consul, title of the two chief magistrates of ancient Rome. The institution is supposed to have arisen with the expulsion of the kings, traditionally in 510 B.C., and it was well established by the early 4th cent. B.C. The consuls led the troops, controlled the treasury, and were supreme in the government. At first only patricians were eligible, but in 367 B.C. the Licinian law opened the office to plebeians. Before becoming consul a man generally had to have experience as quaestor, aedile, and praetor, and the minimum age for a consul was normally set at 40 or 45. Ex-consuls became provincial governors as proconsuls. The year was identified by the names of the two consuls in office during that time. Under the empire the title of consul was continued, but only as a title of honor, sometimes conferred on infants or small boys.

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 revived in modern states, notably Republican France before the Napoleonic counter-revolution. The relating adjective is consular, from the Latin consularis (which has been used, substantiated, as a title in its own right).

Ancient Rome

During the time of ancient Rome as a Republic, the consuls were the highest civil and military magistrates, serving as the heads of government for the Republic.

Other uses in antiquity

Other city states

While in many cities (as in Gaul) there was 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.

Private sphere

It was not uncommon for various organisations under Roman private law to copy the terminology of state and city institutions for its own statutory agents (the very founding statute or contract was also called lex, 'law')

In Feudal times

In various Italian city states, the republican regimes (elsewhere or in other periods, the presiding bishop or a hereditary prince or lord was in charge) gave its chief magistrates the title of Consul; thus there have been governments lead by consuls in Bologna, Novara (with one Maggiore as head of state), Trani, Treviso.

The same happened in some cities in France, especially in the Mediterranean south, e.g., Avignon, Limoges.

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 eventually emulated by other powers and eventually led to the modern meaning of consul — 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' — though he was not, and made no pretence of being, an elected magistrate of any sort. Modern historians sometimes call him, for that reason, "Robert the Consul", though he himself and his contemporaries did not use that name.

Modern republics

French republican consuls

In 1799, revolutionary France enacted a constitution that conferred supreme executive powers upon three officials that bore the title Consul as chief magistracy of the republic. In reality, however, the state was de facto under personal control of the First Consul, general Napoleon Bonaparte, so in political terms it was more like a re-edition of Julius Caesar's and Octavian's triumvirates.

Originally the consuls were to hold office for a period of ten years, but in 1802 Bonaparte was declared First Consul for life (lifetime consulate was introduced for Second and Third Consuls as well). The French consulate ceased to exist when Bonaparte was declared Emperor of the French in 1804.

Roman republican consuls

Since on 15 February 1798 - 23 June 1800 the Roman Republic was declared, it was headed by multiple (not just two-member) consulate, which 27 November 1798 - 12 December 1798 occupied by "Sicily" (Naples); since 11 July 1799 - 28 September 1799 the republic was occupied by France, 30 September 1799 - 23 June 1800 occupied by "Sicily" (i.e. the kingdom of Naples), later one of the home-realms of the Italian kingdom.

The members of the Consulates were:

  • 15 February 1798 - 20 March 1798 there were Provisional Consuls: Briganti, Carlo Luigi Costantini, Pio Camillo, duca Bonelli-Crescenzi, Gioacchino Pessuti, Antonio Bassi & Maggi, Stampa & Liborio Angelucci
  • 20 March 1798 - September 1798 the first regular Consuls: Liborio Angelucci, Giacomo De Mattheis, Panazzi, Reppi & Ennio Quirino Visconti
  • September 1798 - 27 November 1798 again Consuls: Brigi (1st time), Calisti (1st time), Francesco Pierelli (1st time), Giuseppe Rey (1st time) & Federico Maria Domenico Michele Zaccaleoni (1st time) (b. 1760 - d. 18..)
  • After the 29 November 1798 - 12 December 1798 Provisional Government of five (Princes Giambattista Borghese, Paolo-Maria Aldobrandini & Prince Gibrielli, Marchese Camillo Massimo & Giovanni Ricci), the 12 December 1798 - 24 July 1799 Consuls: Brigi (2nd time), Calisti (2nd time), Francesco Pierelli (2nd time), Giuseppe Rey (2nd time), Federico Maria Domenico Michele Zaccaleoni (2nd time)

Bolognese 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.


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

Revolutionary Greece

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.

See also

Sources and references

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