In ancient Rome, any of various military and civil officials. Military tribunes were originally infantry commanders. In the early republic there were six to a legion; some were appointed by consuls or military commanders, others elected by the people. During the Roman empire (from 27 BC), the emperor nominated military tribunes, the office of which was considered preliminary to a senatorial or equestrian career (see eques). Of the civil tribunes, the most important were the tribunes of the plebs (see plebeian), who were elected in the plebeian assembly. By 450 BC there were 10 plebeian tribunes, who were elected annually with the right to intervene in cases of unjust acts of consuls or magistrates by saying “Veto” (meaning “I forbid it”). The office became powerful; its powers were curtailed by Sulla but restored by Pompey. Under the empire the powers of the plebeian tribunes passed to the emperor.
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Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.