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Constitution of the Roman Empire

The Constitution of the Roman Empire was an unwritten set of guidelines and principles passed down mainly through precedent. After the fall of the Roman Republic, the constitutional balance of power shifted from the Roman Senate to the Roman Emperor. Beginning with the first emperor, Augustus, the emperor and the senate were theoretically two co-equal branches of government. In practice, however, the actual authority of the imperial Senate was negligible, as the emperor held the true power of the state. During the reign of the second emperor, Tiberius, many of the powers that had been held by the Roman assemblies were transferred to the Senate.

The powers of an emperor existed by virtue of his legal standing. The two most significant components to an emperor's power were the "tribunician powers" Latin: tribunicia potestas and the proconsular imperium, or the power to command. The tribunician powers gave the emperor authority over Rome itself and the civil government, while the proconsular powers gave him authority over the provinces and the army. While these distinctions were clearly defined during the early empire, eventually they were lost, and the emperor's powers became less constitutional and more monarchical. The traditional magistracies that survived the fall of the republic were the Consulship, Praetorship, Plebeian Tribunate, Aedileship, Quaestorship, and Military Tribunate. Any individual of the senatorial class could run for one of these offices. If an individual was not of the senatorial class, he could run for one of these offices if he was allowed to run by the emperor, or otherwise, he could be appointed to one of these offices by the emperor.

The general who won the last civil war of the Roman Republic, Gaius Octavian, became the master of the state. In the years after 30 BC, Octavian set out to reform the Roman constitution. The ultimate consequence of these reforms was the abolition of the republic and the founding of the Roman Empire. When Octavian deposed his fellow triumvir, Mark Antony, in 32 BC, he resigned his position as triumvir, but was probably vested with powers similar to those that he had given up. Octavian wanted to solidify his status as master of the state, but avoid the assassination.