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Impearls: CotRCS: Constitution of the Civitas

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Earthdate 2007-10-13

Constitution of the Civitas   by G. H. Stevenson

The most detailed information which we possess about the organization of provincial cities is derived from the charters of three Spanish communities, two of them Latin towns and the third a Roman colony of an unusual type.  Enough, however, is known of the municipal system as it existed elsewhere to make it certain that the institutions which we find at Salpensa, Malaca, and Urso were fairly typical.  Even in cities devoid of full Roman rights the municipal constitution was modelled on that of republican Rome, and possessed popular assemblies, senates, and magistrates.

The popular assemblies during the first century a.d. in the west, and for considerably longer in the east, exercised the power of electing magistrates and of accepting or rejecting proposals brought before them.  Their members were organized in curiae or less often in tribes.  But the same tendencies which in Rome had strengthened the Senate at the expense of the people operated in the provinces.  Many of the voters must have lived in outlying parts of the extensive territories belonging to their city and have found it inconvenient to attend meetings of the Assembly.  From the time of Trajan [at the beginning of the 2nd century] the people seem to have ceased to exercise the right of electing magistrates, who were now nominated by their predecessors [just as Roman emperors nominated their successors –Impearls] subject to the approval of the decuriones, and to have met only for the formal purpose of passing complimentary decrees in honour of magistrates or benefactors.

Apart from the attributi or contributi mentioned above, who had no voting rights, we find frequent mentions of incolae, who were domiciled in a city of which they were not full members.  They seem to have shared the privileges and the burdens of the citizens, but to have had only a limited right of voting.  At Malaca a single curia was selected in which they might give their vote.  We know, however, of a few cases in which they even entered the municipal senates.  Pliny found in the Bithynian senates some whose right to be there was extremely doubtful.

Far the most important body of men in a municipal town were the decuriones or ordo, who corresponded to the Senate at Rome, though they rarely used this title.  Their number was usually fixed at a hundred, and they were sometimes called centumviri, though honorary members, e.g. patroni of senatorial or equestrian rank, might be added.  In the west at least membership of the ordo was for life, and its members, as in Rome, consisted mainly of ex-magistrates.  Every five years vacancies were filled by officers corresponding to the Roman censors, who regarded magistrates not already members as having the first claim.

As the magistrates held office only for a single year it was inevitable that they should pay great respect to the wishes of the decurions, but it is surprising to find on how many trivial matters it was necessary, at Urso at least, for the ordo to be consulted.  A magistrate was liable to a fine of 10,000 sesterces if he acted in contravention of any decree of the decurions.  Only in judicial ma[tt]ers did he possess any discretion, and even here his power was limited.

As in Rome, the municipal magistrates were elected in pairs, and most cities possessed two duoviri iure dicundo, two aediles, and two quaestors.  {Footnote:  Praefecti might be appointed to take the place of duumviri in their absence, or to represent the emperor if he were elected honorary duumvir.  […]}  In Italian municipia, as opposed to colonies, the first four of these were commonly grouped together as quattuorviri, but this title was rarer in the provinces, where its occurrence cannot be used to distinguish a municipium from a colonia.  Each member of a pair could veto his colleague’s decisions, and the lower magistrates were subject to the authority of the higher.

As the name implies, the chief duty of the duumviri iuri dicundo was the administration of justice in such cases as were too unimportant for the intervention of the [provincial] governor.  But, as has been said, even in this department their power was limited.  “If the person on whom a fine is imposed, or another person in his name shall demand that the matter be referred to the decurions or conscripti, the judgment shall lie with the decurions or conscripti.”

Apart from their judicial work the duumviri presided over meetings of the decurions or the assembly, and were responsible for public games, religious observances, etc.  Every fifth year they bore the title of quinquennales, and exercised certain censorial powers such as holding a lectio of the ordo and letting out public contracts.

The aediles, like their Roman namesakes, were concerned with the upkeep of the streets and public buildings, and perhaps with the food-supply of the city.  They had the right of inflicting fines subject to the approval of the duumviri.  The quaestors, where they existed, had duties connected with municipal finance.




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