Checks and Balances in Rome

In tracing the history of Roman government, one would find that thefirst form of established rule was by that of the monarchy. This meant that one king held imperium over the mass of the people. However, by 510 B.C, with the elimination of the monarchy, this imperium was granted to two consuls who shared it equally, thus allowing for a new process of governing with division of power.
The consuls held highly authoritative positions, dealing regularly with military and legal matters, and with general public affairs. As stated by Polybius, History of the World, 6.12.1-9, “it is the duty of the consuls to consider these (public affairs) their concern, and to summon assemblies, to introduce resolutions, and to execute the decrees of the people.” Obviously, the consuls were faced with many major responsibilities, thus, the government was soon divided further to include magistracies.
Only certain magistracies held imperium, besides the consuls, those being the praetors and the dictators.Praetors, described by the Historian Messalla as “colleagues of the consuls”, functioned in handling matters in the law, specifically that of civil law. Dictators were assigned to deal with affairs in times of urgency, such as war, and were entitled to power above all the other magistrates. This is emphasized in the following passage by Pomponius, The Digest of Laws, 1.2 16-28. :
“…occasionally, when the situation required, it was decided to establish a magistrate with power greater then any other magistrate. And thus dictators were appointed… to whom had been granted the power to inflict capital punishment. Since this magistrate had absolute power, it was unconstitutional for him to be kept in office for more then six months.”
Though they did not hold imperium, other divisions of the government were also established, namely, the Quaestors, Tribunes of the plebs, Aediles and Censors. Varro, in A Book about the Latin Language, 5. 1


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