(originally Praetres, ὕπατοι). The Roman magistrates to whom the supreme authority was transferred from the kings, after the expulsion of the latter in B.C. 510. The consuls gave their name to the year. They were elected by the Comitia Centuriata, and down to B.C. 366 from the patricians only. The legal age at which a man might be elected was, in the time of Cicero, fortythree. The time of entering on the office varied in the early periods: in B.C. 222, it was fixed to March 15th; in 153, to the 1st of January. The accession of the new consuls was attended with the performance of certain ceremonies, among which may be mentioned a procession of the consuls to the Capitol, with the Senate, equites, and other citizens of position, as escort; an offering of white bulls to Iupiter, and the utterance of solemn vows.
The consuls were the representatives of the royal authority, and consequently all other magistrates were bound to obey them, with the exception of the tribunes of the plebs and the dictator. During a dictatorship their powers fell into abeyance. In the city their authority was limited by the right of appeal to the people and the veto of the tribunes. But in the army, and over their subordinates, they had full power of life and death. Some of their original functions passed from them in course of time. Thus in B.C. 444, the business of the census was made over to the censors; in 366, the civil jurisdiction within the city, so far as it included the right of performing the acts of adoption, emancipation, and liberation of slaves, was transferred to the praetors. In the field, however, having the criminal jurisdiction in their hands, they had also the right of deciding in civil cases affecting the soldiers. In the general administration of public business the consuls, although formally recognized as the supreme authority, gradually became, in practice, dependent upon the Senate and the Comitia, as they had only the power of preparing the resolutions proposed and carrying them out if accepted. Within the city their powers were virtually confined to summoning the Senate and the Comitia and presiding over their meetings. They also nominated the dictators, and conducted the elections and legislation in the Comitia and the levies of soldiers. After the office of dictator fell into abeyance, the power of the consuls was, in cases of great danger, increased to dictatorial authority by a special decree of the Senate. See Comitia.
An essential characteristic of the consular office was that it was collegial, and therefore if one consul died another (called consul suffectus) was immediately elected. This consul suffectus had absolutely the same authority as his colleague, but he had to lay down his office with him at the end of the year for which the two had been originally elected.
The power of the two consuls being equal, the business was divided between them. In the administration of the city they changed duties every month, the senior taking the initiative. With regard to their insignianamely, the toga praetexta, sella curulis, and twelve lictorsthe original arrangement was that the lictors walked in front of the officiating consul, while the other was only attended by an accensus. In later times the custom was for the lictors to walk before the officiating consul and behind the other.
In the field each consul commanded two legions with their allied troops; if they were in the same locality, the command changed from day to day. The question of the administration of the provinces they either settled by consent, or left it to be decided by lot. With the extension of the Empire the consuls became unable to undertake the whole burden of warfare, and the praetors were called in to assist. The provinces were then divided into consular and praetorian; the business of assignment being left to the Senate, which, after the year 122, was bound to make it before the elections. In the first century B.C., a law of Sulla deprived the consuls of an essential element of their authority, the military imperium; for it enacted that the consuls should spend their year of office in Rome, and only repair to the provinces and assume the imperium after its conclusion.
In the Civil Wars the consular office completely lost its old position, and though it continued to exist under the Empire, it became, practically, no more than an empty title. The emperors, who often held the office themselves, like Caesar, for several years in succession, had the right of nominating the candidates, and therefore, in practice, had the election in their own hands. It became usual to nominate several pairs of consuls for one year, so as to confer the distinction on as many persons as possible. In such cases, the consuls who came in on January 1, after whom the year was named, were called consules ordinarii, the consules suffecti counting as minores. Until the middle of the first century A.D., it was a special distinction to hold the consulship for a whole year; but after that no cases of this tenure occur. In time the insignia (ornamenta consularia), or honorary distinctions of the office, were given, in certain degrees, even to men who had not been consuls at all. The chief duties of the consuls now were to preside in the Senate and to conduct the criminal trials in which it had to give judgment. But, besides this, certain functions of civil jurisdiction were in their hands, notably the liberation of slaves, the provision for the costly games which occurred during their term of office, the festal celebrations in honour of the emperor, and the like. After the seat of empire was transferred to Constantinople, the consulate was, towards the end of the fourth century, divided between the two capital cities. The consulate of the Western capital came to an end in A.D. 534, that of the Eastern in 541. From that time the emperor of the East bore the title of consul perpetuus.