The word Consul comes from the Latin consul and refers to the highest ranking magistrate within the Roman Republic . Every year two consuls were chosen from among citizens who were over forty-two years old. The consul’s role was to direct the state, especially the army in the field. In this article we will let you aware Consul in ancient Rome.
The consul became a post that symbolized Roman politics, his power became greater than that of any other magistrate. They could be compared to the king , with the difference that the latter served for life and the consuls had to fulfill a mandate.
Origin of the consul
The Roman Republic was accompanied from its beginning by the role of the Consul in its magistracy. It was established just after removing the last Roman King (Lucio Tarquinio the Proud) in 509 BC. The first two Consuls chosen by the Centuriate Committee , ironically, were related to the King who had been deposed. Those who held this position were Colatino and Lucio Junio Bruto . The first declined to the position and was replaced by Publio Valerio, historically known as Publícola or “friend of the people.”
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Functions of the Consul in Ancient Rome
The first Consuls had to ensure that the laws passed were aimed at defending the nascent Republic . Anyone who tries to proclaim himself King would be sentenced to death. The first measures taken by the consuls were directed to avoid the resurrection of the monarchy . Starting from this position, the consul’s main function was to fill the void that the monarch left in terms of military organization and political power.
The purpose was not to place another monarch in power, but to place a governmental head that would also allow the Republic to be managed politically and militarily . He even had certain religious obligations, to a small extent, in offering the omens to the troops. The powers of a religious nature that the kings possessed were delegated to the Rex Sacrorum (in charge of the sacrifices) and the Pontifex .
Characteristics of the position of Consul
- Two Consuls were chosen simultaneously . This prevented an individual from uncontrollably accumulating power and making decisions based on personal interests.
- Each Consul had the power of command or Imperivm , in addition he could veto the decision of the other. This brought trouble in Rome’s turbulent times, but it did much to prevent tyrants from emerging.
- The two Consuls were required to agree for a command or order to be passed.
- It was common that to avoid problems in the government due to rivalries, some decided to agree in advance that there would be an alternation in the government . For this reason, one governed one month and the other would do so the following month.
- It was not customary for a single Consul to occupy the post, but only in special circumstances, as happened when one died and the year was shortly before the end of the year.
- The period to exercise the position of Consul was one year (known as annuum), after this time two new members were elected.
- Whoever had already been Consul could exercise repeatedly, having allowed ten years to pass between one mandate and another.
- When the Consul finished his term of office, he was welcomed by the Senate to occupy a chair as a life member. They were called Consulares because they had already held this position. They also had the privilege of selecting a Dictator in the event of a foreign threat in Rome or an internal crisis.
Who elected the Consul
At first those who were in charge of choosing the Consul were the members of the Curiate Elections . Over time this power was ceded to the Centuriate Assembly . Upon being elected, they had to take office on March 15. Those elected at the beginning of the year were called Consul ordinarii and that year bore the name of the Consuls. If a consul resigned or died, the one who replaced him was known as Consul suffecti .
Requirements to be Consul
To gain access to the Consul magistracy, requirements were established that varied over time. One of the main ones was the minimum age required (43 years), although with the Lex Vibia Annalis the minimum age was reduced. The age to access was changing until it was 40 years for patricians and 42 years for commoners . Military or political positions were required to access some important position. The difference of a total of ten years was also established between one position and another for the same person.
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The Consul during the Republic
During the Republic era, the Consul held the highest and most powerful position . The actions and decisions he made were above all other positions and could only be restricted by a consular veto, by some major revolt in the Senate or when a dictator was placed in power in times of crisis. Another limitation of the consular power was that one of the decisions was against what the law previously established.
Although the Consul had full power over the troops and his power was similar to that of a King, the Roman model of state ensured that the Consul’s decisions were in full agreement with the Senate . Without the approval of the latter, it was impossible to campaign or carry out political action.
The Consul during the Empire
Some time before the Roman Empire was formed , during the crisis suffered by the Republic, the consular magistracy was losing importance especially with Caesar. Among the main measures that the emperor took was to reduce the power of the Consuls.
This position became a magistracy of power to one that granted only honor and prestige to whoever held it. In this way, the consulate became during the Empire a temporary magistracy or a kind of honorary award from the Emperor. This led to the duration of this position being approximately two months. When an Emperor died, the Consuls ruled until a successor appeared.
The changes became more evident with the reforms applied by Constantine, who assigns a Consul for Rome and another for Constantinople . With these modifications the discrepancies became more obvious. Later, with the division of the Eastern Empire and the Western Empire, each Emperor appointed a Consul in each case.