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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



popular assemblies in ancient Rome. There were three types. The comitia curiata (Curíate Assembly)—a meeting of patricians organized by curiae—had its origins in the clan system. Under the monarchy (eighth-sixth centuries B.C.) the comitia curiata decided questions of war and peace, as well as the election of kings. The comitia curiata was convoked by the kings or the interrexi (the supreme rulers during interregnums). With the emergence of other types of assemblies during the republican period, the comitia curiata lost its political importance, although it retained the formal right to entrust the imperium (that is, the supreme power) to magistrates, as well as the right to decide religious matters and questions associated with relations among members of clans and families.

The comitia centuriata (Centuriate Assembly) was made up of centuries, voting units that combined both patricians and plebeians according to the principle of the property census. Historical tradition claimed that the comitia centuriata was founded in the mid-sixth century B.C. by Servius Tullius, but contemporary scholarship dates its origin from the early republic. At first, 98 of the 193 centuries came from the first rank, which ensured a preponderance of wealthy citizens. During the third and second centuries B.C. the comitia centuriata was made more democratic. Between the First and Second Punic Wars representation was given to an equal number of centuries from each property rank within each of the 35 territorial tribes. Subsequently, during the Second Punic War and around 129 B.C. the property census of the lowest rank of the population was lowered, thus increasing the influence in the comitia of citizens with little property. The comitia centuriata handled questions of war and peace, elected the higher magistrates, and performed legal functions. It was convoked by the higher magistrates on the Campus Martius.

The comitia tributa (Tribal Assembly) was composed of all the citizens, based on the territorial districts of the tribes. It was an outgrowth of the plebeian meetings which had elected tribunes of the people and plebeian aediles. From 287 B.C., as a result of the struggle between the plebeians and the patricians, the plebeians acquired legislative power under the Law of Hortensius, and later, judicial power, as well as the right to elect all noncurule magistrates. The comitia tributa became the most important type of popular assembly. It was convoked by consuls, dictators, and tribunes of the people in the Forum or on the Campus Martius.

During the first century B.C., with the spread of Roman citizenship to the population of all of Italy, the comitial system went through a period of crisis. Under Sulla the judicial functions of the comitia were limited, and under Augustus they faded away. The electoral functions of the comitia became a formality, and by the end of the first century A.D. its legislative functions were also defunct.


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