The Roman Senate during the Republic

The Roman Senate during the Republic Today let’s talk about the Roman Senate. How
it operated, and some of its rules and procedures. It’s easy when talking about the Roman senate
to think about modern legislatures, but a lot of things make the two dissimilar. For
starters, membership in the senate was for life, and yet members were enrolled at the
beginning of their political careers. Entry into the senate was not an end goal, but rather
the first step. This fact meant that there was a huge age range in the senate at any
one time, from young men in their early 30s to old men in their last senile years. Speaking of senile old men, the word senile
takes its root from the Latin word senex, meaning old. The word senator comes from the
same root word. The senators or old men in Rome were popularly imagined as being older
men of experience who would submit their seasoned advice to the younger men who were serving
in elected office for that year. In practice, the older men were actually the ones writing
the nation’s laws. While the senate may have been all powerful,
individual senators were not. Individuals who successfully gained lifetime membership
to the senate did not automatically gain very much power or influence. The senate maintained
a strictly hierarchical power structure, which curbed the ability of untested men to exert
political influence. The serving Consuls had the opportunity to speak first, followed by
the ex-Consuls, starting with those who served last year, then two years ago, then three,
and so on. Next came the Praetors, followed by the ex-Praetors, in a similar descending
order based upon year served, and so on. As you can see, serious discussion could easily
be monopolized by all of the ex-Praetors and ex-Consuls. There just weren’t enough hours
in the day to hear from everybody. The Romans understood this all too well, and
had a slang term for senators who could never get a chance to speak. They called them Pedarii,
meaning walkers. Voting in the senate wasn’t done with raised hands, or with yays or nays
like we do today. It was done by standing up and walking over to the person who’s position
you were supporting when a final vote was called. This was the only means of influence
that Pedarii had. We have a similar term today for these kinds of people: which is backbenchers.
Interestingly, the Romans easily could and should have used the same term. Roman senators
also sat in order of precedence, with their most important senators sitting up front as
shown here. The Pedarii always sat in the back. Plus, unlike our backbenchers, Roman
Senators literally sat on benches. But they went with the word Pedarii instead. Whatever. The Romans had a name for the highest ranking
senator. They called him the Princeps Senatus. This literally just means that he was the
first senator, since he was the first listed on the official senate rolls. He was always
the ex-Consul with the most personal authority or influence among his peers, and was usually
a very old man. But he wasn’t just the first man listed on the senate rolls. For long periods
of Roman history, the Princeps Senatus had special privileges, such as the right to convene
and dismiss the senate, the right to propose legislation, and the right to rule on points
of order such as who would speak first when two senators of equal rank both wanted the
floor. It was an extremely powerful and prestigious position. Also, being the Princeps Senatus
ranked a man higher than all other ex-Consuls. This may have been his most important power,
because it meant that if he wanted, he always had the opportunity to comment on legislation
first. Sometimes, if a well respected Princeps Senatus spoke passionately and eloquently,
he could turn the entire chamber for or against a motion before the debate had even really
begun. Let’s quickly run through this whole process
from beginning to end. To begin the process of passing a bill, the
senate had to be called to meet. Only specific people could do this. Consuls, Praetors, Tribunes
of the Plebs, and the Princeps Senatus. Nobody else. Let’s say a Consul called on the senate to
meet. At the meeting he would read his proposal in front of the senate, make a few introductory
remarks in its favour, and then debate would commence. Speaking order as always began with
the Princeps Senatus. Debate would progress with the Princeps Senatus acting as referee
as needed. After the Consul overseeing the meeting decided that debate was over, he would
call for a vote, and take an official count. In this case, the proposal passes. Next, the Consul would move onto the popular
assembly. A scheduled vote would take place a minimum of three market days later, to give
people time to think about the proposal. The same Consul would preside over this assembly
just like he did with the senate. As before he would read the proposal, and give some
introductory remarks. Now, he was allowed to invite people of his choosing up to make
speeches in support of his proposal. At the Consul’s discretion, a vote would be called.
In this case, the proposal passes. At this point the proposal officially has the force
of law, and it is now up to the Consuls and the Praetors to make sure it goes into effect. As with the selection of the king during the
days of the monarchy, the people’s assembly did not have the power to debate the bill,
but only to vote yes or no. The person convening the public assembly wielded immense power,
since, unlike the debate in the senate, he got to decide who spoke and what they spoke
about. The fact that the public was presented with just one side of the debate may explain
why public assemblies more or less operated as rubber stamps. There is also some evidence
that suggests that the votes to approve senate proposals were actually very weakly attended,
and that proponents of the bill could easily stuff the crowd full of supporters and allies. That’s how the senate functioned on a day
to day basis. Next week we’ll take a brief detour from senate procedure and talk about
an fascinating Roman public holiday. Thanks for watching!

88 Replies to “The Roman Senate during the Republic

  1. Great! Thanks for your hard work putting this together. I'll teach it in my grade 11 class. To clarify, did the Public Assembly always vote or could they be completely bypassed by the person presenting the new legislation?

  2. I think the term back-benchers comes from the British Parliament, where members do indeed still sit on very cramped, green benches.

  3. If senile comes from the Latin root Senex meaning "old man" does that mran the phrase senile old man is a tautology?

  4. i mean, if you are going to have a channel dedicated to roman history, you could get your fucking latin pronunciation down. MAYBE.

  5. Amazing vid, but how old is old in this? Are we talking 70-80 year old senators or 40-50 maybe 60 year old guys?

  6. I know it's not realistic but if you could do a short video on the Senate during the empire? Because sometimes I read bits about the senate doing things(electing emperors and all that) in just curious what happened to them after Caesar Augustus

  7. they went with the name "Pedaria" because the only power they had was to stand on their feet ("pedis" in latin) to show their support, so the name shows that their power did not come from their mouth when they spoke (since they never got to) but in actually standing since their votes still counted!

  8. It's odd how many American citizens don't believe that money can't find its way into American politics, but yet, they can see evidence of the same occurrence in virtually every form of government ever crated.

  9. So if the senate voted to pass a bill put the people voted no in a public assembly, would the bill pass? Also had anyone the power to veto something like this?

  10. Music sux use wtc books one and two that's Bach. Or if you want neutral background try Steve Reich music for 18 musicians .

  11. I do have a question about the senate. You show the senate as having 300 members. That seems reasonable, but how did they all fit into that tiny building? Were most of them usually absent? Or is maybe the building much bigger than it looks in pictures? Or is it maybe significantly scaled down from the original? If the latter is the case, what exactly did the original senate building look like?

    If the building couldn't actually fit the entire senate, what would they do in the case that too many senators showed up? Would they change the venue, or would they turn away senators from the meeting based on a hierarchy?

    Last question, you show the senators sitting in a C shaped fashion, is this how they really sat? The pictures of the current building look like it is a simple layout of two rows of seats along the sides of the building and a podium at one end (But I only seem to be able to find one or two pictures of the other end of the building, and they aren't super detailed). Although it is probable that this was a later renovation.

    Regardless, your videos are awesome! Even your early ones, aside from the audio, are still incredibly insightful and very entertaining.

  12. In Latin, each letter has a distinct pronounciation which is usually the same in IPA, and that letter is always pronounced like that. So 'pretarii' would've been pronounced as it's written, not /pritariai/ like it might seem to an American english speaker.

  13. As I understand, the chain of events of legislation from proposal to implementation is as it works… as long as the Consul was a Plebeian. If he was a Patrician, I've understood that he would not be able to walk down the steps from the Curia (the Senate House) into the Popular Assembly, as Patricians were not allowed there.

    Could you comment on this?

  14. While informative, are you actively trying to mispronounce every Latin word you use? I mean you mispronounce even words that are pretty easy to say correctly. As I said, the videos are informative, but I could never use them in class (which I had originally wanted to do) because your butchering of the Latin is so egregious that it's totally distracting, and it weakens confidence in what you're saying, since it's difficult to believe that someone who is knowledgeable enough to make these videos, can't pronounce Simone Latin words. Latin is so easy to pronounce correctly, you'd make these videos really cool and useful if you'd take just a little time to learn to pronounce the terminology correctly. As it stands I was very disappointed at so many promising opportunities missed.

  15. This may be a silly question to which i imagine my presumed answer is correct, but could senators participate in voting with the public assembly? I couldn't find anything about it anywhere and wanted to know whether participation in the two were mutually exclusive

  16. If you see this, I have a question.

    In another video, you listed these colours as being coded to ex-Quastors, Praetors, etc. Does this mean that say in a Senate of 300, people actually occupying the role of Quastor are not in the Senate, but are appointed after their term? And if they then become Aediles, they're removed and then upon completion reinstated?

    I'm just slightly confused, because no one seems to ever leave the Senate, yet there are new people joining seemingly every year, and somehow the Senate never exceeded more than 900 Senators. It seems logical for an Aedile to not be in the Senate, but be appointed after he completes. But then you have the issue of what if this man doesn't try to ascend. Few men would've been capable of rising to the top, both because of lack of available seats in the Praetorship and Consulship, as well as the issue of getting elected there in the first place.

    No matter which way I think about it, it seems to logically follow that the Senate could be endlessly growing, because aside from dying, no one seems to leave, whilst perhaps dozens are joining yearly.

  17. What was the name of the heir to the throne of the Empire? I've been wondering for a year because I want to use it in my Stellaris games.

  18. Confusing and wrong. The Senate could not pass laws. they were only in charge of the finances and foreign affairs including declaring war and including the geographical area in the list of provinciae to allow the army to enter and carry out war (Henderson). Senators were not selected for life, only if they met the amount of capital to belong to the patrician class as determined by the Censors every 5 years. Laws were passed by the Comittiae (House of Representatives) which there were three. However the laws were introduced by the Tribunes of the People. The US founders did a great job in simplifying the system but this was the base. They similarly took the legal bases (innocence until proven guilty by a jury, trial by jury, etc.). That is why Roma is so important to the US and this type of documentary does not help to understand our system.

  19. You’re the best dude. I haven’t been into Rome in a very long time.
    But you’re series has reignited that flame that was once so close to burning out.
    Thanks man(: and great work.
    Can’t wait to see what the future brings.

  20. They should just make such localizations toggleable through options, problem solved. Make a menu option like this:

    Gestures: Japanese / International (Japanese body language might be seen as offensive in other cultures)

    I'd love such an option, because it not only gives choice to everybody it also offers a method of learning other cultural behaviours.

  21. Thanks to this video I was accepted in third year of history with 10.1 of average grade.
    By watching this video I managed to obtain an important 17 that literraly saved me from losing my scholarships.

    Thank you Historia Civilis, what you are doing is not only interesting, it is also very important.

  22. They probably called Quaestors Pedarii, or Walkers, because the only thing they do significantly, is walking over to someone

  23. Pedarius comes from the Senaculum, where you had to walk to a certain location and gather. This is similar to a division of the house and not backbenching. In German, the expression sheep jump is used.

  24. It's interesting how you pronounce all the terms vis-a-vis American English rather than Classical Latin, as I'm used to hearing and saying them. Not wrong per se, just a bit offputting till I got used to it. 🙂

  25. Wait, why didn't Caesar become Princeps Senatus to push through his agenda after his consulship & governorship had expired?


  27. The classics… its amazing to see how far you have come and how u have helped me to get best in year level for history for 3 years xD tx

  28. no such thing as prize or interesx or lovx or strenth, power, xjewel, revere,bloodline,untested ,chance, get, influenx,important,high,eloquenx or not, say, do, be, can say, do, be any no matter what and any be perfect, genex doesn't matter, influence any nmw

  29. I think they were called Pedarii because their only contribution to the state was to

    a) Walk in and out of the Senate Hall


    b) To walk to either side when votes were to be cast

  30. Could you do one about the EU, the ECB and European Commission? This is the best conveyed medium for political organization I have seen even though i disagree with you politically. Thanks for your work.

  31. Senex = “Old Man” = Senator
    1:17 Hierarchical Power Structure
    1:38 Pedarii = “Walkers” = Backbenchers = Senators who never get a chance to speak

    2:38 Princep Senatus = “The First Senator”
    + Higher Ranking than Ex-Consuls
    Could turn the entire senate for or against a motion

    4:26 The Popular/Public Assembly

  32. 0:01 – 4:25

    I don't know if anybody else realized this, but when they show the visual representation of the Roman senate, they accidentally create an optical illusion in between the lines separating the individual senators.

  33. Ancient people respected very much elder and consider their accrued experience and better judgement. For such relevant governmental institution during many centuries the minimum age for qualifying senator was 53 years old

  34. Backbenchers comes from parliament and they sit on benches…pretty sure they don't use those terms in the house or Senate but I dunno

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