A consul was the highest elected office under the Roman Republic. During the Republic, consuls were the heads of the government, making all administrative and military decisions with the Roman Senate. It was an annually elected office, held by two men at a time. Under the Empire, the position shifted to one of mere symbolism.
From the Latin, consulere, to take counsel, consuls were first elected to power shortly after the end of the Age of Roman Kings. In the beginning of the Roman Republic, consuls were considered the leaders of the Republic, controlling all civic and military functions of the State, both in times of war and peace. Religious duties were added to the consul’s duties over time.
The two men elected annually to the office of consul had the power to veto each other’s political acts. Originally, only patrician men were eligible to hold the office, but sometime after 367 BCE plebeians became eligible for the office. In the late Republic, once a consul finished his year in office, he became eligible for the office of proconsul, or governor, over one of Rome’s many outer provinces.
Under the new Roman Empire and Emperor Augustus, the office of consul was changed greatly. It became the office of Principate, losing its military authority, though retaining its status and importance in name.
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