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Senatus




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     Senatus, Senate, or assembly of senators, the
name given (from senes, because, at first, elders
alone, on account of their experience and supposed
prudence, were alone selected for members)
to that council of state, which Romulus
instituted to assist him in the government of
his infant kingdom, and to regulate its public
affairs, during his absence on any warlike
expedition. The original number appointed by
the founder of Rome was one hundred, and
these being chosen from the oldest, as well as
the wealthiest and wisest of the citizens, were
called patricians, from the word pater. -- Tarquinius
Priscus (himself a novus homo and of
foreign descent) was the first who, from among
the most eminent of the commonalty (plebes),
took another hundred men of advanced age, and
conferred upon them the senatorial title and
dignity. It was the object of Romulus, in
creating the senate, to establish a body who
should perform a leading part in the administration
of government, and occasionally to command
in his place. His successors supported
it in the exercise of this great authority until
Tarquin the Proud began to reign ; and he,
according to Livy, abolished their former
prerogatives ; had a council of his own, consulting
neither senate nor people, but made peace and
war, treaties and alliances, with whom he
pleased. After the expulsion of that tyrant,
and the abolition of the Roman monarchy, the
first consuls, in order to supply the places of
those whom Tarquin had slain, and at the same
time to augment the order, made it to consist
of three hundred. It was at this epocha that
the senate possessed its highest degree of
political power. It then became absolute
master of the commonwealth, and a senatus
consultum
was the sole channel of information
about public matters to "the masses." The
people, in fact, appeared to have enjoyed infinitely
less liberty under the consular government
than had been granted by Romulus, and
continued to them by the majority of their kings.
For the insupportable weight of the Patrician
yoke the people revolted in the year 495 B.C.,
and their retreat to Mons Sacer proved the
means of obtaining for them the right of electing
Tribunes as the peculiar magistracy of the
Plebeians ; and the subsequent law by which, on the occasion of the affair of Coriolanus, every Roman citizen, without respect for order or dignity,
should be compelled to answer, when duly summoned to appear, before the people assembled
in comitia by tribes ; the patricians having previously acknowledged themselves amenable to
no other judges than the senate itself. But,
although thus materially shorn of its over predominating power, this aristocratic and justly
influential body still remained the sole guardian
of the public treasure ; it took cognizance of all
political affairs commited in Italy, retained the
right of sending ambassadors to, and of receiving
envoys from, foreign princes and states ; it continued to exercise the prerogative of decreeing
triumphs, of receiving the despatches transmitted
by those who commanded the Roman
armies ; and in great emergencies of ordering the
consuls to raise forces for the preservation of
the state. The senate was moreover entrusted
with the superintendence of all that concerned
the festival rites and the functionaries of religion.
In a word, so long as the free republic lasted
it was regarded by all as the sacred head, the
perpetual council, the support, defender, and
preserver of the commonwealth. Three hundred
remained the number of the senate up to
the age of Sylla. And, although the amount
to which he increased it cannot be precisely
ascertained, yet probably it then exceeded four
hundred, which was the number in Cicero's
time, as may be gathered from his letters to
Atticus. -- When the empire supplanted the
republic a corresponding change took place in
the constitution of the senate, which had already
been enormously increased by Julius Caesar.
(Dion says to nine hundred, and Suetonius carries
it to one thousand). But as a great many of
the honour (for strangers from Gaul and elsewhere
had been introduced into association with
the patres conscripti of Rome) Augustus signalised
his accession to supreme power, amongst
other things, by bringing the senate back again
to the numbers, and restoring it ti the outward
splendour which it had before the civil war ;
or, perhaps, he permitted it to be numerically
greater, as, according to Dion, it then
consisted barely of six hundred senators ; and,
although succeeding emperors sometimes made
augmentations, its average number was never
afterwards much more. The revolution, still
rejecting the name of King, gave a monarchical
form to the government, and soon influenced the
position of the senate. Augustus's appointment
of a distinct council of state was the first blow
struck at the pristine authority of that celebrated
assembly. Tiberius managed step by step to
deprive it of executive power in matters of any
leading importance. There was, indeed, a show
of re-establishing the senate in its old rights
under Nero ; but Tacitus, who alludes to the
circumstance, observes that it was a mere
disguise of that prince, who, under some such
a fair outside, sought to mask his real intentions, which soon betrayed themselves in the
most atrocious encroachments. Succeeding
Caesars, equally arbitrary, and some of them
still more artful, proceeded in the gradual but
effectual task of robbing this powerful and once
majestic body of all its state privileges, and of
erecting imperial despotism on the ruin, humiliation,
and disgrace of the senatorial order.

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