Sunday, March 02, 2008

Why we need a cursus honorum

The 2008 Election may well be a matter of experience. And ancient Rome had a way of ensuring the leaders who decided on war and took the troops off to it had requisite experience. The cursus honorum provided that no man could run for consul without having first been praetor [and that no younger than age 39]. The brilliant C. Julius Caesar Strabo [cousin of the father of the famous Julius Caesar] was stopped from running for consul for this very reason -- he had never been a praetor.
By that time a man won office as praetor, he had been in the Senate since age 30, before which he had done 2 years military service. And after serving as a praetor he had to wait two years to run for consul. So no man could run for consul before age 42 with few exceptions [P. Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus being one]. And the consuls were the ones to head the army. There were two consuls, alternating their presiding over the Senate every other month. The one with most votes was senior consul and presided over the Senate the first month, then the junior consul took over the next. Every year new consuls were elected. Each consul then had a dozen years experience in the Senate by the time they first ran for office.
Bloodline alone wasn't always good enough to ensure a win at the polls. Quintus Caecilius Metellus Scipio, born a Scipio and adopted by Metellus Pius, never won election -- he had to rely on his son-in-law, Pompey, elected as sole consul, to appoint him. And the brilliant new man Cicero, with no ancestry to speak of, won election to the office. As did Gaius Marius, from backwater northern Italy, win office 7 times.
The war powers tend to be the most important in government -- extending its control over the youth [who form the infantry], providing the basis for trading some liberties [such is the cost of freedom], and justifying its own purpose ["to provide for common defense"]. And they reside in the hands of the head of our Republic.