T. Corey Brennan
Tribunicia potestas (tribunician power) refers to the rights granted to Rome’s tribuni plebis—including sacrosanctity, that is, personal inviolability while in office—and (later) to the claim by Roman emperors to the plebeian tribunes’ privileges, a status which they employed to reckon their own years of rule and also publicly designate a successor. In official titulature the emperors commonly list it second among their distinctions (with number of continuous years held, thus functioning akin to a regnal year), after the office of pontifex maximus and before the number of imperatorial acclamations and consulships (see imperator, consul).
Tribunes originally received their prerogatives to defend and support the plebs, which essentially formed a “state within a state” in the Roman polity. But already in the mid-4th century
Andrew M. Riggsby
“Crime” lacks a fully agreed definition across modern societies, but competing versions tend to stress notions like punishment, protection of public or collective interests, and a pervasive role for the state in proceedings. Over time the Romans used a series of different procedures (successively, trial before the assemblies, by specialized juries, or by imperial inquisitors) to try most of their offences that would be more or less recognizably criminal today. Substantively, the core of this group were offences against the state in an institutional sense (e.g., sedition, electoral malpractice, abuse of public office, forgery). Over time it also came to include an increasing number of (personal) crimes of violence. Some core modern criminal offences such as forms of theft and forgery of private documents came to be grouped in with these only at a very late date and incompletely. “Moral” offences that are treated as criminal more sporadically today (e.g., use of intoxicants, gambling, prostitution) were not criminalized. Penalties in earlier periods included fines, civic disgrace, and exile; later periods introduced finer differentiation of penalties, as well as execution. Imprisonment was not a formal penalty.
Roman criminal law had a deeper and more complicated relationship to politics than did the private, civil law. This is true both in the sense that the jurists were relatively uninterested in the criminal law, especially before the late 2nd century
Provocatio was a method for appealing the decision of a Roman magistrate. Provocatio could occur after a normal trial had been conducted in front of a magistrate with imperium. After the final judgement, the defendant could call out “provoco.” The act of provocatio called upon the protection of the tribuni plebis, who transferred the power to adjudicate to the Roman people (iudicium populi). The people could then confirm or reject the magistrate’s sentence.
Not all judgements were subject to provocatio; it only applied to the power of coercitio of higher magistrates (consuls and praetors). Sentences meted by the quaestors were excluded. The judgements of the pontifex maximus were also excluded, although the fines he imposed could be appealed. In fact, provocatio is mentioned in the sources only for political crimes, such as perduellio. The idea that the iudicium populi was part of every trial, first suggested by Mommsen and still sometimes repeated, is therefore incorrect.