Legislative Assemblies

The Legislative Assemblies of the Roman Republic were political institutions in the ancient Roman Republic. According to the contemporary historian Polybius, it was the people (and thus the assemblies) who had the final say regarding the election of magistrates, the enactment of new statutes, the carrying out of capital punishment, the declaration of war and peace, and the creation (or dissolution) of alliances. Under the Constitution of the Roman Republic, the people (and thus the assemblies) held the ultimate source of sovereignty. Since the Romans used a form of direct democracy, citizens, and not elected representatives, voted before each assembly. As such, the citizen-electors had no power, other than the power to cast a vote. Each assembly was presided over by a single Roman Magistrate, and as such, it was the presiding magistrate who made all decisions on matters of procedure and legality. Ultimately, the presiding magistrate's power over the assembly was nearly absolute. The only check on that power came in the form of vetoes handed down by other magistrates. In the Roman system of direct democracy, two primary types of gatherings were used to vote on legislative, electoral, and judicial matters. The first was the Assembly (comitia), which was a gathering that was deemed to represent the entire Roman people, even if it did not contain all of the Roman citizens or, like the comitia curiata, excluded a particular class of Roman citizens (the plebs). The second was the Council (concilium), which was a gathering of citizens of a specific class. In contrast, the Convention was an unofficial forum for communication. Conventions were simply forums where Romans met for specific unoffi

ial purposes, such as, for example, to hear a political speech. Voters always assembled first into Conventions to hear debates and conduct other business before voting, and then into Assemblies or Councils to actually vote. In addition to the presiding magistrate, several additional magistrates were often present to act as assistants. There were also religious officials either in attendance or on-call, who would be available to help interpret any signs from the gods (omens). On several known occasions, presiding magistrates used the claim of unfavorable omens as an excuse to suspend a session that was not going the way they wanted. Any decision made by a presiding magistrate could be vetoed by a magistrate known as a Plebeian Tribune.[citation needed] In addition, decisions made by presiding magistrates could also be vetoed by higher-ranking magistrates. On the day of the vote, the electors first assembled into their conventions for debate and campaigning. In the Conventions, the electors were not sorted into their respective units (curia, centuries or tribes). Speeches from private citizens were only heard if the issue to be voted upon was a legislative or judicial matter. If the purpose of the ultimate vote was for an election, no speeches from private citizens were heard, and instead, the candidates for office used the Convention to campaign. During the Convention, the bill to be voted upon was read to the assembly by an officer known as a "Herald". Then, if the assembly was composed of Tribes, the order of the vote had to be determined. A Plebeian Tribune could use his veto against pending legislation until the point when the order of the vote was determined.