Equestrian order: Wikis

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A Roman cavalry officer of the mid-Republic, as depicted in a copy of a bas-relief found in the Forum in Rome. It portrays the legend of Mettius Curtius, a Sabine raider who, early the reign of Romulus (ca. 750 BC), is reputed to have evaded capture by the Romans by riding his horse into a marsh that once covered part of the site of the Forum. The swamp was supposedly named the Lacus Curtius ("lake of Curtius") after him.[1] But the image probably portrays the equipment of a Roman knight at the time it was made, ca. 150 BC. The knight wears a composite bronze cuirass, Attic-style helmet with horsehair plume, pteruges, and mantle. He carries a spear and small round shield. Original in Musei Capitolini, Rome

The Roman equestrian order (Latin: ordo equester) constituted the lower of the two aristocratic classes of ancient Rome, ranking below the patricians (patricii), an hereditary caste that monopolised political power during the regal era (to 501 BC) and during the early Republic (to 338 BC). A member of the order was known as an eques (plural: equites). Equites in Latin has the general meaning of cavalry (from equus = "horse"), but in this context carries the specific meaning of "knight".

It appears that, during the Roman kingdom and the first century of the Republic, legionary cavalry was recruited exclusively from the ranks of the patricians, who were expected to provide 6 centuriae of cavalry (300 horses for each consular legion). At some stage in the regal era, patrician cavalry recruits were granted the right to a horse at public expense (equus publicus). Until ca. 400 BC, therefore, equites were synonymous with patricii. At some stage, however, most likely around 400 BC, 12 more centuriae of cavalry were established, probably because the patrician class was no longer numerous enough to fulfil the levy requirement. These 12 also admitted non-patricians (plebeians), most likely on the basis of a wealth requirement whose level is uncertain. They shared the patricians' right to an equus publicus. At this point, the order of equites was no longer limited to patricians, although the latter remained a distinct elite with special privileges and, probably, their own centuriae (the original 6 regal ones).

Around 300 BC the Samnite Wars obliged Rome to double the normal annual military levy from 2 to 4 legions, and thus also double the cavalry levy to 1,200 horse. It is probably at this time that the legionary cavalry started to recruit wealthier citizens from outside the 18 centuriae, as the latter were no longer numerous enough to fulfil the levy requirement. However, these new recruits (from the First Class of commoners in the centuriate organisation) were never admitted to the 18 centuriae of equo publico knights nor granted the latters' privileges. At this point, therefore, equites (knights) were no longer fully synonymous with equites (cavalry). Eventually, by the time of the Second Punic War (218-01 BC), all the members of the First Class of commoners were required to serve as cavalrymen. The presence of the equites in the Roman cavalry diminished steadily in the period 200-88 BC. This is because only equites could serve as the army's senior officers, and as the number of legions proliferated, there were ever fewer available for cavalry service. After ca. 88 BC, equites were no longer drafted into the legionary cavalry, although they remained technically liable to such service throughout the Principate era (to AD 284). Equites continued to supply the senior officers of the army throughout the Principate.

With the exception of the purely hereditary patricians, the equites were originally defined by a property threshold. Although the rank, once attained, was passed from father to son, members of the order who, at the regular quinquennial census, no longer met the property requirement were usually removed from the order's rolls by the Roman censors. In the late Republic, the property threshold stood at 50,000 denarii and was doubled to 100,000 by the emperor Augustus (sole rule 30 BC - AD 14).

In the later Republican period, Roman Senators and their offspring became an unofficial elite within the equestrian order. As senators' ability to engage in commerce was strictly limited by law, the bulk of non-agricultural activities were in the hands of non-senatorial equites, as well as holding large landed estates, who came to dominate mining, shipping and manufacturing industry, while the capital of senatorial families was largely invested in land. In particular, tax farming companies (publicani) were almost all in the hands of equites.

Under Augustus, the senatorial elite was given formal status (as the ordo senatorius) with a higher wealth threshold (250,000 denarii) and superior rank and privileges to ordinary equites. But the senatorial elite never acquired an existence completely separate from the equites, but remained a subset of the latter. A family's senatorial status depended not only on continuing to match the higher wealth qualification, but on their leading member holding a seat in the Senate (whose membership was limited to 600 by Augustus). Failing either condition, the family would revert to ordinary equites status. Although sons of senators frequently won seats in the Senate, this was by no means guaranteed. As numbers were capped, competition for the available seats (usually 20 annually) was intense and in practice subject to gaining the emperor's support.

During the Principate, the equites filled the senior administrative and military posts of the imperial government. There was a clear division between jobs reserved for senators (the most senior) and those reserved for non-senatorial equites. But the career structure of both groups was broadly similar: a period of junior administrative posts in Rome or Italy, followed by a period (normally a decade) of military service as a senior army officer, followed by senior administrative or military posts in the provinces. Overall, the equites formed a tiny elite of under 10,000 members who monopolised political, military and econmic power in an empire of ca. 60 million inhabitants. The rule of this oligarchy achieved a remarkable degree of political stability. In the first 250 years of the Principate (30 BC - AD 218), there was only a single episode of major internal strife: the Civil war of 68-9.

During the 3rd century AD, power shifted from the Italian aristocracy to a class of equites who had earnt their membership by distinguished military service, often rising from the ranks: career military officers from the provinces (especially the Balkan provinces) who displaced the Italian aristocrats in the top military posts, and under Diocletian (ruled 284-305) from the top civilian positions also. This effectively reduced the Italian aristocracy to an idle, but immensely wealthy group of large landowners. During the 4th century, the status of equites was debased to insignificance by excessive grants of the rank. At the same time the ranks of senators was swollen to over 4,000 by the establishment of a second senate in Constantinople and the doubling of the membership of both senates. The senatorial order of the 4th century was thus the equivalent of the equites of the Principate.

Contents

Regal era (753 to 509 BC)

According to Roman legend, Rome was founded by its first king, Romulus, in 753 BC. However, archaeological evidence suggests that Rome did not acquire the character of a unified city-state (as opposed to a number of separate hilltop settlements) until ca. 625 BC.[2] According to the Roman historian Livy, Romulus established a cavalry regiment of 300 men called the Celeres ("the Swift") to act as his personal escort, with each of the three original tribes of Rome (the Ramnes, Tities and Luceres) supplying a centuria (century; company of 100 men), as well as 1,000 infantry to the army.[3] This cavalry regiment was supposedly doubled in size to 600 men by King Tarquinius Priscus (conventional dates 616-578 BC).[4] P. Fraccaro's interpretation of the so-called Servian reforms to the army suggests that under king Servius Tullius (traditional reign dates 578-535 BC), the hoplite (armoured) infantry was also doubled in size to a single legion of 6,000, which, together with 2,400 velites (unarmoured infantry) and 600 cavalry adds up to a total regal levy of 9,000 iuniores (men of military age: aged 16 to 45).[5] Until recently, Fraccaro's thesis was not widely accepted because of the prevailing 1960s theory of Andreas Alföldi that Rome was an insignificant settlement until ca. 500 BC and could not therefore have supported such a powerful army (or cavalry) in the regal era.[6] But recent archaeology has established that Rome was one of the largest cities in the Mediterranean region in the period 625-500 BC. With an estimated 35,000 inhabitants, a military levy of 9,000 is plausible.[7] According to Livy, Servius Tullius also established a further 12 centuriae of cavalry.[8] But this is unlikely, as it would have increased the cavalry to 1,800 horse, implausibly large compared to 8,400 infantry (in peninsular Italy, cavalry typically constituted about 8% of a field army).[9]. This is confirmed by the fact that in the early Republic the cavalry fielded remained 600-strong (2 legions with 300 horse each).[10] Apparently, equites were originally provided with a sum of money by the state to purchase a horse for military service and for its fodder. This was known as an equus publicus.[11]

Mommsen argues that the royal cavalry was drawn exclusively from the ranks of the Patricians (patricii), the aristocracy of early Rome, which was purely hereditary.[12] Apart from the traditional association of the aristocracy with horsemanship, the evidence for this view is the fact that, during the Republic, 6 centuriae (voting constituencies) of equites in the comitia centuriata (electoral assembly) retained the names of the original 6 royal cavalry centuriae.[13]a[›] These are very likely "the centuriae of patrician nobles" in the comitia mentioned by the lexicologist Festus. If this view is correct, it implies that the cavalry was exclusively patrician (and therefore hereditary) in the regal period. (However, Cornell considers the evidence tenuous).[14]

Early Republic (509-338 BC)

It is widely accepted that the Roman monarchy was overthrown by a patrician coup, probably provoked by the Tarquin "dynasty"'s populist policies in favour of the plebeian class.b[›] Indeed, Alfoldi suggests that the coup was carried out by the Celeres themselves.[15] According to the Fraccaro interpretation, when the Roman monarchy was replaced by two annually elected praetores (later called consuls), the royal army was divided equally among them for campaigning purposes, which if true explains why a later Polybian legion's cavalry contingent was 300-strong.[16]

The 12 additional centuriae ascribed by Livy to Servius Tullius were probably formed around 400 BC. In 403 BC, according to Livy, in a crisis during the siege of Veii, the army urgently needed to deploy more cavalry, and "those who possessed equestrian rating but had not yet been assigned public horses" volunteered to pay for their horses out of their own pocket. By way of compensation, pay was introduced for cavalry service, as it had already been for the infantry (in 406 BC).[17] The persons referred to in this passage were probably members of the 12 new centuriae who were entitled to public horses, but temporarily waived that privilege. (Mommsen, however, argues that the passage refers to members of the First Class of commoners who were admitted to cavalry service in 403 BC as an emergency measure). It is widely agreed that the 12 new centuriae were open to non-patricians.[18] Thus, from this date if not earlier, equites were no longer synonymous with patricians.

The patricians, because they were a closed hereditary caste, steadily diminished in numbers over the centuries, as families died out. Around 450 BC, there are some 50 patrician gentes (clans) recorded, whereas just 14 remained at the time of Julius Caesar (dictator of Rome 48 -44 BC), whose own Iulii clan was patrician.[19] In contrast, the ranks of the equites, although also hereditary (in the male line), were open to new entrants who met the property requirement and who satisfied the Roman censors that they were suitable for membership.[20] As a consequence, equites soon greatly outnumbered patricians. The latter, however, retained political influence greatly out of proportion with their numbers. Until 172 BC, one of the two Consuls elected each year had to be a patrician.[21] Patricians also appear to have retained their original 6 centuriae, which gave them a third of the total voting-power of the equites, even though they constituted only a tiny minority of the order by 200 BC. Patricians also enjoyed official precedence, such as the right to speak first in senatorial debates, which were initiated by the princeps senatus ("Leader of the Senate"), a position reserved for patricians. In addition, patricians monopolised certain priesthoods and enjoyed enormous prestige.[22]

Later Republic (338-30 BC)

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Transformation of state and army (338-290)

The period following the end of the Latin War (340-338 BC) and of the Samnite Wars (343-290) saw the transformation of the Roman Republic from a powerful but beleaguered city-state into the hegemonic power of the Italian peninsula. This was accompanied by profound changes in its constitution and army. Internally, the critical development was the emergence of the Senate as the all-powerful organ of state. By 280 BC, the Senate had assumed total control of state taxation, expenditure, declarations of war, treaties, raising of legions, establishing colonies and religious affairs. In other words, of everything. From an ad hoc group of advisors appointed by the Consuls, the Senate had become a permanent body of ca. 300 life peers who, as mainly former executive officers, boasted enormous experience and influence.[23] At the same time, the political unification of the Latin nation under Roman rule after 338 BC gave Rome a populous regional base from which to launch its wars of aggression against its neighbours.[24]

The gruelling contest for Italian hegemony that Rome fought against the Samnite League led to the transformation of the Roman army from the Greek-style hoplite phalanx that it was in the early period to the Italian-style manipular army described by Polybius. It is believed that the Romans copied the manipular structure from their enemies the Samnites, learning through hard experience its greater flexibility and effectiveness in the mountain terrain of central Italy.[25] It is also from this period that every Roman army which took the field was regularly accompanied by at least as many troops supplied by the socii (Rome's Italian military confederates, often referred to as "Latin allies").[26] Each legion would be matched by a confederate ala (literally: "wing"), a formation that contained roughly the same number of infantry as a legion, but three times the number of horse (900).[27]

Legionary cavalry also probably underwent a transformation during this period, from the light, unarmoured horsemen of the early period to the Greek-style armoured cuirassiers described by Polybius.[28] As a result of the demands of the Samnite hostilities, a normal consular army was doubled in size to 2 legions, making 4 legions raised annually overall. Roman cavalry in the field thus increased to ca. 1,200 horse.[29] But this now represented only 25% of the army's total cavalry contingent, the rest being supplied by the Italian confederates. A legion's modest cavalry share of 7% of its 4,500 total strength was thus increased to 12% in a confederate army, comparable with (or higher than) any other forces in Italy except the Gauls and also similar to those in Greek armies such as Pyrrhus'.[30]

Political role

Despite an ostensibly democratic constitution based on the sovereignty of the people, the Roman Republic was in reality an oligarchy, in which political power was monopolised by the richest social echelon.[31] The equites (inc. the patricians) controlled 18 centuriae in the comitia centuriata, which passed Roman laws and annually elected the magistratus rei publicae (Roman magistrates), the executive officers of the state: consuls, praetors, aediles, quaestors. The 18 votes of the equites, added to the 80 centuriae allocated to the First Class of commoners (over 10,000 drachmae), gave the wealthiest echelon of society an absolute majority of the votes (98 out of 193), despite comprising a small minority of the total citizen body. (The lowest class, the proletarii, rated at under 400 drachmae, had just one vote, despite being the most numerous). As a result, the wealthiest echelon could ensure that the elected Magistrates were always their own members. In turn, this ensured that the Senate was dominated by the wealthy classes, as its members were almost entirely current and former Magistrates.[32]

Military officer role

A Roman senior officer (centre) of the time of Polybius, as depicted on a bas-relief from the Altar of Cn. Domitius Ahenobarbus, ca. 122 BC. Probably a tribunus militum (joint legionary commander), the officer wears a decorated bronze cuirass, pteruges, mantle, and Attic-style helmet with horsehair plume. In the Republican army, tribuni were elected, as were the overall army commanders, the Consuls, by the comitia centuriata (main people's assembly), but were drawn from the knightly class. Musee du Louvre, Paris
Roman coin issued during the Second Punic War (218-201 BC) showing (obverse) the god of war Mars and (reverse) probably the earliest image of a Roman cavalryman of the Republican era. Note helmet with horsehair plume, long spear (hasta), small round shield (parma equestris), flowing mantle. Roman cavalry was levied from the equites, and from volunteers of the second property class, until the early 1st century BC. Bronze quincunx from Larinum mint

In the "Polybian" army of the mid-republic (338 - 88 BC), equites held the exclusive right to serve as senior officers of the army.[33] These were the 6 tribuni militum in each legion who were elected by the comitia at the start of each campaigning season and took turns to command the legion in pairs; the praefecti sociorum, commanders of the Italian confederate alae, who were appointed by the Consuls; and the 3 decurions that led each squadron (turma)of legionary cavalry.[34]

Cavalry role

As their name implies, equites were liable to cavalry service in the Polybian legion. Equites originally provided a legion's entire cavalry contingent, although from an early stage, when equites numbers had become insufficient, large numbers of young men from Infantry Class I were regularly volunteering for the service, which was considered more glamorous than the infantry.[35] However, the Roman cavalry has proved to be inferior to infantry throughout history, with Rome preferring the use of auxiliary cavalry instead of its own.

Ethos

From the earliest times and throughout the Republican period, Roman equites subscribed, in their role as Roman cavalry, to an ethos of personal heroism and glory. This was motivated by the desire to justify their privileged status to the lower classes that provided the infantry ranks, to enhance the renown of their family name, and to augment their chances of subsequent political advancement in a martial society. For equites, a focus of the heroic ethos was the quest for spolia militaria, the stripped armour and weapons of a foe whom they had killed in single combat. There are many recorded instances. For example, Servilius Geminus Pulex, who went on to become consul in 202 BC, was reputed to have gained spolia militaria 23 times throughout his career.[36]

The higher the rank of the opponent killed in combat, the more prestigious the spolia militaria, and none more so than spolia duci hostium detracta, spoils taken from the enemy leader himself.d[›] Many equites attempted to gain such an honour, but very few succeeded for the obvious reason that enemy leaders were always surrounded by large numbers of elite bodyguards.[37] One successful attempt, but with a tragic twist, was that of the decurion Titus Manlius Torquatus in 340 BC during the Latin War. Despite strict orders from the Consuls (one of whom was his own father) not to engage the enemy, Manlius could not resist accepting a personal challenge from the commander of the Tusculan cavalry, which his squadron encountered while on reconnaissance. There ensued a cavalry joust with the opposing squadrons as spectators. Manlius won, spearing his adversary after the latter was thrown by his horse. But when the young man presented the spoils to his father, the latter had him executed in front of the shocked army for disobeying orders. "Orders of Manlius" (Manliana imperia) became a proverbial army term for orders which must on no account be disregarded.[38]

Business activities

In 218 BC, the lex Claudia restricted the trading activity of senators and their sons, on the grounds that it was incompatible with their status, limiting them to the ownership of ships with a capacity of not more than 300 amphorae (about 7 tonnes) - this being judged sufficient to carry the produce of their own landed estates but too small to conduct large-scale sea transportation.[39] All other equestrians remained free to invest their wealth, greatly increased by the growth of Rome's overseas empire after the 2nd Punic War, in large-scale commercial enterprises including mining and industry, as well as land.[40] Equestrians became especially prominent in tax farming and, by the 1st century BC, owned virtually all tax-farming companies (publicani).[41]. During the late Republican era, the collection of most taxes was contracted out to private individuals or companies by competitive tender, with the contract for each province or region awarded to the publicanus who bid the highest advance to the state treasury on the estimated tax take of the province. The publicanus would then attempt to recoup his advance, with the right to retain any surplus collected as his profit. This system frequently resulted in extortion from the common people of the provinces (peregrini), who as non-Roman citizens were liable to the poll tax (tributum capitis), because unscrupulous publicani often sought to maximise their profit by demanding a much higher rate than originally set by the government. The provincial governors whose duty it was to curb illegal demands were often bribed into acquiescence by the publicani.[42] The system also led to political conflict between equites publicani and the majority of their fellow-knights, especially senators, who as big landowners wanted to minimise the tax on land outside Italy (tributum solis), which was the main source of state revenue.[43]

This pernicious system was terminated by the first Roman emperor, Augustus (sole rule 30 BC - 14 AD), who transferred responsibility for tax collection from the publicani to the councils of the provincial local authorities (civitates peregrinae).[44] Although the latter also frequently employed private companies to collect their tax quotas, it was in their own interests to curb extortion. Tax collectors were generally paid for their services by being permitted to retain an agreed percentage of the amount collected. During the Principate, publicani became prominent in banking activities such as money-lending and money-changing.[45]

Privileges

The official dress of equestrians was the tunica angusticlavia ("narrow-striped tunic"), worn underneath the toga, in such a manner that the stripe over the right shoulder was visible.[46] Equites bore the title eques Romanus, were entitled to wear an anulus aureus (gold ring) on their left hand, and, from 67 BC, enjoyed privileged seats at games and public functions (just behind those reserved for senators).[47]

The Augustan equestrian order (Principate era)

Bridle ornament inscribed PLINIO PRAEFECTO ("Property of the prefect Pliny"), found at Castra Vetera legionary base (Xanten, Germany), believed to have belonged to Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79) when he was a praefectus alae (commander of a cavalry regiment) in Germania Inferior (52-54). Pliny was a hereditary Roman knight of the imperial era who became celebrated for his writings on natural history. He had also a distinguished career as a public servant, in a series of posts reserved for equestrians: he served as a military officer in ca. 44-54, as procurator Augusti in two provinces in the period 70-77 and then as a secretary of state in Rome to his friend emperor Vespasian. By 79, he was praefectus classis (admiral) at Misenum in the bay of Naples. In that year, the nearby volcano Mt Vesuvius erupted, burying the surrounding towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum. From his base across the bay, Pliny led out his fleet to rescue survivors trapped on the shore beneath Vesuvius. But after reaching port at Stabiae, he was prevented from putting to sea again by a strong inshore gale and, while awaiting a change of weather, Pliny died on a nearby beach from inhaling toxic gases.[48]. (Source: British Museum, London)
A group of officers of the Praetorian Guard at a parade. The two prefects of the Guard (praefecti praetorio) were usually equestrians. Bas-relief found at Rome. Early 2nd century
Tombstone of the eques Titus Cornasidius Sabinus (top), detailing his career, typical for an equestrian in the imperial period. He initially held posts in the local government of Lavinium, a town in Latium, then served his tres militiae as, first, praefectus of the cohors I Montanorum (in Pannonia), then tribunus militum of legio II Augusta (in Britannia), and finally praefectus of the ala veterana Gallorum (in Aegyptus). Then after a stint as subpraefectus classis (deputy admiral) of the imperial fleet at Ravenna, Sabinus held the senior posts of procurator Augusti of the Alpes Poeninae and Dacia Apulensis provinces. His son, who erected the memorial, is described (bottom) as of equo publico rank. Dated to the early Severan period (193-211)

Differentiation of the senatorial order

In its narrowest sense, the term ordo senatorius encompassed only sitting senators, whose number was held at around 600 by the founder of the Principate, Augustus (sole rule 30 BC-AD 14) and his successors. Senators' sons and further descendants technically retained equestrian rank unless and until they won a seat in the Senate. But Talbert argues that Augustus established the existing senatorial elite as a separate and superior order to the equites for the first time.[49] The evidence for this includes:

  1. Augustus for the first time set a minimum property requirement for admission to the Senate (of 250,000 denarii, two and a half times the 100,000 denarii that he set for admission to the equestrian order.[50] (This was 10 times the old 10,000 drachmae threshold for the First Property Class in Republican times. For comparison, a legionary's gross annual salary was ca. 225 denarii at this time).[51]
  2. Augustus for the first time allowed the sons of senators to wear the tunica laticlavia (tunic with broad purple stripes that was the official dress of senators) on reaching their majority even though they were not yet members of the Senate.[52]
  3. Senators' sons followed a separate cursus honorum (career path) to other equites before entering the Senate: first an appointment as one of the vigintiviri ("Committee of Twenty", a body that included officials with a variety of minor administrative functions), or as an augur (priest), followed by at least a year in the military as tribunus militum laticlavius (deputy commander) of a legion.
  4. A marriage law of 18 BC (the lex Julia) seems to define not only senators but also their descendants unto the third generation (in the male line) as a distinct group.[53] There was thus established a group of men with senatorial rank (senatorii) wider than just sitting senators (senatores).

The ordo equester under Augustus

As regards the equestrian order, Augustus apparently abolished the rank of equo privato, according the latter an equus publicus. In addition, Augustus organised the order in a quasi-military fashion, with members enrolled into one of 6 constituent turmae (notional cavalry squadrons). The order's governing body were the seviri ("Committee of Six"), made up of the "commanders" of the turmae. In a bid to foster the knights' esprit de corps, Augustus revived a quinquennial ceremony called the recognitio equitum ("inspection of the equestrians"), in which the order would parade, leading their horses before the consuls (the ceremony had been discontinued during the late Republic.[54]. At some stage during the early Principate, knights acquired the right to style themselves vir egregius ("distinguished gentleman" - senators were styled clarissimus, "most distinguished").[55]

The equestrian order, although hereditary in the male line (i.e. rank could only be inherited from the father, not the mother), was not closed to new recruits. Beyond the members with equus publicus established by Augustus, the emperor's legislation permitted any Roman citizen who was assessed in an official census as meeting the property requirement to use the title of eques and wear the special tunic and gold ring. But such "property-qualified equites" were not admitted to the ordo equester itself, but simply enjoyed equestrian status. Only the minority of these who were granted an equus publicus by the emperor were enrolled in the order. The imperial equites thus were a two-tiered group, with a large number of rich Italians and provincials of equestrian status (estimated at 25,000 in the 2nd century) and a much smaller number of mainly Italian equites equo publico who were members of the order and were eligible to hold the public offices reserved for the knightly order.[56][57]

Equestrians could in turn be elevated to senatorial rank (e.g. Pliny the Younger), but in practice this was much more difficult than elevation from commoner to equestrian rank. To join the upper order, not only was the candidate required to meet the minimum property requirement, but also had to be elected a member of the Senate. There were two routes for this, both controlled by the emperor:

  1. Direct appointment by the emperor (adlectio), normally using the powers of censors during the 1st century but on their own authority thereafter. This was, however, rarely granted except when Senate numbers were severely depleted e.g. in the aftermath of the Civil War of 68-9, when Vespasian's censorship saw large-scale adlectiones.[58]
  2. The normal route by which the ranks of the Senate were replenished was by way of election to the post of quaestor, 20 of whom were appointed each year. While senators' sons had the right to stand for election as quaestor, equestrians could only do so with the emperor's permission. Later in the Julio-Claudian period, the rule became established that all candidates required imperial leave. The election was conducted, from the time of Tiberius (r.AD 14-37) onwards, by the Senate itself, which inevitably favoured the sons of existing senators.[59] Nevertheless, an equestrian candidate who had received the emperor's implicit backing would be very likely to succeed through the votes of members eager to curry imperial favour.[60]

Because of the restrictions on membership of the Senate, equestrians greatly outnumbered men of senatorial rank. While the latter could not have numbered more than a couple of thousand, equites equo publico numbered many thousands.[61] Even so, together the two aristocratic orders were a tiny elite in a citizen body of ca. 6 million (in AD 47) and an empire with a total population of 60-70 million.[62][63] During the imperial period, the two orders on the whole cooperated smoothly in the administration of the empire, as they needed to, given their small combined numbers.[64]

Equestrian public careers

In public service, equites equo publico had their own version of the senatorial cursus honorum, or conventional career path, which typically combined military and administrative posts. After an initial period of a few years in local government in their home regions as administrators (aediles, duumviri) or priests (augures), equites were required to serve as military officers for about 10 years before they would be appointed to senior administrative or military posts.[65] Equestrians exclusively provided the praefecti (commanders) of the imperial army's auxiliary regiments and 5 of the 6 tribuni militum (senior staff officers) in each legion. The standard equestrian officer progression was known as the tres militiae ("three services"): (1) praefectus of a cohors (auxiliary infantry regiment), followed by (2) tribunus angusticlavius in a legion, and finally (3) praefectus of an ala (auxiliary cavalry regiment). From the time of Hadrian, a fourth militia was added for exceptionally gifted officers, commander of an ala milliaria (double-strength ala). Each post would be held for 3–4 years.[66]

Most of the top posts in the imperial administration were reserved for senators, who provided the governors of the larger provinces (except Egypt), the legati legionis (legion commanders) of all legions outside Egypt, and the praefectus urbi (prefect of the City of Rome), who controlled the Cohortes Urbanae (public order battalions), the only fully armed force in the City apart from the Praetorian Guard. Nevertheless, a wide range of senior administrative and military posts were created and reserved for equestrians by Augustus, though most ranked below the senatorial posts.[67]

In the administration, equestrian posts included that of the governorship (praefectus Augusti) of the province of Egypt, which was considered the most prestigious of all the posts open to equites, often the culmination of a long and distinguished career serving the state. In addition, equites were appointed to the governorship (procurator Augusti) of some smaller provinces and sub-provinces e.g. Judaea, whose governor was subordinate to the governor of Syria. In addition, equestrians were also the chief financial officers (also called procuratores Augusti) of the imperial provinces, and the deputy financial officers of senatorial provinces. At Rome, equestrians filled numerous senior administrative posts such as the emperor's secretaries of state (from the time of Claudius e.g. Correspondence and Treasury) and the praefecti annonae (director of grain supplies). In the military, equestrians provided the praefecti praetorio (commanders of the Praetorian Guard) who also acted as the emperor's chiefs of military staff). There were normally two of these, but at times irregular appointments resulted in just a single incumbent or even 3 at the same time.[68] Equestrians also provided the praefecti classis (admirals) of the two main imperial fleets at Misenum in the bay of Naples and at Ravenna on the Italian Adriatic coast. Also, the commander of Rome's fire brigade and minor constabulary, the Vigiles, was an eques.[69]

Not all equites followed the conventional career path. Those equites who specialised in a legal or administrative career, providing judges (iudices) in Rome's law courts and state secretaries in the imperial government, were granted dispensation from military service by emperor Hadrian (r. AD 117-138).[70] At the same time, many equites became career officers, remaining in the army for much longer than 10 years. After completing their tres militiae, some men would gain promotion to tribuni militum in the Praetorian Guard at Rome, or to praefectus castrorum (prefect of the camp, a legion's third-in-command, beneath the legatus legionis and tribunus militum laticlavius, who were always men of senatorial rank). Others would continue to command auxiliary regiments, moving across units and provinces.[71]

Already wealthy to start with, equites equo publico accumulated even greater riches through holding their reserved senior posts in the administration, which carried enormous salaries (although they were generally smaller than senatorial salaries).[72] For example, the salaries of equestrian procuratores (fiscal and governors) ranged from 15,000 to 75,000 denarii (for the governor of Egypt) per annum, whilst an equestrian praefectus of an auxiliary cohort was paid ca. 50 times as much as a common foot soldier (ca. 10,000 denarii). A praefectus could thus earn in one year the same as two of his auxiliary rankers combined earned during their entire 25-year service terms.[73][74]

Relations with emperor

It was suggested by ancient writers, and accepted by many modern historians, that Roman emperors trusted equestrians more than men of senatorial rank, and used the former as a political counterweight to the senators. According to this view, senators were often regarded as potentially less loyal and honest by the emperor, as they could become powerful enough, through the command of provincial legions, to launch coups. They also had greater opportunities for peculation as provincial governors. Hence the appointment of equestrians to the most sensitive military commands. In Egypt, which supplied much of Italy's grain needs, the governor and the commanders of both provincial legions were drawn from the equestrian order, since placing a senator in a position to starve Italy was considered too risky.[75] The commanders of the Praetorian Guard, the principal military force close to the emperor at Rome, were also usually drawn from the equestrian order.[76] Also cited in support of this view is the appointment of equestrian fiscal procuratores, reporting direct to the emperor, alongside senatorial provincial governors. These would supervise the collection of taxes and act as watchdogs to limit opportunities for corruption by the governors (as well as managing the imperial estates in the province).

According to Talbert, however, the evidence suggests that equites were no more loyal or less corrupt than senators.[77] For example, ca. 26 BC, the equestrian governor of Egypt, Gaius Cornelius Gallus, was recalled for politically suspect behaviour and sundry other misdemeanours. His conduct was deemed sufficiently serious by the Senate to warrant the maximum penalty of exile and confiscation of assets.[78] Under Tiberius, both the senatorial governor and the equestrian fiscal procurator of Asia province were convicted of corruption.[79] There is evidence that emperors were as wary of powerful knights as they were of senators. Augustus enforced a tacit rule that senators and prominent equestrians must obtain his express permission to enter the province of Egypt, a policy that was continued by his successors.[80][81] Also, the command of the Praetorian Guard was normally split between two knights, to reduce the potential for a successful coup d'état. At the same time, command of the second military force in Rome, the cohortes urbanae, was entrusted to a senator.

Equestrians in the later empire (AD 197-395)

The emperor Maximinus I (Thrax) (ruled 235-8), whose career epitomises the soldier-equestrians who took over command of the army during the 3rd century. A Thracian shepherd who had led a group of peasant vigilantes against rural robbers in his home region, he joined the army as a cavalryman in ca. 197 under Septimius Severus and was probably granted an equus publicus by Caracalla towards the end of his rule (218). Under Alexander Severus he was given command of a legion and later served as provincial governor (praeses pro legato) in Mauretania Tingitana and in Germania before seizing supreme power in a coup d'état in 235

Rise of the military equestrians (3rd century)

The third century saw two major trends in the development of the Roman aristocracy: (1) the progressive takeover of the top positions in the empire's administration and army by military equestrians and the concomitant exclusion of the Italian aristocracy, both senators and knights; (2) the growth in hierarchy within the aristocratic orders.

A significant exception to the property requirement for equites status was Augustus' practice, followed by his successors, of elevating to the ordo equester the primus pilus (chief centurion) of each legion, at the end of his single year in the post.[82] This resulted in about 30 career soldiers, often risen from the ranks, joining the order every year. These equites primipilares and their descendants formed a section of the equites which was quite distinct from the Italian aristocrats who had become nearly indistinguishable from their senatorial counterparts.[83] They were almost entirely provincials, especially Romanised Illyrians and Thracians from the Danubian provinces where about half the Roman army was deployed. They were generally far less wealthy than the landowning Italians (not benefiting from centuries of inherited wealth) and they rarely held non-military posts.[84]

Their professionalism led emperors to rely on them ever more heavily, especially in difficult conflicts such as the Marcomannic Wars. But because they were only equestrians, they could not be appointed to the top military commands, those of legatus Augusti (governor of an imperial province) and legatus legionis (commander of a legion). In the later second century, emperors tried to resolve the problem by elevating large numbers of primipilares to senatorial rank by adlectio. But this was apparently unpopular in the Senate, so that in the third century, emperors simply started appointing equestrians directly to the top commands, under the fiction that they were only temporary substitutes (praeses pro legato). Septimius Severus (r. AD 193-211) appointed primipilares to command the 3 new legions that he raised in 197 for his Parthian War.[85] Gallienus (r. AD 253-268) completed the process by appointing equites to command all the legions.[86] But these appointees were mostly provincial soldier-equestrians, not Italian aristocrats.[87]

Under the reforming emperor Diocletian (r. AD 284-305), himself an Illyrian equestrian officer, the military equestrian "takeover" was brought a stage further, with the removal of hereditary senators from most administrative, as well as military posts. Hereditary senators were limited to administrative jobs in Italy and a few neighbouring provinces (Sicily, Africa, Achaea and Asia), despite the fact that senior administrative posts had been greatly multiplied by the tripling of the number of provinces and the establishment of dioceses (super-provinces). The exclusion of the old Italian aristocracy, both senatorial and equestrian, from the political and military power that they had monopolised for many centuries was thus complete. The Senate became politically insignificant, although it retained great prestige.[88]

The 3rd and 4th centuries saw the proliferation of hierarchical ranks within the aristocratic orders, in line with the greater stratification of society as a whole, which was divided into two classes, with discriminatory rights and privileges, the honestiores ("more noble") and humiliores ("more base"). Equestrians were divided into 5 grades, depending on the offices they held: (in ascending order) egregii or sexagenarii (salary of 60,000 sesterces = 15,000 denarii), centenarii (100,000), ducenarii (200,000), and the perfectissimi ("most accomplished" - 300,000), the latter grade including equestrian procuratores. The top grade, the eminentissimi ("most exalted") included only the praefecti praetorio, the 2 commanders of the Praetorian Guard and, with the establishment of Diocletian's Tetrarchy, the 4 Praetorian Prefects that assisted the Tetrarchs, each ruling over a quarter of the empire.[89]

The idle aristocracy (4th century)

From the reign of Constantine I the Great (312–37) onwards, there was an explosive increase in the membership of both aristocratic orders. Under Diocletian, the number of sitting members of the Senate remained at around 600, the level it had retained for the whole duration of the Principate.[90] But Constantine established Byzantium as a twin capital of the empire, with its own senate, initially of 300 members. By 387, their number had swollen to 2,000, while the Senate in Rome probably reached a comparable size. The main cause was the rise in honorary grants of membership, especially to decuriones (local authority councillors, not to be confused with the cavalry officer rank).[91]

At the same time the equites were also expanded vastly by the proliferation of public posts in the late empire, most of which were now filled by equestrians. The Principate had been a remarkably slimline administration, with ca. 250 senior officials running the vast empire, relying on local government and private contractors to deliver the necessary taxes and services. By the time of the Notitia, comparable positions had grown to ca. 6,000, a 24-fold increase.[92] In addition, large numbers of decuriones were granted equestrian rank, often obtaining it by bribery, to gain exemption from the financial obligations of local office (onera curialia from curia, the name for a local council). Finally, officials of ever lower rank were granted equestrian rank as reward for good service e.g. the actuarii (accountants) of military regiments (365). This inflation in knights' numbers inevitably led to the debasement of the order's prestige. The lowest rank, the egregii drops out of the record in 324, while the perfectissimi were further divided into 3 ranks.[93] By the end of the 4th century, the equites were no longer a high echelon of nobility, but just a title associated with middle-level civil service posts. Even the tribuni militum (regimental commanders) of the army were now accorded senatorial rank. The senatorial order, having itself lost its super-elite status, had eclipsed and effectively displaced the equites.[94]

Constantine established a third order of nobility, the comites ("companions", from comes, the origin of the medieval noble rank of count). This overlapped with senators and equites, drawing members from both. Originally, the comites consisted of very senior administrative and military officials, such as the commanders of imperial escort armies (comitatus). But the comites rapidly followed the same path as equites in the 4th century, being devalued by excessive grants until the order became meaningless.[95]

In the late 4th and in the 5th century, therefore, the western senatorial class at Rome was the closest equivalent to the equestrian class of the early Principate. It remained predominantly Italian (in domicile, if not in origin) and contained many ancient and illustrious families, some of which claimed descent from the aristocracy of the Republic. But it also contained many persons of less exalted origins.[96] It had, as described, lost almost all political and military power. But it remained influential due to its enormous inherited wealth and its role as the guardians of Roman tradition and culture.[97] Centuries of capital accumulation, in the form of vast landed estates (latifundia) across many provinces resulted in enormous wealth for the Roman senators. Many received annual rents in cash and in kind of over 5,000 lbs of gold, equivalent to 360,000 solidi (or 5 million Augustan-era denarii), at a time when a miles (common soldier) would earn no more than 4 solidi a year in cash. Even senators of middling wealth received 1,000-1,500 lbs.[98] The 4th century historian Ammianus Marcellinus, a former high-ranking military staff officer who spent his retirement years in Rome, bitterly attacks the Italian aristocracy, denouncing their extravagant palaces, clothes, games and banquets and above all their lives of total idleness and frivolity.[99] In his words can be heard the contempt for the senatorial class of a career soldier who had spent his lifetime defending the empire, a view clearly shared by Diocletian and his Illyrian successors. But it is the latter who reduced the aristocracy to that state, by displacing them from their traditional role of governing the empire and leading the army.[100]

Notes

^ a: 6 centuriae: The original 3 cavalry centuriae were named after the tribes from which they were drawn: Ramnes, Tities and Luceres. When an additional 3 centuriae were established by king Tarquinius Priscus, the latter took the tribal names with the suffix posteriores, with the original 3 being called priores
^ b: Roman kingship: The Roman monarchy, although an autocracy, was not hereditary and based on "divine right", but elective and subject to the ultimate sovereignty of the people. The king (rex) was elected by the people's assembly (the comitia curiata originally) although there is strong evidence that the process was in practice controlled by the patricians. Most kings were non-Romans brought in from abroad, doubtless as a neutral figure who could be seen as above patrician factions. Although blood relations could and did succeed, they were still required to submit to election.[101] The position and powers of a Roman king were thus similar to those of Julius Caesar when he was appointed dictator-for-life in 44 BC. That was why Caesar's assassin Marcus Junius Brutus felt a moral obligation to emulate his claimed ancestor Lucius Junius Brutus, "The Liberator", the man who, Roman tradition averred, in 509 BC led the coup which overthrew the last king, Tarquin the Proud, and established the Republic.[102]
^ c: Date of centuriate organisation: Other scholars put the date of the "Servian" centuriate reforms to the start or end of the Samnite Wars (343-280) or even as late as after the currency reforms of 211 BC during the 2nd Punic War. The latter thesis is based on the fact that Livy gives the class property ratings in sextantal asses, which were only introduced at that date. But the latter view is not widely accepted: Cornell points out that Livy could simply be converting values from earlier denominations.[103]
^ d: Spolia opima: The highest form of spolia duci hostium detracta (spoils taken from an enemy leader) were known as the spolia opima ("rich spoils"), which were displayed in the Temple of Jupiter Feretrius in Rome. According to the most widely-understood version of the tradition, to earn the spolia opima one had to be a Roman commander-in-chief who killed the enemy paramount leader in single combat. The spolia opima were won only three times: by Romulus for killing Acro, king of the Caeninenses (ca. 750 BC); by Aulus Cornelius Cossus for killing Lars Tolumnius, king of the Veientes (in 437 or 425 BC); and by Marcus Claudius Marcellus for killing Viridomarus, king of the Celtic Gaesatae (in 222 BC).[104] However, the award to Cossus was a matter for some controversy, as, according to Livy, he was only a tribunus militum, and not commander-in-chief of the army at the time.[105] A minority tradition, originally preserved by Varro, antiquarian of the late Republic, held that spolia opima could be won by any Roman soldier who killed the enemy leader in battle.[106] According to Varro, there were three classes of spolia opima: First Class, spoils taken by the Roman commander-in-chief, which alone could be dedicated to Jupiter Feretrius; Second Class, spoils taken by a Roman officer; and Third Class, those taken by a common soldier.[107]
^ e: Hannibal's cavalry share: Before crossing the Alps, Hannibal's cavalry were 8,000 out of 46,000 total forces (17%); after crossing, 6,000 out of 26,000 (23%); his Gallic allies supplied him with 4,000 cavalry out of 20,000 total reinforcements (20%).[108]
^ f: Legionary cavalry: The professional Augustan-era legion certainly had a cavalry contingent of 120 (levied from Roman citizen commoners, not equestrians).[109] This is assumed by most historians to be an innovation of Augustus', but there is no specific evidence that it was. It may be the residual cavalry contingent of the Republican-era legion

See also

Citations

  1. ^ Livy I.12-13
  2. ^ Cornell (1995) 94, 102
  3. ^ Livy I.15, 36
  4. ^ Livy I.36
  5. ^ Cornell (1995) 181-2
  6. ^ Cornell (1995) 209
  7. ^ Cornell (1995) 204-7
  8. ^ Livy I.43
  9. ^ Based on figures in Polybius II.24
  10. ^ Cornell (1995) 193
  11. ^ Livy I.43
  12. ^ Cornell (1995) 245
  13. ^ Livy I.43
  14. ^ Cornell (1995) 250
  15. ^ Cornell (1995) 238, 446 note 32
  16. ^ Cornell (1995) 182
  17. ^ Livy V.7
  18. ^ Online 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica Equites
  19. ^ Oxford Patricians
  20. ^ Livy XXXIX.19, 44
  21. ^ Oxford Patricians
  22. ^ Online Encyclopedia Britannica Patricians
  23. ^ Cornell (1995) 369
  24. ^ Cornell (1995) 351
  25. ^ Cornell (1995) 354
  26. ^ Cornell (1995) 366
  27. ^ Polybius VI.26
  28. ^ Polybius VI.25
  29. ^ Cornell (1995) 354
  30. ^ Sidnell (2006) 152
  31. ^ Cornell (1995) 372
  32. ^ Cornell (1995) 379-80
  33. ^ Smith (1890) Equites
  34. ^ Polybius VI.19, 26
  35. ^ Goldsworthy (2000) 49
  36. ^ Livy, XLV.39.16; Plutarch Aemilius Paullus 31.2
  37. ^ Sidnell (2006) 153-4
  38. ^ Livy VIII.7-8
  39. ^ Livy XXI.63
  40. ^ Jones (1964) 6
  41. ^ Tacitus Annales IV.6
  42. ^ Encyclopedia Britannica Online Publicani
  43. ^ Talbert (1996) 341
  44. ^ Burton (1987) 426
  45. ^ Encyclopedia Britannica Online Publicani
  46. ^ Talbert (1996) 326
  47. ^ Jones (1964) 8
  48. ^ Pliny the Younger Letters VI.19
  49. ^ Talbert (1996) 326
  50. ^ Jones (1964) 8
  51. ^ Goldsworthy (2003) 95
  52. ^ Suetonius Augustus 38.2
  53. ^ Online Roman Law Library Lex Iulia de maritandis ordinibus
  54. ^ Online 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica Equites
  55. ^ Jones (1964) 8
  56. ^ Jones (1964) 7, 8
  57. ^ Encyclopedia Britannica Online Ancient Rome
  58. ^ Eck in CAH XI (2000) 215-6
  59. ^ Talbert (1996) 333
  60. ^ Encyclopedia Britannica Online Ancient Rome
  61. ^ Jones (1964) 7, 8
  62. ^ Tacitus Annales XI.25
  63. ^ Scheidel (2006) 9
  64. ^ Encyclopedia Britannica (1987 ed) Eques
  65. ^ Talbert (1996) 340
  66. ^ Goldsworthy (2003) 65
  67. ^ Goldsworthy (2003) 60, 64, 65
  68. ^ Goldsworthy (2003) 64-5
  69. ^ Talbert (1996) 340
  70. ^ Jones (1964)
  71. ^ Goldsworthy (2003) 66
  72. ^ Talbert (1996) 341
  73. ^ Birley (1988) 46
  74. ^ Jones (1964) 31
  75. ^ Tacitus Annales II.59
  76. ^ Jones (1964) 8
  77. ^ Talbert (1996) 342
  78. ^ Dio Cassius LIII.23
  79. ^ Tacitus Annales IV.13
  80. ^ Tacitus Annales II.59
  81. ^ Ritner (1998) 1-2.
  82. ^ Goldsworthy (2000) 129
  83. ^ Jones (1964) 8
  84. ^ Goldsworthy (2000) 164-5
  85. ^ Goldsworthy (2000) 164
  86. ^ Tomlin (1988) 108
  87. ^ Holder (1982) 65
  88. ^ Jones (1964) 50, 525, 526
  89. ^ Jones (1964) 525
  90. ^ Jones (1964) 525
  91. ^ Jones (1964) 527
  92. ^ Heather (2005) 228
  93. ^ Jones (1964) 526
  94. ^ Jones (1964) 528
  95. ^ Jones (1964) 528
  96. ^ Jones (1964) 545–56,
  97. ^ Jones (1964) 561–62
  98. ^ Jones (1964) 554
  99. ^ Ammianus XXVIII.4
  100. ^ Jones (1964) 50, 525
  101. ^ Cornell (1995) 141–42
  102. ^ Plutarch Brutus 10-2
  103. ^ Cornell (1995) 181
  104. ^ Plutarch Romulus; Marcellus
  105. ^ Livy IV.20
  106. ^ Festus Lexicon "Opima Spolia"
  107. ^ Smith (1890) Spolia
  108. ^ Polybius III.56, 60, 114
  109. ^ Keppie (1996) 275

References

Ancient

Modern

  • Birley, Anthony (2002). Band of Brothers: Garrison Life at Vindolanda. 
  • Burton, G. (1987): Government and the Provinces. In J. Wacher ed. The Roman World Vol I
  • Cornell, T. J. (1995): The Beginnings of Rome
  • Eck, Werner (2000): Emperor, Senate & Magistrates. In Cambridge Ancient History 2nd Ed. Vol XI
  • Goldsworthy, Adrian (2000): Roman Warfare
  • Goldsworthy, Adrian (2003): The Complete Roman Army
  • Heather, Peter (2005): Fall of the Roman Empire
  • Jones, A.H.M. (1964): Later Roman Empire
  • Keppie, Lawrence (1996). "The Army and the Navy" in Cambridge Ancient History 2nd Ed Vol X (The Augustan Empire 30BC - 69 AD). 
  • Ritner, R.K. (1998): Egypt Under Roman Rule: the Legacy of Ancient Egypt. In Cambridge History of Egypt, Vol I. Ed. C.F. Petry. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  • Scheidel, Walter (2006): Population & Demography (Princeton-Stanford Working Papers in Classics)
  • Sidnell, Philip (2006): Warhorse
  • Smith W. (1890): Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities
  • Talbert, Richard (1996): The Senate and Senatorial and Equestrian Posts. In Cambridge Ancient History, Vol X 2nd Edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  • Tomlin, R. S. O. (1988). The Army of the Late Empire. In The Roman World (ed J. Wacher). 

External links


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