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The Rise of the Roman Senate

The history of the Roman Senate can be broken up into three parts. The first part is the Senate in the early times of Rome. The second part is the Senate during the later Republic. Finally, the third part is the Senate in the first century. These three parts show how the Roman Senate went from a respectful power to a corrupt power. Rome’s early government was a monarchy. A monarchy is a government in which the supreme power is actually lodged in a monarch, or king. This monarchy led the way for the coming oligarchy. An oligarchy is a form of government where the power is given to a few people or a dominant class.

This oligarchy was removed by a democracy. A democracy is a form of government where the supreme power is given to the people. Whoever studies the history of Rome will come to realize that the reason for the rise of the Roman civilization was due to the senatorial authority. There was a dual government between prince and Senate, which developed into the Empire. During the Empire, when all the power was in the hands of the Emperor, the Senate kept a tradition of respect for the people. Although there is much information on the history of the Roman Senate, we are only going to cover the Senate in the early times of the Roman Empire.

This paper will attempt to show how the Senate dominated the Roman government and became a great force during the Early Republic. The origin of the Senate can be attributed to the beginning period when each clan in Latium was under the rule of its own Elder. As the clans merged, the position of each Elder was lower to that of the king of the community. As soon as Romulus, the founder of Rome, was elected king, he took a council of advisors called the senatus, or elders, into his trust. The term of office for the first senators was for life.

When a senator died, the king chose a man from the same group to take his place. The senators were considered as so many kings from the whole community, although the chief power was given in one of their body, namely the king. The Senate was the ultimate source of the ruling power and was also a guarantee of the performance of the monarchy. “During the Era of the Roman Republic, lawmaking was a bicameral activity” (T. R. Reid, 1997)There were two important functions of the Senate. One was to give advice to the king. The second function was to cast the vote passed by the assembly of the people.

The Senate as unable to meet until they had been called upon by the king. From the encouragement between the king and the Senate, the extensive powers of the Senate were developed. The Senate was soon after given the power to veto proposals from the king before he brought them before the citizens. When the king found the opinion of the individual members in the Senate, he avoided any possibility of opposition from the Senate. The first recorded act from the Senate was to have Romulus send messengers to all of the neighboring nations. They did this because they wanted an alliance and to have inter-marriage.

The third king of Rome, Tullus Hostilius, enrolled nobles from Alba in the Senate. He did this after he granted citizenship to the people in that city. He also built the Senate house called the Curia Hostilia. The fourth Roman king, Ancus Marcius, declared war on the advice of the Senate. The fifth king of Rome, Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, added one hundred members of the Lucerian tribe to the Senate. The Senate acknowledged the sixth king of Rome, Servius Tullius, however, he was not acknowledged by the people of Rome. When Tarquinius Superbus succeeded Servius, he put the leading senators to death.

He did this because he believed that the senators favored Servius’ cause. The numbers of the senators were greatly reduced. Tarquinius did not make any effort to fill in more senators. He was the first king to not consult with the Senate. War, peace, and alliances were either brought up or broken off by himself without the advice of the Senate. Tarquin was banished from Rome and the rule of the kings ended. The people of Rome worked on reorganizing the government after the rule of Tarquin. Instead of the king, there were two patrician magistrates.

They were called consuls. Patricians were people of noble or high rank. The plebeians on the other hand were people of the lesser or poor rank. The consuls were chosen for one year and were given all of the powers that were once had by the king. One of the first things done by the consuls was to fill up the Senate with men known for their political cleverness. The number of the Senate was raised to three hundred members. It was still made up mostly of patricians, but on occasions when its advice was asked, a number of plebeians were admitted and added to the senate roll.

After the fall of the kings, the Senate provided the purchase of corn among neighboring states in a time of scarcity. They made a state monopoly of salt for the poor, and also freed the Plebeians from the port dues and levied payments. The Senate placed these dues and payments on the wealthy. These acts implied a legislative and administrative power. Foreign affairs, such as the decision of war and peace, stayed with the Senate. The Senate became a conservation of experience. The Senate also became a representative of a public custom in early Rome. Most of the Senators lived in easy reach of Rome.

They lived so close in case they were all called upon for special meetings. This led to frequent meetings in the time of a crisis, especially when it was necessary to act wisely without a delay. “In the year 509 B. C. E. the patrician families of Rome set up a quasi-rep form of government, with a pair of ruling consuls elected for a one year term”(T. R. Reid, 1997). This change was not recognized by the law, so the new position of the Senate was hardly ever questioned. Occasions where popular demands overrode the works of the Senate were extremely rare. Cases where the magistrate defied the senatorial authority were scarce.

It was made understood that no legislation was to be proposed by a magistrate in an assembly without the consent of the Senate. The Senate became concerned about the treasury and the direction of the finance of Rome. This led to a new taxation that was first approved by the Senate. They approved of this tax because it would help the financial struggle that Rome was experiencing. The Senate carried on the declarations, or proclamations, of war and peace. The Senate also carried on ratification by the centuriate assembly, and also all diplomatic relations with the other neighboring states.

Permanent settlements, as well as treaties, had to be referred to as the home government. In 452 B. C. E. , The plebeians wanted a written code of laws. This was because the tribunes were always delayed from helping the poor by a wanting of a fixed set of laws that might bind judges to constant judgments. The Plebeians demanded a public code. This was because they accused the judges of being in favor of the patricians with individual interpretations. The Plebeians voted for ten men to be elected, instead of the two consuls, to serve as executives fore one year and act as a committee to draw up a code of laws.

During that year, ten tables, or law’s, were drawn up and accepted by the assembly. When two more tables were added to the original code, a political argument rose up. There were charges that were made because the ten members Had been trying to seize power and continue to remain in office illegally. There was a decree passed by the Senate that told the ten members to leave the magistrate at the earliest possible time. In 443 B. C. E. , the Senate created an office of censorship. The Senate wanted this office because there would be a rise in patrician magistrates in the administration of the Senate.

As soon as there came to be plebeian senators, the office of censorship had the right to decide whether the legality of the elective acts of the authorization of the senators was acceptable or not. The Senates position as advisor to the chief magistrate, its position of office for life, and having the right to reject proposals placed the government in the hands of the Senate. From the beginning of the consulate, the Senate was given more power than it held during the regal period. Considering the consul’s rule was so short, the Senate became the real governing power.

No magistrate submitted a proposal to the people without the Senate’s opinion. If he did, then the Senate opposed him by vetoing the power of the magistrates. The Senate also had the power to extend the term of office to the consul, which was originally for one year. There were three fields in which the Senate held their greatest activities. One of such activity was Religion. A second activity was finances, and lastly was foreign politics. The reasons for the domination of the Senate in the Roman government are easily seen.

The Senate was contained with all men whom had political experience in the Roman Senate. These Senators were ex-magistrates. The Senate was the only body of government constantly in existence. It was also capable of carrying through a constant policy. Finally, The reason why the Senate was so successful was because the people of Rome trusted the wisdom and judgment of the senators. “It would not be until Hannibal of Carthage boldly drove his vast army and elephants southward over the icebound Alps, challenging Rome and nearly destroying the Republic” (Melville Bell Grosvenor, 1968)

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