consul, title of the two chief magistrates of ancient Rome. The institution is supposed to have arisen with the expulsion of the kings, traditionally in 510 B.C., and it was well established by the early 4th cent. B.C. The consuls led the troops, controlled the treasury, and were supreme in the government. At first only patricians were eligible, but in 367 B.C. the Licinian law opened the office to plebeians. Before becoming consul a man generally had to have experience as quaestor, aedile, and praetor, and the minimum age for a consul was normally set at 40 or 45. Ex-consuls became provincial governors as proconsuls. The year was identified by the names of the two consuls in office during that time. Under the empire the title of consul was continued, but only as a title of honor, sometimes conferred on infants or small boys.
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