The Roman government is a chain of offices leading to the most important office consul. One has to work his way up this chain over twenty or more years. Politics is a lifetime career.
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Let us start by looking at the Senate before it's reform in the Republican era. Then we will study the sequence of offices that create the government of the Republic.
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As you see above, the Roman Senate exists before the rebellion in Rome ends the practice of having kings. The Patricians stage this revolt. They decide they will no longer give one man the powers kings have had any more.
Some of the king's powers are taken by the Senate. The Senate is now the institution that makes the laws for Rome in place of a king. It's a matter of the patricians bargaining among themselves until the can create a law they can all agree upon. The Senate:
- makes the laws for Rome
- decides how Rome will treat other city states
- declares war
- approves treaties with other city states
- runs Rome's economy
- spend money
- sets taxes
- is the body of patricians who can fill other government offices
The Senate is more important than just being a law making body, what many think of it today. Being appointed for life to the Senate is the beginning of every Roman's political career. It is from within the Senate that individuals are chosen to fill the offices in the Magisterium. The Magisterium is the part of the Republic's government that carries out the day-to-day work of running the government.
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The highest and most powerful office in the Magisterium is the office of consul. Each year, two consuls are chosen. They can serve only one year. They cannot be re-elected to the office of consul. They preside at the meetings of the Senate. They command the legions in the field and the city's guard. The two consuls are the top men in the Roman government. Since the Romans did not trust anybody, they elected two men. Each man has the power to stop the other from taking any political, economic, or military action. This power to block any political, economic, or military action is called the veto.
In times of war or great danger, you cannot have two men squabbling over what to do. In emergencies, the Senate has the power to appoint a dictator. A dictator has total power for six months. During those six months, what the dictator say go. No questions. No appeals. At the end of the six months, the guy is out of office. He returns to being a regular citizen.