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Roman magistracy


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Magistrates at Rome may be divided between (a) the ordināriī (regularly elected), namely consuls, praetors, censors, curule aediles (these four offices were distinguished by privileges as ‘curule’, so called because they were entitled to use the official curule chair or sella curūlis), quaestors, the vigintisexvirate (vigintivirate under the empire), and (not formally magistrates of the whole people but only of the plebs) the tribuni plebis and aediles of the plebs, and (b) the extraordinarii, namely interrex, city prefect (altered by Augustus), dictator, magister equitum, and a number of unique commissions (tresviri rei publicae constituendae (see triumviri), etc.). More important is the distinction between those who possessed imperium (consuls, praetors, dictators, magistri equitum, and the tresviri r. p. c.) and those who did not (the rest). The competences and histories of the individual magistracies varied greatly and are treated separately. Most of them did, however, share certain features. They were elected (apart from the interrex, dictator, magister equitum, and city prefect). They were temporary: all the regular magistracies were annual, apart from the censorship. They were organized in colleges (usually of two, three, or ten members), and thereby subject to the intercessio (veto) of their colleagues; the dictatorship is the most significant exception, for which reason tenure of it was restricted to six months, until Sulla and, Caesar, whose dictatorship for life effectively re‐created the imperium of the kings. They were unpaid: magistracy was regarded as an honour (honōs can be a synonym for magistrātus). The powers of magistrates with imperium were restricted over time, by the creation of the tribunate of the plebs and by the development of provocatio. But Roman magistrates, unlike Athenian, were never formally accountable to the people who elected them. Around the middle of the 2nd cent. bc it came to be felt that they ought to be. Magistrates and promagistrates (see pro consule, pro praetore) could be called to account, but this required special prosecutions which could be (and were) initiated by tribunes. Attempts formally to regulate the conduct, to enforce public scrutiny, and to facilitate public accountability of magistrates and promagistrates were made (chiefly by Gaius Sempronius Gracchus and Appuleius Saturninus), but this initiative foundered as the holders of high office dominant in (and, collectively, as) the senate defended their power and privilege, and as political principle gave way to internecine politics in the late republic.

(a) the ordināriī (regularly elected), namely consuls, praetors, censors, curule aediles (these four offices were distinguished by privileges as ‘curule’, so called because they were entitled to use the official curule chair or sella curūlis), quaestors, the vigintisexvirate (vigintivirate under the empire), and (not formally magistrates of the whole people but only of the plebs) the tribuni plebis and aediles of the plebs, and (b) the extraordinarii, namely interrex, city prefect (altered by Augustus), dictator, magister equitum, and a number of unique commissions (tresviri rei publicae constituendae (see triumviri), etc.). More important is the distinction between those who possessed imperium (consuls, praetors, dictators, magistri equitum, and the tresviri r. p. c.) and those who did not (the rest). The competences and histories of the individual magistracies varied greatly and are treated separately.

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Subjects: Classical Studies.


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