1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Municipium

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MUNICIPIUM (Lat. munus, a duty or privilege, capere, to take), in ancient Rome, the term applied primarily to a status, a certain relation between individuals or communities and the Roman state; subsequently and in ordinary usage to a community, standing in such a relation to Rome. Whether the name signifies the taking up of burdens or the acceptance of privileges is a disputed point. But as ancient authorities are unanimous in giving munus in this connexion the sense of "duty" or "service," it is probable that the chief feature of municipality was the performance of certain services to Rome.[1] This view is confirmed by all that we know about the towns to which the name was applied in republican times. The status had its origin in the conferment of citizenship upon Tusculum in 381 B.C. (Livy vi. 26; cf. Cic. pro Planc. 8, 19), and was widely extended in the settlement made by Rome at the close of the Latin War in 338 B.C. (see Rome, History]]). Italian towns were then divided into three classes: (1) Coloniae civium Romanorum, whose members had all the rights of citizenship; (2) municipia, which received partial citizenship; (3) foederatae civitates (including the so-called Latin colonies), which remained entirely separate from Rome, and stood in relations with her which were separately arranged by her for each state by treaty (foedus). The municipia stood in very different degrees of dependence on Rome. Some, such as Fundi (Livy viii. 14; cf. ibid. 19), enjoyed a local self-government only limited in the matter of jurisdiction; others, such as Anagnia (Livy ix. 43; Festus, de verb. significatione, s.v. "municipium," p. 127, ed. Müller), were governed directly from Rome. But they all had certain features in common. Their citizens were called upon to pay the same dues and perform the same service in the legions as full Roman citizens, but were deprived of the chief privileges of citizenship, those of voting in the Comitia (jus suffragii), and of holding Roman magistracies (jus honorum). It would also appear from Festus (op. cit. s.v. praefectura, p. 233) that jurisdiction was entrusted in every municipium to praefecti juri dicundo sent out from Rome to represent the Praetor Urbanus.[2] The conferment of municipality can therefore hardly have been regarded as other than an imposing of burdens, even in the case of those cities which retained control of their own affairs. But after the close of the second Punic War, when Rome had become the chief power, not only in Italy, but in all the neighbouring lands round the Mediterranean, we can trace a growing tendency among the Italian cities to regard citizenship of this great state as a privilege, and to claim complete citizenship as a reward of their services in helping to build up the Roman power. During the 2nd century B.C. the jus suffragii and jus honorum were conferred upon numerous municipia (Livy xxxviii. 36, 37), whose citizens were then enrolled in the Roman tribes. They can have exercised their public rights but seldom, owing to their distance from Rome; but the consulships of C. Marius, a municeps of Arpinum (between 107 and 100 B.C.), and the strength of the support given to Tiberius Gracchus in the assembly by the voters from Italian towns (133 B.C.) show what an important influence the members of these municipia could occasionally exercise over Roman politics. The cities thus privileged, however, though receiving complete Roman citizenship, were not, as the logic of public law might seem to demand, incorporated in Rome, but continued to exist as independent urban units; and this anomaly survived in the municipal system which was developed, on the basis of these grants of citizenship, after the Social War. That system recognized the municeps as at once a citizen of a self-governing city community, and a member of the city of Rome, his dual capacity being illustrated by his right of voting both in the election of Roman magistrates and in the election of magistrates for his own town.

The result of the Social War which broke out in 91 B.C. (see Rome, History]]) was the establishment of a new uniform municipality throughout Italy, and the obliteration of any important distinction between the three classes established after the Latin War. By the Lex Julia of 90 B.C. and the Lex Plautia Papiria of 89 B.C. every town in Italy which made application in due form received the complete citizenship. The term municipium was no longer confined to a particular class of Italian towns but was adopted as a convenient name for all urban communities of Roman citizens in Italy. The organization of a municipal system, which should regulate the governments of all these towns on a uniform basis, and define their relation to the Roman government, was probably the work of Sulla, who certainly gave great impetus to the foundation in the provinces of citizen colonies, which were the earliest municipia outside Italy, and enjoyed the same status as the Italian towns. Julius Caesar extended the sphere of the Roman municipal system by his enfranchisement of Cisalpine Gaul, and the consequent inclusion of all the towns of that region in the category of municipia. He seems also to have given a more definite organization to the municipia as a whole. But, excepting those in Cisalpine Gaul, the municipal system still embraced no towns outside Italy other than the citizen colonies. Augustus and his successors adopted the practice of granting to existing towns in the provinces either the full citizenship, or a partial civitas known as the jus Latii. This partial civitas does not seem to have been entirely replaced, as in Italy, by the grant of full privileges to the communities possessing it, and the distinction survived for some time in the provinces between coloniae, municipia juris Romani, and municipia juris Latini. But the uniform system of administration gradually adopted in all three classes rendered the distinction entirely unimportant, and the general term municipium is used of all alike. The incorporation of existing towns, hitherto non-Roman, in the uniform municipal system of the principate took place mainly in the eastern part of the Empire, where Greek civilization had long fostered urban life. In the west city communities rapidly sprang up under direct Roman influence. The development of towns of the municipal type on the sites where legions occupied permanent quarters can be traced in several of the western provinces; and it cannot be doubted that this development became the rule wherever a body of Roman subjects settled down together for any purpose and permanently occupied a region. At any rate by the end of the 1st century of the principate municipia are numerous in the western as well as the eastern half of the Empire, and the towns are everywhere centres of Roman influence.

Of the internal life of the municipia very little is known before the Empire. For the period after Julius Caesar, however, we have two important sources of information. A series of municipal laws gives us a detailed knowledge of the constitution imposed, with slight variations, on all the municipia; and a host of private inscriptions gives particulars of their social life.

The municipal constitution of the 1st century of the principate is based upon the type of government common to Greece and Rome from earliest times. The government of each town consists of magistrates, senate and assembly, and is entirely independent of the Roman government except in certain cases of higher civil jurisdiction, which come under the direct cognisance of the praetor urbanus at Rome. On the other hand, each community is bound to perform certain services to the Imperial government, such as the contribution of men and horses for military service, the maintenance of the imperial post through its neighbourhood, and the occasional entertainment of Roman officials or billeting of soldiers. The citizens were of two classes: (1) cives, whether by birth, naturalization or emancipation, (2) incolae, who enjoyed a partial citizenship based on domicile for a certain period. Both classes were liable to civic burdens, but the incolae had none of the privileges of citizenship except a limited right of voting. The citizens were grouped in either tribes or curiae, and accordingly the assembly sometimes bore the name of Comitia Tributa, sometimes that of Comitia Curiata. The theoretical powers of these comitia were extensive both in the election of magistrates and in legislation. But the growing influence of the senate over elections on the one hand, and on the other hand the increasing reluctance of leading citizens to become candidates for office (see below), gradually made popular election a mere form. The senatorial recommendation of the necessary number of candidates seems to have been merely ratified in the comitia; and a Spanish municipal law of the 1st century makes special provision for occasions on which an insufficient number of candidates are forthcoming. In Italy, however, the reality of popular elections seems to have survived to a later date. The inscriptions at Pompeii, for instance, give evidence of keenly contested elections in the 2nd century. The local senate, or curia, always exercised an important influence on municipal politics. Its members formed the local nobility, and at an early date special privileges were granted by Rome to provincials who were senators in their native towns. For the composition, powers, and history of the provincial senate see Decurio. The magistrates were elected annually, and were six in number, forming three pairs of colleagues. The highest magistrates were the IIviri (Duoviri) juri dicundo, who had charge, as their name implies, of all local jurisdiction, and presided over the assembly. Candidates for this office were required to be over 25 years of age, to have held one of the minor magistracies, and to possess all the qualifications required of members of the local senate (see Decurio). Next in dignity were the IIviri aediles, who had charge of the roads and public buildings, the games and the corn-supply, and exercised police control throughout the town. They appear to have been regarded as subordinate colleagues (collegae minores) of the IIviri juri dicundo, and in some towns at least to have had the right to convene and preside over the comitia in the absence of the latter. Indeed many inscriptions speak of IVviri (Quattuorviri) consisting of two IVviri juri dicundo and two IVviri aediles; but in the majority of cases the former are regarded as distinct and superior magistrates. The two quaestores, who appear to have controlled finance in a large number of municipia, cannot be traced in others; and it is probable that in the municipia, as at Rome, the quaestorship was locally instituted, as need arose, to relieve the supreme magistrates of excessive business. Other municipal magistrates frequently referred to in the inscriptions are the quinquennales and praefecti. The quinquennales superseded the IIviri or IVviri juri dicundo every five years, and differed from them only in possessing, in addition to their other powers, those exercised in Rome before the time of Sulla by the censors. Two classes of praefecti are found in the municipalities under the Empire, both of which are to be distinguished from the officials who bore that name in the municipia before the Social War. The first class consists of those praefecti who were nominated as temporary delegates by the IIviri, when through illness or compulsory absence they were unable to discharge the duties of their office. The second class, referred to in inscriptions by the name of praefecti ab decurionibus creati lege Petronia, seem to have been appointed by the local senate in case of a complete absence of higher magistrates, such as would have led in Rome to the appointment of an interrex.

From a social point of view the municipia of the Roman Empire may be treated under three heads: (1) as centres of local self-government, (2) as religious centres, (3) as industrial centres. (1) The chief feature of the local government of the towns is the widespread activity of the municipal authorities in improving the general conditions of life in the town. In the municipalities, as in Rome, provision was made out of the public funds for feeding the poorest part of the population, and providing a supply of corn which could be bought by ordinary citizens at a moderate price. In Pliny's time there existed in many towns public schools controlled by the municipal authorities, concerning which Pliny remarks that they were a source of considerable disturbance in the town at the times when it was necessary to appoint teachers. He himself encouraged the establishment of another kind of municipal school at Como, where the leading townspeople subscribed for the maintenance of the school, and the control, including the appointment of teachers, remained in the hands of the subscribers. Physicians seem to have been maintained in many towns at the public expense. The water-supply was also provided out of the municipal budget, and controlled by magistrates appointed for the purpose. To enable it to bear the expense involved in all these undertakings, the local treasury was generally assisted by large benefactions, either in money or in works, from individual citizens; but direct taxation for municipal purposes was hardly ever resorted to. The treasury was filled out of the proceeds of the landed possessions of the community, especially such fruitful sources of revenue as mines and quarries, and out of import and export duties. It was occasionally subsidized by the emperor on occasions of sudden and exceptional calamity.

2. The chief feature in the religious life of the towns was the important position they occupied as centres for the cult of the emperor. Caesar-worship as an organized cult developed spontaneously in many provincial towns during the reign of Augustus, and was fostered by him and his successors as a means of promoting in these centres of vigour and prosperity a strong loyalty to Rome and the emperor, which was one of the firmest supports of the latter's power. The order of Augustales, officials appointed to regulate the worship of the emperor in the towns, occupied a position of dignity and importance in provincial society. It was composed of the leading and the wealthiest men among the lower classes of the population. By the organization of the order on these lines Augustus secured the double object of maintaining Caesar-worship in all the most vigorous centres of provincial life, and attracting to himself and his successors the special devotion of the industrial class which had its origin in the municipia of the Roman Empire, and has become the greatest political force in modern Europe.

3. The development of this free industrial class is the chief feature of the municipia considered as centres of industry and handicraft. The rise to power of the equestrian order in Rome during the last century of the Republic had to some extent modified the old Roman principle that trade and commerce were beneath the dignity of the governing class; but long after the fall of the Republic the aristocratic notion survived in Rome that industry and handicrafts were only fit for slaves. In the provincial towns, however, this idea was rapidly disappearing in the early years of the Empire, and even in the country towns of Italy the inscriptions give evidence not much later of the existence of a large and flourishing free industrial class, proud of its occupation, and bound together by a strong esprit de corps. Already the members of this class show a strong tendency to bind themselves together in gilds (collegia, sodalitates), and the existence of countless associations of the kind is revealed by the inscriptions. The formation of societies for religious and other purposes was frequent at Rome from the earliest times in all classes of the free population. After the time of Sulla these societies were regarded by the government with suspicion, mainly on account of the political uses to which they were turned, and various measures were passed for their suppression in Rome and Italy. This policy was continued by the early emperors and extended to the whole Empire, but in spite of opposition the gilds in the provincial towns grew and flourished. The ostensible objects of nearly all such collegia of which we have any knowledge were twofold, the maintenance of the worship of some god, and provision for the performance of proper funerary rights for its members. But under cover of these two main objects, the only two purposes for which such combinations were allowed under the Empire, associations of all kinds grew up. The organization of the gilds was based on that of the municipality. Each elected its officers and treasurers at an annual meeting, and every five years a revision of the list of members was held, corresponding to that of the senators held quinquennially by the city magistrates. It is doubtful how far these societies served to organize and improve particular industries. There is no evidence to show that any societies during the first three centuries consisted solely of workers at a single craft. But there can be little doubt that the later craft gilds were a development, through the industrial gilds of the provincial towns, of one of the most ancient features of Roman life.

Remarkable concord seems generally to have existed in the municipia between the various classes of the population. This is accounted for partly by the strong civic feeling which formed a bond of unity stronger than most sources of friction, and partly to the general prosperity of the towns, which removed any acute discontent. The wealthy citizen seems always to have had to bear heavy financial burdens, and to have enjoyed in return a dignity and an actual political preponderance which made the general character of municipal constitutions distinctly timocratic.

The policy adopted by the early emperors of encouraging, within the limits of a uniform system, the independence and civic patriotism of the towns, was superseded in the 3rd and 4th centuries by a deliberate effort to use the towns as instruments of the imperial government, under the direct control of the emperor or his representatives in the provinces. This policy was accompanied by a gradual decay of civic feeling and municipal enterprise, which showed itself mainly in the unwillingness of the townsmen to become candidates for local magistracies, or to take up the burdens entailed in membership of the municipal senate. Popular control of the local government of the towns was ceasing to be a reality as early as the end of the 1st century of the Empire. Two centuries later local government was a mere form. And the self-governing communities of the middle ages were a restoration, rather than a development, of the flourishing and independent municipalities of the age of Augustus and his immediate successors.

Authorities.—C. Bruns, Fontes juris romani, c. III., No. 18, and c. IV. (Freiburg, 1893), for Municipal Laws and references to Mommsen's commentary in C.I.L.; E. Kuhn, Städtische u. bürgerliche Verfassung des röm. Reichs (Leipzig, 1864); Marquardt, Römische Staatsverwaltung, I. i. (Leipzig, 1881); Toutain, in Daremberg-Saglio Dictionnaire des antiquités grecques et romaines, s.v. "Municipium"; S. Dill, Roman Society from Nero to Marcus Aurelius, c. 2 and 3 (London, 1904). For the gilds see Mommsen, De collegiis et sodaliciis Romanorum (Keil, 1843); Liebenam, Geschichte u. Organisation des röm. Vereinswesens (Leipzig, 1890).

(A. M. Cl.)

  1. For a contrary view, however, see Marquardt, Röm. Staatsverw. i. p. 26, n. 2 (2nd ed., Leipzig, 1881), and authorities there cited.
  2. For a different view see Willems, Droit public romain, p. 381 (Louvain, 1874).