The Ancient Library

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On this page: Comitia (continued)



assembly of the tribes under the presidency of plebeian magistrates, i.e., the tribuni and the cediles plebeii. As these magistrates had no right to summon patricians, the re­solutions passed by a concilium plcbis were (strictly speaking) only plebl sclta, It was a lex centuriata of some earlier date than 462 b.c. that probably first made these resolutions binding on all the citizens, provided they received the approval of the senate. This approval was rendered un­necessary by the lex Hortensia of 287 B.C., and from that date onward the concilia plebis became the principal organ of legisla­tion. The method of voting resembled that in the comitia curiata, and the regular place of meeting was the Comitium. No auspices were taken. From 471 B.C. the concilia plebis elected the tribuni and the cediles plebeii. Among the other functions of the concilia plebis were the following:

(a) To give judicial decisions in all suits instituted by the tribunes and sediles of the plebs, for offences against the plebs or its representatives, In later times these suits were mostly instituted on the ground of bad or illegal administration. The tribunes and sediles had, in these cases, the power of in­flicting pecuniary fines ranging up to a large amount, (ft) To pass resolutions on proposals made by the tribunes of the plebs and the higher magistrates on foreign and domestic aftairs, on the conclusion of peace, for instance, or the making of treaties. Their power was almost unlimited, and the [ more important because, strictly speaking, it was only the higher magistrates who re­quired the authorization of the senate. Nor had the senate more than the right of quashing a measure passed without due formalities.

The comitia tributa, as distinguished from the concilia plebis, were presided over by the consuls, the prsetors, and (in judicial cases) the curule sediles. Until the latter years of the Republic, the assembly usually met upon the Capitol, and afterwards on the Campus Martins. The functions of the | comitia tributa, gradually acquired, were as follows: (a) The election of all the lower magistrates, ordinary (as the tribuni plebis, tribuni milltum, cediles plebis, cediles curules) and extraordinary, under the pre­sidency partly of the tribunes, partly of the consuls or praetors, (b) The nomination of i the pontifex maximus, and of the co-opted members of the religious collegia of the pontifices, augure's, and decemviri sao'o-rum. This nomination was carried out by a I

committee of seventeen tribes chosen by lot. (c) The fines judicially inflicted by the concilia plebis required in all graver cases the sanction of the tribes.

The comitia tributa were summoned at least seventeen days before the meeting, by the simple proclamation of a herald. As in the case of the comitia centuriata, business could neither be begun nor continued in the face of adverse auspices. Like the comitia centuriata too, the tribal assembly met at daybreak, and conld not sit beyond sunset. If summoned by the tribunes, the comitia tributa could only meet in the city, or within the radius of a mile from it. The usual place of assembly was the Forum or the comitium (}.«.). If summoned by other authorities, the assembly met outside the city, most commonly in the Campus Martius. The proceedings opened with a prayer, un­accompanied by sacrifice. The business in hand was then discussed in a contio (see above, p. 155 a); and the proposal having been read out, the meeting was requested to arrange itself according to its thirty-five tribes in the scepta or wooden fences. Lots were drawn to decide which tribe should vote first. The tribe on which this duty fell was called princtpium. The result of this first vote was proclaimed, and the other tribes then proceeded to vote simultane­ously, not successively. The votes given by each tribe were then announced in an order determined by lot. Finally, the general result of the voting was made known.

The proposer of a measure was bound to put his proposal into due form, and publish it beforehand. When a measure came to the vote, it was accepted or rejected as a whole. It became law when the presiding magistrate announced that it had been accepted.

The character of the comitia had begun to decline even in the later period of the Republic. Even the citizens of Rome took but little part in them, and this is still more true of the population of Italy, who had received the Roman citizenship in 89 b.c. The comitia tributa, in particular, sank gradually into a mere gathering of the city mob, strengthened on all sides by the influx of corrupt elements. The results of the voting came more and more to represent not the public interest, but the effects of direct or indirect corruption. Under the Empire the comitia centuriata and tributa continued to exist, in a shadowy form, it is

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