"A BODY OF KINGS": THE SENATE

THE " Council of Old Men," consisting of three hundred 1. patricians, gradually usurped control of the government, not by any legal enactment, but by slowly extending custom. The Consuls always asked for their advice and always took it. The Senate made the laws, and the assembly's consent became a mere formality. This oligarchy contained the accumulated experience of the State, and kept its policy sane and consistent. It could sympathise with a defeated general, and did not make panic decisions as Greek democracies had be»n liable to do. The first plebeian gain was the institution of " tribunes of the people," elected by the plebs in their own tribal assembly. These officers were the watch-dogs of the people. They could initiate legislation which should be binding on all plebeians, and could veto safely any act of any magistrate, because their persons were declared sacrosanct. The next step was the publication of the Twelve Tables of the Laws in 450 B.C. Henceforth a man knew the extent of his liabilities, instead of having the threat of unknown penalties hanging over him. Gradually the plebeians obtained full equality, social and political, with the patricians, and by 280 B.C. decisions taken in the assembly of the people were binding on the State. This, however, did not help the common people, as the patricians absorbed the leading plebeians into their own ranks. The high offices of State became the preserve of a close oligarchy, and a Consul who was self-made, and had no ex-Consuls in his family, was a very rare phenomenon.