The right of intercession concerning all authorities, combined with the right to administrative penalties for criminal charges and broad legislative initiative, gave the Tribune of the Plebs extraordinary political power. Initially, they used force for the state welfare, and in the end, served as a dangerous tool in the hands of demagogues and despots.


The rights of the Tribune of the Plebs have evolved over the centuries in two phases, before and after the merger of the estates. In the first phase, the tribunes are estate representatives of the plebs, in the second – the magistrates of the entire Roman people. The last post was never considered to be a normal magistracy in the strict sense and was not related to the rest of the magistracy system.

The Tribune of the Plebs were not subject to consuls, inviolable for the sanctity of their dignity, had the right to stop senate decisions, court sentences and orders of consuls with their veto. If this prohibition was not adopted, then they could stop the collection of taxes and the recruitment of troops.

Only the plebeians could be the people’s tribunes, which were elected first in the assembly for the curiae, and then in the plebeians’ meetings in the tribes. The plebeian estate was called Concilium, and the number of tribunes was initially two, as the number of consuls; subsequently, there were five, and then ten.

The tribunes were not magistrates of the Roman people, but only representatives of the plebs, as a particular estate. The meetings on the curiae were not the assemblies of the entire Roman people, but only the estates of the plebs, like the tribes’ sessions, in which the tribunes were then elected. The plebeian estates were convened in other cases, and the admitted decisions were obligatory only for the plebeians but were not general state laws.

Thus, a tribunate was established, which received a predominant influence on the development of Roman public life. According to some scholars, the Tribune of the Plebs’ dignity arose from the dignity of former tribal elders.

According to others, the dignity was taken from the post of military tribunes of the highest degree. Nevertheless, the power of the people’s tribunes from the very establishment of this dignity was significant, and the tribunes using the immunity gradually increased their strength in the state to enormous proportions.

The immunity, which was assigned to the rank of tribunes for protection from the arbitrariness of the Senate and consuls, began to encourage them to act offensively. Anyone who insulted the tribune by any violence was subjected to a divine curse, lost the protection of laws, and was doomed to death, and his property was confiscated. The tribunes captured more and more rights under the protection of such a privilege.

Thus, the power of the tribunes consisted only of protecting individuals of the plebeian class from the magistrates’ oppression. However, they soon acquired the right to judge every citizen and impose a fine, including consuls, at the end of their term. Moreover, the tribunes obtained the right to cease administrative cases and the course of the proceedings with their protest.

The Tribune of the Plebs could also release men called up for military service, to prohibit the arrest of the defendant, or debtor, and to release the prisoner from jail. It should be borne in mind that their power was limited to the city of Rome.