35 Pages Posted: 3 Nov 2010
Date Written: November 2, 2010
The constitution of the Roman Republic featured a system of checks and balances that would eventually influence the American founders, yet it had very different characteristics from the system of separation of powers that the founders created. The Roman senate gave advice but did not legislate; the people voted directly on bills and appointments in popular assemblies; and a group of magistrates, led by a pair of consuls, proposed bills, brought prosecutions, served as judges, led military forces, and performed other governmental functions. This paper analyzes the Roman constitution from the perspective of agency theory, and argues that the extensive checks and balances, which were intended to prevent the recurrence of monarchy, may have gone too far. Suitable for an earlier period in which the population was small and the political class was homogeneous, the constitution proved unworkable when Rome acquired a vast, diverse empire. The lessons of Roman constitutionalism for the American constitution are also discussed.
Keywords: checks and balances, constitutionalism
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation
Posner, Eric A., The Constitution of the Roman Republic: A Political Economy Perspective (November 2, 2010). U of Chicago Law & Economics, Olin Working Paper No. 540; U of Chicago, Public Law & Legal Theory Working Paper No. 327. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1701981 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1701981