Senate, United States: see Congress of the United States.
senate, Roman, governing council of the Roman republic. It was the outgrowth of the council of the kings. By the 3d cent. B.C. the senate was a group of 300 men with a high degree of political, legislative, and administrative power at Rome. There were serious checks on its power, especially in the hands of the tribunes. The members were chosen by the censors and included theoretically the best citizens; but as it worked out, the senate consisted of ex-magistrates, almost entirely members of a small number of old families from either the patrician or plebeian classes. Membership was usually for life. In the expansion of Rome in the 3d and 2d cent. B.C. the senate sent out the armies, made the treaties, organized the new domain, and controlled finance. The senatorial conduct of Roman affairs was fairly successful until c.130 B.C. After that the senate's provincial administration of the huge empire was increasingly inefficient and graft-ridden. However, the authority of the senate was not called into question until the growth of party-class division that developed with the agitation of the Gracchi. The leaders of the senate became also the leaders of the most reactionary group and would yield on no point, economic or political. The fatal development in the republic of two parties, optimates (the senatorial conservatives) and populares, grew out of this resistance to change. The optimates tried to foster the idea that they represented constitutionalism versus subversion, but after Sulla, who combined the bloodiest illegality with the strictest defense of the senate (which he raised to 600 members), such a claim by optimates was hypocritical and cynical. Caesar enlarged the number of the senate to 900. The ruin of the optimates and the senate was accomplished in the proscription of 43 B.C. after Caesar's assassination. After the proscription what was left of the senate was docile and ineffectual. Augustus lowered the number to 600. As an administrator he found he had to reduce senatorial control in the provinces. Under the principate the senate became a somewhat less hereditary body and gradually came to include provincials from most regions of the empire. It continued to include many of the empire's leading soldiers and administrators, until it lost much influence in the troubles of the 3d cent. A.D. In the later Roman Empire, it retained some prestige, but very little power. Under Byzantine rule in the 6th cent., the senate disappeared.

See M. Gelzer, The Roman Nobility (1969); R. J. A. Talbert, The Senate of Imperial Rome (1984).

A senate is a deliberative body, often the upper house or chamber of a legislature or Parliament. There have been many such bodies in history, the first of which was the Roman Senate.


The word senatorial is derived from the Latin word senātus (senate), which comes from senex, "old man". The members or legislators of a senate are called senators. The Latin word senator was adopted into English with no change in spelling. Its meaning is derived from a very ancient form of simple social organization in which decision-making powers are reserved for the eldest men. For the same reason, the word senate is correctly used when referring to any powerful authority characteristically composed by the eldest members of a community, as a deliberative body of a faculty in an institution of higher learning is often called a senate. The original senate was the Roman Senate, which lasted until 580. In the Eastern Roman Empire, the Byzantine Senate continued until the Fourth Crusade.

Modern democratic states with bicameral parliamentary systems are sometimes equipped with a senate, often distinguished from an ordinary parallel lower house, known variously as the "House of Representatives", "House of Commons", "Chamber of Deputies", "National Assembly", "Legislative Assembly", or "House of Assembly", by electoral rules. This may include minimum age required for voters and candidates, proportional or majoritarian or plurality system, and an electoral basis or collegium. Typically, the senate is referred to as the upper house and has a smaller membership than the lower house. In some federal states senates also exist at the subnational level. In the United States all states other than Nebraska have a state senate. In Australia all states other than Queensland have an upper house known as a legislative council. Several Canadian provinces also once had legislative councils, but these have all been abolished, the last being Quebec's Legislative Council in 1968.

Senate membership can be determined either through elections or appointments. For example, elections are held every three years for half the membership of the Australian Senate, the term of a senator being six years. In contrast, members of the Canadian Senate are appointed by the Governor General upon the recommendation of the Prime Minister of Canada, holding the office until they resign, are removed, or retire at the mandatory age of 75. Some states have a combination of these two approaches, such as the Jamaican Senate, where thirteen are appointed by the prime minister and eight by the leader of the opposition. In larger countries, the senate often serves a balancing effect by giving a larger share of power to regions or groups which would otherwise be overwhelmed under strictly popular apportionment.

Alternative meanings

The terms Senate and Senator, however, do not necessarily refer to a second chamber of a legislature:

  • In Finland, until 1919, the Senate was the executive branch and the supreme court.
  • In the German Bundesländer of Berlin, Bremen and Hamburg, the Senates (or Senat in German) are the executive branch, with Senator (Senator) being the holders of ministerial portfolios. Moreover, also in Germany, bodies of usually five judges in higher courts of appeal hearing and deciding cases are called "senates", although the judges are not called "senators". However, in the Land of Bavaria, the Senate was the upper house of parliament until its abolition in 1999.
  • In Scotland, judges of the High Court of Justiciary are called Senators of the College of Justice.
  • In some, mostly federal countries with a unicameral legislature, some of the legislators are elected differently from the others and are called Senators. In federal countries, such Senators represent the territories, while the other members represent the people at large (this device is used to allow a federal representation without having to establish a bicameral legislature); this is the case with St. Kitts and Nevis, Comoros and Micronesia. In other, non-federal countries, the use of the term Senator marks some other difference between such members and the rest of the legislators (such as the method of selection); this is the case with the States of Jersey and Dominica's House of Assembly.
  • The Senate can be the ruling body of a university.

National senates in the world

Defunct senates

Fictional senates

See also

External links

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