II. Ancient and Classical Periods, 3500 B.C.E.–500 C.E. > E. Rome > 1. The Monarchy and the Early Republic, 334 (338)–264 B.C.E. > e. The Early Republic
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
e. The Early Republic
The Republic was founded in 505 (509), according to tradition, when the last king, Tarquinius Superbus, was expelled by a revolt of native Roman aristocrats led by L. Junius Brutus. The dominant tradition states that the Republic was led from the beginning by two annual, eponymous officials called consuls, but some scholars think that until 363 (367) they were known as praetors (the latter then became the second tier of officials). The consuls exercised imperium, which gave them absolute power (including over life and death and in war), while in the city they exercised the power of coercitio, a sort of summary police power. The consuls were elected by the comitia centuriata, a plutocratically organized assembly of the male citizens, but their imperium continued to be conferred by the comitia curiata (lex curiata). Assisting the consuls were two financial officials called quaestors who were originally appointed by the chief officials and after 443 (447) were elected. Two plebeian quaestors seem to have been added in 418 (421) to administer the state treasury (aerarium) in Rome. In either 439 (443) or 431 (435), the job of counting Roman citizens was transferred from the consuls to two censors, nonmilitary but prestigious officials. Every four years the censors, holding office for a maximum of 18 months, made up the citizen lists for tax and military purposes (the census), enrolled senators (lectio senatus) and cavalrymen (recognitio equitum), and examined public morals (regimen morum). A third magistrate with imperium, the praetor urbanus, was created in 363 (367) to relieve the consuls of some judicial responsibilities. In a time of crisis the senate could establish unity of command by instructing the consuls to appoint a dictator, who appointed his own assistant as a master of the cavalry (magister equitum). The dictator had imperium and absolute power in all fields but had to resign when his task was completed, and in no case could he remain in office for more than six months. All magistrates with imperium, and also the censors, were elected by the military assembly, comitia centuriata. Other officials were elected by the comitia tributa, which passed the great majority of laws (leges).  1
Religious power was closely intertwined with political power. The relationship between the Roman people and the divine, which had once been controlled by the king and by priests of specific deities, was taken over under the Republic by three boards or colleges of religious officials who were experts in, and managers of, the various methods of communication between the community and the gods. The three priestly colleges were (1) the augurs (originally three? in number, raised to nine by 300), who were expert advisers in determining whether the gods approved courses of action; (2) the decemviri sacris faciundis, a committee of ten (earlier, fewer in number), who supervised the Sibylline Books and the few other oracular documents recognized at Rome; and (3) the pontifices (priests, originally three?, raised to nine by 300), who exercised a general supervision over the religious life of the Romans. Members of these colleges were selected by co-optation and were originally limited to patricians. Plebeians were admitted to the college of decemviri sacris faciundis in 364 (367), of priests and augurs in 300. But members of the three colleges were always drawn from the best senatorial families, be they patrician or plebeian, and individual augurs, decemviri, and priests pursued full political and military careers like other Roman aristocrats.  2
The internal political history of the early Republic centers on the STRUGGLE OF THE ORDERS—the campaign by plebeians to break the political and religious monopoly of the patricians and to relieve the economic distress of poor citizens. In the early 5th century, the plebeians organized their own assembly, the concilium plebis, whose resolutions, called plebiscita, were binding only on plebeians. The plebs elected their own officials, tribuni plebis (plebeian tribunes), and two aediles plebis (plebeian aediles), who handled fines imposed by the tribunes or the concilium. The plebeian tribunes at first numbered either two, four, or five but by sometime in the 5th century had reached their canonical number of ten. They were elected by and presided over the concilium plebis and, in order to carry out their mandate to defend the lives and property of plebeians against patrician magistrates, they exercised a veto (intercessio) over laws, elections, and the acts of magistrates. The plebeians swore an oath binding themselves to avenge any injury done to the tribunes and making their persons inviolate.  3
505 (509)
L. Junius Brutus and L. Tarquinius Collatinus were supposedly the first pair of consuls.  4
504 (508)
A very early treaty between Carthage and the new Republic, confirming Rome's dominant position in Latium, was later attributed to this year. Tradition said that shortly after Tarquinius's explusion, Lars Porsenna, the king of Etruscan Clusium, attacked Rome; he may well have captured it. Later he was apparently defeated by the Latins at the Battle of Aricia (504).  5
495 (499) or 492 (496)
On this antiquarian date the dictator A. Postumius defeated the Latins in the Battle of Lake Regillus.  6
491 (495) or 489 (493)
On this antiquarian date Sp. Cassius supposedly negotiated the treaty named after him (foedus Cassianum) with the Latin League, establishing a defensive alliance to combat the invasion of Latium by the Aequi and Volsci. Rome and the Latin League agreed to conduct joint annual campaigns with command alternating between Roman and Latin generals, to distribute booty equally, and to establish joint colonies on reconquered territories.  7
490–489 (494–493)
The antiquarian date the office of plebeian tribune and the plebeian assembly were created. These events were supposed to have happened when the plebeians, oppressed by debt, moved to the Sacred Mount to return only after patrician concessions.  8
473 (477)
On this antiquarian date the Fabian gens, fighting as a unit on behalf of Rome against the Etruscan city of Veii, was annihilated on the Cremera (a tributary of the Tiber).  9
454 (458)
On this antiquarian date L. Quinctius Cincinnatus was called from his farm to become dictator and then defeated the Aequi.  10
c. 447 (451)
Agitation of the plebs for the codification of law led to the creation of ten patrician decemviri in the place of consuls and tribunes. The first decemviri published ten tables of laws that proved insufficient, so new decemviri created in 446 (450) added two more tables. The TWELVE TABLES set out the basic rules for civil law, confirming the privileges of patricians. This was the last codification of Roman law until the 3rd century C.E. Shortly after the writing of the Twelve Tables there was a plebeian protest, supposedly in 445 (449).  11
445 (449)
The Second Secession of the plebs supposedly occurred, followed by the election of tribunes and then of patrician consuls L. Valerius and M. Horatius. The latter passed a series of Valerio-Horatian laws, whose provisions are obscure, though important. They perhaps established provocatio, the right of appeal of magisterial decisions, and affirmed the inviolability of the tribunes and also the aediles.  12
441 (445)
On this antiquarian date, the lex Canuleia took effect, which allowed marriage between patricians and plebeians, with children inheriting the father's status.  13
440 (444)
Two patrician censors were created. Either as a compromise in the face of plebeian agitation that the consulship be opened to plebeians, or as a measure to meet increased military commands, military tribunes with consular power, who might be plebeians, were created. These alternated irregularly with consuls until 363 (367).  14
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.