Published in Greek Translation
(Taken from Polybius 'Histories' Books I and VI)
Book I. Introduction.
From the preface.
On the Roman constitution at its prime.
11) (1) From (the time of) Xerxes' crossing into Greece, and (more especially) some thirty(-two) years after that, the (details) of the aforesaid (Roman constitution passed) ever continuously (through even more successful modifications and) reached its best and perfect (form) at the time of the Hannibalic (wars), when, for this (reason), I have composed this digression .................... (11) There were three elements controlling the (Roman) constitution, all of which I have mentioned before; and everything was so fairly and suitably ordered and regulated in turn by means of these (elements), that no one, not even (one) of the natives, could ever say with any certainty whether the constitution as a whole (was) an aristocracy or a democracy or a monarchy. (12) In fact, it was natural that this (should be) the case. For if we were to scrutinise the authority of the consuls, it would appear completely monarchic and royal, and, if at that of the Senate, on the contrary, (as) aristocratic; and, indeed, if one were to look at the power of the people, it would seem to be clearly democratic. (13) What parts of the state each element ruled over, both then, and, except for a few modifications, still (does) now, is as follows.
12) (1) The consuls, before they are required to lead out the armies, are present in Rome and are in charge of all public affairs. (2) For all the rest of the magistrates, except the tribunes, are subject (to them) and obey them, and (it is) they (who) present (foreign) ambassadors to the Senate. (3) Besides these duties, they refer urgent matters (to the Senate) for deliberation, (and) they are entirely responsible for the implementation of its decrees. And, indeed, when matters concerning public affairs come (to them), it is their duty to consider those things which must be authorised by the people, and summon (meetings of) the popular assembly, bring the measures before them, (and) execute the decisions of the majority on their behalf. (5) And, in truth, with regard to the preparations for war, and, generally speaking, of arrangements in the field, they have almost absolute power. (6) For they have the power to impose upon the allies whatever they think appropriate, to enlist soldiers and select those who are suitable (for service). (7) In addition to the things which have been stated, they have the authority to inflict whatever punishment they wish on those under their command (while they are) on active service. (8) And they also have authority to spend as much public money as they see fit, being accompanied by a quaestor, who readily complies with everything that they have instructed. (9) So that, whenever one should concentrate (one's attention) on this element (alone), one could reasonably say that the state is plainly a monarchic and a royal (one). (10) And, if any of these (functions) or the (functions) which I am about to describe should suffer change, either in the present or (at) some time in the future, it would not be in any way contrary to the analysis which is now being made by me.
13) (1) Now, the Senate has, in the first place, control of the Treasury, and regulates revenue and expenditure alike. (2) For the quaestors cannot make any disbursement for the needs of each department (of state) without the decrees of the Senate, except for (those of) the consuls. (3) The Senate has the power (to approve) what is by far the most important and largest (item of) expenditure, (that is) what the censors lay down for the repair and construction of public (buildings) every five years (i.e. each lustrum), and it makes a grant to the censors for this (purpose). (4) Similarly, all of the crimes (committed) in Italy, which require a public investigation, and I speak of such (as) treason, conspiracy, poisoning, (and) assassination, these are the concern of the Senate. Besides these, (5) if any private citizen or city across Italy requires the arbitration (of a dispute), or a formal censure, or help or protection, all these (matters) are the responsibility of the Senate. (6) And, indeed, if there is a need to dispatch some embassy to any (countries) outside Italy, either to reconcile (peoples who are quarrelling), or to remind (them) of their duty, or to impose formal demands, or to receive (submissions), or to declare war, it demonstrates its concern for these things. (7) In the same way too, whenever (foreign) embassies arrive in Rome, how each one should be treated and what answer should be given (to them), all these (questions) are addressed by the Senate. These (matters) have absolutely nothing to do with the people. (8) So, again, if anyone were living (in Rome) with no consul being present, the constitution might appear completely aristocratic. (9) Indeed, many Greeks, and (many) kings likewise, happen to have believed this, because almost all their business was ratified by the Senate.
14) (1) So, might one not reasonably ask what sort of part, and whatever is (the part which is) left for the people in the constitution, (2) when the Senate exercises control over the (functions) which I have described in turn, and, especially, as all revenue and expenditure are managed by it, and, again, when the consuls have absolute power over the preparations for war and absolute authority over the soldiers in the field? (3) But (this lack is) assuredly not (the case), (as) a part is left to the people too, and (the part that) is left (is) most important. (4) For the people is the sole source of honour and punishment in the constitution, (and it is) by these (powers) alone that kingdoms and states and, in short, the whole life of mankind are held together. (5) For whether such a distinction between these does not happen to be recognised, or, if recognised, it is badly managed, none of the business in hand can be dealt with properly; for how (is this) likely, if good things are held in equal honour with bad things? (6) The people, then, often tries (cases involving) money (fines), whenever the penalty for the crime (is) a considerable (one), and, especially, (when the accused are) those who have held distinguished magistracies. And it alone tries (cases) where the death (penalty is involved). (7) And, with regard to this arrangement, there is one (custom) worthy of commendation and record alongside the others. For, in the case of those being tried in relation to the death (penalty), whenever they are in the process of being sentenced, this practice gives them permission to depart openly, (thus) passing a voluntary sentence of exile upon themselves, so long as one tribe among those determining the verdict is still left not having voted. (8) There is safety for these exiles in the city of Naples, and (that) of Praeneste, and of Tibur, and at other (cities) where such sureties are in existence. (9) And, indeed, (it is) the people (who) bestow offices on those (who are) worthy (of them); this is the noblest reward for good character within (the gift of) the state. (10) It also has the power with regard to the examination of laws, and, most importantly, it deliberates over war and peace. (11) Furthermore, with regard to forming alliances, the cessation of hostilities and the making of treaties, it is the (people) who have the authority to ratify each one of these (matters), or the reverse. (12) So, again, from these (considerations) one could reasonably say that the people have the greatest part (in the constitution) and that the state is a democratic (one).
Division of political power at Rome.
15. (1) So, in what way the (functions) of the state have been divided up between each element has been described; (and) again in what way each of these parts can, when they choose, counteract or cooperate with each other will now be explained. (2) The consul, then, when, having obtained the authority which has been mentioned beforehand, he sets out with his force, seems to be in total control with regard to the accomplishment of the (tasks) which he has been given, (3) but he is in need of (the support of) the people and the Senate, and without them he is not able to bring his operations to a successful conclusion. (4) For (it is) obvious that the legions always need their supplies to be sent after (them); but without the the decree of the Senate neither corn nor clothing nor pay can be supplied to the legions, (5) so that the undertakings of the generals are unavailing if the Senate sets out to be unhelpful or obstructive. (6) And, in truth, (whether) the plans and designs of the generals are accomplished or not depends upon the Senate; for it has the authority to send out another commander when the one-year period of time has passed, or to allow the existing (one) to stay on. (7) And, indeed, the Senate has the power to exaggerate and magnify the successes of the generals, or, on the contrary, to diminish and belittle (them); (8) for these (processions), which are called 'triumphs' by them, through which the vividness of the deeds which have been achieved by the generals is brought before the eyes of their (fellow-)citizens, they cannot stage them, as is fitting, or indeed ever hold (them) at all, unless the Senate agrees and grants the funds for them. (9) As for the people, it is exceedingly important for them (i.e. the consuls) to court (their favour), even if they may happen to be in a place very far away indeed from home; for, as I have stated before in an earlier passage, it is the (people) that effects the ratification and rejection of the cessation of hostilities and the making of treaties. (10) But, most importantly, when laying down their office, they have to provide an account of their actions before it. (11) So, in no way is it safe for commanders (i.e. consuls) to regard lightly the good-will either of the Senate or of the multitude.
16. The People's influence over the Senate.
(1) Then, again, the Senate, which has so much power, is compelled, in the first place, to take account of the multitude in relation to public affairs, and to respect the wishes of the people, (2) and it cannot carry out the most serious and the most important investigations and punishments relating to offences against the state, for which the death penalty follows, unless the people join (them) in ratifying what has been decreed. (3) The same (is) the case even in matters pertaining to it; for if anyone brings forward a law aiming to remove from the Senate some of its current authority in accordance with custom, or depriving (them) of their privileges and honours, or even effecting by oath a reduction in their personal property, in all of (these cases) the people are empowered to pass such (measures) or not. (4) But, most important of all, if one of the tribunes interposes his veto, the Senate (not only) cannot bring any kind of debate to a conclusion, but cannot meet or sit (in council) at all -- (5) now the tribunes are always bound to implement the decisions of the people, and, especially, to respect its will -- therefore, for the sake of all the things which have been mentioned, the Senate stands in awe of the masses and pays attention to the people's (wishes).
The Powers of the Senate.
17) (1) In like manner, again, the people is dependent on the Senate and is bound to respect its wishes, both collectively and on an individual basis. (2) For there are many contracts, which one cannot readily count, which are given out by the censors in every (part) of Italy for the repair and construction of public (buildings), and also as many (revenues) as accrue from the many rivers, harbours, gardens, mines (and) lands, when taken together under the government of the Romans; (3) (and) it transpires that all these activities which have been mentioned are managed by the people and almost everyone, so to speak, is engaged in the buying or undertaking of these (contracts). (4) For some purchase the contracts from the censors for themselves, others join them as partners, and, again, others provide security for the contractors and pledge their property to the treasury for them. (5) Now, the Senate has control over all these aforesaid (transactions); for it can grant an (extension of) time, and, if a mishap occurs, (it can) lighten, or agree a release from the contract altogether, if fulfilling it (is) impossible. (6) Then, there are, in fact, many ways in which the Senate can cause great hardships for, or, on the contrary, come to the assistance of, those who are managing the public (property); for the appeal in all such cases is referred to it. (7) But, most importantly, the judges in most (trials) are drawn from it, whether the contracts (are) public or private, whenever there are heavy charges. (8) Consequently, everyone is bound to its good faith, and fearful of the uncertainty of their need (for its support), is cautious about obstruction and resistance to the will of the Senate. (9) And, for a similar reason too, (people) oppose the enterprises of the consuls with reluctance, since they may all, as individuals and collectively, come under their authority in the field.
Interdependency brings strength.
18) (1) Such, then, is the power of each of the elements to harm or help one another, and it turns out that their union is suited to every situation, so that it is impossible to find a political structure better than this constitution. (2) For, whenever some imminent common threat from outside compels them to be of one mind and work with one another, it happens that the strength of the state becomes so great and of such a kind (3) that no task that needs to be done is neglected, inasmuch as everyone vies unfailingly with one another to meet their designs, nor does what has been decided fall short of the time required, since each person, collectively and individually, cooperates with regard to the accomplishment of the business before them. (4) Consequently, the peculiar (form) of the constitution happens to be irresistible, and able to achieve everything that it decides to do. (5) Moreover, whenever, having been freed from these external threats, (the people) reap the prosperity and abundance which comes from their successes, as they enjoy this affluence, while being flattered and becoming idle, they turn to insolence and arrogance, (something) which usually happens, (6) it is then, especially, that this very constitution is seen as able to bring a cure from within itself. (7) For, when any one of the elements becomes puffed up and contends in rivalry (with the others) and seeks to rule over more than it should, (it becomes) apparent, in accordance with the recent passage, that none (of the three) is completely independent, but that the designs of each one can be restrained and blocked by the others, and that none of the elements swells up and becomes overbearing. (8) For the rules of every situation remain laid down, any aggressive impulse is checked, and, from the outset, each (element) fears the censure of their fellow-elements.