Consul (abbrev. cos.; Latin plural consules) was the title of one of the two chief magistrates of the Roman Republic, and subsequently also an important title under the Roman Empire. The title was used in other European city states through antiquity and the Middle Ages, then revived in modern states, notably in the First French Republic. The related adjective is consular, from the Latin consularis.
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This usage contrasts with modern terminology, where a consul is a type of diplomat.
A consul held the highest elected political office of the Roman Republic (509 to 27 BC), and ancient Romans considered the consulship the highest level of the cursus honorum (an ascending sequence of public offices to which politicians aspired). Consuls were elected to office and held power for one year. There were always two consuls in power at any time.
Other uses in antiquity
It was not uncommon for an organization under Roman private law to copy the terminology of state and city institutions for its own statutory agents. The founding statute, or contract, of such an organisation was called lex, 'law'. The people elected each year were patricians, members of the upper class.
While many cities (as in Gaul) had a double-headed chief magistracy, often another title was used, such as Duumvir or native styles such as Meddix, but consul was used in some.
Medieval city states, communes and municipalities
Throughout most of southern France, a consul (French: consul or consule) was an office equivalent to the échevins of the north and roughly similar with English aldermen. The most prominent were those of Bordeaux and Toulouse, which came to be known as jurats and capitouls, respectively. The capitouls of Toulouse were granted transmittable nobility. In many other smaller towns the first consul, was the equivalent of a mayor today, assisted by a variable number of secondary consuls and jurats. His main task was to levy and collect tax.
The city-state of Genoa, unlike ancient Rome, bestowed the title of consul on various state officials, not necessarily restricted to the highest. Among these were Genoese officials stationed in various Mediterranean ports, whose role included helping Genoese merchants and sailors in difficulties with the local authorities. This institution, with its name, was later emulated by other powers and is reflected in the modern usage of the word (see Consul (representative)).
French Republic 1799–1804
After Napoleon Bonaparte staged a coup against the Directory government in November 1799, the French Republic adopted a constitution which conferred executive powers upon three consuls, elected for a period of ten years. In reality, the first consul, Bonaparte, dominated his two colleagues and held supreme power, soon making himself consul for life (1802) and eventually, in 1804, emperor.
The office was held by:
Bolognese Republic, 1796
The short-lived Bolognese Republic, proclaimed in 1796 as a French client republic in the Central Italian city of Bologna, had a government consisting of nine consuls and its head of state was the Presidente del Magistrato, i.e., chief magistrate, a presiding office held for four months by one of the consuls. Bologna already had consuls at some parts of its Medieval history.
Roman Republic, 1798–1800
The French-sponsored Roman Republic (15 February 1798 – 23 June 1800) was headed by multiple consuls:
- Francesco Riganti, Carlo Luigi Costantini, Duke Bonelli-Crescenzi, Antonio Bassi, Gioacchino Pessuti, Angelo Stampa, Domenico Maggi, provisional consuls (15 February – 20 March 1798)
- Liborio Angelucci, Giacomo De Mattheis, Panazzi, Reppi, Ennio Quirino Visconti, consuls (20 March – September 1798)
- Brigi, Calisti, Francesco Pierelli, Giuseppe Rey, Federico Maria Domenico Michele, Zaccaleoni, consuls (September – 24 July 1799)
Consular rule was interrupted by the Neapolitan occupation (27 November – 12 December 1798), which installed a Provisional Government:
- Prince Giambattista Borghese, Prince Paolo-Maria Aldobrandini, Prince Gibrielli, Marchese Camillo Massimo, Giovanni Ricci (29 November 1798 - 12 December 1798)
Rome was occupied by France (11 July – 28 September 1799) and again by Naples (30 September 1799 – 23 June 1800), bringing an end to the Roman Republic.
Revolutionary Greece, 1821
Among the many petty local republics that were formed during the first year of the Greek Revolution, prior to the creation of a unified Provisional Government at the First National Assembly at Epidaurus, were:
- The Consulate of Argos (from 26 May 1821, under the Senate of the Peloponnese) had a single head of state, styled consul, 28 March 1821 – 26 May 1821: Stamatellos Antonopoulos
- The Consulate of East Greece (Livadeia) (from 15 November 1821, under the Areopagus of East Greece) was headed 1 April 1821 – 15 November 1821 by three consuls: Lambros Nakos, Ioannis Logothetis & Ioannis Filon
Note: in Greek, the term for "consul" is "hypatos" (ὕπατος), which translates as "supreme one", and hence does not necessarily imply a joint office.
- 12 October 1813 – 12 February 1814, José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia y Velasco
- 12 February 1814 – 12 June 1814, Fulgencio Yegros y Franco de Torres
- 12 June 1814 – 3 October 1814, José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia y Velasco; he stayed on as "supreme dictator" 3 October 1814 – 20 September 1840 (from 6 June 1816 styled "perpetual supreme dictator")
After a few presidents of the Provisional Junta, there were again consuls of the republic, 14 March 1841 – 13 March 1844 (ruling jointly, but occasionally styled "first consul", "second consul"): Carlos Antonio López Ynsfrán (b. 1792 – d. 1862) + Mariano Roque Alonzo Romero (d. 1853) (the lasts of the aforementioned juntistas, Commandant-General of the Army) Thereafter all republican rulers were styled "president".
Modern uses of the term
In modern terminology, a consul is a type of diplomat. The American Heritage Dictionary defines consul as "an official appointed by a government to reside in a foreign country and represent its interests there."
In most governments, the consul is the head of the consular section of an embassy, and is responsible for all consular services such as immigrant and non-immigrant visas, passports, and citizen services for expatriates living or traveling in the host country.
A less common modern usage is when the consul of one country takes a governing role in the host country.
Differently named, but same function
- Captain Regent (similar modern position in San Marino's government)
- Consularis (Roman gubernatorial style)
Modern UN System
Sources and references
- WorldStatesmen.org, see each present country