Montesquieu
 

XI.14 How the distribution of the three powers began to change after the expulsion of the kings

Four things prin­ci­pally were under­mi­ning the liberty of Rome : the patri­cians alone were obtai­ning all the sacred, poli­ti­cal, civil and mili­tary posi­tions ; exor­bi­tant power had been atta­ched to the consu­late ; the peo­ple were being vio­la­ted ; and finally, they were left almost no influence in the bal­lo­ting. It was these four abu­ses which the peo­ple cor­rec­ted.

1. They had magis­tra­cies ins­ti­tu­ted for which ple­beians were eli­gi­ble, and pro­gres­si­vely obtai­ned par­ti­ci­pa­tion in all except that of an inter­re­gnum.

2. They dis­sol­ved the consu­late, and from it crea­ted seve­ral magis­tra­cies. They crea­ted præ­tors to whom they gave judi­cial autho­rity in pri­vate mat­ters1 ; they named quæs­tors for the jud­ging of public cri­mes2 ; they esta­bli­shed ædiles who were res­pon­si­ble for public order ; they made trea­su­rers who had the admi­nis­tra­tion of public funds3 ; finally, by the crea­tion of cen­sors, they dives­ted the consuls of that part of legis­la­tive autho­rity that over­sees the ethos of the citi­zens and the tran­sient admi­nis­tra­tion of the various bodies of the state. The prin­ci­pal pre­ro­ga­ti­ves they retai­ned were to pre­side over the great assem­blies of the peo­ple,4 to call the senate into ses­sion, and to com­mand the armies.

3. The sacred laws esta­bli­shed tri­bu­nes which could at every moment check the enter­pri­ses of the patri­cians, and pre­ven­ted not only indi­vi­dual but also gene­ral offen­ses.

Finally, the ple­beians increa­sed their influence in public deci­sions. The Roman peo­ple were divi­ded in three ways : by cen­tu­ries, by curiæ, and by tri­bes ; and when they cast their bal­lots, they were assem­bled and grou­ped in one of these three ways.

In the first, the patri­cians, the prin­ci­pals, the rich, and the senate, which was about the same thing, had almost all the clout in the second they had less, and in the third, still less.

The divi­sion by cen­tu­ries was rather a divi­sion of cens and means than a divi­sion of per­sons. The peo­ple as a whole were divi­ded into one hun­dred ninety-three cen­tu­ries,5 each of which had one vote. The patri­cians and the prin­ci­pals made up the first ninety-eight cen­tu­ries ; the rest of the citi­zens were dis­tri­bu­ted into the ninety-five others. The patri­cians the­re­fore, in this divi­sion, control­led the voting.

In the divi­sion by curiæ,6 the patri­cians did not have the same advan­ta­ges. Still they had some. The aus­pi­ces, which the patri­cians control­led, had to be consul­ted ; no pro­po­sal could be made to the peo­ple unless it was first taken to the senate and appro­ved by a sena­tus consul­tum. But in the divi­sion by tri­bes there was nothing about either aus­pi­ces or sena­tus consul­tum, and patri­cians were not admit­ted.

The peo­ple always sought to hold by curiæ the assem­blies that were cus­to­ma­rily held by cen­tu­ries, and to hold by tri­bes the assem­blies that were held by curiæ, which cau­sed mat­ters to pass from the hands of the patri­cians into those of the ple­beians.

Thus, when the ple­beians had obtai­ned the right to judge patri­cians, which began with the Coriolanus affaire,7 the ple­beians wan­ted to judge them assem­bled by tri­bes and not by cen­tu­ries8 ; and when the new magis­tra­cies of tri­bu­nes and ædiles were ins­ti­tu­ted in favor of the peo­ple,9 the peo­ple were allo­wed to assem­ble by curiæ to name them ; and when their autho­rity was assu­red, it was gran­ted10 that they should be named in an assem­bly by tri­bes.

Livy, Decade I, book VI.

Quæstores parricidi (Pomponius, Law 2, following de origine juris).

Plutarque, Life of Publicola.

Comitiis centuriatis.

See on this subject Livy, book I, and Dionysius of Halicarnassus, books IV and VII.

Dionysius of Halicarnassus book IX, p. 598.

Ibid., book VII.

Against the former custom, as we see in Dionysius of Halicarnassus, book V, p. 320.

Dionysius of Halicarnassus, book VI, p. 410 and 411.

See Dionysius of Halicarnassus, book IX, p. 605.