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1. any legislative or governing body considered to resemble a Senate
2. the main governing body at some colleges and universities


1. the upper chamber of the legislatures of the US, Canada, Australia, and many other countries
2. the legislative council of ancient Rome. Originally the council of the kings, the Senate became the highest legislative, judicial, and religious authority in republican Rome
3. the ruling body of certain free cities in medieval and modern Europe
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the name of the upper house of parliament in many bourgeois countries, for example, in Belgium, Ireland, Italy, France, the USA, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Malaysia, Turkey, Lesotho, and Liberia. In some countries the senate is elected directly, as in the USA and Italy, or in two or more stages, as in France. In other countries the head of state appoints all senators, as in Canada and Jordan, or some senators, as in Ireland and Turkey. In many countries only part of the senate, as opposed to the lower house, is chosen at any given election. In the USA and Turkey, for example, one-third of the senate is elected every two years and in France one-third is elected every three years.



(Latin senatus, from senex, old man), in ancient Rome, one of the highest organs of state. The Senate appeared in about the sixth century B.C, at the end of the regal period, growing out of the council of elders of the patrician families.

In the Republic, as plebeians and patricians contended for position from the fifth through third centuries B.C, the Senate lost a measure of its power to the comitia, or popular assemblies. From the third through first centuries B.C, it reviewed draft legislation to be submitted to the comitia and enjoyed unchallenged preeminence over military affairs, foreign policy, finances and state property, the supervision of religious cults, the right to declare a state of emergency, and other high matters of state. Customarily, the censors compiled the list of senators —there were 300 until 88 B.C and 600 thereafter—from those who had held or at the time held magistracies and who met the property census, which under Augustus in the first century A.D. amounted to 1 million sesterces.

During the Empire, the Senate lost even more power, notably to the emperor, even though it was formally still one of the highest state institutions. In the late third century A.D., under Diocletian, the Senate was made into a city council for the city of Rome. In the fourth century A.D., under Constantine, a senate was established in Constantinople with powers equal to those of the Senate in Rome.



(Governing Senate), in Russia, the highest organ of government, which in the 19th century was made the highest organ of judicial and administrative supervision.

Established by ukase of Peter I on Feb. 22, 1711, the Senate was initially a temporary collegial body for governing the country during the tsar’s absence, as such replacing the Boyar Duma. It also advised on legislation, heard judicial appeals, and exercised supervision over the collegia, with the single exception of the Collegium of Foreign Affairs. The Senate originally consisted of nine members and a senior secretary. Its members—the senators—were appointed by the tsar from among the civil and military officials of the top three classes in the Table of Ranks. In 1722, Peter established the offices of procurator-general, requetmeister, and heraldmeister; the requet-meister accepted complaints and petitions concerning the various state institutions’ decisions and bureaucratic paperwork, and the heraldmeister dealt with the state service of the dvorianstvo (nobility or gentry). Peter also established several special offices within the Senate: a Senate office, an inspections office, and an office concerning the Old Believers. During absences of the tsar, the Senate could enact legislation.

From the second quarter of the 18th century, the Senate declined in importance, its authority circumscribed first by the Supreme Privy Council and subsequently by the Cabinet. In 1741 an attempt was made to restore the Senate to its former powers; in 1756, however, the Senate was once again shunted aside, this time in favor of the Conference of the Imperial Court. N. I. Panin’s reform plan, designed to invest the Senate with greater importance, inspired a reform of the Senate in 1763. The Senate was divided into six departments, four in St. Petersburg and two in Moscow. The first had charge of the most important affairs of administration, the second judicial affairs, the third the outlying regions of the Empire, means of communication, medical affairs, and education, and the fourth military administration. The departments in Moscow were analogous to the first two departments in St. Petersburg. From 1775 the Senate had only judicial functions.

With the creation of the ministries in 1802, the Senate was transformed into the highest organ of judicial and administrative supervision. By the mid-19th century, it comprised 12 semi-independent departments, several general assemblies, and various other institutions, a mélange given coherence only by the leadership of the procurator-general, who with the establishment of the ministries had become minister of justice. Each department included several senators appointed for life and was headed by a chief procurator. As the judicial reform of 1864 came into force, the appellate departments of the Senate were phased out. In 1872 the Special Office on State Crimes and Illegal Associations—the highest political court in Russia—was created within the Senate.

In the early 20th century the Senate consisted of six departments—the first and second departments, the judicial department, the department of heraldry, and two appellate departments—as well as the Special Office, the Supreme Disciplinary Office, three general assemblies, and five combined departmental offices. In 1906 the Supreme Criminal Court, which primarily considered the crimes of civil servants, was established within the Senate. After the fall of the autocracy in 1917, the Special Office and the Supreme Criminal Court were abolished; the rest of the Senate apparatus remained unchanged. On Nov. 22 (Dec. 5), 1917, the Senate was abolished by decree of the Soviet government.


Eroshkin, N. P. Ocherki istorii gosudarstvennykh uchrezhdenii dorevoliutsionnoi Rossii, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1968.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.