Government: The Senate (debates issues and puts
forward proposals for laws (leges)
The Assemblies (votes on the senate’s
proposals and passes laws but doesn’t have
the ability to make laws)
The nobility (Patricians)
The Knights (Equites)
The people (Plebians)
non citizens & slaves
CONSULS (2): chief civil and military
magistrates; invested with imperium
PRAETORS (2-8): administered civil law at
AEDILES (2): In charge of religious festivals,
public games, temples, upkeep of city,
regulation of marketplaces, grain supply.
QUAESTORS (12-20): financial officers and
administrative assistants (civil and military); in
charge of state treasury at Rome; in field,
served as quartermasters and seconds- in-
TRIBUNES (10): charged with protection of
lives and property of plebians; had power of
veto (Lat. "I forbid") over elections, laws,
decrees of the senate, and the acts of all other
magistrates (except dictator);
CENSORS (2): elected every 5 years to
conduct census, enroll new citizens, review roll
of senate (ex- consuls only) -- enormous
prestige and influence (auctoritas).
• As the previous diagram showed the equites (knights) did
not have a place in the workings of government but the
distinction between the Patricians and the Equites is not
always apparent from historical events and needs to be
– Some patricians represented the interests of the equites while some
equites were happy to maintain the status quo.
• The equites were essentially the financiers of the empire.
• They organised the collection of taxes and acted as bankers
to the empire.
• This sort of work was beneath the senatorial classes who
gained their wealth from the ownership of land and so the
two classes worked in tandem. The senators running
government and controlling the land and the equites
controlling the commercial side of things.
• The was movement between the classes but it was very
difficult for someone from the equestrian class to become a
• Those who held the rank of senator were very protective of
their position of privilege and rarely extended their rank
beyond those whose family were already senatorial.
• As with most things the equites interests were represented
by senators such as M Crassus and Julius Caesar (in
exchange for financial backing and political support in
– For a very good account of the equites see M Crawford’s The
Roman Republic (appendix II).
A political career
• A man of senatorial rank would start their career early,
possibly working in the law courts or for one of the city
• They would then go to the provinces and hold a very minor
– Military and political careers went hand in hand. Glory and
prestige on the field of battle were essential qualities in a Roman
• Upon returning to Rome they would stand for election to
one of the smaller administrative posts such as Aedile.
• After which it would be back to the provinces but this time
one could expect to hold a mire influential post in
command of a sizeable force.
• The career would continued to jump between Rome and
the provinces with each successive step requiring greater
influence, prestige and ability and as such offered much
stiffer competition until one reached the consulship and
then went onto become a governor in the provinces.
• All the time behind this was the idea that the senate itself
controlled who got what post and when. By doing so they
made sure that they all had an equal chance of holding
posts and exploiting the system while also controlling
anyone who got too powerful.
• This system can be best summed up in the phrase peace
with honour. Peace within the ranks of senators and
honour in making sure that no one had more power or
influence than you did.
• It is important to know how Roman politics worked if we
are to fully understand the driving force behind many of
the actions taken by politicians during this period.
• Roman politics was nothing if it wasn’t corrupt.
• Power and Wealth were the two driving forces behind any
politicians career. There was no sense that government
was for the interests of the people or that there was a moral
obligation to run government in the interests of the people.
• The senators were out for themselves and themselves but
to be able to satisfy their greed they had to first get power
and this was equally corrupt.
• Although bribery was technically illegal it went on all the
• This was possible because of the way society was
The Client-Patron system
• Roman society was heavily structured along lines of
wealth and position. Those above you in society were
patrons. Those below you were clients.
• Patrons would look after clients in business, legal matters
and sometimes by financial grants for favours in return.
THE CLIENT PATRON SYSTEM
Tax collectors, merchants, traders (not just citizens)
Middle class CITIZENS
Lower class CITIZENS
• The higher up the scale one was the more clients you had
to look after. Equally you could control the clients of your
clients and their client also etc.
• Consequently a senator who wanted to win an election
would ask his clients to vote for him. They in return
would ask their clients to vote for the patron and so on
down the line.
• This way a senator could count on thousands of votes
while only having direct contact with a manageable
number of clients.
• But the expectations of patrons were matched by the
expectations of their clients and to ensure a loyal client
base patrons would distribute their wealth freely.
• Consequently although the financial system was inherently
unequal the client-patron system ensured that a significant
amount of the empire wealth that went into the hands of
the privileged few managed to find its ways down through
the system, especially at election time (which, for many
posts, was an annual affair).
• And it wasn’t just at election time that the client-patron
system worked. When the assemblies voted on laws they
had to be cajoled into voting for the laws put forward by
• Not forgetting that these laws would always enact
measures that favoured the senatorial classes.
• For the people to vote for these laws there had to be
something in it for the people.