Consul (abbrev. cos.; Latin plural consules) was the highest elected office of the Roman Republic and an appointive office under the Empire. The title was also used in other city states and also revived in modern states, notably in the First French Republic. The relating adjective is consular, from the Latin consularis (which has been used, substantiated, as a title in its own right).
During the Roman Republic, the consuls were the highest civil and military magistrates, serving as the heads of government for the Republic. New consuls were elected every year. There were two consuls and they ruled together by mutual consensus, i.e. only when they agreed with each other could they exercise the authority of their office. However, after the establishment of the Empire, the consuls were merely a figurative representative of Rome’s republican heritage and held very little power and authority, with the emperor acting as the supreme leader.
Other uses in antiquity
Other city states
While many cities (as in Gaul) had a double-headed chief magistracy, often another title was used, such as Duumvir or native styles such as Meddix, but Consul was used in some.
It was not uncommon for an organisation under Roman private law to copy the terminology of state and city institutions for its own statutory agents. The founding statute, or contract, of such an organisation was called lex, 'law'. The people elected each year were patricians, members of the upper class.
Medieval city states
The city-state of Genoa, unlike ancient Rome, bestowed the title of Consul on various state officials, not necessarily restricted to the highest. Among these were Genoese officials stationed in various Mediterranean ports, whose role included helping Genoese merchants and sailors in difficulties with the local authorities. This institution, with its name, was later emulated by other powers and is reflected in the modern usage of the word (see Consul (representative)).
In England, the clerks of Robert, 1st Earl of Gloucester, made a practice of using the Latin word consul rather than the more common comes when translating his title of 'Earl'. Modern historians sometimes call him "Robert the Consul", for that reason, though he himself and his contemporaries did not use that name.
After Napoleon Bonaparte in November 1799 staged a coup against the Directory government, the French Republic adopted a constitution, which conferred executive powers upon three Consuls, elected for a period of ten years. In reality, the First Consul, Bonaparte, dominated his two colleagues and held supreme power, soon making himself Consul for life and eventually, in 1804, Emperor.
The office was held by
- Napoleon Bonaparte, Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès, Roger Ducos, Provisional Consuls (10 November – 12 December 1799)
- Napoleon Bonaparte (First Consul), Jean-Jacques Cambacérès (Second Consul), Charles-François Lebrun (Third Consul), Consuls (12 December 1799 – 18 May 1804)
The French-sponsored Roman Republic (15 February 1798 – 23 June 1800) was headed by multiple consuls:
- Francesco Riganti, Carlo Luigi Costantini, Duke Bonelli-Crescenzi, Antonio Bassi, Gioacchino Pessuti, Angelo Stampa, Domenico Maggi, Provisional Consuls (15 February – 20 March 1798)
- Liborio Angelucci, Giacomo De Mattheis, Panazzi, Reppi, Ennio Quirino Visconti, Consuls (20 March – September 1798)
- Brigi, Calisti, Francesco Pierelli, Giuseppe Rey, Federico Maria Domenico Michele, Zaccaleoni, Consuls (September – 24 July 1799)
Consular rule was interrupted by the Neapolitan occupation (27 November – 12 December 1798), which installed a Provisional Government:
- Prince Giambattista Borghese, Prince Paolo-Maria Aldobrandini, Prince Gibrielli, Marchese Camillo Massimo, Giovanni Ricci (29 November 1798 - 12 December 1798)
Rome was occupied by France (11 July – 28 September 1799) and again by Naples (30 September 1799 – 23 June 1800), bringing an end to the Roman Republic.
The short-lived Bolognese Republic, proclaimed in 1796 as a French client republic in the Central Italian city of Bologna, had a government consisting of nine consuls and its head of state was the Presidente del Magistrato, i.e., chief magistrate, a presiding office held for four months by one of the consuls. As noted above, Bologna already had Consuls at some parts of its Medieval history.
Later modern republics
In between series of juntas (and various other short-lived regimes), the young republic was governed by "consuls of the republic" in power (2 consuls alternating in power every 4 months):
- 12 October 1813 – 12 February 1814 José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia y Velasco (1st time)
- 12 February 1814 – 12 June 1814 Fulgencio Yegros y Franco de Torres
- 12 June 1814 – 3 October 1814 José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia y Velasco (2nd time); he stayed on as "supreme dictator" 3 October 1814 – 20 September 1840 (from 6 June 1816 styled "perpetual supreme dictator")
After a few presidents of the Provisional Junta, there were again consuls of the republic, 14 March 1841 – 13 March 1844 (ruling jointly, but occasionally styled "first consul", "second consul"): Carlos Antonio López Ynsfrán (b. 1792 – d. 1862) + Mariano Roque Alonzo Romero (d. 1853) (the lasts of the aforementioned juntistas, Commandant-General of the Army) Thereafter all republican rulers were styled "president".
Among the many petty local republics that were formed during the first year of the Greek Revolution, prior to the creation of a unified Provisional Government at the First National Assembly at Epidaurus, were:
- The Consulate of Argos (from 26 May 1821, under the Senate of the Peloponnese) had a single head of state, styled consul, 28 March 1821 – 26 May 1821: Stamatellos Antonopoulos
- The Consulate of East Greece (Livadeia) (from 15 November 1821, under the Areopagus of East Greece) was headed 1 April 1821 – 15 November 1821 by three Consuls: Lambros Nakos, Ioannis Logothetis & Ioannis Filon
Note: in Greek, the term for "consul" is "ypatos", which translates as "supreme one", and hence does not necessarily imply a joint office.
- Captain Regent (similar modern position in San Marino's government)
- Consularis (Roman gubernatorial style)
- Chronological listings of Roman consuls (in law always republican Magistrates):
- List of topics related to ancient Rome
- Political institutions of Rome
Sources and references
- WorldStatesmen.org, see each present country
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