Government under the Roman
Under the Republic, two (2) elected consuls
shared the head of government. Consuls were members of the Senate, who had
been elected to serve for a one year term in the position of Consul, the
highest position in government under the Republic. The consuls most important
power was that they controlled the army.
The Senate was composed of leaders from the
patricians, the noble and wealthy families of ancient Rome.
They were the law makers. They controlled spending. Members of the Senate
were not elected. They were chosen by the Consuls. Once chosen, they served
for life. There were 300 seats in the Senate. When a seat opened, a new Senator
was selected by the current Consuls.
The Assembly was composed of all the
plebeian citizens of Rome, the common man. The Assembly
did not have a building. It was the right of the common man to assemble in
Forum and vote.
In the beginning, the Assembly had very limited
power. They could vote for or suggest laws, but the Senate could block their
decisions. The Assembly could vote to declare war, but again, the Senate
could override them.
However, the Assembly had one power that was very impressive
- it was the Assembly who voted each year on which two members of the Senate
would serve as Consuls. As a noble, if you wanted to rise to the level of
Consul, the highest position in government under the Republic, you needed
to gain the support of the plebeian class. Since it was the Consuls
who filled empty seats in the Senate, if the Assembly chose their Consuls
well, they could slowly gain power in government by putting people in charge
who were sympathetic to their needs.
Some members of the Assembly became quite powerful in government
in their own right. Some tradesmen were very wealthy. There is an old expression
- money talks - which means the rich seem to be heard more easily than the
In ancient Rome, certainly money talked, but so did those who had the
power of speech. The Romans loved a great orator. When the Assembly met,
down at the Forum, many speeches were going on at the same time. One speaker
might say, "Rome's roads need repair!" Another speaker might say, "We need
to stop crime in the streets." If you wanted your speech to have an impact,
it did not matter how rich or poor you were. What mattered was how persuasive
you were as a speaker.