Executive magistrates

The executive magistrates of the Roman Republic were officials of the ancient Roman Republic (c. 510 BC – 44 BC), elected by the People of Rome. Ordinary magistrates (magistratus) were divided into several ranks according to their role and the power they wielded: censors, consuls (who functioned as the regular head of state), praetors, curule aediles, and finally quaestor. Any magistrate could obstruct (veto) an action that was being taken by a magistrate with an equal or lower degree of magisterial powers. By definition, plebeian tribunes and plebeian aediles were technically not magistrates as they were elected only by the plebeians, but no ordinary magistrate could veto any of their actions. Dictator was an extraordinary magistrate normally elected in times of emergency (usually military) for a short period. During this period, the dictator's power over the Roman government was absolute, as they were not checked by any institution or magistrate. The magistrates (magistratus) were elected by the People of Rome, which consisted of plebeians (commoners) and patricians (aristocrats). Each magistrate was vested with a degree of power, called "major powers" or maior potestas. dictators had more "major powers" than any other magistrate, and thus they outranked all other magistrates; but were originally intended only to be a temporary tool for times of state emergency. Thereafter in descending order came the censor (who, while the highest ranking ordinary magistrate by virtue of his prestige, held little real power), the consul, the praetor, the curule aedile, and the quaestor. Any magistrate could obstruct (veto) an action that was being taken by a magistrate with an equal or lower degree of magisterial powers. If this obstruction occurred between two magistrates of equal rank, such as two praetors, then it was called par potestas (negation of powers). To prevent this, magistrates used a principle of alteration, assigned responsibilities by lot or seniority, or gave certain magistrates control over certain functions. If this obstruction occurred against a magistrate of a lower rank, then it was called intercessio, where the magistrate literally interposed his higher rank to obstruct the lower ranking magistrate. By definition, plebeian tribunes and plebeian aediles were technically not magistrates since they were elected only by the plebeians. As such, no ordinary magistrate could veto any of their actions. Only the Roman citizens (both plebeians and patricians) had the right to confer magisterial powers (potestas) on any individual magistrate. The most importan power was imperium, which was held by consuls (the chief magistrates) and by praetors (the second highest ranking ordinary magistrate). Defined narrowly, imperium simply gave a magistrate the authority to command a military force. Defined more broadly, however, imperium gave a magistrate the constitutional authority to issue commands (military, diplomatic, civil, or otherwise). A magistrate's imperium was at its apex while the magistrate was abroad. While the magistrate was in the city of Rome itself, however, he had to completely surrender his imperium, so that liberty (libertas) was maximized. Magistrates with imperium sat in a curule chair, and were attended by lictors (bodyguards) who carried axes called fasces which symbolized the power of the state to punish and to execute. Only a magistrate with imperium could wear a bordered toga, or be awarded a triumph. The curule chair was a symbol of the power of high ranking magistrates All magistrates had the power of coercion (coercitio), which was used by magistrates to maintain public order. A magistrate had many ways with which to enforce this power. Examples include flogging, imprisonment, fines, mandating pledges and oaths, enslavement, banishment, and sometimes even the destruction of a person's house. While in Rome, all citizens had an absolute protection against Coercion. This protection was called "Provocatio" (see below), which allowed any citizen to appeal any punishment. However, the power of Coercion outside the city of Rome was absolute. Magistrates also had both the power and the duty to look for omens from the Gods (auspicia), which could be used to obstruct political opponents. By claiming to witness an omen, a magistrate could justify the decision to end a legislative or senate meeting, or the decision to veto a colleague. While the magistrates had access to oracular documents, the Sibylline books, they rarely consulted with these books, and even then, only after seeing an omen. All senior magistrates (consuls, praetors, censors, and plebeian tribunes) were required to actively look for omens (auspicia impetrativa); simply having omens thrust upon them (auspicia oblativa) was generally not adequate. Omens could be discovered while observing the heavens, while studying the flight of birds, or while studying the entrails of sacrificed animals. When a magistrate believed that he had witnessed such an omen, he usually had an a priest (augur) interpret the omen. A magistrate was required to look for omens while presiding over a legislative or senate meeting, and while preparing for a war.