Senate (Lat. senatus, an assembly of elders), the deliberative assembly of the Roman people. It was composed originally of 100 members, each representing one of the decurioe into which the populus Romanus, or body of the Roman citizens, when it comprehended but a single tribe, the Ramnenses, was divided. When the Sabines or Titienses were incorporated with the Ramnenses as a second tribe, an equal number of senators was added; and on the admission of the third tribe, the Luceres or Lucerenses, in the reign of Tarquinius Priscus (according to the opinion of recent critics), the number was increased to 300. The new senators were distinguished from those of the two earlier tribes (who were called patres majorum gentium) by the title of patres minorum gentium. The number was diminished considerably during the reign of Tarquin the Proud, but at the formation of the republic was recruited to the established standard from the principal plebeians of the equestrian order, who were thence called conscripti, and it was thereafter customary to address the whole senate as patres conscripti, that is, patres et conscripti. No permanent change seems to have been made in the number of the senators until the time of Sulla, when it wag increased to about 600 by the addition of about 300 equites.
Julius Caesar created several hundred new senators, and during the second triumvirate the number exceeded 1,000. Augustus reduced it to 600. The senators held office for life, and were originally men of advanced age; but under Augustus they were admitted in their 25th year. They were elected during the kingly period by the decurioe, under the republic by the consuls and consular tribunes, and after the establishment of the censorship by the censors exclusively. The persons eligible to fill vacancies were those who had been quaestors or curule magistrates, and the latter held seats ex officio, and were entitled to speak but not to vote. The plebeians as an order were never eligible, but after the quaestorship and curule magistracies were opened to them, they of course frequently attained to the senatorial dignity. Hence the senate became gradually the real representative of the people. No property qualification seems to have been required previous to the time of Augustus, who established a senatorial census, which was increased from 400,000 sesterces to 1,200,000; and any sen-ator falling short of this amount was obliged to withdraw from office.
Senators were forbidden to engage in mercantile pursuits, and no one was eligible to office whose parents were not of free birth; but from both these requirements there appear to have been frequent deviations. The senate met on the kalends, nones, and ides of each month during the republic, and under Augustus on the kalends and ides only; but extraordinary meetings could be convoked on any day not a dies comitialis or a dies ater, by a variety of magistrates, who on such occasions exercised the privilege of presiding. At regular meetings under the empire one of the consuls, or the emperor if a consul, generally presided; and the number of senators constituting a quorum seems to have varied from about 70 to 400. The title of princeps senatus, which was originally associated with that of custos urbis, and conferred the power of convoking and presiding over the senate, became after the overthrow of the republic purely honorary, and was usually borne by the emperors. After the time of Julius Caesar the proceedings were regularly recorded by scribes appointed for the purpose.
The powers of the senate during the republic comprehended the general care of the public welfare, the superintendence of all matters of religion, the management of all affairs with foreign nations, and the disposition of the finances requisite for these purposes. Its enactments, called senatus consulta, which were passed by a majority of votes, under Augustus and his successors took the place of the leges enacted by the comitia tributa. Its authority was considerably impaired after the institution of the tribunes of the people, and in the latter part of the republic it frequently became merely an instrument in the hands of ambitious generals. The establishment of the empire reduced it to a condition of purely subordinate power, whose functions and very existence were dependent on the will of the emperor; but as a high Court of justice it still possessed a considerable degree of importance. A second senate was established by Constantine at Byzantium, upon which Julian conferred powers similar to those of the Roman senate.
The latter body continued in existence until the Gothic conquest of Italy, and seems to have been the last depository of what remained of the old national spirit. - The affairs of the Italian cities and provincial towns of the Roman empire were administered by bodies called senates, whose functions were generally civic; and the term is frequently employed in modern times to designate the upper house of the legislature in republican or limited monarchical governments. The senate of the United States is composed of two members for each state of the Union, who are elected by the legislatures of the states and hold office for six years. In addition to its legislative functions, it has the power of ratifying foreign treaties and nominations to office made by the president, and is the high court of impeachment for public functionaries. Each state of the Union has a legislative chamber which exercises functions of a similar nature, though differing in degree. - The French senate, called the sénat conservateur, came into existence after the revolution of the 18th Brumaire (1799), and was originally composed of 80 members of at least 40 years of age.
Its chief functions were to prevent violations of the constitution, to introduce changes into that instrument, and to elect the consuls, tribunes, and members of the legislature from lists prepared by the departments. It soon became a tool in the hands of the first consul, and on the establishment of the empire was reduced to the condition of a state council. It was replaced by the chamber of peers at the restoration of the Bourbons, but was revived by Napoleon III. in 1852. This senate was abolished by the revolution of Sept. 4, 1870. In the present French republic, as constituted by the organic laws of Feb. 25, 1875, the senate is to consist of 300 members, 225 elected by the departments, and 75 appointed for life by the national assembly. - The Hanseatic towns are governed by senates, and similar bodies, having legislative functions of various degrees of importance, are recognized by the constitutions of Belgium, Denmark, Italy, and some other European governments. The Russian senate is the supreme judicial tribunal of the empire, and its decrees, when not vetoed by the emperor, have the force of law.