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The Senate ( Latin senatus from senex "old man, old man, old woman"), literally "council of elders", is a collegial body that belongs to the executive , legislative or judiciary and can perform different functions and areas of responsibility. The members of a Senate are usually called Senators (singular: Senator ; feminine form: Senator ).

See also: Elder and old age (for traditional appreciation of the "old")



In ancient Greece there was a council of elders ( Gerusia ) in Sparta and in Athens ( Areopagus ). Most of the other Greek city-states also knew councils of elders and nobility, which, in addition to popular assemblies and magistrates, were typical institutions of a polis . Even in non-Greek cities like Carthage there was a council of nobility, which is called "Senate" in Latin sources.

Roman Empire

The Roman Senate was the supreme council of the Roman Empire, composed only of full male citizens. Formally it only had an advisory function in the republic as an assembly of former officials, but in fact it was the power center of the state. As a rule, all higher officials of the Roman state received a seat in the Senate after their term of office. In the early and middle republic, after the end of the year of office, former curular aediles received from the 2nd century BC Also former tribunes and plebeian aediles and, after Sulla's reforms, former quaestors (whose number had been increased by Sulla) a seat in the Senate. Their reputation and influence are measured by the office they last held. The highest offices of the cursus honorum , the praetur and the consulate as well as the censorship , were achieved almost exclusively by men from a few very influential and wealthy families of the upper classes, mainly due to the immense election campaign costs. But now "ordinary" citizens could also get a seat in the Senate by wearing lower-ranking offices.

The Senate comprised about 100 in the time of the early republic, later about 300, since Sulla 600 and in the time of Caesar even more than 900 members. In the early imperial period , however, the number of senators was reduced again to around 600. At the same time, the body lost most of its power, but its members remained highly regarded. The members of the Senate were distinguished by a number of privileges, such as: B. wearing the tunica with the broad purple stripe (latus clavus) or special seats of honor in the theater. Only a few so-called homines novi were able to rise to the senate through the appointment of the emperor (adlectio) . Due to the loss of honor or childlessness, most families died out after a short time and the number 600 remained relatively constant. Since the 4th century there was a second senate in Constantinople, which since Constantius II enjoyed the same rights as those in Rome . The western Roman senate survived the end of the western empire in 476 and only disappeared around the year 600. In eastern Byzantium it remained in existence until the palaeologists , albeit also without real power and with a changed character .

In late late antiquity and the beginning of the early Middle Ages , members of the Roman imperial aristocracy referred to themselves as senators in Gallo-Roman (especially southern) Gaul, as the works of Gregory of Tours show (see Gallo-Roman senate nobility ). Their ancestors had held state offices in Roman times and now retained their prominent social position by holding high local and church offices.

middle Ages

During the Middle Ages , too , there were various people who referred to themselves as "senators" of Rome, such as Theophylact I of Tusculum , even though there was no longer a senate in the true sense of the word until the 12th century. In 1143, however, a "Senate" was constituted again in Rome, which was supported by large parts of the urban Roman population. Above all, he was supposed to represent the interests of the Roman commune vis-à-vis the Pope, high clergymen, but also the large noble families. Senators are still in evidence in the late Middle Ages .

Newer Senates

Senate in the legislature

In political systems in which the parliament consists of two chambers ( bicameralism ) the first chamber (the representation of estates or regions) is often referred to as the Senate. Something like that

Senate in the executive branch

Before the beginning of a Lübschen Senate meeting around 1914

In Germany , the state governments of the city-states are called Senates, according to the

The city government of the Austrian capital Vienna is the Vienna City Senate .

There were historical senates in the Free and Hanseatic City of Lübeck , the Free City of Frankfurt , the Free City of Danzig and the independent city of Hanover .

Senate in the judiciary

Arbitration bodies within a higher or highest court are called a senate or collegial court . In Germany, this is used to describe multi-headed bodies of (professional) judges , in contrast to the single judge , and to forms such as the jury (with a lay bench ) or the jury (with honorary judges). Senates are typical for more difficult decisions, especially in supreme courts . Depending on the area of law , senates are divided into civil or criminal senates .

In Germany, a distinction is made between the Senate and the Chamber . Judicial bodies within the administration, such as the Austrian administrative senates, also bear this name.

Senates in higher education

At universities , the Academic Senate is a self-governing body and the highest body. As a democratically elected collegiate body , it stands alongside the individual bodies (the rector , the president or the chancellor ) and, depending on the legal situation, performs legislative (e.g. constitutional resolutions , establishment of courses ), advisory, strategic, controlling and management tasks. In some cases, the announcements for professorships and the proposed appointment lists are also dealt with by the Senate. - In Germany, the previous division of competencies has changed with the introduction of the University Council as a body . In Bavaria, for example, the Higher Education Act of 2006 with the introduction of the University Council and the strengthening of the role of the President weakened the influence of the Senate.

The dignity of an "honorary senator" can be awarded by universities for exceptional services to the university and is considered the highest distinction a university can receive. The award received u. a. Officials, such as the mayor of the city, the president of a chamber of industry and commerce or a foundation personality, such as at the University of Freiburg ; or personalities who are associated with the university in research and teaching are often honored. These then contribute to everyday university life beyond what is normal. The formal address of an honorary senator is either Mr. or Mrs. Senator + name or Mr. or Mrs. Honorary Senator.

Further uses of the term "Senate"

A committee of elected members of scientific societies and academic professional associations is also called the Senate.

See also

Web links

Wiktionary: Senate  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations


  1. See also Karl Friedrich Stroheker : The senatorial nobility in late antique Gaul. Tübingen 1948 (reprint Darmstadt 1970).
  2. Bavarian Higher Education Act (BayHSchG) of May 23, 2006
  3. Sebastian Krass: The Sun King. Sü, November 1, 2013, accessed October 11, 2014 .
  5. ^ Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg: Honorary Senators
  6. ^ Honorary senator for Wilhelm Rall | University of Tübingen. Retrieved March 30, 2018 .
  7. DIE WELT: Not only the nobility are obliged to address them correctly . In: THE WORLD . July 26, 2002 ( [accessed March 30, 2018]).