Senatus consultum

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This inscription on bronze tablet records the Senatus Consultum de Bacchanalibus, which prohibited the celebration of Bacchanalia, rites in honor of the god Bacchus, throughout Italy, 186 BCE. Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum.

Decree of the senate. A senatus consultum was an official statement and advice of the Roman senate to the executive magistrates. Though it was officially an "advice" from the senate to a magistrate, and technically these decrees did not have to be obeyed, in practice, they usually were. If a senatus consultum conflicted with a law that has been passed by the comitia, the law overrode the senatus consultum, because the senatus consultum had its authority based in precedent, and not in law. A senatus consultum, however, could serve to interpret a law.

Examples for Roman senatus consulta

Senatus consultum de Bacchanalibus

Hannibal's successes in Italy were viewed by the Romans as a possible sign of divine wrath, and in 204 B.C. the Romans were moved to introduce from Asia the cult of the Magna Mater as a form of propitiation. Perhaps this was indicative of a growing interest among the Italians in oriental orgiastic cults, or at least it may have encouraged their cultivation thereafter, though the Romans professed that they were shocked by them. Livy reports ( 39, 8-19 ) that the devotees of Bacchus by 186 B.C. had created scandalous and dangerous conditions throughout the length and breadth of Italy by celebrating their peculiar rites, the Bacchanalia. After the investigation the Senate passed resolutions abolishing or seriously curtailing the worship of such groups. This document, on a bronze tablet found at Tiriolo, Italy, in 1640, is a copy of a letter embodying the senatorial resolution sent to the local magistrates in the Ager Teuranus of southern Italy. It is to be observed that all of the ninth paragraph, except the portion within quotation marks, is not part of the senatorial resolution, but embodies the directions accompanying it.

Latin English
Q. Marcius L. filius, Sp. Postumius L. filius consules senatum consuluerunt Nonis Octobribus, apud aedem Bellonae. The consuls Q. Marcius, son of L., and Sp. Postumius, son of L., consulted the Senate on October 7 in the Temple of Bellona.
Scribendo adfuerunt M. Claudius M. filius, L. Valerius P. filius, Q. Minucius C. filius. M. Claudius, son of M., L. Valerius, son of P., and Q. Minucius, son of C., assisted in drafting the decree.
De Bacchanalibus qui foederati essent, ita edicendum censuere: Regarding the Bacchanalia the senators proposed to issue a decree as follows to those who are allied with us:
nequis eorum Bacchanal habuisse vellet. Siqui essent, qui sibi dicerent necesse esse Bacchanal habere, ei uti ad praetorem urbanum Romam venirent, deque eis rebus, ubi eorum verba audita essent, uti senatus noster decerneret, dum ne minus senatoribus C adessent, cum ea res consuleretur. Bacchas vir nequis adiisse vellet civis Romanus neve nominis Latini neve sociorum quisquam, nisi praetorem urbanum adiissent, isque de senatus sententia, dum ne minus senatoribus C adessent, cum ea res consuleretur, iussisset. "No one of them shall have a place devoted to the worship of Bacchus: and if there are any who say that they have a need for such a place, they shall appear in Rome before the urban praetor ; and when the pleas of these men have been heard, our Senate shall make a decision regarding these matters, provided that not less than 100 senators are present when the matter is discussed. No Roman citizen or man of Latin rights or anyone of the allies shall associate with the Bacchae, unless they have appeared before the urban praetor and he has given permission, in accordance with the opinion of the Senate, delivered while not less than 100 senators were present when the matter was discussed.
Censuere. The proposal passed.
Sacerdos nequis vir esset. Magister neque vir neque mulier quaequam esset. Neve pecuniam quisquam eorum communem habuisse vellet. Neve magistratum, neve pro magistratu, neque virum neque mulierem quisquam fecisse vellet, neve post hac inter se coniurasse neve convovisse neve conspondisse neve compromisisse vellet, neve quisquam fidem inter se dedisse vellet. Sacra in occulto ne quisquam fecisse vellet. Neve in publico neve in privato neve extra urbem sacra quisquam fecisse vellet, nisi praetorem urbanum adiisset, isque de senatus sententia, dum ne minus senatoribus C adessent, cum ea res consuleretur, iussisset. "No man shall be priest of, nor shall any man or woman be master of, such an organization ; nor shall anyone of them have a common fund ; nor shall anyone appoint any man or woman to be master of such an organization or to act as master ; nor hereafter shall anyone take common oath with them, shall make common vows, shall make stipulations with them, nor shall anyone give them surety or shall take surety from them. No one shall perform their rites in secret ; nor shall anyone perform their rites in public, in private, or outside the city, unless he has appeared before the urban praetor and he has given permission, in accordance with the opinion of the Senate, delivered while not less than 100 senators were present when the matter was discussed."
Censuere. The proposal passed.
Homines plus V universi viri atque mulieres sacra ne quisquam fecisse vellet, neve interibi viri plus duobus, mulieribus plus tribus adfuisse vellent, nisi de praetoris urbani senatusque sententia, uti supra scriptum est. "No one in a company of more than five persons altogether, men and women, shall perform such rites ; nor in that company shall more than two men or three women be present, unless it is in accordance with the opinion of the urban praetor and the Senate, as has been written above."
» Haec uti in contioni edicatis ne minus trinum nundinum, senatusque sententiam uti scientes essetis, eorum sententia ita fuit : «Siqui essent, qui adversum ea fecissent, quam supra scriptum est, eis rem capitalem faciendam censuere ». Atque uti hoc in tabulam ahenam incideretis, ita senatus aequum censuit, utique eam figi iubeatis, ubi facillime nosci possit ; atque uti ea Bacchanalia, siqua sunt, extra quam siquid ibi sacri est, (ita ut supra scriptum est) in diebus X, quibus vobis tabelae datae erunt, faciatis uti dimota sint. You shall publish these decrees in public assembly for not less than three market days, that you may know the opinion of the Senate. For the opinion of the senators is as follows : "If there are any persons who act contrary to what has been written above, it is our opinion that a proceeding for a capital offense must be made against them" ; and you shall inscribe this on a bronze tablet, for thus the Senate voted was proper ; and you shall order it to be posted where it can be read most easily ; and, as has been written above, you shall provide within ten days after these tablets have been delivered to you that those places devoted to the worship of Bacchus shall be dismantled, if there are any such, except in case something sacred is concerned in the matter.
In agro Teurano. To be dispatched to the Ager Teuranus.

Senatus consultum de philosophis et rhetoribus

Conservative Romans became concerned during the first half of the second century B.C. with the effects of Greek thought, manners, and morals. Quintus Ennius ( 239-169 B.C. ), "father of Latin poetry," had introduced the skeptical approach to religion with his translation of the works of Euhemerus ( flor. 300 B.C. ), who advanced an anthropological theory of the deities ; and the excesses of the devotees of Magna Mater and of Bacchus had led to the suppression of the latter's cult in 186 B.C. Additional attempts to restrict the spread of Greek thought are seen, however, in the destruction of the false "Books of Numa" ( said to have been Pythagorean ) in 181 B.C., the expulsion of two Epicureans from Rome in 173 B.C. for teaching a philosophy of pleasure, and this document ( preserved by Suetonius, Rhet. I ad init. ), which authorizes the expulsion of all philosophers from Rome.

Latin English
M. Pomponius praetor senatum consuluit. M. Pomponius praetor consulted the Senate.
Quod verba facta sunt de philosophis et de rhetoribus, de ea re ita censuerunt: Whereas a report was made concerning philosophers and rhetoricians, the senators proposed as follows in regard to the said matter:
ut M. Pomponius praetor animadverteret curaretque, uti ei e republica fideque sua videretur, uti Romae ne essent. M. Pomponius praetor shall take measures and shall provide that no philosophers or rhetoricians shall dwell in Rome, if it appears to him to be in the public interest and in accordance with his own good faith.
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