Roman Consul

May 3rd, 2009
The Consul was the position of chief magistrate of ancient Rome after the expulsion of the last king in 510 BC. After the establishment of the Roman Empire the office became purely honorary.

The Consul was the highest magistrate in republican Rome. Two consuls were elected annually by the comitia centuriata, both of equal power; they jointly held full civil power in Rome and the chief military command in the field.

They took office on 1 January (before 153 BC on 15 March), and gave their names jointly to the year.

Consuls convened and presided over the Senate; they were the medium through which foreign affairs were brought before it, and they saw to the execution of its decrees. They also convened and presided over the comitia, conducting elections, putting legislative measures to the vote and giving them effect.

Until 443 BC consuls fulfilled the duties afterwards performed by Censors. They were both patricians prior to 367, when the Lex Licinia enacted that one must always be a plebeian; and they were the chief judicial officers until the introduction of praetors in the same or the next year. Constitutionally consuls could act only by mutual consent, but in practice there were exceptions to the rule.

Under the Empire the consulship lingered on as a mere dignity into the 6th century AD, but consuls held office for only two to four months, and only those taking office on 1 January continued at least for a time to give their names to the year. Their successors were known as consules suffecti, a title given in republican days to those who took the place of consuls who died in office.

The highest civil authority and commanders-in-chief of the army, in which latter capacity they appear to have originally been called Praetors. Each was attended by 12 Lictors.

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