Government - RepublicAdministratio - libera respublica

Romulus and Remus with she wolf
Romulus and Remus raised by a she wolf

Rome has its foundations wrapped up in both myth and fact. It is hard to draw the line for where either starts or finishes and it is not the purpose of this site to do so. However, Rome is generally understood to have had one founding father who killed his brother in order to fulfil his own dreams of ruling a great city. Romulus and Remus were twins conceived by the God Mars or demi god Hercules with their mother, Rhea Silvia (aka Ilia) after she was forced to become a Vestal Virgin when Amulius had his brother, Numitor, removed from the throne and killed. Numitor was the father of Rhea and the rightful heir to the throne along with his sons who would have succeeded him had Amulius not killed them too. Romulus and Remus were left for dead by Amulius and subsequently were found and suckled by a she wolf.

It is said that the twins were later found by a shepherd, Faustulus, and his wife, Acca Larentia, who raised them as their own and brought them up as shepherds. However, when the twins found that Amulius had killed their mother they, in turn, had him killed and returned Numitor to the throne as King of Alba Longa. They then left the city to found their own. Following them were slaves, fugitives and, basically, anyone who wanted to taste something new. The brothers argued over the best place to build the new city and Romulus it was who preferred to build upon the Palatine Hill where Remus wished to build upon the Aventine Hill.

They settled the argument over an augury in which Romulus was to see twelve eagles as opposed to Remus who saw six on the day of the augury from their vantage points on their chosen hills. Remus claimed he saw his six eagles first and fell out with his brother. Romulus proceeded to build a wall around the Palatine and Remus, who attempted to interrupt the work much of the time, eventually climbed over part of the wall to register his objections and was promptly killed by his brother. The date was the 21st April 753 BC and is regarded as the founding date of the city of Rome and is known as ab urbe condita. Rome was to date major events from that date onward using the initials AUC.

Romulus and Remus would have been 18 when Rome was founded as Plutarch says Romulus was 54 when he died (it is also said he simply vanished) in 717 BC placing their year of birth in 771 BC. Of course this is just one interpretation of the story and many more exist but it gives an insight to the reader of just how fantastic some events may have to be glossed over to give the opportunity to offer the author divine right to rule over their people and we still see this today.

The Romans soon tired of kings and their own egotistical ways of governing so introduced the Republic. The following information gives us the makeup of the Roman governing bodies under the Republic. From the upper echelons of government the order was as follows:

SENATE, PEOPLE, KNIGHTS AND MAGISTRATES

THE SENATE (SENATUS), as the governing body, was largely in the hands of the nobles (nobiles) or patricians (patricii).

Responsibilities of the Senate
passing decrees
supervising state religion
appointment of magistrates to provinces
controlling finances and building contracts and dealing with emergencies
preparation of proposals to bring to the people
directing foreign relations

THE PEOPLE (POPULUS) could pass resolutions, as the people (plebiscite), through the force of law though the Senate had the greater control.

There were four assemblies
AssemblyResponsibilities
comitia curiatathey had formal duties
comitia centuriatathey elected magistrates
comitia tributathey elected lesser magistrates
concilium plebisthey passed plebiscita (resolutions of the people)

THE KNIGHTS (EQUITES) engaged in trade and finance and originally from Rome’s cavalry a third element or class emerged. These were businessmen who acquired more and more political influence and with this became extremely wealthy men. They could even enter the Senate by the time of Cicero who tried to reconcile the three classes with his harmony of the classes (concordia ordinum) which were made up from the senatores, equites and plebs.

THE MAGISTRATES (MAGISTRATUS) were elected annually by the people and their offices were held in the strictest of order (cursus honorum) and after 10 years of military service a young man could enter his career as a magistrate at the lowest ranking order.

The order of office was as follows
AgeOfficeNumber of OfficersResponsibilities
28Quaestor8administor finance and maintain public records
30Aedile4maintenance of water supply and roads
organised games and festivals
33 (39)Praetor6civil judge who could introduce laws
39 (43)Consul2commanded the army and conducted elections
presided over the Senate and carried out its decrees

OTHER MAGISTRATES

AgeOfficeNumber of OfficersResponsibilities
Tribune 10defended the plebs’ rights and had right of veto
Censor2conducted census every five years
conducted purification and revised roll of senators
Dictator1ruled in a crisis for maximum 6 months *
conducted domestic and military matters
Imperiumsupreme power was held by the dictators, praetors and consuls
Potestaspower to enforce laws was held by all magistrates
in front of dictators, praetors and consuls
Lictoreslictors or officials carried bundles of rods (fasces) in front of dictators,
praetors and consuls as a sign of their authority

* JULIUS CAESAR was a classic example of a dictatorship rule far outstretching the 6 month tenure. His rule lasted five years.