Comitia Centuriata - The Roman Assembly During the Republic

In time, the comitia centuriata became the true legislative body of the Roman Republic. When we talk about SPQR (Senatus Populusque Romanus – the Senate and People of Rome), “people” refers to the citizens; the citizens were the comitia centuriata.

This body was made up of groups of citizens called centuraie or centuries. Centuries each had one vote to cast, and the vote was cast based on how a majority of the centuries’ members voted. This sounds fair enough, but in fact, the way the centuries were formed weighted voting power heavily in favor of the wealthy.

Each century (rarely numbering exactly 100) was made up of citizens of similar age and wealth. Wealth was generally measured in the amount of land each man owned. The wealthier centuries had fewer citizens in them, and poorer centuries had more citizens in them. Ergo, there were more centuries for the wealthy and the wealthy had more votes to cast.

Of course there were far fewer wealthy Roman citizens than poor ones. So, the comitia centuriata was set up in a way that made it resemble more of an oligarchy than a republic. This would be like having 40 of California’s 55 Electoral College votes being decided by the community of Beverly Hills where many of the state’s most wealthy citizens reside.

To further the economic inequities of the comitia centuriata, the centuries also voted in order of wealth. So, the wealthier centuries had their voice (vote) heard first, and once a majority was reached, the poorer centuries’ votes didn’t really matter. Preference was also given to centuries with seniores – citizens over 46-years-old over juniores (aged 17-46).

One of the main duties of the comitia centuriata was the election of magistrates, among them the consuls, praetors, military tribunes, and censors. They were also the body that approved or disapproved of laws set forth by the senate or magistrates of the republic. The centuries also decided on declarations of war, peace treaties (at least in the later Republic), and it was the final court of appeal for capital crimes.

In almost all cases, however, matters brought before the comitia centuriata were first debated by the senate and then prepared and set before the centuries. The senate got the first crack at things, but it could not actually make the laws.