A comitium civitatis (Latin: assembly of the citizenry) is the legislative and elective body of the local units which constitute the Roman Republic. It is a popular assembly. All adult citizens (over the age of 17) are allowed to attend and enjoy equal active and passive voting rights.The Comitium Civitatis passes local laws, decides on important infrastructural local matters, elects all local magistrates, defines their budgets and decides about local taxation.
It convenes every six weeks. Assembly places are usually the largest buildings or open fields of a town.
While the assemblies of the First Roman Republic - comitia centuriata, comitia populi tributa, concilia plebis - developed over a long period of time and reflected different social categories and political contexts, the Comitium Civitatis resulted directly from the popular assemblies of the Roman Revolution of the 260s. They took place in many different cities across the Empire, and as a constitution for the Second Roman Republic emerged, the Comitia Civitatum were codified as the prescribed legislative body of the constituent elements of the republic and the only body legitimised to send representatives to the Conventum Romanum.
The universality of general assemblies was one of the key factors for the success of the Roman Revolution. Apart from Roman traditions, they also drew on historical models like the "ekklesiai" of the Greek and Hellenised poleis and similar assemblies in the Phoenician/Punic, the Illyrian and the Gothic (Thing) traditions. Adult men, regardless of wealth, rank or status, gathering in public places and taking over control from the malfunctioning institutions of the Principate - this was a form of political organisation to which many different groups in the Roman Empire could relate.
After the initial euphoria of the revolution, participation in the Comitia dwindled in the 4th century and sank back to the relatively low levels that had been normal in classical Greek ekklesiai or Roman concilia plebis, except for very important matters.
But since every adult male enjoyed participation, speech and active and passive voting rights, the problem of managing enormous masses of participants soon returned especially in those cities which soon grew out of proportion again.
Two solutions were found for this problem:
- the introduction of preliminary "inscription" and
- a further sub-division into "comitia vicina".
The "inscriptio" meant that three market-days before the comitium, together with the invitation to the assembly and the agenda items set by the duoviri, citizens could sign their name once each
a) on the list of topics and
b) on the list of speakers.
They did not have to propose their own topic or speak themselves; instead, most people signed for one among different already present topics, and supported one among several speakers with their signature.
On the day of the comitium, those topics would be discussed which had found the most signatures of support, and those people would be allowed to speak who found the most signatures of support.
The sub-division into comitia vicina, on the other hand, meant that the territory of the civitas was divided by a law passed by the comitium into sub-units (usually city boroughs, vici and villae of Societates Liberorum). Each sub-unit would assemble among itself, presided by an honorary magistrate elected by the Comitium Civitatis in the previous assembly and who must not live in the vicus itself, discuss what it considered most important and how its representatives should vote, and then elect representatives for the Comitium Civitatis, in correspondence with the number of people present at the Comitium Vicinum (e.g. if there were 3,000 people at the Comitium Vicinum, 30 representatives were sent to the Comitium Civitatis, while if there were only 400 present, then only 4 representatives would be sent.) Among the smaller number of representatives, the Comitium Civitatis was able to function like a parliament.
The two solutions were almost never combined, and opinions as to which solution was best were debated very controversially throughout the Second Republic. The comitia vicina were supported by the factio of the "sociales", who represented mostly the peasants and other members of the rural Societates Liberorum, who were otherwise usually under-represented in a full Comitium Civitatis (because attendance was lower among rural people who had to travel farther than townspeople).The inscriptio was favoured by the factio of the "collegiales", who represented the urban guilds.
The Comitium Civitatis was one of the few constitutional elements left unchanged in the process of transition from the Second to the Third Roman Republic.
Beginning in the 1810s, inscription became web-based. In 1857, the civitas of Cyrene was the first one to hold a completely virtual on-line comitium. Web-based on-line comitia have become widespread since, although the majority of comitia republic-wide are still actual assemblies.