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Roman magistracies

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This article is about Consul in the ancient world. For Consul in Nova Roma, see Consul (Nova Roma).

The consulatus was the highest magistracy of the Roman Republic. The name is probably composed of "con" and "sul" which contains the same root as "salio"; so that consules are those who "go together". Consules were sometimes referred as praetores and iudices, and they were considered major colleagues of the praetors.

Upon the establishment of the republic, all the powers that had belonged to the king (regia potestas), were transferred to the consuls, except that which had constituted the king high priest of the state; for this was kept distinct and its ceremonial functions were transferred to a priestly dignitary, called the rex sacrorum, or rex sacrificulus, while the administrative power over religious matters was given to the collegium pontificum.

The consulship was throughout the republic regarded as the highest office and the greatest honour that could be conferred upon a man, for the dictatorship was not a regular magistracy; and the censorship, though conferred only upon consulars, was yet far inferior to the consulship in rank, power and influence.


Establishment of the consulship

The consulate which was established as a republican magistracy at Rome immediately after the abolition of royalty, showed its republican character in the circumstance that its power was divided between two individuals (imperium duplex), and that it was only of one year's duration (annuum). This principle was, on the whole, observed throughout the republican period; and the only exceptions are, that sometimes a dictator was appointed instead of two consuls, and that, in a few instances, when one of the consuls had died, the other remained in office alone, either because the remaining portion of the year was too short, or from religious scruples (Dionys. V.57; Dion Cass. XXXVi.4), for otherwise the rule was, that if either of the consuls died in the year of his office, or abdicated before its expiration, the other was obliged to convene the comitia for the purpose of electing a successor (subrogare or sufficere collegam). It is only during the disturbances in the last century of the republic, that a Cinna maintained himself as sole consul for nearly a whole year (Appian, De Bell. Civ. i.78; Vell. Pat. II.24; Liv. Epit. 83); and that Pompey was appointed sole consul, in order to prevent his becoming dictator (Ascon. ad Cic. p. Mil. p37; Liv. Epit. 107; Appian, De Bell. Civ. ii.23, 25). Nay, in those troubled times, it even came to pass that Cinna and Marius, without any election at all, usurped the power of the consulship.

History of the title

In the earliest times, the title of the chief magistrates was not consules but praetores; characterising them as the commanders of the armies of the republic, or as the officers who stand at the head of the state. Traces of this title occur in ancient legal and religious documents (Liv. VII.3; Plin. H. N. VIII.3; Fest. p161), and also in the names praetorium (the consul's tent), and porta praetoria in the Roman camp (Paul. Diac. p123; Pseudo-Ascon. ad Cic. in Verr. I.14). Sometimes also they are designated by the title iudices, though it perhaps never was their official title, but was given them only in their capacity of judges (Varro, De L. L. VI.9; Liv. III.55). After a third minor praetorship was created in around 366 BC, the name consul was introduced for the highest magistrates in B.C. 305 (Zonar. VII.19), and henceforth remained the established title until the final overthrow of the Roman empire.

Election of consuls

As regards the election of the consuls, it invariably took place in the comitia centuriata, under the presidency of a consul or a dictator; and in their absence, by an interrex. The consuls thus elected at the beginning of a year, were styled consules ordinarii, to distinguish them from the suffecti, or such as were elected in the place of those who had died or abdicated, though the privileges and powers of the latter were in no way inferior to those of the former (Liv. XXIV.7, &c.; comp. XLI.18). At the time when the consulship was superseded by the institution of the tribuni militares consulari potestate, the latter, of course, presided at elections, as the consuls did before and after, and must in general be regarded as the representatives of the consuls in every respect. It was, however, a rule that the magistrate presiding at an election should not be elected himself, though a few exceptions to this rule are recorded (Liv. III.35, VII.24, XXIV.9, XXVII.6). The day of the election which was made known by an edict, three nundines beforehand (Liv. III.35, Liv. IV.6, Liv. XLII.28), naturally depended upon the day on which the magistrates entered upon their office. The latter, however, was not the same at all times, but was often changed.

Entering office

In general it was observed as a rule, that the magistrates should enter upon their office on the kalendae or idus, unless particular circumstances rendered it impossible; but the months themselves varied at different times, and there are no less than eight or nine months in which the consuls are known to have entered upon their functions, and in many of these cases we know the reasons for which the change was made. The real cause appears to have been that the consuls, like the other magistrates, were elected for a whole year; and if before the close of that year the magistracy became vacant either by death or by abdication, their successors, of course, undertook their office on an irregular day, which then remained the dies solennis, until another event of a similar kind rendered another change necessary.

The first consuls, as far as we know, entered upon their office on the ides of September (Dionys. VI.49;º Liv. VII.3). The first change seems to have been brought about by the secession of the plebs, B.C. 493, when the consuls entered on the kalends of September (Dionys. VI.49). In B.C. 479, the day was thrown a whole month backward; for of the consuls of the preceding year one had fallen in battle, and the other abdicated two months before the end of his year; hence the new consuls entered on the kalends of Sextilis (Dionys. IX.25; Liv. III.6). This day remained until B.C. 451, when the consuls abdicated to make room for the decemvirs, who entered upon their office on the ides of May. The same day remained for the two following years (Dionys. X.59; Zonar. VII.18 Fast. Cap.); but when the decemvirate was abolished, another day must have become the dies solennis, but which it was is unknown, until in B.C. 443, we find that it was the ides of December (Dionys. XI.63). This change had been occasioned by the tribuni militares who had been elected the year before, and had been compelled to abdicate (Liv. IV.7; Dionys. XI.62). Henceforth the ides of December remained for a long time the dies solennis (Liv. IV.37, v.9, 11). In B.C. 401, the military tribunes, in consequence of their defeat at Veii, abdicated, and their successors entered upon their office on the kalends of October. In B.C. 391, the consuls entered upon their office on the kalends of Quintilis (Liv. V.32; comp. 31, VII.25, VIII.20).

From this time no further change is mentioned, though several events are recorded which must have been accompanied by an alteration of the dies solennis, until in B.C. 217, we learn that the consuls entered upon their office on the ides of March, which custom remained unaltered for many years (Liv. XXII.1, XXIII.30, xxvi.1, 26, XLIV.19), until in B.C. 154 it was decreed that in future the magistrates should enter upon their office on the 1st of January, a regulation which began to be observed the year after, and remained in force down to the end of the republic (Liv. Epit. 47; Fast. Praenest.).

The changes in the time at which the consuls entered upon their office at different times, may therefore be given in the following tabular view:

  • From B.C. 509 to 493: Ides of September.
  • From B.C. 493 to 479: Kalends of September.
  • From B.C. 479 to 451: Kalends of Sextilis.
  • From B.C. 451 to 449: Ides of May.
  • From B.C. 449 to 443/400: Ides of December.
  • From B.C. 400 to probably till 397: Kalends of October.
  • From B.C. 397 to 329 (perhaps 327): Kalends of Quintilis.
  • From B.C. 327 to 223: unknown.
  • From B.C. 223 to 153: Ides of March.
  • From B.C. 153 till the end: Kalends of January.

The day on which the consuls entered on their office determined the day of the election, though there was no fixed rule, and in the earliest times the elections probably took place very shortly before the close of the official year, and the same was occasionally the case during the latter period of the republic (Liv. XXXVIII.42, XLII.28, XLIII.11). But when the first of January was fixed upon as the day for entering upon the office, the consular comitia were usually held in July or even earlier, at least before the Kalends of Sextilis (Cic. ad Att. I.1;º ad Fam. VIII.4). But even during that period the day of election depended in a great measure upon the discretion of the senate and consuls, who often delayed it (Cic. ad Att. ii.20, iv.15,º p. Leg. Man. 1).

The entering of a consul upon his office was connected with great solemnities: before daybreak each consulted the auspices for himself, which in the early times was, undoubtedly, a matter of great importance, though, at a later period, we know it to have been a mere formality (Dionys. II.4, 6). It must, however, be observed, that whatever the nature of the auspices were, the entering upon the office was never either rendered impossible or delayed thereby, whence we must suppose that the object merely was to obtain favourable signs from the gods, and as it were to place under the protection of the gods the office on which the magistrate entered.

After the auspices were consulted, the consul returned home, put on the toga praetexta (Liv. XXI.63; Ov. ex Pont. IV.4.25, Fast. I.81), and received the salutatio of his friends and the senators (Dion Cass. LVIII.5; Ov. ex Pont. IV.4.27, &c.). Accompanied by these and a host of curious spectators, the consul clad in his official robes, proceeded to the temple of Jupiter in the Capitol, where a solemn sacrifice of white bulls was offered to the god. It seems that in this procession, the sella curulis, as an emblem of his office, was carried before the consul (Ov. l.c. IV.4.29, &c., 9, 17, &c.; Liv. XXI.63; Cic. De Leg. Agr. II.34).

After this, a meeting of the senate took place, at which the elder of the two consuls made his report concerning the republic, beginning with matters referring to religion, and then passing on to other affairs (referre ad senatum de rebus divinis et humanis, Liv. VI.1, IX.8, XXXVII.1; Cic. ad Quir. post Red. 5). One of the first among the religious things which the consuls had to attend to, was the fixing of the feriae Latinae, and it was not till they had performed the solemn sacrifice on the Alban mount, that they could go into their provinces (Liv. XXI.63, XXII.1, XXV.12, XLII.10). The other affairs upon which the consuls had to report to the senate had reference to the distribution of the provinces, and many other matters connected with the administration, which often were of the highest importance. After these reports, the meeting of the senate broke up, and the members accompanied the consuls to their homes (Ov. ex Pont. IV.4.41), and this being done, the consuls were installed in their office, in which they had to exert themselves for the good of their country.


Down to the year B.C. 366, the consulship was accessible to none but patricians, but in that year L. Sextius was the first plebeian consul in consequence of the law of C. Licinius (Liv. VI.42, VII.1). The patricians however, notwithstanding the law, repeatedly contrived to keep the plebeians out (Liv. VII.17, 18, 19, 22, 24, 28), until in B.C. 342 the insurrection of the army of Capua was followed, among other important consequences, by the firm establishment of the plebeian consulship; and it is even said that at that time a plebiscitum was passed, enacting that both consuls might be plebeians (Liv. VII.42). Attempts on the part of the patricians to exclude the plebeians, occur as late as the year B.C. 297 (Liv. X.15, Cic. Brut. 14) but they did not succeed, and it remained a principle of the Roman constitution that both consuls should not be patricians (Liv. XXVII.34, Liv. XXXIX.42).

The candidates usually were divided into two sets, the one desirous to obtain the patrician, and the other to obtain the plebeian place in the consulship (in unum locum petebant, Liv. XXXV.10). But as in the course of time the patricians were thrown into the shade by the rising power of the nobiles, it came to pass that both consuls were plebeians. In B.C. 215, the augurs indeed opposed the election of two plebeians (Liv. XXIII.31); but not long after, in B.C. 172, the fact of both consuls being plebeians actually occurred, and after this it was often repeated, the ancient distinction between patricians and plebeians falling completely into oblivion.

The consulship was throughout the republic regarded as the highest office and the greatest honour that could be conferred upon a man (Cic. p. Planc. 25; Paul. Diac. p136; Dionys. IV.76), for the dictatorship, though it had an imperium maius, was not a regular magistracy; and the censorship, though conferred only upon consulars, was yet far inferior to the consulship in power and influence. It was not till the end of the republic, and especially in the time of C. Caesar, that the consulship lost its former dignity; for in order to honour his friends, he caused them to be elected, sometimes for a few months, and sometimes even for a few hours (Suet. Caes. 76, 80, Nero, 15; Dion Cass. XLIII.46; Macrob. Sat. II.3).

Powers and duties

The power of the consuls was at first equal to that of the kings into whose place they stepped, with the exception of the priestly power, which was detached from it and transferred to the pontifices and to the rex sacrorum. The consuls were at the head of the government and the administration, and all the other magistrates, with the exception of the tribunes of the people, were subordinate to them. Even after the Valerian laws and the institution of the tribuneship, the consuls alone were invested with the executive and most extensive powers in all departments of the government. But in the gradual development of the constitution, some important functions were detached from the consulship and assigned to new officers.

This was the case first with the census, in B.C. 443, an office which at first was confined to holding the census and registering the citizens according to their different classes, but afterwards acquired very extensive powers thus introducing the office of the two censors. The second function that was in this manner taken from the consuls, was their judicial power, which was transferred in B.C. 366, to a distinct magistracy under the title of the praetorship; and henceforth the consuls appeared as judges only in extraordinary cases of a criminal nature, when they were called upon by a senatus consultum (Cic. Brut. 32; Liv. XXXIX.17, &c., XLI.9). But, notwithstanding these curtailings, the consulship still continued to be regarded as the representative of regal power (Polyb. VI.11; Cic. De Leg. III.3).

In regard to the nature of the power of the consuls, we must in the outset divide it into two parts, inasmuch as they were the highest civil authority, and at the same time the supreme commanders of the armies. So long as they were in the city of Rome, they were at the head of the government, and all the other magistrates, except the tribuni plebis, were subordinate to them.

They convened the senate, and as presidents conducted the business; they had to carry into effect the decrees of the senate, and sometimes on urgent emergencies they might even act on their own authority and responsibility. They were the medium through which foreign affairs were brought before the senate; all despatches and reports were placed in their hands, before they were laid before the senate; by them foreign ambassadors were introduced into the senate, and they alone carried on the negotiations between the senate and foreign states. They also convened the assembly of the people and presided in it; and thus conducted the elections, put legislative measures to the vote, and had to carry the decrees of the people into effect (Polyb. VI.12; Comitia, Senatus). The whole of the internal machinery of the republic was, in fact, under their superintendence, and in order to give weight to their executive power, they had the right of summoning and arresting the obstreperous (vocatio and prensio, Cic. in Vat. 9, p. Dom. 41), which was limited only by the right of appeal from their judgment (provocatio); and their right of inflicting punishment might be exercised even against inferior magistrates.

The outward signs of their power, and at the same time the means by which they exercised it, were twelve lictors with the fasces, without whom the consul never appeared in public (Liv. XXV.17, XXVII.27; Val. Max. I.1 §9; comp. Liv. VI.34, XXXIX.12), and who preceded him in a line one behind another (Liv. XXIV.44; Val. Max. II.2 §4). In the city, however, the axes did not appear in the fasces; a regulation said to have been introduced by Valerius Publicola (Dionys. V.2, 19, 75, X.59), and which is intimately connected with the right of appeal from a consul's sentence, whence it did not apply to the dictator nor to the decemvirs. Now as the provocatio could take place only within the city and a thousand paces in circumference, it must be supposed that the axes did not appear in the fasces within the same limits, an opinion which is not contradicted by the fact that the consuls on returning from war appeared with the axes in their fasces in the Campus Martius, at the very gates of Rome; for they had the imperium militare, which ceased as soon as they had entered the city.

But the powers of the consuls were far more extensive in their capacity of supreme commanders of the armies, when they were without the precincts of the city, and were invested with the full imperium. When the levying of an army was decreed by the senate, the consuls conducted the levy, and, at first, had the appointment of all the subordinate officers — a right which subsequently they shared with the people; and the soldiers had to take their oath of allegiance to the consuls. They also determined the contingent to be furnished by the allies; and in the province assigned to them they had the unlimited administration, not only of all military affairs, but of every thing else, even over life and death, excepting only the conclusion of peace and treaties (Polyb. VI.12).

The treasury was, indeed, under the control of the senate; but in regard to the expenses for war, the consuls do not appear to have been bound down to the sums granted by that body, but to have availed themselves of the public money as circumstances required; the quaestors, however, kept a strict account of the expenditure (Polyb. VI.12, 13, 15; Liv. XLIV.16). But when in times of need money was to be taken from the aerarium sanctius, of which the keys seem to have been in the exclusive possession of the consuls, they had to be authorised by a senatus consultum (Liv. XXVII.10). In the early times, the consuls had the power to dispose of the booty in any way they pleased; sometimes they distributed the whole or part of it among the soldiers, and sometimes they sold it, and deposited the produce in the public treasury, which in later times became the usual practice.

On entering upon their office, the consuls, and afterwards the praetors also, agreed among one another as to the business which each had to look after, so that every one had his distinct sphere of action, which was termed his provincia. The ordinary way in which the provinces were assigned to each, was by lot (sortiri provincias), unless the colleagues agreed among themselves, without any such means of decision (comparare inter se provincias, Liv. XXIV.10, XXX.1, XXXII.8; Cic. ad Fam. I.9). The decision by lot was resorted to for no other reason than because the two consuls had equal rights, and not, as some believe, because it was thereby intended to leave the decision to the gods. If it was thought that one of the consuls was eminently qualified for a particular province, either on account of his experience or personal character, it frequently happened, that a commission was given to him extra sortem or extra ordinem, i. e. by the senate and without any drawing of lots (Liv. III.2, VIII.16, XXXII.1; Cic. ad Att. is SIC 19; comp. Liv. XXV.20, XLI.8). In the earliest times, it seems to have been the custom for only one of the consuls to march out at the head of the army, and for the other to remain at Rome for the protection of the city, and to carry on the administration of the civic affairs, unless, indeed, wars were carried on in two different quarters which rendered it necessary for both consuls to take the field (Dionys. VI.24, 91; comp. Liv. III.4, 22, VIII.6, &c.); but the forces were equally divided between them, in such a manner that each had the command of two legions, and had the supreme command on every alternate day (Polyb. III.107, 110, vi.26; Liv. IV.46, xxii.27, 41, XXVIII.9; comp. III.70).

Abuse of the consular power was prevented, first of all, by each of the consuls being dependent on his colleague who was invested with equal rights; for, if we except the provinces abroad where each was permitted to act with unlimited power, the two consuls could do nothing unless both were unanimous (Dionys. X.17; Appian, De Bell. Civ. ii.11), and against the sentence of one consul an appeal might be brought before his colleague; nay, one consul might of his own accord put his veto on the proceedings of the other (Liv. II.18, 27, III.34; Dionys. V.9; Cic. De Leg. III.4).

But in order to avoid every unnecessary dispute or rivalry, arrangements had been made from the first, that the real functions of the office should be performed only by one of them every alternate month (Dionys. IX.43); and the one who was in the actual exercise of the consular power for the month, was preceded by twelve lictors, whence he is commonly described by the words penes quem fasces erant (Liv. VIII.12, IX.8). In the early times, his colleague was then not accompanied by the lictors at all, or he was preceded by an accensus, and the lictors followed after him (Cic. De Re Publ. ii.31; Liv. II.1, III.33; comp. Dionys. V.2, X.24). As regards the later times, it is certain that the consul, when he did not perform the functions of the office, was followed by the twelve lictors (Suet. Caes. 20); when this custom arose is uncertain, and we only know that, in the time of Polybius, the dictator had twenty-four lictors.

It is commonly believed, that the consul who for the month being performed the functions of the office, was designated as the consul maior; but the ancients were doubtful as to whether the term applied to the one who had the fasces, or to the one who had been elected first (Fest. p161); and there seems to be good reason for believing that the word maior had reference only to the age of the consul, so that the elder of the two was called consul major (Liv. XXXVII.47; Cic. De Re Publ. ii.31; Val. Max. IV.1 §1; Plut. Publ. 12; Dionys. VI.57). Owing to the respect paid to the elder, he presided at the meeting of the senate which was held immediately after the election (Liv. IX.8; Gellius, II.15).

Another point which acted as a check upon the exercise of the consular power, was the certainty that after the expiration of their office they might be called to account for the manner in which they had conducted themselves in their official capacity. Many cases are on record, in which after their abdication they were accused and condemned not only for illegal or unconstitutional acts, but also for misfortunes in war, which were ascribed either to their carelessness or want of ability (Liv. II.41, 52, 54, 61, III.31, xxii.40, 49, xxvi.2, 3, XXVII.34; Cic. De Nat. Deor. ii.3; Val. Max. VIII.1 §4). The ever increasing arrogance and power of the tribunes did not stop here, and we not unfrequently find that consuls, even during the time of their office, were not only threatened with punishment and imprisonment, but were actually subjected to them (Liv. IV.26, V.9, XLII.21, Epit. 48, 55; Cic. De Leg. III.9, in Vat. 9; Val. Max. IX.5 §2; Dion Cass. XXXVII.50, XXXVIII.6, XXXIX.39). Sometimes the people themselves opposed the consuls in the exercise of their power (Liv. II.55, 59).

Lastly, the consuls were dependent on the senate. There occurred, however, times when the power of the consuls thus limited by republican institutions was thought inadequate to save the republic from perils into which she was thrown by circumstances; and on such occasions a senatus consultum ultimum (saying videant consules, ne quid res publica detrimenti capiat) conferred upon them full dictatorial power not restrained either by the senate, the people, or the tribunes. In the early times, such senatus consulta are rarely mentioned, as it was customary to appoint a dictator on such emergencies; but when the dictatorship had fallen into disuse, the senate by the above mentioned formula invested the consuls, for the time, with dictatorial power.

Their role in provincial administration

When the Roman dominion extended beyond the natural boundaries of Italy, the two consuls were not enough to undertake the administration of the provinces, and praetors were appointed to undertake the command in some, while the more important ones were reserved for the consuls. Hence a distinction was made between provinciae consulares and praetoriae (Liv. XLI.8). It remained with the senate to determine into which provinces consuls were to be sent, and into which praetors, and this was done either before the magistrates actually entered upon their office (Liv. XXI.17), or after it, and on the proposal of the consuls (Liv. XXV.1, XXVI.28, XXVII.7, &c.). Upon this, the magistrates either agreed among themselves as to which province each was to undertake, or they drew lots, first, of course, the consuls, and after them the praetors. One of the laws of C. Gracchus, however, introduced the regulation, that every year the senate, previous to the consular elections, should determine upon the two consular provinces, in order to avoid partiality, it being yet unknown who were to be the consuls.

It had been customary from the earliest times for the consuls to enter their province in the year of their consulship, either at the very beginning or afterwards; but in the latter period of the republic, the ordinary practice of the consuls was to remain at Rome during the year of their office, and to go into their province in the year following as proconsuls, until at length in B.C. 53, a senatus consultum, and the year after a law of Pompey enacted that a consul or praetor should not go into any province till five years after the expiration of their office (Dion Cass. XL.46, 56).

When a consul was once in his province, his imperium was limited to it, and to exercise the same in any other province was, at all times, considered illegal (Liv. X.37, XXIX.19, XXXI.48, XLIII.1). In some few cases, this rule was overlooked for the good of the republic (Liv. XXVII.43, XXIX.7). On the other hand, a consul was not allowed to quit his province before he had accomplished the purpose for which he had been sent into it, or before the arrival of his successor, unless, indeed, he obtained the special permission of the senate (Liv. XXXVII.47). Other functions also were sometimes divided between the consuls by lot, if they could not agree, for example, which of them was to preside at the consular elections or those of the censors (Liv. XXIV.10, xxxv.6, 20, XXXIX.32, XLI.6), which of them was to dedicate a temple (Liv. II.8, 27), or p356nominate a dictator (Liv. IV.26). So long as the consuls had to hold the census, they, undoubtedly, drew lots, which of them conderet lustrum, and even when they went out on a common expedition, they seem to have determined by lot in what direction each should exert his activity (Liv. XLI.18).

Consulate under the empire

Towards the end of the republic, the consulship lost its power and importance. Caesar, in his dictatorship, gave it the first severe blow, for he himself took the office of consul along with that of dictator, or he arbitrarily caused persons to be elected, who in their actions were entirely dependent upon his will. He himself was elected at first for five years, then for ten, and at length for life (Suet. Caes. 76, 80; Dion Cass. XLII.20, xliii.1, 46, 49; Appian, De Bell. Civ. ii.106).

During the principate, while still the greatest honour — in fact invariably the constitutional head of state — the consular power was a mere shadow of what it had been before. From 5 BC the consuls who were elected, did not retain their office for a full year, but had usually to abdicate after a few months to allow other men to finish their term as consules suffecti (Dion Cass. XLVIII.35, XLIII.46; Lucan, V.399). Sometimes a consul suffectus had in turn to resign, and another suffect was appointed. As a result, about half of the men who held the rank of praetor could also reach the consulship. These irregularities increased to such an extent, that in the reign of Commodus there were no less than twenty-five consuls in one year (190 AD) (Lamprid. Commod. 6; Dion Cass. LXXII.12).

The Roman year had received its name from the consuls, and in all public documents their names were entered to mark the year; but from the time that there were more than two in one year, only those that entered upon their office at the beginning of the year were regarded as consules ordinarii, and gave their names to the year, though the suffecti were likewise entered in the Fasti (Sueton. Domit. 2, Galb. 6, Vitell. 2; Senec. De Tra. iii.31; Plin. Panegr. 38; Lamprid. Al. Sev. 28). The consules ordinarii ranked higher than those who were elected afterwards.

The election from the time of Tiberius was practically in the hands of the senate, who elected only those that were recommended by the emperor; those who were elected were then announced (renuntiare) to the people assembled in what was called comitia to formally approve and ratify the candidates (Dion Cass. LVIII.20; Plin. Paneg. 77; Tac. Ann. IV.68).

In the last centuries of the empire, it was customary to create honorary consuls (consules honorarii) who were chosen by the senate and sanctioned by the emperor (Cassiod. I.10; Justin. Nov. lxx.80 c1), and consules suffecti were then scarcely heard of at all, for Constantine restored the old custom of appointing only two consuls, one for Constantinople, and the other for Rome, who were to act as supreme judges (under the emperor) for a whole year, and besides these two there were no others except honorary consuls and consulares. Although the dignity of these honorary consuls as well as of the consules ordinarii and suffecti was merely nominal, still it was regarded as the highest rank in the empire, and was sought after by noble and wealthy persons with the greatest eagerness, notwithstanding the great expenses connected with the office on account of the public entertainments which a newly appointed consul had to give to his friends and the people (Lydus, De Magistr. ii.8; Liban. Orat. 8; Symmach. ii.64, iv.8, x.44; Sidon. Apollin. Epist. II.3; Cassiod. ii.2, vi.1; Procop. De Bell. Pers. i.25). Sometimes the emperors themselves assumed the consulship or conferred it upon imperial princes. The last consul of Rome was Decimus Theodorus Paulinus, A.D. 536, and at Constantinople Flavius Basilius Junior, in A.D. 541. After that time, the emperors of the East took the title of consul for themselves, until in the end it fell quite into oblivion.

The official functions of the consuls under the empire were as follows:

  • 1. They presided in the senate, though, of course, never without the sanction of the emperor;
  • 2. They administered justice, partly extra ordinem (Tac. Ann. IV.19, XIII.4; Gell. XIII.24), and partly in ordinary cases, such as manumissions or the appointment of guardians (Ammian. Marcell. XXII.7; Cassiod. VI.1; Sueton. Claud. 23; Plin. H. N. IX.13);
  • 3. The letting of the public revenues, a duty which had formerly been performed by the censors (Ov. ex Pont. iv.5, 19);
  • 4. The conducting of the games in the Circus and of public solemnities in honour of the emperors, p357for which they had to defray the expenses out of their own means (Suet. Nero, 4; Juven. XI.193, &c.; Cassiod., l.c., and iii.39, v.42, vi.10). Some emperors indeed granted the money necessary for such purposes and endeavoured to check the growing extravagance of the consuls, but these regulations were all of a transitory nature (Lamprid. Al. Sever. 43; Vopisc. Aurel. 12; Justin. Nov. 105). Compare besides the various works on Roman history, K. D. Hüllmann, Röm. Grundverfassung, p125, &c.; K. W. Göttling, Gesch. der Röm. Staatsverf. p269, &c., and above all, Becker, Handbuch der Röm. Alterth. vol. II part ii. pp87‑126.


Lacus Curtius - A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, by William Smith

Consules in Nova Roma

The two consules lead the administration of Nova Roma.

Consul overview

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