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Pompieus

Senate

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Was the Senate the actual government of Rome or a particularly distinguished and prestigious advisory council for the magistrates? 

Apparently this was a controversy in antiquity...Cicero called the Senate an eternal council (consilium sempiternum) in charge of the republic and the magistrates mere servants.  Many consuls like L Postumius Megillus, L Marcius Phillipus and M Popilius Laenas, not to mention Marius, Sulla and Caesar refused to be ruled.

Any strong opinions?
 

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Both. The Romans were ambivalent in ploitics as much as anything else. Cicero did mention that civic duty demanded more courage than military service thus ambitions were somewhat dangerous, and it is noticeable that the vast majority of senators sought safety in numbers besides their privileged place. Even during the imperial period the Senate continued to do business and more than once came within a hairs breath of resuming control of Rome, but of course, the easiest way to get rid of a powerful individual is replace him with another, especially once the legions had made their choice.

 

The problem that the Senate encountered in the late Republic was that they were becoming used to the very same prosperity that conquest brought them. That's why many of them tacitly supported one powerful warlord or another, in that booty would eventually swell their own coffers, and also because it was easier to let prominent men take the blame when things went wrong.

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I've always admired the separation of powers in the Roman Republic - it really was a remarkably advanced system for its day and time, and America's founders copies many of its institutions.  The Consuls came and went annually, while the Senate was there for the long haul. That gave them a greater amount of power overall.  But the Senate became corrupted by power and money, as all Republics tend to do.  I'm not a huge fan of Cato, but I do think that he rightly called out many Senators for putting their love of profit ahead of their love of country.  Caesar would not have been able to take over the Republic, no matter how just his grievances, if he had not had so many Senators and Tribunes of the Plebs in his pocket.

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All true, and the separation of powers idea was remarked on by Polybius and was adopted as a fundamental principal by the American founding fathers.

 

But to be the devil's advocate  - what actual "powers" did the Senate really possess?  It could not legislate or declare war, it had no coercive power to enforce it's will, it could not even meet without being convened by a magistrate.

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I've always admired the separation of powers in the Roman Republic - it really was a remarkably advanced system for its day and time, and America's founders copies many of its institutions.  The Consuls came and went annually, while the Senate was there for the long haul. That gave them a greater amount of power overall.  But the Senate became corrupted by power and money, as all Republics tend to do.  I'm not a huge fan of Cato, but I do think that he rightly called out many Senators for putting their love of profit ahead of their love of country.  Caesar would not have been able to take over the Republic, no matter how just his grievances, if he had not had so many Senators and Tribunes of the Plebs in his pocket.

all republics tend to be corrupted by power? That's a sweeping statement and one I don't agree with. I do concede there is a tendency in people to be corrupt when the opportunity exists but that's about ambitious individuals, not the system of government they work within. It is worth pointing out however that  the republican Senate was not all powerful. In order to prevent another rebellion by the plebs it had been forced to introduce voting assemblies which ratified senatorial decisions. Only in the imperial period from Tiberius onward was the Senate able to make decrees.

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I think governments in general tend to become corrupted over time, be they democracies, republics, or dictatorships.

Money equals influence, and the common people are neglected.

 

Let's see - powers of the Senate?

They could craft legislation, although it had to be approved by the Assemblies.

They could also issue the "Ultimate Decree" in times of emergency.

And they could appoint a Dictator to reform the government or deal with a crisis.

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No, The Senate could not issue decrees until the reign of Tiberius. For emergencies they called upon action from the Consuls, or if necessary, assigned a Dictator for six months or until the emergency was over - but this was giving Rome a temporary tyrant and was never done lightly, or indeed often. Understand this essential point of Roman republican politics - they were not avoiding tyranny, they managed it to avoid the consequences of excess.

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