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People's tribune , Latin tribunus plebis , was a magistrate , that is, an elected political office holder in the Roman Republic . What position the office had in the cursus honorum and from when it can even be included is controversial. The People's Tribune always took office on December 10th of that year.

Roman Republic

According to the - albeit legendary - Roman tradition, the tribunate was created in 494 BC. BC, 15 years after the founding of the Roman Republic, at the beginning of the class struggles . The first tribunes are said to have been Sicinius and Albinius, who in turn chose two colleagues. They allegedly occurred in 493 BC. To their office; in the opinion of many researchers, however, the office was created later. The task of the tribunes, which were initially not recognized officials but only informal representatives of the plebs , was to defend the plebeians against the power of the patricians ( ius auxilii ) . So they intervened against decisions and measures of patrician officials and the Senate . They did not rely on a legal basis , but on a religious taboo: The person of a tribune was considered sacrosanct ( Latin sacrosanctus "inviolable, most holy"); he was protected from physical attack by a plebeian oath. Anyone who physically attacked a tribune should originally be killed by the people immediately; at a later time, when the tribunate had become a regular office, he could be executed as a traitor . The tribune therefore demonstratively moved unarmed. The sacrosanctitas was more than a protection; it could also be used as a de facto offensive, e.g. B. be used as a physical means of breaking resistance.

In addition, the tribune claimed the right of veto . This allowed him to prevent almost any political action in ancient Rome. In order to prevent subsequent intervention by the tribunes, it was customary to submit current legislative proposals directly to them. If the tribunes agreed, this was noted on the respective papers.

The daily duties of the tribunes consisted primarily of duties of readiness. They always had to be ready for the plebeian citizens of Rome. This was based on the ius auxilii , the tribunician's auxiliary right. Citizens should always be able to ask a tribune for help. Therefore, the tribunes were not allowed to lock their front doors at night. Furthermore, they were not allowed to leave Rome for a whole day, with one day being calculated from midnight to midnight.

The people's tribune usually spent the days in the forum , where they sat on the pews, negotiating with the citizens and doing their other business. The seat right exercised here was a typical right of the Roman magistrates. The fact that the seats were open and the tribunes were always present made it easy for the citizens of Rome to contact the tribunes and thus make use of the ius auxilii. At the same time, the tribunes used the forum as a platform. Due to the constant hustle and bustle and the neighboring locations of other magistrates, it was easy for them to reach important people or to mobilize large groups of people. On the other hand, the forum led to a political immediacy. The direct confrontation with political opponents often led to insults or even fistfights.

The number of tribunes varied over time: initially there were two , four or five, from 471 BC. According to Livy , their number was four; probably 457 BC In the 3rd century BC the tribunate became a college of ten.

Like regular Roman officials, the tribunes were elected for a year , but not by an assembly of the entire people, but only by the plebeians in the concilium plebis . Furthermore, the principles of all Roman magistrates applied to the tribunate: continuation (direct repetition), iteration and accumulation ( accumulation of offices ) were prohibited. There were a few deviations from these rules in the early republic, but only in the later years of the republic from 133 BC onwards. BC (see Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus ) was deliberately deviated from these rules, so that the tribunate could be exercised directly and one after the other.

In addition, the people's tribunate was held free of charge as an honorary post and filled according to the principle of collegiality. The latter means that each of the last ten officiating tribunes of the people held the full powers of their office. A tribune did not need the support of an official to get something through. But if another tribune opposed the plan of the first, this could be prevented. In addition, they held the seat of a magistrate, although they did not do so in the usual magistrate's chairs but on the pews. What further distinguished the tribunes from the other magistrates was the lack of a purple border on their robes, which made a magistrate immediately recognizable as this.

In the middle republic

After the class struggles with the Lex Hortensia 287 BC. The meaning of the people's tribunate changed, as plebeians were now included in the new political leadership . The office continued, but now publicly recognized, even if de iure not as a formal part of the official career . Furthermore, only plebeians were eligible for office. In contrast to the other officials, the people's tribunes were able to override all decisions and measures of the other magistrates within the boundaries of the city of Rome through their veto (Latin "I forbid") ( ius intercessionis ) . In exceptional cases they had the right to convene the Senate (ius senatus habendi) and to express their views in the Senate ( ius agendi cum senatu ) and in the assembly of the plebeians to pass laws that had been valid for all Romans, including the nobility, since 287 BC . Were binding (ius cum plebe agendi) . Similar to the other magistrates, the tribunes of the people could use the ius obnuntiandi , with which the holding of a meeting or an election could be prevented in case of bad omens. The concrete options - either the right to interpret and intercede the auspices yourself , or only the right to pass on the sign to the senior officials - are unclear. Until the restoration of the rights of the People's Tribunate to Sulla in the late Republic, the Obnuntiation was not used. As the most powerful tool of tribunician power which is ius contionandi viewed, the right to consultative meetings ( contiones ) convene before public meetings.

All rights of the tribunes were so-called "negating rights", since they only prevent actions, but could not put them into effect themselves. Thus they lacked an executive and legislative character. The indirect exception was the right to draft laws with the help of the concilium plebis . However, this option was neither used extensively nor consistently, but only by individual personalities in certain situations, mostly to operate against the majority of the Senate from a popular side. In fact, every tribune operated between 287 and 133 BC. Chr. Only in the name and with the consent of the Senate, as this would otherwise have made his further career impossible.

In the late republic

In the last century of the Roman Republic , the office was preferred by popular politicians, i.e. nobiles who could not find a majority in the Senate, as a decisive instrument of power. Now the long unused possibilities of the office were sometimes used excessively. Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus (tribune 133 BC), his brother Gaius (tribune 123 and 122 BC), Lucius Appuleius Saturninus (tribune 103, 100 and 99 BC) and Marcus Livius Drusus (tribune 91 BC) Chr.) Tried to implement their reform plans with the possibilities of the tribunate. After initial successes, they failed and were killed. With the help of the contiones , who could express themselves loudly and sometimes violently in the late Republic, it was possible for the tribunes to generate public pressure or to intimidate the Senate or the other magistrates. The contiones were particularly used by followers of the popular method by mobilizing their - quite varied - following.

In order to make the office unattractive for career-conscious politicians and to weaken it, the dictator Sulla (82-79 BC) severely restricted it . After the tribunate, no further magistrates were allowed to hold clothes. In addition, the tribunes had to coordinate their legislative initiatives with the Senate beforehand, which in fact deprived them of any opportunity to act independently. In addition, Sulla restricted the ius intercessionis and the possibility of having a say in the Senate; however, the scope of these restrictions is unclear and controversial. As part of its reorganization of the official career path, the tribunate of the people became part of the cursus honorum and equated with the aedility . Thus, after the end of his term of office, a people's tribune also had the right to a seat in the Senate.

These measures were - with the exception of the classification in the official career and the Senate seat - by Pompeius and Crassus in their first consulate in 70 BC. BC, so that in the last years of the republic the people's tribunate could be an interesting option for some politicians, such as Publius Clodius Pulcher , in addition to the magistrates of the cursus honorum .

In 48 BC BC (perhaps not until 44 BC) Gaius Iulius Caesar was granted part of the tribunician's (honorary) rights , probably at the request of the incumbent tribune Aulus Hirtius : the dictator was allowed to sit on the tribune bench during the games (ius subsellii ) . Four years later, Caesar, legitimized by the people's assembly and the Senate, was granted the sacrosanctitas , for which the people - analogous to the procedure in the tribunes - swore an oath on him. This showed that the power and rights of the office could be replaced by the office itself, which ultimately led to his disempowerment in the imperial era.

Roman Imperial Era

The details of the circumstances surrounding the award of the tribunicia potestas to Augustus are unclear and controversial due to the sources. As early as 36 BC He received essential elements of the tribunician power, such as the sacrosanctitas , the ius subselli and the ius auxilii . 30 BC The latter was extended over the urban area of ​​Rome to the first milestone. From 23/22 BC. The first princeps was then able to dispose of the tribunicia potestas annua et perpetua and thus continuously exercise it in the entire territory of the Roman Empire. Since then, the official authority of the tribunes has been a central component of the imperial powers, which is also reflected in the counting of the imperial years according to the tribunicia potestas . Augustus did not take over the office itself and the title. The emperor's tribunicia potestas was automatically renewed for one year on December 14th each year.

Since then the office itself has been meaningless. Although it continued to exist and could continue to be held in the cursus honorum instead of the aedile office, it no longer had a political function. The last veto of a tribune of the people, of which we know, belongs in the turmoil of the four emperors year 69 AD. Even under Augustus' successor Tiberius it was difficult to find applicants for the office at all. Nevertheless, it continued to exist as an institution for centuries: It was last mentioned in late antiquity in a law of Emperor Valentinian III. from the year 450 mentioned.


In the Middle Ages, a brief attempt was made to restore the tribunate, when the Roman people declared a republic in 1347 and Cola di Rienzo was raised to the tribune. The office itself has not been used since then, but the term “tribune” with different meanings and connotations has.

During and after the French Revolution , the title of tribune experienced a renaissance. Maximilien de Robespierre and Georges Danton received it from their followers and posterity. Whether this was meant positively or negatively depends on which side the term comes from. As a rule, they give the supporters of a politician a positive meaning and the opponents a negative one. The image in posterity is shaped by contemporary behavior and appearance. While Robespierre is considered a “bad tribune of the people” and was feared during his reign, Danton, who was valued by the people right up to his death, has a positive connotation.

François Noël Babeuf deliberately chose the connection to the idea of ​​the tribunate. He renamed himself Gracchus and published a magazine called The People's Tribune . With this he certainly did not place himself in the tradition of the popular, but tried to gain more influence for himself by remembering the fate of the Gracchi.

A consistently positive use can be found in connection with Daniel O'Connell , who was referred to as O'Connell the tribune of the people . In particular, he used popular gatherings and meetings, the so-called monster meetings , to implement his political ideas.

In the present the term is used sporadically in a rather negative context or with a derogatory meaning. Franz Josef Strauss , Oskar Lafontaine , Jörg Haider , Miloš Zeman and Guido Westerwelle were called the tribunes of the people.

Public officials



  • Jochen Bleicken : The people's tribunate of the classical republic. Studies of its development between 287 and 133 BC BC ( Zetemata 13, ISSN  1610-4188 ). 2nd, revised edition, Beck, Munich 1968.
  • Thomas Robert Shannon Broughton : The Magistrates of the Roman Republic (=  Philological Monographs of the American Philological Association. Vol. 15, 1-3, ZDB -ID 418630-8 ). 3 volumes (Vol. 1: 509 BC - 100 BC Vol. 2: 99 BC - 31 BC Vol. 3: Supplement. ). American Philological Association, New York NY 1951-1986, ISBN 0-89130-811-3 (Vol. 3).
  • Giovanni Niccolini: I fasti dei tribuni della plebe (=  Fondazione Guglielmo Castelli. 7, ZDB -ID 638160-1 ). A. Giuffrè, Milan 1934.
  • Lukas Thommen : The people's tribunate of the late Roman Republic (=  Historia . Individual writings 59). Steiner, Stuttgart 1989, ISBN 3-515-05187-2 (also: Basel, Universität, Dissertation, 1987).

Web links


  1. Lukas Thommen: The people's tribunate of the late Roman Republic. Stuttgart 1989, pp. 22-30.
  2. ^ Wolfgang Kunkel , Roland Wittmann : State order and state practice of the Roman republic. Second section: the magistracy. Munich 1995, p. 566.
  3. Albin (i) us and Sicinius are safely passed down in two traditions - after Titus Livius and Dionysius of Halicarnassus - others are mentioned at least once, but are doubtful. Cf. Livius 2.33.3 and Dionysios 6.89.
  4. Livy 2.33.1-2.
  5. Jochen Bleicken : The Roman people's tribunate. In: Chiron 11, 1981, p. 93.
  6. ^ Andrew Lintott : The Constitution of the Roman Republic. Oxford 1999, pp. 123-125.
  7. Val. Max. 2, 2, 7.
  8. Kunkel, p. 580 f., Mommsen, p. 291 f.
  9. Mommsen, p. 282.
  10. Christine Döbler, Political Agitation and the Public in the Late Republic (European University Papers / 3, Bd. 839), Frankfurt am Main a. a., p. 39.
  11. Lintott, p. 121, note 1.
  12. Livy 2.58.1-2.
  13. Livy 3.30.5. See also Heinz Bellen : Fundamentals of Roman History. Part 1. 2nd edition, Darmstadt 1995, ISBN 3-534-02726-4 , pp. 22 and 24.
  14. Thommen, p. 31f.
  15. Kunkel, p. 13
  16. Mommsen, p. 282.
  17. Thommen, pp. 241–248
  18. Aulus Gellius 13.16.1-2
  19. Thommen, pp. 126-139.
  20. Thommen, pp. 171–179.
  21. Thommen, pp. 179-187.
  22. On Sulla's motifs, including personal ones, see Karl-Joachim Hölkeskamp : L. Cornelius Sulla , in: Hölkeskamp / Hölkeskamp (ed.): From Romulus to Augustus. Great figures of the Roman Republic , Beck, Munich 2000, pp. 200–218.
  23. It is possible that the legislative initiative before the people's assembly was de facto taken from them. See Herbert Heftner : From the Gracchen to Sulla. The Roman Republic at the crossroads 133–78 BC Chr. , Regensburg, 2006, pp. 213-215.
  24. Heftner, p. 214, bsd.note 15 (p. 274).
  25. Thommen, p. 195 f.
  26. Heftner, p. 215 f.
  27. Ernst Hohl : Did Caesar have tribune power? In: Klio 32, 1939, pp. 61-75.
  28. Thommen, p. 103 f.
  29. Hohl, p. 69 f.
  30. Cassius Dio , 49, 15, 5 f. calls inviolability and the right to sit as honorary rights, while Appian , Civil Wars 5, 132 and, based on this, Orosius 6, 18, 4 speak of a granting of full rights by the Senate.
  31. Hohl, p. 64 f. and 68.
  32. ^ Liber Legum Novellarum Divi Valentiniani 1.3
  33. Cf. Klaus von Beyme : Political Theories in the Age of Ideologies: 1789–1945 , Wiesbaden 2002, p. 63 f.
  34. In Robespierre the title is mostly used in a negative sense, as in Peter Claus Hartmann : Französische Könige und Kaiser der Neuzeit , Munich 2006, p. 18.
  35. Danton often uses the title as “tribune of the people”, often in a positive sense, e.g. B. in Welt Online on September 24, 2002, accessed on June 12, 2009 or in ZEIT on May 26, 1989. Georg Büchner's play Dantons Tod by Georg Büchner could explain this connection.
  36. ^ Wilhelm Dilthey : On the intellectual history of the 19th century , p. 335.
  37. ^ Johann Georg Kohl : Reisen in Irland , Volume 2, Dresden 1843, p. 103.
  38. ^ Monarch and tribune of the people. In: May 19, 2010, accessed March 9, 2018 .
  39. Handelsblatt online, accessed on June 4, 2009.
  40. World March 13, 2001, accessed June 4, 2009.
  41. Florian Hassel Warsaw: posted tribune of the people . In: . 2018, ISSN  0174-4917 ( [accessed on January 13, 2018]).
  42. Focus online on May 31, 2008, accessed on July 9, 2010