In Róma Æterna, the second volume of Ørberg's Lingua Latína per sé illustráta, in a chapter adapted from Eutropius I.9–III.6, on page 181 we find the following sentences:

Verum dignitás tribúnórum mílitárium nón diú persevérávit. Nam post aliquantum núllós placuit fierí, et quadriennium in urbe ita flúxit ut potestátés ibi majórés nón essent.

When I first read this passage, I got stuck, because I kept thinking, majórés quam quid? Now I'm thinking it's just a general reference to high-ranking government officials, or to the top political positions. Is that right? For four years there was essentially anarchy, with nobody filling the offices of heads of state?

If I'm wrong, how ought I to understand potestátés majórés?


As a first note, this particular phrase is taken with any emendations from Historiae Romanae Breviarum II.3.

Here is John Selby Watson's (1886) translation of the same passage:

But the office of military tribunes did not last long; for, after a short time, it was enacted that no more should be created; and four years passed in the state in such a manner that none of the superior magistrates were appointed.

A more literal translation might be, "...in such a manner that there were no higher offices."

The L&S entry for potestas lists, under II.B., that it can mean "magisterial power, authority, office, magistracy" and, by transference, "a person in office, a public officer, magistrate."

As for majores, it is frequently used by itself to indicate "older, greater" in much the same way English uses "elder, superior." I was not able to locate other references to potestates majores, so it probably is not a formulaic reference to a certain kind of office. Rather, it just indicates "higher offices."

  • 1
    OMG it was staring me right in the face—we say it in English too: higher office. – Joel Derfner Aug 25 '16 at 15:43

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