Chief magistrate of the ancient Roman Republic, after the expulsion of the last king in 510 BC. Two consuls were elected annually by the comitiacenturiata (assembly of the Roman people), and their names were used to date the year. With equal power they shared the full civil authority in Rome and the chief military command in the field. After the establishment of the Roman empire the office became far less important.
Each consul was attended by 12 Lictors. Consuls convened and presided over the Senate and they saw to the execution of its decrees. They also convened and presided over the comitia centuriata and comitia tributa, conducting elections and putting legislative measures to the vote. Both consuls were from the patrician class until 367 when the Lex Licinia opened the office to plebeians.
Until 443 BC consuls were responsible for those duties thereafter performed by censors, such as the holding of the census. The consuls were also the chief judicial officers until the introduction of praetors 367. Constitutionally consuls could act only by mutual consent, but in practice there were exceptions to the rule.
Under the empire the consulship survived as an honorary title into the 6th century AD, but from the later years of Augustus 6-month terms of office became the norm, and later consuls held office for only two to four months. The two consuls in office at the start of the year were known as consules ordinarii, and their successors as consules suffecti (‘replacement’ or ‘suffect’ consuls), a title given in republican days to those who took the place of consuls who died in office.
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