The roman inn Senate functioned as an advisory human body to Rome"s magistrates and was written of the city"s many experienced publicly servants and society"s elite. Its decision carried great weight, even if these to be not constantly converted right into laws in practice. The Senate continued to exert influence on government in the royal period, albeit come a lesser degree.

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Over time the Senate witnessed boost in the army"s treatment in politics and suffered manipulation in both membership and sessions by successive emperors. The school outlasted every emperors, and senators continued to be Rome"s most powerful political movers, holding key public offices, affecting public opinion, commanding legions, and also governing provinces.


The Romans used the name senatus for their most essential seat the government, i m sorry derives from senex meaning "old" and also meant "assembly the old men" with a connotation the wisdom and also experience. Members were sometimes referred to as "fathers" or patres, and also so this combination of principles illustrates the the Senate to be a body designed to carry out reasoned and balanced guidance come the roman inn state and its people.

According to tradition, Rome"s founder Romulus developed the very first 100-member Senate as an advisory human body to the sovereign, yet very little is know about its actual function in Rome"s early history as a monarchy. In the early Republic, that is most likely the body started as an advisory board to magistrates and then flourished in power as retirement magistrates joined it as shown by the lex Ovinia (after 339 BCE but before 318 BCE) which collection out that members must be recruited from the "best men." A new list that members was compiled every 5 years by the censors, but senators usually kept their role for life uneven they had actually committed a dishonourable act. Because that example, in 70 BCE, no fewer than 64 senators were omitted indigenous the new list because that undignified conduct. The system was now in ar which, in effect, developed a brand-new and an effective political course that would dominate Roman federal government for centuries.


From the third century BCE there to be 300 members that the Senate, and also after the revolutionary of Sulla in 81 BCE, there to be probably roughly 500 senators, although after ~ that date there does no seem to have actually been one of two people a particular minimum or best number. Julius Caesar instigated reforms in the mid-1st century BCE, provided out member to his supporters, and also extended the to include important individuals from cities various other than Rome so the there were then 900 senators. Augustus subsequently diminished the member to about 600. The senators to be led by the princeps senatus, who always spoke an initial in debates. The position became less necessary in the final years the the Republic, however it to be brought ago to importance under Augustus.

The formal function of the Senate was to recommend the magistrates v decrees & resolutions. Its decisions were offered weight by the fact that numerous senators to be themselves ex-magistrates & therefore vetoes to be rare.

There is evidence that the Senate was no wholly created of members the the aristocratic patrician class, also if they formed the bulk of that is members. Some non-senators - magistrates of particular kinds such as tribunes, aediles and later quaestors - can attend and also speak in sessions that the Senate. Invariably, such members were made complete senators in the next censorship. Naturally, no all members proactively participated in sessions and also many would simply have actually listened to the speeches and voted.

The location of senator lugged with it specific privileges such together the best to stay a toga with a Tyrian purple stripe (latus clavus), a senatorial ring, distinct shoes, one epithet (later with 3 ranks: clarissimi, spectabiles, illustres), specific fiscal benefits, and also the finest seats at public festivals and games. There were restrictions too, with no senator gift able to leave Italy there is no the Senate"s approval, own big ships, or bid because that state contracts.

The Curia

The Senate met in various places in Rome or that outskirts in ~ a mile that the city boundary, but the place had to it is in sacred, the is a templum. The obvious candidate was a temple, yet the Senate most frequently met in the Curia, a public structure in Rome. The first was the Curia Hostilia, offered in the beforehand kingdom, climate the Curia Cornelia, constructed by Sulla, and finally the Curia Julia, developed by Caesar, finished by Augustus and used thereafter. The sessions were open to the general public with a literal open door plan that enabled people come sit outside and listen in if they wished.

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The Curia

Legislation & Proceedings

The formal function of the Senate to be to recommend the magistrates (consuls, censors, quaestors, aediles, and so on) v decrees and also resolutions. That is decisions were given further weight by the truth that countless senators were themselves ex-magistrates with helpful experience of governance, and also so, in practice, vetoes were rare (but did take place by, for example, the tribunes of the well-known assembly, the tribuni plebis). Magistrates likewise had to think about that they would certainly themselves be earlier in the Senate after your one year of office. ~ above implementation the decrees came to be law. Exceptionally, during the situations presented by the autumn of the Republic, the Senate could and did problem emergency decrees (senatus consultum ultimum) that deemed essential to defend the state.

From the 4th century BCE, the Senate became increasingly influential on public plan as that of the renowned assemblies and magistrates waned. The Senate decided on together matters as residential policies, including financial and religious areas, very first formulating proposals which just then walk the popular assemblies have the possibility to debate. International policy was likewise considered such as hearing international ambassadors, deciding the distribution of the legions, and creating provinces and also deciding your borders. Present laws and also their deficiencies could likewise be debated. In addition, the Senate had actually the power to light prestige top top Rome"s most an effective men, especially in the award of triumphs because that successful army campaigns.

A document was kept of the proceedings (senatus consulta) and published for the general public to above in the general public archive or Tabularium. The exercise was quit by Augustus. Senators could always access these records, though, and also writers, who were nearly always senators, were not shy to quote indigenous them in their works.

The imperial Period

The Senate was still an significant body even after Augustus came to be emperor. Senators continued to debate and also sometimes reject of the emperor"s actions, and as the historian F.Santangelo notes, the Senate "retained crucial prerogatives in military, fiscal, and spiritual matters, and also appointed the governors the the provinces that were not under the direct regulate of Augustus" (Bagnall, 6142). Particular law situations involving non-senators as well as senators (e.g. Bribery, extortion, and crimes versus the people) were made decision by the Senate and their ruling could not be overturned by the emperor.


The Senate continued to be a prestigious human body with necessary ceremonial and symbolic powers, membership of which to be still the aspiration that Rome"s upstream citizens, now accessible to new members only via election to the quaestorship (20 every year). Augustus presented a minimum property qualification because that membership and also then created a senatorial order through which only boy of senators or those provided the condition by the emperor could become senators. Over the centuries, together the realm expanded so too did the geographical beginnings of the senators until, through the third century CE, as much as 50% that senators come from external Italy.

In practice, in spite of their ongoing influence and prestige, the senators" powers had greatly diminished compared to in the Republic at its height. A small group the senators was currently appointed by the emperor (consilium) which chose what specifically would be debated by the full Senate, i beg your pardon Augustus himself occasionally chaired in person. Tiberius (r. 14-37 CE) was an additional keen attendee, but he dispensed through the consilium, also if countless subsequent emperors formed a similar informal advisory dashboard which contained some senators. Real political power was in the hands of the emperors, but the Senate, nevertheless, continued to pass a huge quantity that legislation throughout the Principate. One more important affect was the speeches make by senators, however when monarchs started to make these us (orationes), they were consequently quoted through jurists, suggesting they may have had, in valuable terms, the force of law. Augustus also set a time limit on speeches made by anyone except the emperor. The Senate could have become less influential, but emperors were still formally given their strength of office by it, and therefore their legitimacy to rule. The Senate could also have the ultimate critical word on one emperor"s regime by proclaiming them a public opponent or officially erasing your memory (damnatio memoriae).

Threats to the Senate

There were direct challenges to the authority of the Senate as well as those occurring from Rome"s daily system the government. In the 70s BCE a rival human body was set up in Spain through Sertorius and also the Senate itself to be often separation into factions throughout the death throes the the Republic when big groups of senators sided v the most powerful men of the time such as Marius, Pompey, and Caesar. A an excellent many senators additionally fell foul the the political machinations the these men of ambition and were expelled from the Senate or worse.


Throughout the imperial duration most monarchs recognised that the Senate was crucial voice that the upstream of Rome and a enjoy of their essential involvement in the to work of the empire, however their very attendance, the importance offered to imperial speeches, and also the moving away native acclamation instead of actual voting to happen legislation argues that the Senate steadily decreased as a forum of actual political debate.

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Reforms through Diocletian (284-305 CE) and also Constantine (306-337 CE) transferred numerous public location from the senators to the equestrians or at least blurred the distinction between the two classes. The Late empire then witnessed the momentous decision to split the Senate into two bodies, one in Rome and the various other in Constantinople. Together the emperor now resided in the latter city, the Senate of Rome became only concerned with neighborhood matters. The Senate ongoing on, though, and even outlasted the Roman realm itself, however it would never regain the power and also prestige the had took pleasure in in the middle centuries that the Republic before Rome ended up being dominated by people of substantial wealth and also military power.

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Bagnall, R.S. The Encyclopedia of old History. Wiley-Blackwell, 2012Grant, M. The history of Rome. Faber & Faber, 1993


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Mark is a background writer based in Italy. His special interests incorporate pottery, architecture, people mythology and discovering the principles that all civilizations share in common. The holds an MA in politics Philosophy and is the publishing Director in ~ WHE.