Where Did Senators Work In Ancient Rome

How senators worked in Rome is a broad topic which has implications for all periods of Roman history, but it is during the Republic that senators assumed the greatest power. The idea of a noble ruling class in Rome existed from the 6th century BCE, when it was divided into three ranks of patricii, equites, and pleles (commoners). In the 5th century BCE, the pleles were granted the right to participate in government, and it was during this time that the concept of ‘senatorship’ emerged. Until the establishment of the Roman Empire in 27 BCE, the Senate was the supreme ruling body of Rome, and its powers were considerable. Senators were appointed directly by the people, with the approval of the other members of the Senate. Furthermore, senators could introduce legislation, act as judges in disputes, and were responsible for choosing the consuls who ran the government. As such, senators were the Roman equivalent of a parliamentary house, with the same amount of power.


In order to be eligible to be appointed to the Senate, members had to own a large amount of land, be wealthy and nobly born, be at least forty years of age, and be of good character. The social requirements for being part of the Senate were stringent, and it served as a way of ensuring that only those from the higher echelons of society were eligible to serve. This helped to establish a hierarchical structure in the Senate, which served as the basis for the way in which power was distributed in Rome. In addition, senators were required to perform their duties with utmost integrity and loyalty. If a senator was deemed to have compromised the best interests of Rome, he could be expelled from the Senate and even prosecuted for malfeasance.

Powers and Responsibilities

Members of the Senate were tasked with overseeing the government, and they had the power to pass laws, declare war, and preside over elections. The Senate was also responsible for appointing the two consuls who held the highest positions in the Roman government. Furthermore, senators were expected to represent the interests of their constituency in the Senate, as well as being responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of the government. In particular, senators were responsible for the administration of the provinces, which was divided into three branches: military, financial, and judicial.

Senators also had the power to appoint magistrates and provincial governors, as well as determining the composition of the Roman Senate. They were responsible for appointing magistrates to hold military, financial, and judicial posts, as well as deciding who could become senators. As such, senators had the power to shape the Roman government to their liking, as well as ensure that their own interests were safeguarded.

Civic Duty and Religion

In addition to their political duties, members of the Senate were also expected to perform their civic duty by taking part in state religious rituals. These rituals were carried out as part of the obligation to honor the gods and state religion, and senators would often swear oaths to uphold the laws of Rome. In addition to this, senators were expected to promote the growth of Roman art and culture, as well as supporting the military might of Rome.

Cultural Legacy

The idea of a Senate, with its combination of political, religious and cultural duties, has remained with us through the ages. From the founding of the United States of America and its Senate, to the modern day parliaments and assemblies across the world, the legacy of the Roman Senate lives on. In our own time, the concept of a ‘ruling class’ with the power to create and enforce laws still influences global politics, and it is due in no small part to the legacy of the Roman Senate.

Evolution and Adaptation

The role of the Senate in Rome evolved over time, adapting to the changing circumstances of the Republic and the rise of new dynasties in the Roman Empire. As such, the powers of the Senate changed over the centuries, reflecting the political, economic and social changes in Rome. During the late Republic, for example, senators were granted additional powers such as the ability to propose legislation, declare war, and preside over elections, whilst during the Imperial period, senators’ duties became even more expansive.

Modern Implications

How senators worked in Rome is of relevance to our own society today. As previously mentioned the modern democratic system owes much to the concept of a ruling Senate, and it is important that we strive to understand how such a system operated in antiquity. The rise of democracy has reshaped our politics, but the legacy of the Roman Senate, with its combination of religious responsibility and political power, continues to influence our modern societies. Furthermore, the example of the Roman Senate highlights the importance of representation in government and the necessity for citizens to take part in the democratic process.

Duties and Role of the Senate in Roman Law and Economy

The Senate had a long-reaching influence on Roman law, economy and society. The Senate was responsible for establishing and enacting laws. They also regulated the economy, and their role was pivotal in initiating reforms that eventually led to Rome becoming an agricultural superpower. Senators also had a significant role in deciding who could become a Roman citizen, as well as establishing the foundations of Roman coinage.

The economic role of the Senate was particularly important. The Senate had to agree on such issues as how much grain was to be distributed, how many coins should be minted, and the prices of food and clothing. As such, senators were instrumental in the development and maintenance of the Roman economy. Furthermore, the Senate was responsible for managing the public purse and levying taxes, whilst at the same time keeping a watchful eye on the finances of Rome.

Senate and Politics

The Senate was also a powerful political institution in its own right. Senators had the ultimate say in who could become a consul, and in turn, the consul elected by the Senate held the power to appoint generals, set laws, and even declare war. As such, the Senate was a crucial political player, and its role in the government was indispensible. In addition, senators had their own private interests, and the political decisions made by the Senate often had a significant impact on the private fortunes of those serving on it.

Social Impact of the Senate

The Senate had a considerable impact on Roman society. It was the Senate that decided who could become citizens, and in turn, who could access the privileges of Roman life. The decisions of the Senate also had an effect on social mobility, as only Senators were permitted to hold certain positions. The Senate therefore served as a means of enforcing the hierarchical structure of Roman society, and it was only through being a member of the Senate that one could hope to rise in the ranks of Roman society.

Changes to Senate Under the Empire

The rise of the Roman Empire saw a number of changes to the power and function of the Senate. The Senate was still responsible for enacting laws, though much of its power was superseded by the authority of the Emperor. Furthermore, the membership of the Senate saw a drastic change, with senators now drawn largely from members of the imperial family and their friends. As such, the Senate was no longer the democratic body that it had once been, though it continued to wield considerable power over Roman society.

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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