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From Hutton Webster's, Early European History (1917); edited for this on-line publication, by ELLOPOS
IV. THE RISE OF ROME TO 264 B.C.
» Contents of this ChapterPage 19
POWERS EXERCISED BY THE SENATE
The Senate furnished an admirable school for debate. Any senator could speak as long and as often as he chose. The opportunities for discussion were numerous, for all weighty matters came before this august assemblage. It managed finances and public works. It looked after the state religion. It declared and conducted war, received ambassadors from foreign countries, made alliances, and administered conquered territories. The Senate formed the real governing body of the republic.
"AN ASSEMBLY OF KINGS"
The Senate proved not unworthy of its high position. For two centuries, while Rome was winning dominion over Italy and the Mediterranean, that body held the wisest and noblest Romans of the time. To these men office meant a public trust—an opportunity to serve their country with distinction and honor. The Senate, in its best days, was a splendid example of the foresight, energy, and wisdom of republican Rome. An admiring foreigner called it "an assembly of kings." 
 The four letters inscribed on Roman military standards indicate the important place held by the Senate. They are S. P. Q. R., standing for Senatus Populusque Romanus, "The Senate and the People of Rome."
Cf. The Ancient Greece * The Ancient Rome
Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) * Western Medieval Europe * Renaissance in Italy