CONSTITUTIONAL THOUGHT IN THE LATE ROMAN REPUBLIC

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Abstract:

Emergency powers are widely held to have contributed in important ways to the Roman Republic's demise and to the erection of the Principate. The debate waged during the late Republic over such powers is certainly one of the most prominent features in late Republican political thought and controversy, and it would be hard to overlook the fact that it was a debate over constitutional principle. Taking seriously the constitutional character of that debate, this article seeks to answer the question of whether it makes sense to attribute to the Roman Republic something like the concept of a constitution in the first place. It is argued that on the level of political thought the term 'constitution' can indeed profitably and accurately be applied to a set of rules that were thought both to be more entrenched and to be more important than other rules. Thus it makes perfect sense to speak of a Roman Republican constitution, without scare quotes, at least in the realm of political thought. Furthermore it is suggested that it makes sense to speak of a Roman republican constitution in the realm of institutional reality as well since political and more specifically constitutional thought informed and influenced some of the republican institutions and their functioning to a considerable extent.

Keywords: Cicero; Roman republic; constitutionalism; justice; national law; private property rights

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: lberico Gentili Fellow, New York University School of Law, 139 MacDougal Street, 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10012, USA. benjamin., Email: straumann@nyu.edu

Publication date: January 1, 2011

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