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ARISTOCRACY,                                        21
law, although that had been questioned.*' (Gaius, i., 4.) A
power was exercised by the senate also of giving interpreta-
tions of the laws by their decrees. Thus a senatus consulting
!\vas made, on motion, as we should say, of Cicero, determin-
ing certain actions to be violations of the Calpurnian law con-
cerning ambitus passed in 687 U. C,=67 B. C. It would seem
that the influence of the senate on legislation extended and
widened in the latter years of the republic, and was still* more
important in the early empire, as the legislative capacity of
the people died out.
(5.) The senate, without having any proper jurisdiction,
in some cases aided the magistrates in administering justice,
especially in some public crimes, such as those of poisoning and
murder, when, on account of their epidemic nature, they dis-
turbed the quiet of Italy. But this may be reduced, perhaps,
to the head of extraordinary legislation made in some crisis,
calling for summary measures for the public safety. Such
was the resolution, the senatus consultant nltimum, as it has
been named, by which the consuls were called upon to sec that
the republic received no detriment, or that the impcrium and
the majesty of the Roman people should be guarded. This
decree, which gave the consuls dictatorial powers, had no
formal justification to urge for itself, and the consuls, in exer-
cising the* power of life and death without a judicial trial in
the case of citizens on the strength of this decree, would act
illegally ; but its obvious plea was extreme necessity.
We have elsewhere characterized the Roman senate as the
organ first of an aristocracy composed of patrjcians who
monopolized offices constitutionally, and then of an tipper
class approaching to an oligarchy, yet not an oligarchy in the
worst .sense. No oligarchy, if that name best describes the
ruling order in the last ages of the republic, ever had so able
an administrative council. When we consider what a number
of men were there assembled, who, as praetors -or consuls,
had become familiar with the laws of their country, b$d
served in foreign campaigns at the head of great armlet and
were familiar with the military and financial stre&f tfe of