Government in Ancient Rome

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Mark Cartwright
published on 30 May 2019

Roman government revolved around the Roman Senate with its body of aristocratic citizens who distinguished themselves from everyone else with their titles, purple-striped togas, senatorial rings and even special shoes. Senators held the key public offices and many would command provinces and armies. Figures such as Julius Caesar and the emperors who followed would diminish the Senate's role, but it would remain an influential body throughout Rome's long history. There were, too, the popular assemblies that enacted legislation and an army of magistrates who enforced it. In addition, courts interpreted the huge body of laws which went back to the Twelve Tables and included countless amendments, cases and imperial edicts.

In this collection, we examine the changing role of the Senate, the fine details of Roman law-making, and some of the key magisterial positions like the aediles and quaestors who controlled every facet of a Roman citizen's civic duties, from paying tax to participating in religious festivals.

During the time of the Republic, these various assemblies were the voice of the citizens of Rome, and although not fully democratic in the modern definition of the word, they allowed at least some portion of the Roman citizenry to be heard. Their essential role in Roman government was crucial enough that the army inscribed on their military standards the letters SPQR - Senatus Populusque Romanus or Senate and Roman people.


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Questions & Answers

What was the role of Roman government?

The role of Roman government was to discuss and pass laws on all aspects of daily life. The Senate had indirect executive powers while the popular assemblies voted on new laws. Government decided how Romans lived their public and private lives since there was no real distinction between the two.

Why was the Roman government so successful?

Roman government was successful because it shared power between different institutions, officials, and the citizen body. This balance of power meant it was not fully democratic but neither could individuals - even the emperors - ignore the apparatus of government.

What was the most powerful part of government in ancient Rome?

The most powerful part of government in ancient Rome was the two consuls, voted by the popular assembly for one year in office. A consul had supreme executive power, commanding the army, presiding over the Senate, and deciding on new laws to be voted on
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About the Author

Mark Cartwright
Mark is a full-time writer, researcher, historian, and editor. Special interests include art, architecture, and discovering the ideas that all civilizations share. He holds an MA in Political Philosophy and is the WHE Publishing Director.

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