as established by Servius Tullius, had undergone a great change between the time of the Licinian Rogations and the Punic Wars, but both the exact time and nature of this change are unknown. It appears, however, that its object was to give more power and influence to the popular element in the state. For this purpose the 35 tribes were taken as the basis of the new Constitution of the Centuries. Each tribe was probably divided into five property Classes, and each Classis was subdivided into two Centuries, one of Seniores and the other of Juniores. Each tribe would thus contain 10 Centuries, and, consequently, the 35 tribes would have 350 Centuries, so that, with the 18 Centuries of the Knights, the total number of the Centuries would be 368.

The Comitia of the Centuries still retained the election of the higher magistrates, the power of enacting laws, of declaring war and making peace, and also the highest judicial functions. Accusations for treason were brought before the Centuries, and in all criminal matters every Roman citizen could appeal to them. But, notwithstanding these extensive powers, their influence in the state was gradually superseded by the Assembly of the Tribes.

3. The Comitia Tributa obtained its superior influence and power mainly through its Tribunes. The Assembly of the Centuries, being summoned and presided over by the Consuls, was, to a great extent, an instrument in the hands of the Senate, while that of the Tribes, being guided by its own magistrates, and representing the popular element, was frequently opposed to the Senate, and took an active part in the internal administration of the state. The increasing power of the Tribunes naturally led to a corresponding increase in the power of the Tribes. The right of Intercession possessed by the Tribunes was extended to all matters. Thus we find the Tribunes preventing the Consuls from summoning the Senate and from proposing laws to the Comitia of the Centuries. As the persons of the Tribunes were sacred, the Senate could exercise no control over them, while they, on the contrary, could even seize a Consul or a Censor, and throw him into prison. The only effective check which the Senate had upon the proceedings of the Tribunes was, that one Tribune could put his veto upon the acts of his colleagues. Consequently, by securing the support of one member of the body, the Senate were able to prevent the other Tribunes from carrying out their plans.

The Plebiscita enacted by the Tribes had the same force as the Leges of the Centuries. There were thus two sovereign assemblies at Rome, each independent of the other; that of the Tribes, as already observed, was the most important at the period which we have now reached.

IV. FINANCES. - The ordinary expenditure of the Roman state was not large. All the magistrates discharged their duties without pay; and the allied troops, which formed so large a portion of a Roman army, were maintained by the allies themselves. The expenses of war were defrayed by a property-tax called Tributum, which was usually one in a thousand, or one tenth per cent., but after the last war with Macedonia the treasury received such large sums from the provinces that the tributum was abolished. From this time the expenses of the state were almost entirely defrayed by the taxes levied in the provinces. The other revenues of the state, which bore the general name of Vectigalia, may be dismissed with a few words. They consisted of the rents arising from the public lands, of the customs' duties, of the taxes upon mines, salt, etc.

V. THE ARMY. - The Roman army was originally called Legio; and this name, which is coeval with the foundation of Rome, continued down to the latest times. The Legion was therefore not equivalent to what we call a regiment, inasmuch as it contained troops of all arms, infantry, cavalry, and, when military engines were extensively employed, artillery also. The number of soldiers who, at different periods, were contained in a legion, does not appear to have been absolutely fixed, but to have varied within moderate limits. Under Romulus the legion contained 3000 foot-soldiers. From the expulsion of the Kings until the second year of the Second Punic War the regular number may be fixed at 4000 or 4200 infantry. From the latter period until the consulship of Marius the ordinary number was from 5000 to 5200. For some centuries after Marius the numbers varied from 5000 to 6200, generally approaching to the higher limit. Amid all the variations with regard to the infantry, 300 horsemen formed the regular complement of the legion. The organization of the legion differed at different periods.

1. First Period. Servius Tullius. - The legion of Servius is so closely connected with the Comitia Centuriata that it has already been discussed, and it is only necessary to state here that it was a phalanx equipped in the Greek fashion, the front ranks being furnished with a complete suit of armor, their weapons being long spears, and their chief defense the round Argolic shield (clipeus).

2. Second Period. The Great Latin War, B.C. 340. - The legion in B.C. 340 had almost entirely discarded the tactics of the phalanx. It was now drawn up in three, or perhaps we ought to say, in five lines. The soldiers of the first line, called Hastati, consisted of youths in the first bloom of manhood, distributed into 15 companies or maniples (manipuli), a moderate space being left between each. The maniple contained 60 privates, 2 centurions (centuriones), and a standard-bearer (vexillarius). The second line, the Principes, was composed of men in the full vigor of life, divided in like manner into 15 maniples, all heavily armed. The two lines of the Hastati and Principes taken together amounted to 30 maniples, and formed the Antepilani. The third line, the Triarii, composed of tried veterans, was also in 15 divisions, but each of these was triple, containing 3 maniples. In these triple maniples the veterans, or Triarii proper, formed the front ranks; immediately behind them stood the Rorarii, inferior in age and prowess, while the Accensi, or supernumeraries, less trustworthy than either, were posted in the extreme rear.

3. Third Period. During the Wars of the younger Scipio. - Under ordinary circumstances four legions were levied yearly, two being assigned to each Consul. It must be observed that a regular consular army no longer consisted of Roman legions only, but, as Italy became gradually subjugated, the various states under the dominion of Rome were bound to furnish a contingent, and the number of allies usually exceeded that of the citizens. They were, however, kept perfectly distinct, both in the camp and in the battle-field.

The men belonging to each legion were separated into four divisions. 1. 1000 of the youngest and poorest were set apart to form the Velites, the light-armed troops or skirmishers of the legion. 2. 1200 who came next in age (or who were of the same age with the preceding, but more wealthy) formed the Hastati. 3. 1200, consisting of those in the full vigor of manhood, formed the Principes. 4. 600 of the oldest and most experienced formed the Triarii. When the number of soldiers in the legion exceeded 4000, the first three divisions were increased proportionally, but the number of the Triarii remained always the same. The Hastati, Principes, and Triarii were each divided into 10 companies, called Maniples. The Velites were not divided into companies, but were distributed equally among the Hastati, Principes, and Triarii. Each maniple was subdivided into two centuries, commanded by a centurion. Each legion had six superior officers, called Tribuni Militum. The legion was also divided into 10 cohorts; and as the cohorts were all equal to each other, the strength of the cohort varied from time to time with the strength of the legion, and thus at different periods ranged between the limits of 300 and 600.

Three hundred horse-soldiers were apportioned to each legion, divided into 10 troops (turmæ), out of which three officers were chosen named Decuriones.

The infantry furnished by the Socii was for the most part equal in number to the Roman legions, the cavalry twice or thrice as numerous, and the whole were divided equally between the two consular armies. Each Consul named 12 superior officers, who were termed Præfecti Sociorum, and corresponded by the Legionary Tribunes.

Fourth Period. From the times of the Gracchi until the downfall of the Republic. - After the times of the Gracchi the following changes in military affairs may be noticed: In the first consulship of Marius the legions were thrown open to citizens of all grades, without distinction of fortune. The whole of the legionaries were armed and equipped in the same manner, all being now furnished with the pilum. The legionaries, when in battle-order, were no longer arranged in three lines, each consisting of ten maniples with an open space between each maniple, but in two lines, each consisting of five cohorts, with a space between each cohort. The younger soldiers were no longer placed in the front, but in reserve, the van being composed of veterans. As a necessary result of the above arrangements, the distinction between Hastati, Principes, and Triarii ceased to exist. The Velites disappeared. The skirmishers, included under the general term Levis Armatura, consisted for the most part of foreign mercenaries possessing peculiar skill in the use of some national weapon, such as the Balearic slingers, the Cretan archers (sagittarii), and the Moorish dartmen. When operations requiring great activity were undertaken, such as could not be performed by mere skirmishers, detachments of legionaries were lightly equipped, and marched without baggage for these special services. The cavalry of the legion underwent a change in every respect analogous to that which took place with regard to the light-armed troops. The Roman Equites attached to the army were very few in number, and were chiefly employed as aids-de-camp and on confidential missions. The bulk of the cavalry consisted of foreigners, and hence we find the legions and the cavalry spoken of as completely distinct from each other. After the termination of the Social War, when most of the inhabitants of Italy became Roman citizens, the ancient distinction between the Legiones and the Socii disappeared, and all who had served as Socii became incorporated with the Legiones.

In the course of the history the Triumphs granted to victorious generals have been frequently mentioned, and therefore a brief description of them may appropriately close this sketch of the Roman army. A Triumph was a solemn procession, in which a victorious general entered the city in a chariot drawn by four horses. He was preceded by the captives and spoils taken in war, was followed by his troops, and, after passing in state along the Via Sacra, ascended the Capitol to offer sacrifice in the Temple of Jupiter. From the beginning of the Republic down to the extinction of liberty a Triumph was recognized as the summit of military glory, and was the cherished object of ambition to every Roman general. After any decisive battle had been won, or a province subdued by a series of successful operations, the general forwarded to the Senate a laurel-wreathed dispatch containing an account of his exploits. If the intelligence proved satisfactory the Senate decreed a public thanksgiving. After the war was concluded, the general, with his army, repaired to Rome, or ordered his army to meet him there on a given day, but did not enter the city. A meeting of the Senate was held without the walls, that he might have an opportunity of urging his pretensions in person, and these were then scrutinized and discussed with the most jealous care. If the Senate gave their consent, they at the same time voted a sum of money toward defraying the necessary expenses, and one of the Tribunes applied for a plebiscitum to permit the Imperator to retain his imperium on the day when he entered the city. This last form could not be dispensed with, because the imperium conferred by the Comitia did not include the city itself; and accordingly the military power of the general ceased as soon as he re-entered the gates, unless the general law had been previously suspended by a special enactment.

A Roman general addressing the soldiers. (From a Coin.)
A Roman general addressing the soldiers. (From a Coin.)

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