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comitia


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In Rome the Comitium was the place of assembly. Comitia is a pl. word meaning an assembly of the Roman people summoned in groups by a magistrate possessing the formal right to convene them. He had to convene them on a proper ‘comitial’ day, after the auspices had been taken. When only a part of the people was summoned, the assembly was strictly a concilium. When the whole people was summoned, but not by groups, the assembly was a contio. In the comitia the majority in each group determined the vote of the group. The comitia voted only on proposals put to them by magistrates, and they could not amend them.

The three types of comitia were the comitia cūriāta, the comitia centuriāta, and the comitia tribūta, the constituent voting groups being, respectively, curiae (see curia 1), centuriae, and tribus. Resolutions of the comitia (and possibly of the concilium plebis) were subject to formal ratification by the patrician senators before they could become laws.

Comitia curiata

This was the earliest form of Roman assembly, and its functions were progressively taken over by the comitia centuriata, although it continued throughout the republic to confirm the appointment of magistrates, and witnessed the appointment of priests, adoptions, and wills, probably under the chairmanship of the pontifex maximus. In Cicero's time the 30 curiae were represented in the comitia by 30 lictors.

Comitia centuriata

This was a wealth‐based assembly. Its functions were to enact laws, to elect senior magistrates (consuls, praetors, censors), to declare war and peace, and to inflict the death penalty on Roman citizens who had exercised their right of appeal (see provocatio), or at least on those who were arraigned on political charges. An interval (trinundinum) was observed after the notification of a meeting, during which preliminary discussions (contiones) of the proposals were held. In the judicial comitia a preliminary investigation before a contio had to be held, lasting for three days; after a trinundinum the vote was taken. The comitia centuriata met outside the pomerium, usually in the Campus Martius, and in military order. This reflects the military origins of the comitia centuriata.

The voting centuries in the comitia centuriata numbered 193 in all, and were divided among the five property classes in such a way that the higher census classes, which were numerically the smallest, contained the largest number of centuries; at the bottom the proletarians (proletarii), who fell below the minimum property qualification for membership of the fifth class, were enrolled in a single century and were effectively disfranchised. Each class was also divided equally between centuries of seniors (men aged 46 and over) and juniors (men aged between 17 and 45), although the latter were far more numerous than the former. The result was that the rich could outvote the poor, and the old could outvote the young. A reform of the system in the 3rd cent. went only a little way towards redressing the balance, and the assembly retained an inbuilt conservative bias to the end of the republic.

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Subjects: Classical Studies.


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