The New Student's Reference Work/Tribunes, Roman

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1882949The New Student's Reference Work — Tribunes, Roman

Trib′unes, Roman, were popular magistrates elected annually from among the plebs, Romans not of noble birth, to safeguard popular interests. According to tradition the right of election of tribunes was wrested by the plebeians from the patricians in B. C. 494 by the device of a secession. The rights and powers of the tribunes gradually increased. From the first they had the right of protecting accused plebeians; and their persons were inviolable. Their principal acquired power was that of veto of a proposed law. The tribunes had by the time of the Gracchi become serious rivals of the consuls, the chief magistrates. Their number was increased to as many as ten; so that in politics any one of ten officials might obstruct legislation. As in the case of the Gracchi, the tribunician power was often over-ridden and was finally usurped by Octavian when he became emperor under the title of Augustus. In addition to these tribunes of the people there were officers in the Roman army with the title of tribune. The name in this sense originally meant an officer of the tribe; and may be traced back to the ancient tribal organisation of the Roman army. There were six military tribunes in each legion, at first chosen by the consuls, but afterwards elected in the assembly of the tribes. Their powers were wholly military, not political.