Princeps senatus

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search
Roman SPQR banner.svg
This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
Ancient Rome
Roman Constitution
Ordinary magistrates
Extraordinary magistrates
Titles and honours
Precedent and law

The princeps senatus (plural principes senatus) was the first member by precedence of the Roman Senate. Although officially out of the cursus honorum and owning no imperium, this office brought enormous prestige to the senator holding it.


The princeps senatus was not a lifetime appointment. He was chosen by every new pair of censors (that is, every 5 years). Censors could, however, confirm a princeps senatus for a period of another 5 years. He was selected from patrician senators with consular rank, usually former censors. The successful candidate had to be a patrician with an impeccable political record, respected by his fellow senators.

The office was established around the year 275 BC.[1] Originally, the position of the princeps was one of honor: he had the privilege of speaking first on the topic presented by the presiding magistrate. This gave the position great dignitas as it allowed the princeps to set the tone of the debate in the Senate. In the late Republic and in the Principate, the office gained the prerogatives of the presiding magistrates and additional powers, namely:

  • Summoning and adjourning the Senate
  • Deciding its agenda
  • Deciding where the session should take place
  • Imposing order and other rules of the session
  • Meeting, in the name of the Senate, with embassies of foreign countries
  • Writing, in the name of the Senate, letters and dispatches

By 80 BC, it is believed that the status and function of the office was changed by the Constitutional reforms of Lucius Cornelius Sulla. Although the term remained, reflecting the senator who was named first in the roll of the Senate issued by the Censors, the prerogatives of the office were restricted. In particular, the honor of speaking first on any topic debated in the Senate, a measure of their political clout, was removed from them and transported to the consul designate.[2]

After the fall of the Roman Republic, the princeps senatus was the Roman Emperor (see also: princeps). However, during the Crisis of the Third Century, some others held the office; the future emperor Valerian held the office in 238, during the reigns of Maximinus Thrax and Gordian I.

List of principes senatus


  1. Ryan (1998), p. 170.
  2. Broughton, T. Robert S. (1952). The Magistrates of the Roman Republic. II. p. 127.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 Mommsen, Willems, and Suolahti. Rejected by Ryan (1998), p. 223.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 4.9 Mommsen, Willems, Suolahti, and Ryan.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Ryan.
  6. Said also to have succeeded his father as princeps senatus in 265 BC.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Willems, Suolahti, and Ryan.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Willems. Rejected by Suolahti and Ryan.
  9. Mommsen. Rejected by Willems, Suolahti, and Ryan.
  10. Willems and Ryan. Rejected by Suolahti.


  • Mommsen, Theodor (1864). Römische Forschungen. I.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> and Mommsen, Theodor (1864). "Über den princeps senatus". RhM. 19: 455–457.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Ryan, Francis X. (1998). Rank and Participation in the Republican Senate.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Suolahti, Jaakko (1972). "Princeps senatus". Arctos. 7: 207–218.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Willems, Pierre Gaspard Hubert (1878). Le Sénat de la République romaine. I.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links