A Consul was the highest elected office of the Roman Republic and some other city states.
During the Roman Republic, the consuls were the highest civil and military magistrates, serving as the heads of government for the Republic. New consuls were elected every year. The idea here being that a consul could do little damage in a year and if he proved a poor leader he could easily be replaced when his term was up.
There were two consuls and they ruled together. However, after the establishment of the Roman Empire, the consuls were merely a figurative representative of Rome's republican heritage and held very little power and authority, with the emperor acting as the supreme leader.
Originally, consuls were called praetors ("leader"), referring to their duties as the chief military commanders however in 305 BC the name of the office was changed to consul (from the Latin, consulere or to take counsel). Consuls had extensive powers in peacetime and in wartime often held the highest military command. Additional religious duties included certain rights which, as a sign of their formal importance, could only be carried out by the highest state officials. Consuls also read auguries, an essential step before leading armies into the field.
Two consuls were elected each year, serving together, each with veto power over the other's actions, a normal principle for magistracies. It is thought that originally only patricians were eligible for the consulship. In 376 BCE plebeians were also allowed to stand for election and the first plebeian consul, Lucius Sextius was elected the following year.
They were elected by the Comitia Centuriata, which had an aristocratic bias in its voting structure which only increased over the years from its foundation.
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.
The Napoleonic Roman Republic (1798 – 1800) was also headed by multiple consuls.
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.
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