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As quoted from this wikipedia article, it states:

If a consul died during his term (not uncommon when consuls were in the forefront of battle) or was removed from office, another would be elected by the Comitia Centuriata to serve the remainder of the term as consul suffectus, or suffect consul.

In the book 'Augustan Rome 44 BC to AD 14: The Restoration of the Republic and the Establishment of the Empire (The Edinburgh History of Ancient Rome)' by J. S. Richardson - he quotes Suetonius as saying:

The reason he held the consulship now was, so Suetonius tells us, for the introduction into public life of Gaius Caesar, and, given the celebrations that attended this, this is no doubt correct; but it is worth noting that the same year also saw the reintroduction of the election of suffect consuls taking office after the elected consuls stood down, a practice that had last been used in 12 BC, The year that Agrippa died.

He also says:

From now until the end of Augustus' reign the election of suffect consuls was to be the norm, with exceptions only in 3 BC and AD 14.

This would suggest that quite often during the Principate consuls either died, stood down or were removed from office.

Why is it that there were so many suffect consuls during the Principate?

You can find a list of Roman consuls here.

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Actually Augustus started the practice of appointing consuls multiple times a year so he could show favor to more people. –  Jeroen K Jan 11 '14 at 13:01
    
If you have any sources to back up your claims, that would make a good answer. Would he have appointed all of the suffect consuls? –  user2948 Jan 11 '14 at 15:14
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Perhaps here: chrestomathy.cofc.edu/documents/vol9/SWilliams.pdf Look at pp. 247-248. –  Felix Goldberg Jan 11 '14 at 15:25
    
Yeah, page 247 explains that there were elections held every 6 months, instead of the usual year. If you look at AD 85, however, you can see that there were 11 suffect consuls. –  user2948 Jan 11 '14 at 15:49
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Sure, the dynamic that @JeroenK indicated developed further - since the suffect consulship was a nearly-empty honour and the regular consulship's prestige was found to survive intact the shortening from 12 to 6 months, emperors realized they could appoint new suffect consuls even every month, thus being able to dole out as many empty honours as necessary. I'm not sure there is a detailed study of this process or that we even have sufficient data for such study, but the general tenor seems to be quite clear. –  Felix Goldberg Jan 11 '14 at 17:53

1 Answer 1

The change in number and frequency of the suffect consuls just reflects the changing of the job of consul with the Principate.

Under the Republic, beyond ennobling your family, allowing you to run Rome for a year, and getting the year named for you, consulship was the bridge to a plum job administering a province where you could collect money and contacts that would allow you to pay off the amount you spent getting to the consulship in the first place, and set up for the next generation. If you left the consulship before the job, you would miss that payoff.

When Augustus was in charge, he had no interest in ambitious senators using armies in the provinces to springboard themselves to power...like he had. For a while, he was always consul himself, which caused grumbling because this locked out the aristocrats. The need then was to reward aristocrats for toeing the line, and find candidates for the administrative jobs in the provinces. The multiple suffect consuls allowed a larger pool of candidates for these jobs to be created and allowed more rewards for the nobles to strive for and boost their families status.

So the main reason for the shift was that the nature of the consul's job had changed from Republic to Empire.

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