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Centuriate Assembly

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A drawing showing the election of officials in ancient Rome
A drawing showing the election of officials in ancient Rome

Centuriate Assembly (comitia centuriata) was one of the most important assemblies of Rome during the republic. It chose the highest state officials: consuls, praetors, and censors. The assembly also ratified censuses (lists of citizens) made by censors and served as the highest tribunal in some court cases (especially regarding offences of a state, punished by exile or death). Also, Roman citizens decided here about war or peace.

Reform of Servius Tullius

According to ancient records, creator of the Centuriate Assembly was the sixth king of Rome – Servius Tullius (reigned in 578-534 BCE).

The congregation was intended to reflect the Roman army of the kingdom, taking into account its division. The name of the congregation was derived from the centuria (centuriae) – the basic military units that originally numbered 100 citizens (for comparison, centuriae in which citizens gathered to cast their votes usually did not have such a number). The centuries were divided into seniores (men aged 46-60) who could perform order functions in the city; and at iuniores (men aged 17-45) who served at the front. The weight of their votes varied in favour of older citizens.

Servius Tullius originally divided the society into five classes, according to status, wealth (calculated in former aces) and age. According to Titus Livius, class I had 80 centuries (40 seniores and 40 iuniores); II and III after the 20th century (10 seniores and 10 iuniores); IV – 40 centuries and V – 30 centuries. Together, these classes had 170 centuries of infantry (pedites). In addition, there were 18 centuries of equites (riding; equites) and 5 centuries of unarmed citizens (proletarii). 193 centuries participated in the voting.



I class

Citizens with assets over 100,000 assēs. Their weapons were: helmet, round shield (clipeus), shin guards, armour, spear (hasta) and sword. The strength was 80 centuries.

II class

Citizens with assets of 75,000 to 100,000 assēs. Their weapons were: helmet, longitudinal shield, shin guards, spear (hasta) and sword. The strength was 20 centuries.

III class

Citizens with an estate of 50,000 assēs. Their weapons were: helmet, longitudinal shield, shin guards,
spear (hasta) and sword. The strength was 20 centuries.

IV class

Citizens with assets up to 25,000 aces. Their weapons were: a spear (hasta) and a javelin.
The strength was 20 centuries. This class also exhibited two centuries of trumpet players playing the horn and trumpet.

V class

Citizens with assets up to 11,000 assēs. Their weapons were: slingshots and throwing stones.
The strength was 30 centuries.

Priority was given to citizens who were richer and thus (in reference to the army) had better armament and constituted an important part of the army. Where did the idea that the richest de facto have the most to say? Citizens with better equipment and greater wealth were exposed to the greatest risk on the battlefield (service in heavy infantry or riding), therefore, in order to emphasize their importance for Roman statehood, they were separated in more centurions than citizens of lower status. Moreover, they could lose much more through their service.

The head of the assembly was the consul, praetor or, in exceptional cases, a dictator who called citizens according to the law ius agendi cum populo. In practice, the centurial commission was dominated by the aristocracy, which had 98 (1st class and equites) from 193 centuries. Despite smaller numbers, patricians and equites were divided into a large number of centuries. Due to the fact that the centuries cast votes in the order from the highest property class to the lowest (proletarii), the absolute majority was reached before the later / poorer centurions took the floor. In this way, the richest and “most excellent” citizens could easily decide on important state decisions by agreeing on a voice beforehand.


The implemented Centuriate Assembly model strongly emphasized the importance of aristocracy. In 241 BCE, to increase the importance of the voice of poorer centurions, the censors Marcus Fabius Buteo and Gajus Aurelius Kotta increased the number of centurions from 193 to 373. Thus, 350 centuria grouped infantry, 18 cavalry, and 5 unarmed citizens (proletarii).

Course of the meeting

The centurial commission was convened on the Field of Mars (Campus Martius), located outside the city walls. The date of the meeting was made public in the announcing edict, which was posted three weeks before the date of the meeting (trinundinum). 24 days before the meeting began, a red banner (vexilum russeum) was hung on mons Ianiculus. It was a symbol that the city was not in danger. A city guard was then set up around the city.

The commission took place only on auspicious days if the divination was successful. If unfriendly divination (obnuntiatio) was obtained, the meeting was postponed to another day. An obstacle in holding meetings was also all kinds of inauspicious signs in the sky (storm, cloud cover, sudden rain, etc.). The reason for the interruption of the meeting could also be an epilepsy attack of one of the officials.

When the divination was successful, the official called the people to a meeting (exercitum vocare). The herald repeated the call of the official, while the musicians played at the top of Ianiculum , a special wake-up call (classicum), which informed about the gathering of people at dawn in a previously designated place.

Each meeting was preceded by a rally (contio). It began with the chairman’s victims and prayers. He was accompanied by pontifics, auguarians and sacrificial priests. Then the chairman informed the guests about the purpose of the meeting, proposed candidates for office, and presented complaints. Other participants of the rally could speak, provided they obtained permission from the chairman. The clerk then signalled the commencement of the relevant committees. Gathered, who up to now were in organizational disarray, took their places according to belonging to a specific centuria. Each centurion was presided over by centurion.

The head of assembly began the meeting with the following formula: “May [it} be good, propitious, fruitful, and lucky” (quod bonum faustum felix fortunatumque sit), followed by a re-reference of proposals and projects. When all documents were read, the voting began. The driving centuria (centuriae praerogativae) was the first to vote. The result of voting was given, after each voting, to the gathered information.

Those entitled to vote came consecutively to the corded square (aepta or ovile), where the askers (rogatores) marked the votes next to the name of the candidate for official ( puncta ferre). From the second half of the 2nd century BCE, a secret ballot was introduced, which consisted of throwing the appropriate plaque. Voting on the adoption of the law (leges) consisted of throwing one of two wax tablets (tabellae). One marked with the letter A (antiquo – I reject), the other with the letters UR (uti orgas – as you bring).

In court cases, the tablets have the letter C (condemno – condemning), or A (absolvo – release). There was a third option NL (non liquet – not clear). In the event of elections, the voter wrote with a stylus on the plate, the name of the candidate for whom he was voting. Then, these tablets were thrown into woven baskets (cistae), which, after voting, were taken to the building (diribitorium), where officials (diribitores) counted votes. After the election, the chairman of the committees announced their result (renuntatio). In the event of refusal to announce the results, this was equivalent to their annulment.

The end of the meeting was announced by the chairman. Then the banner was removed. Resolutions of the assembly became statutes only after they were approved by the Senate. With time, this ceased to be valid, by virtue of lex Hortensia of 287 BCE At that time, the competence of centurial commissions was limited to matters of war and peace.

Empire period

During the reign of Emperor Tiberius (14-37 CE), the powers of people’s assemblies (comitia) were delegated to the Senate. This was largely due to the observation that votes cast by citizens were often sold, or voters cast their votes in ignorance.

Another reason for reducing the role of the congregations during the Roman Empire was the fact that the state covered a huge territory. The assembly system was effective when Rome ruled only the city-state and surrounding lands, not many provinces. Roman citizens located far from the capital had virtually no chance to vote. The body was therefore unrepresentative.

The people of Rome continued to organize in centuries and tribus, but the associated powers were lost.

  • Alfoldy Geza, Historia społeczna starożytnego Rzymu, Poznań 2003
  • Crawford M., The Roman Republic
  • Lintott Andrew, The Constitution of the Roman Republic, 1999
  • Ziółkowski Adam, Historia powszechna. Starożytność, Warszawa 2000
  • Ziółkowski Adam, Historia Rzymu, Poznań 2008
  • Graphics: Culture Club/Getty Images

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