- Article and English translation: Marcus Iulius Perusianus
- From: Italia Nova Roma webzine: POMERIUM - M. Moravio T. Iulio cos. ‡ MMDCCLXI a.u.c. edition.
After the minores, which were the lowest offices, the next steps of the cursus honorum were the Praetorship, the Consulship and the Censorship. They had two features in common: they could take auspicia maiora and their election was performed at the centurial assembly.
As written all these officers could take the auspicia maiora, so-called for the higher rank of these magistracies who were allowed to take them also outside Rome. Taken by the observation of the flight of the birds in a delimited sky zone called templum (this is the ancient meaning of the religious building). Among all the omens, the most important were the ones taken from the new elected Consul on his first day in charge (usually on new year’s day), after a procession arrived to the temple of Jupiter “the best and greatest”; or when taken on battlefield before leading an army to the war.
The comitia centuriata was an assembly of all the citizens, distributed in parts called centurias, a division inherited from the ancient military assemblies. The individual vote was counted inside each own centuria and thus it determined the final vote: there were varying number of citizens inside the centurias, less in the first groups, therefore each weighted differently the single vote favouring the wealthier classes (that were the first centuriae). Some scholars say that the imperium had to be a feature pertaining also to the Censors even if this does not seems to be certain; mainly Censores lacked the main symbol for the imperium, which was the escort of a variable number of lictores, or bodyguards, during the magistrate functions.
There is evidence that a consul had twelve lictores and the Praetors six. A dictator, an extraordinary office, had twenty-four bodyguards, to symbolise that he held the power of two consules at the same time.
To hold the imperium was demonstrated by another symbol: the sella curulis, an inlaid ebony chair where the magistrate sat during the trials. Therefore the holder of the imperium had the possibility of leading an army, making and enforcing the law and performing the executions.
Having the imperium and leading an army also meant the magistrate could not enter the city limits (pomerium) without losing his command and privileges. The prohibition was suspended only for the celebration of the triumph, to give honours to the winner and his army with weapons, in front of a crowded Rome and to give thanks to Jupiter Capitoline. In this very day the victorious general was granted permission to wear the paludamentum, the purple garment worn in war in place of the praetexta.
At 34 years of age (39 since 82 B.C. with Sulla and his Lex Cornelia De magistratibus) one person could concur to the Praetorship. The office was created in 367 B.C. thanks to the Liciniae-Sestiae laws that extended admission to the plebeians as well. It was a sort of compensation for the Patricians, after the Colnsulship had to be shared with the Plebeians. The Praetorship was originally similar to the Consulship and the functions of the magistrates were partially the same as the Consuls’: sometimes they commanded the army and while the Consules were absent with their legions, they exercised their functions inside Rome. They then performed juridical tasks mainly based on the concession of actio to the citizen that asked for them: Pratetores prepared the controversy in legal terms (iurisdictio) to present it to the jury (iudicatio).
The eight praetors, at the age of Sulla, had different tasks: the urban Praetor presided over the controversies between citizens; he was also the first one to have been created and so planned to judge the struggles in Rome (he also had the duty of supervising the Ludi Apollinares). The so called peregrinus intervened in cases when at least one of two opponents was a foreigner. The other six Praetors were usually destined to the government of a province and their number grew to sixteen because of the increased number of territories gained during the centuries: two magistrates had been created in 227 B.C. for Sicily and Sardinia administrations; another two more in 197 B.C. for the new Hispanic provinces. So, after Sulla, Julius Caesar increased the number to ten, then to fourteen and eventually to sixteen, until August decided the number should be twelve.
When a man reached the age of 37 (43 with Sulla) he could run to be a Consul, the very top of the career ladder, at least until the beginning of the imperial age, when the princeps entrusted almost all the functions of the Consul. The two consules had tasks and powers very close to the Prime Minister’s in a modern presidential republic especially when representing the nation in the international business, convening the Houses or leading the army. During a war they could execute also a Roman citizen without this being able to appeal to the assemblies (provocatio); this lasted at least until the first years of the second century B.C. .
Consuls’ tasks are described by the Greek historician Polybius: <<…it is they who introduce embassies to the senate. Besides this it is they who consult the senate on matters of urgency, they who carry out in detail the provisions of its decrees. Again as concerns all affairs of state administered by the people it is their duty to take these under their charge, to summon assemblies, to introduce measures, and to preside over the execution of the popular decrees. As for preparation for war and the general conduct of operations in the field, here their power is almost uncontrolled; for they are empowered to make what demands they choose on the allies, to appoint military tribunes, to levy soldiers and select those who are fittest for service. They also have the right of inflicting, when on active service, punishment on anyone under their command; and they are authorized to spend any sum they decide upon from the public funds…>> (Stories, VI, 12).
The Consulship is thought to have been born with the foundation of the Republic in 509 B.C. even if the remote story is partly legendary. The list of all the Consuls come directly from the past, thanks to the annales carved on slabs, with names, the relevant success and triumphs; written starting in 509 B.C. and existent until 398 A.D. even if the succession of the consuls is not completely known in the fifth century. Some ruins are still visible in some villages in Italy e.g. Priverno, Urbisaglia and Cupra Marittima and in Rome itself, they were on display on the now destroyed arch of Augustus in the Forum; those very tables are still visible in the Capitoline Museums.
The first consuls were the legendary Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus and Lucius Brutus Iunius, leaders of the rebellion that frightened the Tarquinii away from Rome. As said, at first only the Patricians were able to become Consuls; later on the plebeians were given this right and were able to elect one representing themselves; the first plebeian Consul was Lucius Sestius in 366 B.C..
Only those who was formerly a Consul was admitted to the Censorship, a magistracy that had as it main task to control the public morality. Once in charge, the Censors gave an edict which established the days in which the citizens were supposed to go to the Campus Martius to declare the current income. Then, they formulated the criteria that would have been used for the evaluation of the assets of the citizens and for the inclusion in the senatorial and equestrian lists.
By the so-called Lectio Senatus, duties were attributed formally in 312 B.C. to the Censores, namely the task of editing and updating periodically the list of members of the Senate, choosing them amongst them those people who had covered public offices and that have been distinguished for special merits. From the moment the citizens subscribed the lists, they were under control of their own wealth based on the declarations released about the property and the current personal life. This control was the cura morum.
The lack of sons, exercising the commerce, perjury and so on were sometimes reproach worthy situations that become a censorial note meaning the exclusion from the lists, especially the senatorial one. They also had the task of fixing the top amounts for the public contracts for services from private citizens on behalf of the Government and for the auctions that assigned the ager publicus. Each Censor was elected every five years, but his assignment lasted for eighteen months; this magistracy was founded in 443 B.C. when the Plebeians could be elected as military tribunes with Consular power. The first Censores were two former Consuls Mugillanus and Sempronius; to mark the election of the censores was the so-called ceremony of the lustratio, the purification of the city. The Censorship was abolished in 50 B.C. and restored by Augustus in 22 B.C.
Climbing the cursus honorum was not a deal for all. Seldom a citizen succeeded doing it in suo anno, which is in its own year, that to say elected to the very first attempt at the minimum age for a candidacy.
Caesar was so proud of this ‘supremacy’; Marius was pleased to have repeatedly covered the office of Consul (at the end had been seven), even if deliberately ignoring the rigid rules of the cursus honorum.