Category Archives: Laws of the Land

Overthrow of the Roman Monarchy: Making the Roman Republic

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Throughout history there is one thing that is common across almost every populated continent, there are those that have an abundance of wealth and there are those who significantly lack it. Having recently explored the rise of the common people against the nobility (Conflict of the Orders: Plebeians versus Patricians) and celebrated the flight of a king (Regifugium: Celebrating the Flight of a King), we thought it only right to finish off the monarchy of Rome.

That is why today we are going to take a final look at the Overthrow of the Roman Monarchy!

A 16th Century painting by Sandro Botticelli, depicting the rape of Lucretia and the subsequent uprising.

The Overthrow of the Roman Monarchy was a political revolution in Ancient Rome in around 509 BC. It resulted in the expulsion of the last King of RomeLucius Tarquinius Superbus, and the establishment of the Res Publica Romana (Roman Republic).

The History of Rome held that 7 Kings of Rome reigned from the establishment of the city in 753 BC by Romulus up to the reign, and expulsion, of Lucius Tarquinius Superbus aka Tarquin.

Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, aka Tarquin, the last Roman King.

The accuracy, however, of this account has been doubted by modern historians. What does appear to be accepted is that: 1) there was a monarchy and 2) the last King, Tarquin, was expelled upon the founding of the Republic in the late 6th Century BC.

Tarquin was the son of Rome’s 5th King, Lucius Tarquinius Priscus. In around 535 BC Tarquin, together with his wife Tullia Minor (a daughter of the then King Servius Tullius) arranged the murder of Servius, and for Tarquin to become ruler in his stead.

Despite various military victories, Tarquin became an unpopular sovereign. He refused to bury his predecessor, then he put to death a number of the leading Senators whom he suspected of remaining loyal to Servius (one of whom was the brother of Lucius Junius Brutus).

Roman Senate in an uproar.

By not replacing the slain Senators, and not consulting the Senate on all matters of government, Tarquin diminished both its size and authority. In another break with tradition, Tarquin judged capital criminal cases without advice of counsellors, thereby creating fear among those who might think to oppose him.

Having supposedly engaged in treachery with the Foedus Latinum (Latin League), around 510 BC, Tarquin went to war with the Rutuli. At that time according to Livy, the Rutuli were a very wealthy nation and Tarquin was keen to obtain the spoils that would come with victory over the Rutuli in order, in part, to soften the anger of his subjects.

Tarquin unsuccessfully sought to take the Rutulian capital Ardea by storm, and later began an extensive siege of the city. The Roman histories tell that while King Tarquin was away on campaign, his son Sextus Tarquinius was sent on a military errand to Collatia.

Sextus was received with great hospitality at the Governor’s mansion, home of Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus, son of the king’s nephew, Arruns Tarquinius, former Governor of Collatia and originator of the Tarquinii Collatini. Lucius’ wife, Lucretia, daughter of Praefectus (Prefect) Spurius Lucretius, made sure that Tarquin’s son was treated as the son of a king should, even though her husband was away at the siege.

Titian’s “Tarquin and Lucretia” (1571).

At night Sextus entered Lucretia’s bedroom by stealth, quietly going around the slaves who were sleeping at her door. When she awakened, Sextus identified himself and offered her 2 choices: she could submit to his sexual advances and become his wife and future queen; or he would kill her and a slave and place the bodies together, then claim he had caught her having adulterous sex with said slave.

The next day Lucretia dressed in black and weeping went to her father’s house in Rome and cast herself down in the suppliant’s position (embracing the knees). Asked to explain herself, Lucretia insisted on first summoning witnesses to verify her story.

After disclosing the rape, Lucretia called on various Roman noblemen for vengeance. While the men debated on how to proceed, Lucretia drew a concealed dagger and stabbed herself in the heart.

Statue of Brutus holding Lucretia while swearing the oath and holding the knife.

According to legend, Tribunus Celerum Lucius Junius Brutus grabbed the dagger from Lucretia’s breast after her death and immediately shouted for the overthrow of the Tarquins. The people of Rome were summoned to the Forum Romanum (Roman Forum) and spurred by Brutus to rise up against the monarch.

Brutus revealed that his pose as fool was a sham designed to protect him against an evil king. He leveled a number of charges against the king and his family: the outrage against Lucretia (whom everyone could see on the dais), the king’s tyranny, the forced labor of the Plēbēs in the ditches and sewers of Rome.

He pointed out that Tarquin had come to rule by the murder of Servius Tullius, his wife’s father, next-to-the-last King of Rome. He “solemnly invoked the gods as the avengers of murdered parents.”

The king’s wife, Tullia, was in fact in Rome and probably was a witness to the proceedings from her palace near the Forum. Seeing herself the target of so much animosity she fled from the palace in fear of her life and proceeded to the camp at Ardea.

Brutus opened a debate on the form of government Rome ought to have; there were many speakers (all Patricians). In summation he proposed the banishment of the Tarquins from all the territories of Rome and appointment of an interrex to nominate new magistrates and conduct an election of ratification.

They had decided on a republican form of government with 2 Cōnsulēs in place of a king executing the will of a Patrician Senate. This was a temporary measure until they could consider the details more carefully.

Brutus renounced all right to the throne. In subsequent years the powers of the king were divided among various elected magistracies.

A final vote of the curiae carried the interim constitution. Lucretius was swiftly elected interrex (he was Prefect of the city anyway).

Lucretius proposed Brutus and Collatinus as the initial 2 Cōnsulēs and that choice was ratified by the Curiae. Needing to acquire the assent of the population as a whole they paraded Lucretia’s body through the streets, summoning the Plebeians to legal assembly in the Forum Romanum.

Once there they heard a further speech by Brutus. It began:

Inasmuch as Tarquin neither obtained the sovereignty in accordance with our ancestral customs and laws, nor, since he obtained it — in whatever manner he got it — has he been exercising it in an honorable or kingly manner, but has surpassed in insolence and lawlessness all the tyrants the world ever saw, we patricians met together and resolved to deprive him of his power, a thing we ought to have done long ago, but are doing now when a favorable opportunity has offered. And we have called you together, plebeians, in order to declare our own decision and then ask for your assistance in achieving liberty for our country….

A general election was held, and the final vote was in favor of a Roman Republic. The monarchy was at an end, even while Lucretia was still displayed in the Forum.

The Roman noblemen, led by Brutus, obtained the support of both the Pātriciī (Roman Aristocracy) and the Plēbēs (Common People) to expel the King and his family and to institute a republic. Leaving Lucretius in command of the city, Brutus proceeded with a group of militia to the Exercitus Romanus (Roman Army) then camped at Ardea.

The King, who had been with the Army, heard of developments at Rome, and left the camp for the city before Brutus’ arrival. The soldiers who had been with Tarquin received Brutus as a hero, and the king’s sons were expelled from the camp.

Meanwhile back in Rome, the King was refused entry into the city and was forced to flee with his family into exile. Tarquin and his 2 eldest sons, Titus and Arruns, went into exile at Caere.

That uprising resulted in the exile or Regifugium, after a reign of 25 years of Tarquin and his family. The Roman Republic was then established with Brutus and Collatinus (both related by blood to Rome’s 5th King Lucius Tarquinius Priscus) as the original Cōnsulēs.

According to Livy, Brutus’ first act after the expulsion of Tarquin was to bring the people to swear an oath never to allow any man again to be king in Rome.

Omnium primum avidum novae libertatis populum, ne postmodum flecti precibus aut donis regiis posset, iure iurando adegit neminem Romae passuros regnare.

First of all, by swearing an oath that they would suffer no man to rule Rome, it forced the people, desirous of a new liberty, not to be thereafter swayed by the entreaties or bribes of kings.

This is, fundamentally, a restatement of the “private oath” sworn by the conspirators to overthrow the monarchy:

Per hunc… castissimum ante regiam iniuriam sanguinem iuro, vosque, di, testes facio me L. Tarquinium Superbum cum scelerata coniuge et omni liberorum stirpe ferro igni quacumque dehinc vi possim exsecuturum, nec illos nec alium quemquam regnare Romae passurum.

By this guiltless blood before the kingly injustice I swear – you and the gods as my witnesses – I make myself the one who will prosecute, by what force I am able, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus along with his wicked wife and the whole house of his freeborn children by sword, by fire, by any means hence, so that neither they nor any one else be suffered to rule Rome.

Brutus also replenished the number of Senators to 300 from the principal men of the Equites. The new Consuls also created a new office of Rex Sacrorum to carry out the religious duties that had previously been performed by the kings.

Brutus in the Forum denouncing Collatinus as a traitor who delighted in war and the profits of tyranny.

The Roman people loathed the name and family of the exiled King Tarquin. It was taken to such an extent that the Consul Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus was forced to resign from his office and go into exile.

After his exile, Tarquin made a number of attempts to regain the throne. At first, he sent ambassadors to the Senate to request the return of his family’s personal effects, which had been seized in the coup.

In secret, while the Senate debated his request, the ambassadors met with and subverted a number of the leading men of Rome to the royal cause, in the Tarquinian conspiracy. The conspirators included 2 of Brutus’ brothers-in-law, and his 2 sons Titus and Tiberius. The conspiracy was discovered, and the conspirators executed.

“The Lictors Bring Home the Sons of Brutus” by Jacques-Louis David (1784).

Although the Senate had initially agreed to Tarquin’s request for a return of his family’s effects, the decision was reconsidered and revoked after the discovery of the conspiracy. The royal property was instead given over to be plundered by the Roman populace.

Tarquin’s next attempted to regain Rome by force of arms. He began by gaining the support of the cities of Veii and Tarquinii, recalling to the former their regular losses of war and land to the Roman state, and to the latter his family ties.

Model version of the Battle of Silva Arsia.

The armies of the 2 cities were led by Tarquin against Rome in the Battle of Silva Arsia, with the king commanding the Etruscan infantry. Although the result initially appeared uncertain, the Romans were victorious.

The Roman victory wasn’t without its own perils for both Brutus (the Consul) and Arruns (the King’s son) were killed in the battle.

Another attempt by Tarquin relied on military support from Lars Porsenna, king of Clusium. The war led to the siege of Rome, and finally a peace treaty leaving Tarquin unable to regain the Roman throne.

Castor and Pollux fighting at the Battle of Lake Regillus, 1880 illustration by John Reinhard Weguelin.

Tarquin and his family left Clusium, and instead sought refuge in Tusculum with his son-in-law Octavius Mamilius. In about 496 BC, Tarquin and his son Titus fought with Mamilius and the Latin League against Rome, but lost, at the Battle of Lake Regillus where Mamilius perished.

Once more Tarquin was forced to flee, and he took refuge with the tyrant of Cumae, Aristodemus. It was there, in Cumae, in 495 BC that Rome’s last King finally expired.

Overthrow of the Roman Monarchy summarized as a storyboard.

With the rise of the Roman Republic, and the death of its last King, Rome would carry on from 509 – 27 BC (or 482 years for those that are particular). During that stretch Rome would see a lot of growth and troubles, that would all culminate with a General named Julius Caesar.

Gaius Julius Caesar

We hope you enjoyed today’s journey and look forward to having you back again soon. Make sure to check us out daily for you never know who we’ll be checking out or where we’ll be traveling.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Cornell, TimThe Beginnings of Rome. Routledge, 1995. ISBN 978-0-415-01596-7.

Gale, Robert L. A Herman Melville encyclopedia. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1995. ISBN 978-0-313-29011-4.

Livy. Ab urbe condita.

Conflict of the Orders: Plebeians versus Patricians

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

In viewing society today, we like to think we are involved in some sort of struggle or another. That may be the case, however we are not here to discuss modern events.

For the people of antiquity, especially those in Ancient Rome, the struggle was real. Even though the Romans had the most modern of inventions, weapons, government and public works of the time not everyone was blessed to be a Roman citizen of wealth (or maybe even a citizen at all).

We have a break in all the festivities of the month to share with you a civil war of sorts, as we present The Conflict of the Orders!

Engraving about the Revolt of the Plebeians (c. 19th Century).

Also referred to as the Struggle of the Orders, this was a political struggle between the Plebs (commoners) and Pātriciī (aristocrats) of the Roman Republic. Lasting from 494 BC to 287 BC, the Plebs (English: Plebeians) sought political equality with the Pātriciī (Patricians).

From L-R: The Patricians (Aristocrats) and the Plebeians (Common People) of Rome.

This struggle played a major role in the development of the Constitution of the Roman Republic. Shortly after the founding of the Republic, this conflict led to a secession from Rome by Plebeians to the Sacred Mount at a time of war.

The result of this initial secession was the creation of the office of Tribunus Plebis (Plebeian Tribune). Due to the creation of the Tribunus Plebis came the opening acquisition of real power by the Plebs.

Originally only Patricians were allowed to stand for election to political office. Over time, though, these laws were revoked, and eventually all offices were opened to the Plebeians.

Since most individuals who were elected to political office were given membership in the Senatus Romanus (Roman Senate), this development helped to transform the Senate from a body of solely Patricians into one of equal representation. This development occurred at the same time that the Plebeian legislative assembly, the Concilium Plebis (Plebeian Council), was acquiring additional power.

Representation of a sitting of the Roman Senate: Cicero attacks Catiline, from a 19th Century fresco (Palazzo Madama, Rome – House of the Italian Senate).

At first, its acts (plebiscites) applied only to Plebs. After 339 BC, with the institution of laws by the foremost Plebeian dictator Quintus Publilius Philo, these acts began to apply to both Plebeians and Patricians, with a senatorial veto of all measures approved by the Council.

It was not until 287 BC that the Patrician Senators lost their last check over the Plebeian Council. However, the Patricio-Plebeian aristocracy in the Senate still retained other means by which to control the Plebeian Council, in particular the closeness between the Plebeian Tribunes and the Senators.

While this conflict would end in 287 BC with the Plebeians having acquired political equality with the Patricians, the plight of the average Pleb had not changed. A small number of aristocratic Plebeian families had emerged, and most Plebeian politicians came from one of these families.

Caesar Crossing the Rubicon

Since this new Patricio-Plebeian aristocracy was based on the structure of society, it could only be overthrown through a revolution. That revolution ultimately came in 49 BC, when Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon River, and began a civil war, which overthrew the Roman Republic, and created the Roman Empire.

The traditional account was long accepted as factual, but it has a number of problems and inconsistencies, and almost every element of the story is controversial today. Some scholars have argued that there was no conflict at all, with the Romans of the late Republic having interpreted events of their distant past as if they were comparable to the class struggles of their own time.

The Conflict of Orders as depicted on a Roman coin.

The root of the problem is that there is no contemporary account of the conflict. Writers such as Polybius, who might have met persons whose grandparents participated in the conflict, do not mention it (which may not be surprising, since Polybius’ history covered a period after the conflict).

Writers who do speak of the conflict, such as Livy or Cicero, are sometimes thought to have reported fact and fable equally readily. It has sometimes been assumed that there were no fundamental changes in Roman institutions for nearly 500 years.

However, there are numerous Roman and Greek authors who record the events which form part of the conflict of the orders, and they each rely on more ancient sources. Ultimately, if the story were false it could only be because there were some great collusion between the authors in order to distort history, which seems very unlikely.

Volumnia reproching Tiberius Junius Brutus and Lucius Sicinius Vellutus.

In 494 BC, Rome was at war with 3 Italic tribes (the Aequi, Sabines, and Volsci). The kicker here was the Plebeian soldiers, advised by Lucius Sicinius Vellutus, refused to march against the enemy, and instead seceded to the Sacred Mount outside Rome.

A settlement was negotiated and the patricians agreed that the plebs be given the right to elect their own officials. The Plebeians named these new officials Plebeian Tribunes.

How laws were made public in Ancient Rome.

During the 5th Century BC there were a number of unsuccessful attempts to reform Roman agrarian laws to distribute newly conquered territories amongst the Plebs. In a number of instances these reforms were advocated by none other than the Plebeian Tribunes.

During the early years of the Republic, the Plebeians were not allowed to hold magisterial office. Neither Tribunes nor Aedīlēs were technically Magistratus (Magistrates), since they were both elected solely by the Plebs.

While the Plebeian Tribunes regularly attempted to block legislation unfavorable to their order, the Patricians frequently tried to thwart them by gaining the support of one or another of the Tribunes. One example of this occurred in 448 BC, when only 5 Tribunes were elected to fill 10 positions.

Following tradition and pressured by the Patricians, they co-opted 5 colleagues, 2 of which were Patricians. Concerns that the Patricians would attempt to influence future elections in this manner, or by obtaining the office themselves prevent the Plebeian Tribunes from exercising their powers, led to the passage of the Lex Trebonia, forbidding the Plebeian Tribunes from co-opting their colleagues in the future.

In 445 BC, the Plebeians demanded the right to stand for election as Consul, but the Senate refused to grant them this right. Ultimately, a compromise was reached, and while the Consulship remained closed to the Plebeians, Consular command authority (Imperium) was granted to a select number of Military Tribunes.

Emperor Trajan shown here as Tribuni Militum Consulari Potestate of Hispania.

These individuals, the so-called Consular Tribunes (Military Tribunes with Consular powers or Tribuni Militares Consulari Potestate) were elected by the Centuriate Assembly (Assembly of Soldiers), and the Senate had the power to veto any such election. This was the start of many attempts by the Plebeians to achieve political equality with the Patricians.

Shortly after the founding of the Republic, the Centuriate Assembly became the principal Roman assembly in which Magistrates were elected, laws were passed, and trials occurred. Also around this time, the Plebeians assembled into an informal Plebeian Curiate Assembly, which was the original Plebeian Council.

A Lictor is sent to arrest Publilius Volero, from The Comic History of Rome by John Leech.

Since they were organized on the basis of the Curia (and thus by clan), they remained dependent on their Patrician patrons. In 471 BC, a law was passed due to the efforts of the Tribune Volero Publilius, which allowed the Plebeians to organize by Tribe, rather than by Curia. Thus, the Plebeian Curiate Assembly became the Plebeian Tribal Assembly, and the Plebeians became politically independent.

During the Roman Kingdom, the King nominated 2 Quaestores (Investigators) to serve as his assistants. After the overthrow of the monarchy, the Consuls retained this authority.

However, in 447 BC, Cicero tells us that the Quaestors began to be elected by a tribal assembly that was presided over by a Magistrate. It seems as though this was the primary instance of a joint Patricio-Plebeian Tribal Assembly, and thus was probably an enormous gain for the Plebeians.

While Patricians were able to vote in a joint assembly, there were never very many Patricians in Rome. Thus, most of the electors were Plebeians, and yet any Magistrate elected by a joint assembly had jurisdiction over both Plebeians and Patricians.

The distinction between the joint Tribal Assembly (composed of both Patricians and Plebeians) and the Plebeian Council (composed only of Plebeians) is not well defined in the contemporary accounts, and because of this, the very existence of a joint Tribal Assembly can only be assumed through indirect evidence. During the 4th Century BC, the Leges Valeriae Horatiae (the Laws of the Consul Publius Valerius Publicola and the Dictator Quintus Hortensius) were passed.

This ultimately required that any law passed by the Plebeian Council have the full force of law over both Plebeians and Patricians. This gave the Plebeian Tribunes, who presided over the Plebeian Council, a positive character for the first time.

Daily life for the typical Roman.

It was a change of sorts to the Valerian law in 449 BC which allowed acts of the Plebeian Council to have the full force of law over both Plebeians and Patricians. Eventually, the final law in the series was passed (the Hortensian Law), which removed the last check that the Patricians in the Senate had over this power.

In the decades following the passage of the Lex Licinia Sextia (Licinio-Sextian Law) of 367 BC, a series of laws were passed which ultimately granted Plebeians political equality with Patricians. The Patrician era came to a complete end in 287 BC, with the passage of the Hortensian law.

When the Curule Aedileship had been created, it had only been opened to Patricians. However, an unusual agreement was ultimately secured between the Plebeians and the Patricians.

One year, the Curule Aedileship was to be open to Plebeians, and the next year it was only to be open to Patricians. Eventually, however, this agreement was abandoned and the Plebeians won full admission to the Curule Aedileship.

Coin of Lucius Vitellius as Censor.

In addition, after the Consulship had been opened to the Plebeians, the Plebeians acquired a de facto right to hold both the Roman Dictatorship and the Roman Censorship since only former Consuls could hold either office. 356 BC saw the appointment of the first Plebeian Dictator, and in 339 BC the Plebeians facilitated the passage of a law (the Lex Publilia), which required the election of at least one Plebeian Censor for each 5-year term.

In 337 BC, the first Plebeian Praetor (Q. Publilius Philo) was elected. In addition, during these years, the Plebeian Tribunes and the Senators grew increasingly close.

The Senate realized the need to use Plebeian officials to accomplish desired goals, and so to win over the Tribunes, the Senators gave the Tribunes a great deal of power. Unsurprisingly, the Tribunes began to feel obligated to the Senate.

As the Tribunes and the Senators grew closer, Plebeian Senators were often able to secure the Tribunate for members of their own families. In time, the Tribunate became a stepping stone to higher office.

During the era of the kingdom, the Roman King appointed new Senators through a process called Lectio Senatus, but after the overthrow of the kingdom, the Consuls acquired this power. Around the middle of the 4th Century BC, however, the Plebeian Council enacted the Ovinian Plebiscite (Plebiscitum Ovinium), which gave the power to appoint new Senators to the Roman Censors.

By this point, Plebeians were already holding a significant number of magisterial offices, and so the number of Plebeian Senators probably increased quickly. It was, in all likelihood, simply a matter of time before the Plebeians came to dominate the Senate.

Statue of Gaius Marius as Roman Consul.

Under the new system, newly elected Magistrates were awarded with automatic membership in the Senate, although it remained difficult for a Plebeian from an unknown family. On the rare occasion that an individual of an unknown family (ignobilis) was elected to high office, it was usually due to the unusual character of that individual, as was the case for both Gaius Marius and Marcus Tullius Cicero.

Several factors made it difficult for individuals from unknown families to be elected to high office, in particular the very presence of a long-standing nobility, as this appealed to the deeply rooted Roman respect for the past. Just like today elections were expensive but for the Romans neither Senators nor Magistrates were paid so obviously those with the resources would run for office.

Roman Nobility must eat in a fanciful manner.

Ultimately, a new Patricio-Plebeian aristocracy (nobilitas) emerged, which replaced the old Patrician nobility. It was the dominance of the long-standing Patrician nobility which ultimately forced the Plebs to wage their long struggle for political power.

The new nobility was fundamentally different from the old nobility for the old nobility existed through the force of law, and was ultimately overthrown after those laws were changed. Now the new nobility existed due to the organization of society, and as such, it could only be overthrown through a revolution.

The Conflict of the Orders was finally coming to an end, since the Plebeians had achieved political equality with the Patricians. A small number of Plebeian families had achieved the same standing that the old aristocratic Patrician families had always had, but these new Plebeian aristocrats were as uninterested in the plight of the average Plebeian as the old Patrician aristocrats had always been.

Poor to begin with, the Plebs were greatly affected by previous wars that often destroyed their homes and farms.

During this time period, the Plebeian predicament had been eased due to the constant state of war that Rome was in. These wars provided employment, income, and glory for the average Pleb, and the sense of patriotism that resulted from these wars also eliminated any real threat of Plebeian unrest.

The Lex Publilia, which had required the election of at least 1 Plebeian Censor every 5 years, contained another provision. Before this time, any bill passed by an assembly could only become a law after the Patrician Senators gave their approval.

This approval came in the form of an Auctoritas Patrum (Authority of the Fathers), or basically the authority of the Patrician Senators. The Lex Publilia modified this process, requiring the Auctoritas Patrum to be passed before a law could be voted on by one of the assemblies, rather than after the law had already been voted on.

By 287 BC, the economic condition of the average Plebeian had become poor. The problem appears to have centered around widespread indebtedness, and the Plebeians quickly demanded relief.

The Secession of the Plebs

The Senators, most of whom belonged to the creditor class, refused to abide by the demands of the Plebeians, and the result was the final Plebeian secession. The Plebeians seceded to the Janiculum Hill, and to end the secession, a Dictator named Quintus Hortensius was appointed.

Hortensius, a Pleb, passed a law called the Lex Hortensia (Hortensian Law), which ended the requirement that an Auctoritas Patrum be passed before any bill could be considered by either the Plebeian Council or the Tribal Assembly. The requirement was not changed for the Centuriate Assembly.

The Hortensian Law also reaffirmed the principle that an act of the Plebeian Council have the full force of law over both Plebs and Pātriciī, which it had originally acquired in 449 BC. The importance of the Hortensian Law was that it removed the final check over the Plebeian Council from the Patrician Senators.

Gaius Gracchus, Tribune of the People, presiding over the Plebeian Council.

It wasn’t the final triumph of democracy over aristocracy, though, since through the Tribunes, the Senate could still control the Plebeian Council. Thus, the ultimate significance of this law was in the fact that it robbed the Patricians of their final weapon over the Plebeians.

The end result was that the ultimate control over the state fell, not onto the shoulders of democracy, but onto the shoulders of the new Patricio-Plebeian aristocracy. Feels very similar today.

We hope you enjoyed today’s journey into politics past. We look forward to you joining us soon for further explorations and festivals.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Abbott, Frank Frost. A History and Description of Roman Political Institutions. Elibron Classics, 1901. ISBN 0-543-92749-0.

Byrd, Robert. The Senate of the Roman Republic. U.S. Government Printing Office, 1995.

Cicero, Marcus Tullius. The Political Works of Marcus Tullius Cicero: Comprising his Treatise on the Commonwealth; and his Treatise on the Laws (Translated from the original, with Dissertations and Notes by Francis Barham, Esq). Edmund Spettigue, 1841.

Lintott, AndrewThe Constitution of the Roman Republic. Oxford University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-19-926108-3.

Polybius. The General History of Polybius (Translated from the Greek by James Hampton). Oxford University Press, 1823.

Raaflaub, Kurt, ed. Social Struggles in Archaic Rome: New Perspectives on the Conflict of Orders. University of California Press, 1986. ISBN 0-520-05528-4

Shindler, Michael. “Patrician and Plebeian Sociopolitical Dynamics in Early Rome”. The Apollonian Revolt, 2014.

Taylor, Lily RossRoman Voting Assemblies: From the Hannibalic War to the Dictatorship of Caesar. The University of Michigan Press, 1966. ISBN 0-472-08125-X.

Leges Iuliae: A Moral Code of Conduct

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

In the past we have covered many topics, from Places and Items of Interest to Religion / Mythology and everything in between. It’s time to explore something new, something we’ve not really gotten into before.

Today we bring to you a new topic, the Laws of the Land, as we present the Leges Iuliae!Lex_Iulia_de_maritandis_ordinibus_zur_Lex_Papia_Poppaea

A Lex Iulia is an Ancient Roman law that was introduced by any member of the Gens Iulia (or Julii). Most often “Julian Laws” refer to moral legislation introduced by Augustus in 23 BC, or to a law from the dictatorship of Julius Caesar.

Probably the best known of the laws under this name, aside from Augustus’ Laws on Marriage, is the Lex Iulia de Civitate Latinis Danda from 90 BC. It was introduced by the Consul Lucius Julius Caesar, and offered Roman citizenship to all citizens of Italian municipia who had not raised arms against Rome in the Bellum Sociale.

In 59 BC the Lex Iulia de Repetundis was introduced. This Law restricted the number of ‘gifts’ that a  Rector Provinciae could receive during his term in a provincia, and also ensured that Governors balanced their accounts before leaving a province.

Tables of HeracleaSets regulations known as the Lex Julia Municipalis came for the Italian municipalities in 45 BC. The Tabulae Heracleenses are a significant example of this defining the boundaries of lands belonging to various temples.

Under Augustus, the Leges Iuliae of 18–17 BC attempted to elevate the morals of the upper classes in Rome while also increasing their numbers. This 2-pronged approach began with the Lex Iulia de Maritandis Ordinibus to increase the population by encouraging marriage and having children. It was then followed up with the Lex Julia de Adulteriis that established adultery as both a private and public crime.

To encourage population expansion, the Leges Iuliae offered incentives to marriage and imposed disabilities upon the celibate. Marrying-age celibates and young widows who wouldn’t marry were debarred from receiving inheritances and from attending public games.

Augustus then instituted the “Law of the Three Sons” which held those in high regard who produced 3 male offspring. As with most pre-20th Century societies, Rome held male offspring (and those who produced them) in the highest of regards.Tablet

The year 18 BC also brought about the Lex Iulia de Ambitu, penalizing bribery when acquiring political offices, and the Lex Iulia de Maritandis Ordinibus, limiting marriage across social class boundaries. The latter of the pair was seen as an indirect foundation of concubinage and would later be regulated by Justinian.

In 17 BC, the Lex Iulia de Adulteriis Coercendis was created to punish adultery with banishment. The 2 guilty parties were sent to different islands (dummodo in diversas insulas relegentur), and part of their property was confiscated.

Roman law allowed fathers to kill their daughters and their partners in adultery. Husbands could kill the partners under certain circumstances and were required to divorce adulterous wives.

Augustus himself was obliged to invoke the law against his own daughter Julia and had her relegated to the island of Pandateria, and again against his niece Julia the YoungerJulia in Exile

It was stated that Augustus was stricter for his own relatives than the law actually required. This makes sense if you are trying to change the way things are done for people are more apt to take someone seriously who will punish his or her own family.

In 5 AD an inheritance tax, the Lex Iulia de vicesima hereditatum, was instituted. This was a 5% tax on testamentary inheritances, exempting close relatives.

To encourage and strengthen marriage, Augustus created the Lex Papia Poppaea in 9 AD. This was seen as an integral part of the Julian Laws for the Lex Papia Poppaea explicitly promoted offspring, within lawful marriage, thus also discriminating against celibacy.

Later updates were made to the Julian Laws by various Emperors. All changes though were based on, and frequently quote from, the actual text of Augustus’ laws.

In the 3rd Century AD Ulpian adjusted the Lex Iulia relating to marriage. Senators and their descendants were forbidden to marry freedwomen, actresses, or whose father or mother been actors; other freeborn persons were forbidden to marry a common prostitute, or a woman caught in adultery, or one condemned in a public lawsuit, or one who had followed the profession of the stage.

Under the rule of Emperor Justinian, in the 6th Century AD, the Lex Iulia on adultery was altered. Adultery now punished with death not only those who dishonor the marriage bed of another, but also those who indulge in unspeakable lust with males.

The same Lex Iulia also punished the offence of seduction, when a person, without the use of force, deflowers a virgin or seduces a respectable widow. The penalty imposed on such offenders was the confiscation of half their estate, if they are of respectable standing, or corporal punishment and banishment in the case of people of the lower orders.augustus_childcoin

If for no other reasons these laws were made to fit a particular need during a specific time, much like how modern laws are imposed today. The laws may seem over the top or silly as one looks at them from generations ahead, but the people making them were only human.

We hope you enjoyed today’s look into Rome’s legal system. With your feedback we may be inclined to explore more Laws of the Land.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Boatwright, M. The Romans: From Village to Empire: A History of Rome from Earliest Times to the End of the Western Empire. 2011.

Woolf, Greg. Ancient civilizations: the illustrated guide to belief, mythology, and art. Barnes & Noble, 2007. ISBN 978-1-4351-0121-0.

“The Julian marriage laws”. Retrieved 2010-11-29.