What Is The Judicial Branch Judges Called In Ancient Rome

Laws, Precedence and Cases: the Ancient Roman Judicial System

The ancient Roman judicial system was quite complex. It revolved around the Senate, the assemblies and the magistrates. In this post, we will be discussing Ancient Roman judges, magistrates and courts.

In Ancient Rome, the judges were called Iudices. The term is derived from Latin iurare “swear an oath,” and the judges were thought of as wise men. They were chosen by consuls, emperors and Senate members to oversee trials and render judgments. The Iudices had the power to decide both civil and criminal cases.

Ancient Roman magistrates were known as Magistratus. These magistrates were responsible for hearing civil and criminal cases. They had the authority to impose sentences, such as fines or imprisonment. Magistratus also had the power to appoint judges for criminal or civil cases.

The courts of Ancient Rome were divided into two categories: the Concilium Plebis and the Concilium Principis. The Concilium Plebis was a judicial court for criminal cases, and it was presided over by a magistrate. The Concilium Principis was a court for civil cases, presided over by a nobleman. Cases could be appealed to the Senate if they were not resolved in the Concilium Plebis or the Concilium Principis. The Senate had the final authority over cases.

The Roman judicial system also relied on equestrian precedence. This is a system where two litigants explain their cases in front of witnesses and the witnesses provide evidence based on what they heard. The witnesses would then submit their findings to the presiding magistrate. The magistrate would then make a decision based on the evidence provided. This system was used extensively in criminal cases.

The Roman judicial system also used amici curiae, or “friends of the court.” These were individuals who could provide legal advice to both parties in a case. They could present arguments and evidence to the court and provide either guidance to or criticism of the court’s proceedings.

Lastly, Roman law also had a concept called “questio pro jurisdictione” or “jurisdictional questions.” This was an important tool for Ancient Roman judges to decide whether a case was within their jurisdiction or not. If a judge found that a case did not belong in their court, then the case could be dismissed or referred to a higher court. This system of jurisdictional questions ensured that justice was served in every court in Ancient Rome.

Legitimacy and Judicial Authority

Ancient Roman judges had both legitimacy and authority. Magistrates were chosen by the Senate and had authority to adjudicate legal matters. The outcome of their decisions was usually enforced due to their high standing in society and their legitimacy as magistrates.

The Senate also had the power to appoint judges in cases where no magistrate was available. The Senate could select any man of good reputation to judge a case, and the Senate’s decision was binding. This ensured that justice was served even when a magistrate was not available.

The Role of Law

The law was very important in Ancient Rome. It was the basis for the administration of justice. All court proceedings and judgments were made with reference to the law. Judges were also expected to refer to legal texts and Roman customs in their decisions.

Roman law was also used to legitimate the decisions of the courts. If a judge’s decision was not in accordance with the law, it would be overturned or dismissed. This ensured that justice was served fairly and that the interests of both parties in a case were taken into consideration.


Ancient Roman judges had the authority to impose various punishments on those found guilty in a court of law. Penalties included fines, imprisonment, exile and, in some cases, even death. These punishments were a deterrent to ensure that laws were followed and justice was served.

The penalties for criminal offenses varied, depending on the severity of the crime. For lesser offenses, punishments were usually in the form of fines. For harsher crimes, imprisonment or death was considered the appropriate penalty.

In cases where the defendant was found guilty but could not afford to pay the fine, the court would usually adjourn the case and inquire into the defendant’s financial status. If the defendant was unable to pay the fine, the court would usually suspend the sentence until the defendant was able to pay it.

Judicial Reforms

In the first century BC, an important reform was conducted by the Roman praetor, Quintus Cassius Longinus. His reform increased the powers of the magistrate and gave him more authority over the administration of justice. He also created systems for the execution of sentences and the enforcement of court orders.

In the second century AD, another reform was conducted by Antoninus Pius. This reform shifted the judicial power from the consuls to the emperor. This allowed the emperor to have more direct control over the courts and ensured that justice was properly served.

Finally, in the fourth century AD, Constantine introduced the system of appeals. This allowed defendants to appeal their sentence to higher courts if they were unsatisfied with the outcome of a trial. This reform was important as it offered defendants more protection and ensured that justice was properly served.

Role of the Emperor

The emperor played an important role in the Roman judicial system. He had the final authority over cases and had the power to overrule any decision made by the Senate. The emperor also had the power to pass edicts that were automatically enforced. This granted him immense authority in the administration of justice.

The emperor also had the power to appoint or dismiss magistrates. This ensured that magistrates were politically appointed and that justice was served fairly and without bias. Lastly, the emperor had the power to grant pardons to those found guilty in a court of law.


In conclusion, Ancient Roman judges, magistrates and courts played an important role in the administration of justice. The system of equestrian precedence was an important way to ensure that evidence was accurately collected. The Senate and the emperor had the ultimate authority over cases, and the laws and reforms ensured that justice was served fairly and without bias.

Moshe Rideout is a professional writer and historian whose work focuses on the history of Ancient Rome. Moshe is passionate about understanding the complexity of the Roman Empire, from its architecture to its literature, political systems to social structures. He has a Bachelor's degree in classic studies from Rutgers University and is currently pursuing a PhD in classical archaeology at UMass Amherst. When he isn't researching or writing, he enjoys exploring ruins around Europe, drawing inspiration from his travels.

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