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The Roman Republic:
Political Structure
What is a Republic?
• A state in which supreme power is held by
the people and their elected representatives,
and which has an elected or nominated
president rather than a monarch.
Rome became a republic in 509 bce :
– The seven Etruscan Kings were considered
to hold too much power.
– This lead to and assassinations- political
instability, mutiny and exile
 The standard abbreviation for the
government of Rome was SPQR:
‘senatus populusque Romanus’
(the senate and people of Rome)
Patricians vs. PlebEians
In order to understand the Roman Republic you must
understand that the tensions between these two groups
shape most of Republican Rome
Noble Families
Own land
Typically wealthy
Able to participate
fully in government
• Common nonaristocratic
• Own land
• Forbidden from
holding most
Structure of the Roman
Political System
As citizens, both patricians
and plebeians had the right
to vote. However, only
patricians had the right to
hold any political, military
or religious offices.
All power was in the
hands of the patricians.
The Roman Republic was organised much like our
modern political system. Since the Romans did not
want one man to make all of the laws, they decided
to balance the power:
Comitia Centuriata- Assembly
of Centuries
Concilium Plebis- Plebeian
Tribal Council
The most powerful part of the
Republic was the Senate…
The Big Dogs: The Senate
 not an elected body,- appointed by the consuls, and later by
the censors.
After a magistrate served his term in office, it usually was
followed with automatic appointment to the Senate.
 About 300 members
 Served for life term and made laws
 Only patricians could be Senators
 The Senate passed money bills and control what money would
be spent on.
 Had the absolute right of free speech
 The Senators
 Chose two consuls – chief executives
Assembly of Centuries
* Executive magistrates:
Consuls, praetors,
censors, aediles,
quaestors and
* All these positions had
influence over law.
• Each year, two consuls were elected
together, to serve for a one-year term. Each
consul was given veto (I forbid) power over
his colleague and the assembly
• Elected from the Patrician class
• Consuls had extensive poweradministrative, legislative and judicial
• In peacetime, they alternated their rule in
Rome monthly but their command of the
army rotated daily
• They supervised the Senate
• Controlled the Roman army during wars.
By limiting consul’s time in office, Rome
had system of checks and balances on
power of government.
* Veto, two consuls, one year termcould only serve every 10 years.
Senate could also elect a dictator in
event of war.
Dictator = ruler with absolute power
over government (usually for 6 months)
Praetor (6)
• 2nd most powerful next to
•Duties include: administer
justice and deal with
Roman/Non-Roman citizens
• by 197 bce- 6 people
• one year but could be
extended in war time
Responsible for Maintenance of roads,
public executions , water system
Administered financial matters
• Elected once every 5 years
• Almost always ex-consuls
• Duties include: registering Roman
citizens and property, revise list of Senators,
oversea public morality
• much corruption in this position
• extra caution exercised when electing
these officials because of potential power
Odds and Ends of the Political Structure
• Women and slaves could not participate in
• Citizenship was granted to patricians and
plebeians. Citizens had two main duties:
– Pay taxes
– Military service
• Military was mainly the legion – troop of
6,000 men.
This position was created shortly after the creation of the
Republic as a result of friction between patricians and
Tribunes had a lot of power in the Roman Republic, but
only in the city itself. Their power was primarily in the
ability to veto proceedings by any committee
They were elected by the plebeians among themselves.
Tribunes were sacrosanct. This meant that it was strictly
illegal to harm or interfere with them in any way on
penalty of death. All power came from this, rather than
magisterial power – all to do with physical presence rather
than orders.
There were 2 Tribunes at first, but 10 Tribunes by 449
BCE. They were elected every year by the Plebeian
Council which existed to elect Tribunes and Plebeian