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Decemviri (plural) is a Latin term meaning ten (decem) men (viri). The ancient Romans used it to designate any ten-man commission during the period of the Roman Republic (cf. Triumviri, Three Men). In English it is rendered as decemvirate. Different types of decemvirates included decemviri legibus scribundis consulari imperio (decemviri writing the law with consular power), decemviri litibus iudicandis (decemviri adjudging litigation) decemviri sacris faciundis (decemviri making sacrifices) and the distribution of public lands (agris dandis adsignandis). The singular, decemvir, is used to indicate a member of a decemvirate both in Latin and in English. In English decemvirs is used as a plural for this.

Decemviri Legibus Scribundis Consulari Imperio



First decemvirate

In 454 BC the senate agreed, following years of plebeian demands for a set of published laws, sent thee envoys to Athens and other Greek cities to study their laws and to copy the law of Solon. In 452 BC the envoys came back and plebeian tribunes pressed for beginning work on the laws. It was agreed to appoint decemviri with consular powers subject to no appeal, to suspend the constitution and the magistrates (offices of state).[1] [2]

Thus the decemviri were a new extraordinary magistracy. After a debate about whether plebeians should sit on the commission, the plebeians agreed to a patrician-only panel in exchange for a law they had passed not being repealed. [3] The decemviri took office in 451 BC. Both consuls elect, Appius Claudius Crassinus Inregillensis Sabinus and Titus Genucius Augurinus, resigned. So did the other magistrates and the plebeian tribunes. In compensation for their loss of office, Appius Claudius and Titus Genucius were appointed to the decemviri. So was one of the consuls of the previous year (452 BC), Publius Sestius Capitolinus Vaticanus, because he had put the proposal to the senate despite the opposition of his college. The three envoys were also part of the decemviri. [4] The most influential member was Appius Claudius who, according to Livy,” was the guiding hand in the whole magistracy ... thanks to the favour of the plebs.” [5] Each day a different decemvir presided over the magistracy and this man had the twelve lictors (the bodyguards of the consuls) with fasces (bound bundles of rods which were the symbol of supreme authority and sometimes had axes). Their rule was fair and their administration of justice was exemplary. Despite not being subject to appeal, they yielded to one another when an appeal was taken." They drafted their laws on ten bronze tables and presented them to the people, asked for feedback and amended them accordingly. They were approved by the higher popular assembly, the Assembly of the Soldiers. There was a general feeling that two more tables were needed to have corpus of all Roman law. It was decided to elect a new decemvirate. [6]

Second decemvirate

Many men canvassed for election. Appius Claudius rigged the election and announced the election of himself and nine men who were his supporters. This new decemvirate became tyrannical. All the ten men had twelve lictors and their fasces had axes (even though the carrying of weapons within the city walls was forbidden). The sight of these 120 lictors terrified everyone. They conducted trials behind closed doors and issued arbitrary judgments. There were rumours that they wanted to rule perpetually. Everyone hated them. When they issued the two additional tables there was no longer any justification for their rule and people looked forward to elections. However, when the time came, they were not held and the decimviri became violent. [7]

A Sabine army attacked Roman territory and encamped there and an Aequi army attacked an ally of Rome. The deciviri summoned the senate, but the senators did not show up. To the plebeians this showed the illegitimacy of the decemviri as their term had expired and were now meant to be just private citizens. They were considering boycotting the military draft. However, it turned out that the senator had left and gone to their farms (in disgust). The senate was summoned again and this time some senators attended. The plebeians saw this as a betrayal of liberty. However, the senators denounced the decemviri and tried to oppose them, called them private citizens and refused to call a levy. In the end they allowed its proclamation of the levy in silence because they feared that a popular uprising which would bolster the plebeian tribunes, their political adversaries. The plebeians enlisted because they feared violent reprisal as there was no right to appeal. Some of the decemviri led two armies against the two enemies. As they were not good military men, both armies were routed. [8]

Appius Claudius had his eyes on Verginia a plebeian woman. Her father, Lucius Verginius was a centurion and was away with the army. Having failed to woo her with money and promises, Appius Claudius decided to seize this opportunity to get one of his men to claim her as her slave. She was dragged off her feet in the forum and the shouts of her nurses attracted a crowd. The claimant said that he was acting lawfully and had summoned her to court. Verginia went to court followed by her friends and acquaintances. The judge was Appius Claudius. The claimant said that the girl was born at his house and then he palmed her off to Verginius as his, but that she still was her slave. Verginia’s friends asked for an adjournment until Verginius could attend and to leave Verginia in the custody of the defendants. Appius Claudius agreed to summon Verginius, but put Verginia in the custody of the claimant. Verginia's lover, Icilius, arrived at the forum, but was stopped by a lictor. He pleaded his case loudly and attracted the attention of the crowd. Verginia's supporters sent a relative and Icilius' brother to quickly go to Verginius' military camp. The claimant pressed Icilius to pay surety to be Verginia’s guarantor. Many people offered money and Verginia was bailed to her family. Appius Claudius wrote to his colleagues at the camp not to grant Verginius leave and to arrest him. However, the messengers had already arrived and Verginius had already been given leave. At dawn a crowd was waiting for events. Verginius arrived, led his daughter and a large mass of supporters. He canvassed people for help to claim his due. The tears of of the matrons who accompanied Verginia moved people more than words. Appius Claudius upheld the fabricated case of the claimant and adjudged Verginia to him without even listening to Verginius. The crowd was stunned. When the claimant made his way to take her, Verginius shouted that he had betrothed Virginia to Iclius, not for Appius Claudius and that he did not bring her up for dishonour. Appius Claudius claimed that he knew that there had been seditious meetings and told Verginius to be quiet and the lictors to seize the slave (Verginia). The crowd did not react. Verginius stabled his daughter to death saying that that was the only way he could assert her freedom. Appius Claudius ordered his arrest, but the crowd protected him as he made his way to the city gate. The men talked about restoring the plebeian tribunes and the right to appeal [9]

The second plebeian secession

Appius Claudius ordered the arrest of Icilius, but the crowd prevented this. Two patricians, Lucius Valerius and Marcus Horatius pushed the lictors back and said that “if Appius proceeded legally, they would protect Icilius from the prosecution of a mere citizen; if he sought to make use of violence, there too they would be a match for him." Appius Claudius and Lucius Valerius and Marcus Horatius made speeches. The crowd booed the former and listened only to the latter two who ordered the lictors to back off. Appius Claudius fled. Another decmvir not knowing what to do ended up summoning the senate. The senators were hostile to the decemviri and there was hope that they would bring them down. However, they were concerned that the arrival of Verginius at the military camp would cause unrest and sent messengers to tell the commanders to keep the troops from mutiny. Verginius, who had been followed by nearly four hundred men, caused an even bigger stir with the soldiers than in the city. He told his fellow soldiers to "look out for themselves and for their own children" and they replied that they "would not forget his sufferings nor fail to vindicate their liberty." The civilians claimed that the decemviri had been overthrown and that Appius Claudius had gone into exile and incited the soldiers to rise up. [10]

These soldiers, who were from the army which had been sent against the Aequi, marched to Rome and took possession of the Aventine Hill. They urged the plebeians to regain their freedom and elect the plebeian tribunes. The senate decided to take no harsh action as it had been partly responsible for the mutiny. It sent three envoys to inquire who had seized the Aventine, who their leaders were and what they wanted. The mutineers did not have a leader and no one dared to express enmity. The civilian crowd shouted that they wanted Lucius Valerius and Marcus Horatius to be the envoys. Verginius proposed the election of ten leaders to be given a military title, military tribunes (this was a type of army officer). Verginius was elected.

At the instigation of Icilius the soldiers of the armies in the Sabine country rebelled, too. On hearing of the election of military tribunes at the Aventine Icilius, thinking that these men would then be elected as plebeian tribunes and wanting to become one himself, arranged the election of the same number of "military tribunes" among these soldiers, who headed for Rome, marched through the city and to the Aventine. When they joined the other army, the twenty "military tribunes" appointed two men, Marcus Oppius and Sextus Manilius, to take command. [11]

The senators, who were convening daily spent most of the time squabbling. They decided to send Lucius Valerius and Marcus Horatius to the Aventine on condition that the decemviri resign. The latter said that they would do so only after the enactment of the two tables of laws for which they were elected. Given that the senate kept bickering, the soldiers decided to secede to Mons Sacer as they had done in 494 BC to increase their pressure. Now they had a demand, the restoration of tribunician power (i.e. the reinstatement of the plebeian tribunes) and they would stand firm to obtain this. On their way through the city they were joined by civilian plebeians. The senate hesitated because of the enmity between senators and plebeian tribunes. Some senators, including Valerius and Horatius, argued that their restoration was needed in order to both get rid of the decemviri and restore patrician magistrates. The decemviri agreed to step down on condition that they would get personal protection against reprisals [12]

Lucius Valerius and Marcus Horatius were sent to negotiate terms with the plebeians at their discretion. The plebeians welcomed and thanked them because of their previous stand at the forum. They demanded the recovery of the protections the plebeians enjoyed through the plebeian tribunes and the right to appeal, immunity for those who incited the rebellion and harsh punishment for the decemviri. The envoys agreed on the first three demands and asked that the issue of punishment be postponed. The plebeians accepted this. The senate decreed the abdication of the decemviri, the election of the plebeian tribunes and the mentioned immunity. The plebeian returned to Rome and elected their tribunes. The plebeian council carried a notion of immunity and passed a bill for the election of consuls subject to appeal. [13]

Valerio-Horatian Laws (Leges Valeriae Horatiae)

Lucius Valerius Potitius and Marcus Horatius Barbatus were elected as consuls. They passed the Leges Valeriae Horatiae. The first one provided that the resolutions of the plebeian council were binding on the people. Then "they not only restored a consular law about the appeal, but they also safeguarded it for the future by the solemn enactment of a new law, that no one should declare the election of any magistrate without appeal, and that he who should so declare might be put to death [by anyone] without offence to law or religion, and that such a homicide should not be held a capital crime " They also reinstated the principle of the sacrosanctity of the plebeians tribunes "by restoring certain long-neglected ceremonies" and by putting what had been just a religious sanction into the statutes with a law which extended it to all plebeian magistrates, including the aediles and the decemviral judges. It also added the specifics that the heads of those who violated them were to be forfeited to Jupiter and their property sold at the temple of Ceres, Liber, and Libera. They also introduced the practice of delivering the decrees of the senate to the aediles at the temple of Ceres, “[u]p to that time they were wont to be suppressed or falsified, at the pleasure of the consuls." The plebeian council also passed a law whereby those who left the plebeians without tribunes or elected a magistrate without appeal were to be scourged and beheaded. Livy noted that all the measures were passed against the will of the patricians, but they did not oppose them.[14]

Demise of the decemviri

The plebeian tribunes tasked Verginius with prosecuting Appius Claudius. Verginius pardoned him for the crimes he had committed over two years saying "[I shall not] suffer him to add to his other crimes the impudence of defending himself". However, he said that he would arrest Appius Claudius unless he named a referee who could prove that he had not illegally adjudged a free citizen to the custody of one who claimed her as a slave. Appius Claudius asked for a trial to assess whether his new laws had established tyranny or freedom and weather the appeal "had been merely a parade of meaningless forms, or had been really granted." This was refused. He appealed repeatedly, but Verginius kept repeating the challenge of a referee and then adjourned the trial. While in prison, Appius Claudius committed suicide. Another decemvir, Spurius was arrested. He committed suicide, too. The property of these two men was confiscated. The other dedemviri went into exile. [15]

The Law of the Twelve Tables

The two consuls marched with their armies to confront the Sabines and the Aequi who had not withdrawn. "Before they left the City, the consuls had the decemviral laws, which are known as the Twelve Tables, engraved on bronze, and set them up in a public place. Some authors say that the aediles, acting under orders from the tribunes, performed this service." [16]

Decemviri Legibus Scribundis Consulari Imperio (451 BC):

Decemviri Legibus Scribundis Consulari Imperio (450 – 449 BC):

Decemviri Litibus Iudicandis

This type of decemvirate (also called the decemviri litibus iudicandis and translated as "the ten men who judge lawsuits") was a civil court of ancient origin (traditionally attributed to King Servius Tullius) mainly concerned with questions bearing on the status of individuals. It originally served as a jury rendering verdict under the presidency of the praetor, but these decemviri subsequently became annual minor magistrates (magistratus minores) of the Republic, elected by the Comitia Populi Tributa and forming part of the Vigintisexviri ("Twenty-Six Men").[1]

Suetonius and Dio Cassius record that during the Principate, Caesar Augustus transferred to the decemviri the presidency in the courts of the Centumviri ("Hundred Men"). Under imperial law, the decemvirate had jurisdiction in capital cases.

Decemviri Sacris Faciundis

This type of decemvirate (also called the decemviri sacrorum) had religious functions and was the outcome of the claim of the plebs to equal share in the administration of the state religion (five decemviri were plebeians, five were patricians). They were first appointed in 367 BC in lieu of the patrician duumviri ("Two Men") who had had responsibility for the care and consultation of the Sibylline books and the celebration of the games of Apollo.[1] Membership in this ecclesiastical college (collegium) was for life, and the college was increased to a quindecimvirate—that is, a college of fifteen members—and renamed accordingly (see quindecimviri sacris faciundis) in the last century of the Republic, possibly by the dictator Lucius Cornelius Sulla; the dictator Gaius Julius Caesar added a sixteenth member, but this precedent was not followed.

Decemviri Agris Dandis Adsignandis

This type of decemvirate was appointed from time to time to control the distribution of public lands (ager publicus).[1]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3  Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. Citations:
    • B. G. Niebuhr, History of Rome (Eng. trans.), ii. 309 et seq. (Cambridge, 1832)
    • Th. Mommsen, History of Rome, bk. ii. c. 2, vol. i. pp. 361 et seq. (Eng. trans., new ed., 1894)
    • id., Römisches Staatsrecht, ii. 605 et seq., 714 (Leipzig, 1887)
    • A. H. J. Greenidge, Legal Procedure of Cicero’s Time, p. 40 et seq., 263 (Oxford, 1901)
    • J. Muirhead, Private Law of Rome, p. 73 et seq. (London, 1899)
    • Pauly-Wissowa, Realencyclopädie, iv. 2256 et seq. (Kübler).
  2. Livy, The History of Rome, 3.31.7-8
  3. Livy, The History of Rome, 3.32.6-8
  4. Livy, The History of Rome, 3.33.3-5
  5. Livy, The History of Rome, 3.33.7
  6. Livy, The History of Rome, 3.33.7-10, 34
  7. Livy, The History of Rome, 3.3.35-38.1-2
  8. Livt, the History of Rome, 3.3.38-42
  9. Livy, The History of Rome, 3.44-48
  10. Livy, The History of Rome, 3.49-50
  11. Livy, The History of Rome, 3.50-51
  12. Livy, The History of Rome, 3.52
  13. Livy, The History of Rome, 3.53-54
  14. Livy, The History of Rome, 3.55
  15. Livy, The History of Rome, 3.56., 57.5-6, 58.6-10
  16. Livy, The History of Rome, 3.57-10