1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Decemviri
DECEMVIRI (“the ten men”), the name applied by the Romans to any official of ten. The title was often followed by a statement of the purpose for which the commission was appointed, e.g. Xviri legibus scribundis, stlitibus judicandis, sacris faciundis.
I. Apart from such qualification, it signified chiefly the temporary commission which superseded all the ordinary magistrates of the Republic from 451 to 449 B.C., for the purpose of drawing up a code of laws. In 462 B.C. a tribune proposed that the appointment of a commission to draw up a code expressing the legal principles of the administration was necessary to secure for the plebs a hold over magisterial caprice. Continued agitation to this effect resulted in an agreement in 452 B.C. between patricians and plebeians that decemvirs should be appointed to draw up a code, that during their tenure of office all other magistracies should be in abeyance, that they should not be subject to appeal, but that they should be bound to maintain the laws which guaranteed by religious sanctions the rights of the plebs. The first board of decemvirs (apparently consisting wholly of patricians) was appointed to hold office during 451 B.C.; and the chief man among them was Appius Claudius. Livy (iii. 32) says that only patricians were eligible. Mommsen, however, held that plebeians were legally eligible, though none were actually appointed for 451. The decemvirs ruled with singular moderation, and submitted to the Comitia Centuriata a code of laws in ten headings, which was passed. So popular were the decemvirs that another board of ten was appointed for the following year, some of whom, if the extant list of names is correct, were certainly plebeians. These added two more to the ten laws of their predecessors, thus completing the Laws of the Twelve Tables (see Roman Law). But their rule then became violent and tyrannical, and they fell before the fury of the plebs, though for some reason, not easily understood, they continued to have the support of the patricians. They were forced to abdicate (449 B.C.), and the ordinary magistrates were restored.
II. The judicial board of decemvirs (stlitibus judicandis) formed a civil court of ancient origin concerned mainly with questions bearing on the status of individuals. They were originally a body of jurors which gave a verdict under the presidency of the praetor (q.v.), but eventually became annual minor magistrates of the Republic, elected by the Comitia Tributa.
III. The priestly board of decemvirs (sacris faciundis) was an outcome of the claim of the plebs to a share in the administration of the state religion. Five of the decemvirs were patricians, and five plebeians. They were first appointed in 367 B.C. instead of the patrician duumviri who had hitherto performed these duties. The board was increased to fifteen in the last century of the Republic. Its chief function was the care of the Sibylline books, and the celebration of the games of Apollo (Livy x. 8) and the Secular Games (Tac. Ann. xi. 11).
IV. Decemvirs were also appointed from time to time to control the distribution of the public land (agris dandis adsignandis; see Agrarian Laws).
Bibliography.—B. G. Niebuhr, History of Rome (Eng. trans.), ii. 309 et seq. (Cambridge, 1832); Th. Mommsen, History of Rome, bk. ii. c. 2, vol. i. pp. 361 et seq. (Eng. trans., new ed., 1894); Römisches Staatsrecht, ii. 605 et seq., 714 (Leipzig, 1887); A. H. J. Greenidge, Legal Procedure of Cicero’s Time, p. 40 et seq., 263 (Oxford, 1901); J. Muirhead, Private Law of Rome, p. 73 et seq. (London, 1899); Pauly-Wissowa, Realencyclopädie, iv. 2256 et seq. (Kübler).