Military tribunes (tribuni militum) were originally infantry commanders. A Tribune, Latin Tribunus, or any of many military and civic authorities in ancient Rome, Military tribunes (tribuni militum) were initially infantry commanders. They later assumed duties as judges and administrators. The first tribune is said to have been Spurius Cassius, who about 500 BC led an army of slaves against his former master, the king of Numidia. There are also reports of a female tribune named Rosia Montana who was put to death by order of the emperor Claudius.
In its modern sense, the term "tribune" originates with the Roman Republic. The office of Tribune was created about 500 B.C. and originally consisted of only one member. Over time, however, the number of Tribunes increased to two, then three, and finally four members. Today, the title of "Tribune" is used by several officers around the world who serve as an honorary position that usually carries some degree of authority.
During the early days of the Roman Republic, the role of the Tribune was very important. The Tribunes were the only officials who could call meetings of the Senate - they could either help it act or stop it acting. If the Senate was doing something wrong, such as making decisions without voting on them, then the Tribunes would bring this matter before the people.
* Portal to Ancient Rome * Portal to War A military tribune (Latin tribunus militum, "tribune of the troops," Greek chiliarchos, khiliarkhos) was a Roman army official who was below the legate and above the centurion. Young equestrians frequently worked as military tribunes as a stepping stone to the Senate. The office began as an appointment by the king but by the time of Augustus it had become a purely political post. After some initial differences, Augustus' successors all followed his example and appointed only young men as military tribunes.
In the early days of the Republic, when there were no permanent armies, every magistrate or consul was also a military tribune with special powers while serving in that capacity. Later, as generals gained more power over their soldiers, this position became less important. By the end of the Empire, many military tribunes were mere figureheads since they usually lacked any real influence over their commanders-in-chief.
The military tribune is often mentioned by name in the texts of ancient authors. For example, Plutarch mentions that two brothers, one a senator and one a military tribune, fought a duel for the hand of Lucilia, something which showed how common these posts were at the time. The Tribune's role in this affair can be guessed from what follows: "They say that the younger of the two brothers, who was a tribune, challenged the elder to a fight and that they met in the Campus Martius.
In 494 BC, the Tribune of the Plebes (tribunus plebis) was founded as a magistracy. It was established to provide the people with a direct representative magistrate in addition to the senate magistrates. The tribune was therefore an important political figure in his own right as well as serving as a proxy for the people.
The first recorded officeholder was Gaius Marius, who served from 495 to 474 BC. During his time in office the power of the aristocracy in Rome grew while that of the people waned. In 461 BC the tribunes abolished the right of patricians to sit on juries. This marked the end of jury trial for most citizens and brought an end to all but the most serious cases being tried by jury. In 449 BC the people again asserted their authority by making peace with Carthage, which had been at war with Rome for several years. The conflict had been escalating badly for the Romans, who wanted to keep the enemy distracted while they organized their army for another campaign. The issue was resolved when the people ratified the treaty by voting in favor of it.
In 444 BC the tribunes introduced a measure intended to give equal status to all citizens. Previously, only those men who owned land could become senators; now anyone who had done something worthy of note was allowed to join this exclusive club.
Each legion had six tribunes, and the tribunes allocated to the first four legions founded each year were elected by the popular assembly. The commander chose the tribunes for the other legions. The five oldest legions had two tribunes who shared their power; the younger ones had one tribune. As soon as a legion was established, its commander appointed his own tribune, who served until the next election cycle. After the fourth tribune was appointed, the others were called "assessors." They did not make laws or lead armies but carried out administrative duties.
In addition to their political role, the tribunes could exercise certain military powers. For example, they could call assemblies of soldiers to debate issues before them. If necessary, they could even command troops in battle. However, they could not make decisions about plans or policies. These belonged to the leaders of the various departments of the Roman government: the consuls and the praetors.
Tribunes also played an important role in elections. When the time came to choose new officers, candidates would go to the polls and then draw lots to see which office they would hold. This protection against bribery that accompanied the drawing of lots made elections more fair than in many countries today. The only people denied the right to stand for office were those who were currently serving a sentence of exile.
Consular tribunes may have been established as a military expedient during a time when more military leaders were required. The office of consul was divided into two parts, one of which was filled by a single individual. This person was called the first consul; the second was called the second consul. These officers were responsible for leading their armies on the battlefield and voting on major issues before them. It is possible that the dual role of the consul was intended to give equal weight to the views of the commander in chief and his staff officer.
The first known example of the use of consular tribunes dates from 509 B.C. During the First Punic War, Rome had no less than six men serving in the office at any given time. The tradition continued through the Second Punic War, the Social Wars, and the Empire-wide conflicts against Hannibal. Although they rarely took part in battle, these men often had considerable power over matters of policy and could influence the outcome of important events.
The last consular tribune was Lucius Cornelius Sulla. He served as such in 91 B.C., just prior to being appointed dictator for five years.