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Transcript
HANDOUT 3
The Cursus Honorum
The Roman republic was led by two Consuls who were joint heads of the Roman state and
commanders-in-chief of the army. They were elected only for one year and thereafter could not
be re-elected again for 10 years, in order to prevent any form of tyranny. Until 367 BC plebeians
were barred from the office of consul. The first plebeian consul followed immediately after the
change in 367 BC.
The main role of consuls was to prepare and propose new laws. Though this required cooperation between the two consuls, as either had the power to veto any proposals by the other.
In times of crisis, a Dictator could be appointed. His time in office could not be longer than six
months. But for his time in office he possessed the absolute power of a king.
The office of dictator was a very ancient office, having originated from times when one military
commander might be appointed over the armies of several Latin cities. This rank then had been
referred to as 'master-of-infantry'. In republican days the title survived in form of the dictator's
second in command who was 'master-of-cavalry'.
The Censor (of which there were two) was in his main duty the registrar of Rome. But he also
oversaw the finances, including taxation, inspected the quality of public works and - more
controversially - oversaw public morality. In his role as registrar of Rome, he and his staff
compiled lists of all Roman citizens, recording their name, age, ancestry, families, wealth as well
as which one of the three tribes of Rome they belonged to.
If the initial purpose of the census, the counting of the people, was to allow for the military
strength of Rome to be assessed, then it was naturally the censor, during the time of conscription,
were in charge of assigning men, according to their status, to the various types of infantry or
cavalry. In their role of inspectors of public works, they oversaw the maintenance of the
temples, roads, water systems.
Their powers of moral guardians were sweeping ones. Not only were they charged to discourage
unmarried couples living together and to punish anyone who did not properly maintain his land,
but they even possessed the power to bar a senator from the senate.
Simply for not seeing to his lands properly a citizen could be reduced to the lowest rank of
citizenship.Equestrians too would be punished,if they were found to have neglected their horse,
provided to them by public funds. Generally this powerful office was only ever granted to those
who had already ascended the 'ladder of honour' from quaestor to consul and had thereby proved
their worth. From the second century BC onwards, elections for this office were held every five
years, coinciding with the census of the people. Despite the five yearly elections, a censor would
only hold office for eighteen months, meaning that for the remaining three and a half years there
would be no censors in place. Although his rulings would stay in place until the next election.
The Praetor was in charge of the judiciary of Rome. He was in effect the chief law officer. He
acted as the chief judge, apart from the consuls who possessed higher authority, should they
choose to use it. He also acted as a deputy to the consuls, in particular regarding the
administration of the provinces. And it is therefore that provincial governors were either drawn
from former consuls or from former Praetors.
The Aedile was the supervisor of public works. He oversaw the public works, temples and
markets. (Therefore there must have been some cooperation with the censors who had similar or
related duties.) Also he oversaw the organization of festivals and games, which made this a very
sought after office for a career minded politician of the late republic, as it was a good means of
gaining popularity by staging spectacles.
In 367 BC BC the refusal of the plebeian aediles on one occasion to stage circus games for the
length the senate desired, led to the senate simply creating two new patrician aediles, the socalled curule aediles (aediles curules) who then obliged in staging the games for the appropriate
length of time. The curule aediles were hence of senior authority. But within twelve months the
differences were settled and also plebeians were allowed into the curule aedileship.
The Quaestor was in charge of the military and civic treasury of Rome as well as keeping
records. (Therefore there must have been some cooperation with the censors who had similar or
related duties.) Further the quaestors also acted as aides to the consuls. This office was the
lowest of the magistracies, the beginning of the 'ladder of honour' which would lead to the office
of consul. The minimum age at which one could stand for this office was 25, allowing time for
service in the legion.