Decemviri (singular decemvir) is a Latin term meaning "Ten Men" which designates any such commission in the Roman Republic (cf. Triumviri, Three Men). Different types of decemvirate include the writing of laws with consular imperium (legibus scribundis consulari imperio), the judging of litigation (stlitibus iudicandis), the making of sacrifices (sacris faciundis), and the distribution of public lands (agris dandis adsignandis).
In 452 BC the plebeians and patricians of Rome agreed to the appointment of a commission of ten men to write up a code of law defining the principles of Roman administration; during the decemviri's term in office, all other magistracies would be suspended, and their decisions were not subject to appeal. The first set of decemviri, composed entirely of patricians, assumed office in 451 BC, and was led by Appius Claudius Decemvir and Titus Genucius Augurinus, who were consuls for that year. Each decemvir administered the government for one day in turn, and whichever decemvir presided on any given day was preceded by lictors bearing the fasces. Their administration of justice was exemplary and they submitted to the Comitia Centuriata a code of laws in ten headings, which was passed.
The success of the Decemvirate prompted the appointment of a second college of decemviri for 450 BC (Appius Claudius being the only decemvir returned). This second set added two more headings to their predecessors' ten, completing the Law of the Twelve Tables (Lex Duodecim Tabularum), which formed the centerpiece of the Roman constitutions for the next several centuries. Nevertheless, this Decemvirate's rule became increasingly violent and tyrannical; each decemvir was attended by twelve lictors, who carried the fasces with axes even within the city (consuls and dictators alone were attended by twelve lictors, and only the dictator could display the fasces with axes within the pomerium).
When the Decemvirate's term of office expired, the decemviri refused to leave office or permit successors to take office. Appius Claudius is said to have made an unjust decision which would have forced a young woman named Verginia into prostitution, prompting her father to kill her, and this travesty caused an uprising against the Decemvirate; the decemviri resigned their offices in 449 BC, and the ordinary magistrates (magistratus ordinarii) were re-instituted.
Decemviri Legibus Scribundis Consulari Imperio (451 BC):
Decemviri Legibus Scribundis Consulari Imperio (450 – 449 BC):
This type of decemvirate (also called the decemviri litibus iudicandis) was a civil court of ancient origin (traditionally attributed to King Servius Tullius) mainly concerned with questions bearing on the status of individuals. It originally served as a jury rendering verdict under the presidency of the praetor, but these decemviri subsequently became annual minor magistrates (magistratus minores) of the Republic, elected by the Comitia Populi Tributa and forming part of the Vigintisexviri ("Twenty-Six Men").
Suetonius and Dio Cassius record that during the Principate, Caesar Augustus transferred to the decemviri the presidency in the courts of the Centumviri ("Hundred Men"). Under imperial law, the decemvirate had jurisdiction in capital cases.
This type of decemvirate (also called the decemviri sacrorum) had religious functions and was the outcome of the claim of the plebs to equal share in the administration of the state religion (five decemviri were plebeians, five were patricians). They were first appointed in 367 BC in lieu of the patrician duumviri ("Two Men") who had had responsibility for the care and consultation of the Sibylline books and the celebration of the games of Apollo. Membership in this ecclesiastical college (collegium) was for life, and the college was increased to a quindecemvirate -- that is, a college of fifteen members -- and renamed accordingly (see quindecemviri sacris faciundis) in the last century of the Republic, possibly by the dictator Lucius Cornelius Sulla; the dictator Gaius Iulius Caesar added a sixteenth member, but this precedent was not followed...
This type of decemvirate was appointed from time to time to control the distribution of public lands (ager publicus).