The Captains Regent - Historical background

San Marino Constitution is not contained in a single coordinated text, but is distributed in various legislative texts. Constitutional provisions can be found in the earliest local statutes and have been gradually amended, supplemented or confirmed over the centuries, up to the important “Charter of Rights” promulgated on 8 July 1974 and recently revised by Law no. 36 of 26 February 2002. 

Therefore, San Marino institutional system has been created over the centuries, starting from the age of the Communes. and several institutions of such age, such as the Captains Regent, still exist.

The main institutions of the government of the Communes were the councils (also called parliaments or arenghi) in which citizens had to participate in large or small numbers. These assemblies took the most important political decisions for the communities and elected the magistrates of the Commune, i.e. the officials, usually those considered most learned and suitable, in charge of the city's political organisation. These magistrates, who could be several in number depending on the tasks they were entrusted with, were often called consuls, held office for a limited period of time (usually one year) and their work was supervised by other citizens, generally the eldest or most influential in the community, who in turn gathered in a council.

The institutions of the Communes spread rapidly throughout central and northern Italy, i.e. in the European region with the earliest and most intense resurgence of urban life. The institution of the Captains Regent of the Republic of San Marino certainly originated from the age of the Communes. Two San Marino Captains Regent (Filippo da Sterpeto and Oddone di Scarito) were first mentioned in a document dated 12 December 1243, although at the time they were not yet called Captains Regent, but Consules, i.e. consuls. Most probably, what was happening in the immediate surroundings stimulated political reforms also in San Marino. 

Indeed, Rimini became a Commune at the beginning of the 12th century and enjoyed increasing autonomy from 1157 onwards. Here, a building called “Palazzo dell'Arengo” (which still exists) was built in the early 1200s, attesting on the one hand to the organisational efficiency and financial possibilities attained by the Commune, and on the other hand to the desire to remove the parliamentary meetings, previously held in the cathedral, from the influence of the clerical authorities. 

Also Cesena certainly became a Commune in the last decades of the 12th century, as did Imola, which had consuls from 1140 onwards, and Faenza, where there are traces of the consuls from 1141.

Therefore, San Marino probably became a Commune a few decades later than the neighbouring cities; in any case, in the second half of the 13th century, it was certainly governed by a Commune-type government, since even in documents dating back to 1253 and 1254, other Consules at its head are mentioned. This government was not yet fully autonomous, because it had to operate in cooperation with and under the control of the ecclesiastical authority, i.e. the bishop.

However, at the end of the century, precisely within the first San Marino statutes dating back to 1295-1302 of which we have a trace, it was decided to replace the two consuls with a Captain and a Defender, i.e. to change the name and perhaps also the functions of the two main representatives of the Commune. 

Such a change probably depended on what was happening in San Marino’s surrounding areas, where the consuls were replaced almost everywhere by a Podestà (chief magistrate), later joined by a Capitano del Popolo (People’s Captain); however, this is only a hypothesis on which historians not always agree. However, it is certain that the name Defender was used only until 1331, while in the following years the two supreme San Marino magistrates were both called Captains, or also Rectores (i.e. regents): hence the current name Captains Regent.

The Captains Regent were appointed within the Great and General Council. Throughout the centuries, various systems were adopted for their appointment. In the early days, they were elected by twelve council’s members; however, from 1483, their election generally depended on fate, since within the Council, some pairs of council’s members were chosen, who were considered suitable to hold this delicate office, and from among them, the pair of new Captains Regent was chosen by lot. Fate remained the basis for the appointment of these magistrates until 1945, when it was established by law that the Captains Regent had to be elected by direct vote of all Council’s members. This system is still in use.

Since the Statutes of the late 1200s, it was decided that the term of office of the Captains Regent was six months. Over the centuries, there have been very rare exceptions in which this mandate has been extended; however, in San Marino, the danger of leaving one or two individuals at the head of the State for too long has always been avoided, in order to avert the risk of creating a personal power capable of stifling the collegial power of the Council, because in the past, the Captains Regent had much more incisive political and administrative powers than they have today. Moreover, until a few decades ago, the State of San Marino did not have a developed bureaucracy, nor many political officials (i.e. today's Ministers) at its head. Therefore, the Captains Regent were called upon to perform many tasks; this is why, during their term of office, they held considerable power, which could even degenerate if it lasted too long, or in any case longer than the norm. 

Over the centuries, there have also been sporadic cases of Captains Regent who died during their six-month term of office; however, even in this case, those called upon to replace the deceased stayed in office only for the time remaining to complete the six months.

Again out of fear of concentrating too much power in the hands of a few for an excessively long period, from the first half of the 16th century, the Captains Regent, once their term of office had expired, could not be re-elected until after three years. This rule, to which a few very rare exceptions have been made in the course of time for contingent reasons, has been called the Prohibition Law.

In 1499, the so-called Regency Syndicate was also established. It is a sort of high court in which all San Marino citizens could and still can lodge their complaints against the Captains Regent for what they did or did not do, i.e., for what they may have done beyond their powers in violation of the statutory rules, or what they may have failed to do contrary to their duties.

Today, the Captains Regent are members of political parties, therefore they are generally elected on the basis of their membership of the parties forming the ruling coalition. On the contrary, in the past, as there were no political parties (which in San Marino began to be represented in the Council only after 1906), the Captains Regent were appointed according to the class to which they belonged. 

In the Statutes of the 17th century, it was decided that the Council should be composed of 40 members from the Land of San Marino (i.e. living in the City or in Borgo), and 20 from the countryside, i.e. from the other San Marino areas. These were the two classes from which the Council emerged. 

From the 17th century onwards, it became customary to divide the Council into three classes of 20 members each: the noble class, composed of members of the richest, most learned and influential families of San Marino, the class of landed people, i.e. the inhabitants of the City and Borgo, who were not noble, and the class of countrymen, i.e. the inhabitants of San Marino countryside. 

The Captains Regent were elected on the basis of their membership of one or the three classes, but one of them always belonged to the noble class, since belonging to this class was a guarantee of meeting the necessary requirements, especially cultural ones, to govern the Republic with competence. The noble Captain Regent was ultimately the one who held the most power over the small State for six months.

Since 1352, the Captains Regent receive a remuneration for their six-month term of office. Since 1767, each Captain Regent is entitled to the title of Excellency.