Equestrian order


Equestrian order

Order.

Originally, there was no distinction between senators and knights. The Republic's citizen population was divided into six property classes for the purposes of military service. The highest class, known as the "equites", were entitled to a horse at public expense and provided the cavalry contingent of the Roman legions (300 horse for each legion). [Goldsworthy (2003) 25] This position continued until the Social War (91-88 BC). After that war, legionary cavalry was abolished and equestrians were no longer asked to serve as cavalrymen, although legally they remained liable to such service through to the end of the Principate era. [Goldsworthy (2000) 107]

During the Republic, senators and their offspring became defined as a separate elite among the highest class, which first received official recognition in a law passed in 123 BC. Under Augustus (ruled 30BC-14AD), membership of the two orders was defined by wealth, in the form of a minimum property qualification. This was set at 100,000 denarii for equestrians (for comparison: a legionary's gross annual salary was ca. 225 "denarii" at this time). [Goldsworthy (2003) 95]

The equestrian order, although hereditary, was not closed to new recruits. Commoners could be elevated to the order by decree of the emperor in his capacity as Roman censor, though normally only those who met the property qualification were considered. As an exception to the property requirement, it become standard practice for the "primuspilus" (chief centurion) of each legion to be elevated to equestrian rank on completion of his single year in office. [Goldsworthy (2003) 66]

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 appointed a member of the Senate. There were two routes for this, both controlled by the emperor. Direct appointment by the emperor, in his capacity as Roman censor. Or indirect, through election to Quaestor, an office that carried automatic membership, by the nominally sovereign People's Assembly ("comitia centuriata"). In practice, no one could stand for election without the emperor's permission, which was usually granted primarily to the sons of existing Senators. The Senate's membership was capped at 500 by Augustus, later raised to 600. Since membership was for life, vacancies were limited in number to those Senators who died each year or who were expelled for improper conduct by the emperor. In most years therefore, the new intake was largely limited to the 20 Quaestors elected each year, leaving little room for aspiring equestrians.

The official dress of equestrians was the "toga angusticlavia" ("narrow-bordered toga"), that is, a "toga" with a narrow purple-coloured border, in contrast to the wide-bordered "toga" worn by senators (ordinary Roman citizens wore a toga without a coloured border).

Equestrians were permitted to engage in commercial activity, which was barred to senators. Senators thus held most of their capital in the form of land ownership, while equestrian capital was invested in a much wider range of economic activity, including mining, industry and commerce. One type of enterprise often controlled by equestrians were tax-collectors ("publicani"): the collection of imperial taxes was largely contracted out to private companies, which retained a share of the total tax take as payment for their services. This led to a conflict of interests between the two aristocratic orders. Senators, whose lands had to bear the bulk of the tax burden and thus wanted to keep taxes low and resisted collection, versus knights who wanted to maximise their companies' profits. [www.livius.org "Eques (knight)"]

During the Principate, a range of senior administrative and military posts were reserved for equestrians. In the administration, the governors of the Roman province of Egypt (a crucial source of grain supply for the City of Rome) and of a few other minor provinces were always equestrians. In addition, equestrians provided the procurators, the chief financial officers of the provinces. In the military, equestrians provided the two "praefecti" (commanders) of the Praetorian Guard in Rome; the "praefectus castrorum" (3rd-in-command) and 5 of the 6 "tribuni militum" (senior staff officers) of each legion; and the "praefecti" of the auxiliary regiments. [Goldsworthy (2003) 64-5]

Citations

References

* Goldsworthy, Adrian (2000): "Roman Warfare"
* Goldsworthy, Adrian (2003): "The Complete Roman Army"
* University of Alabama at Hull : Society for Ancient Languages "The Roman Constitution"

ee also

* Roman military confederation
* Roman Senate
* Roman legion
* Roman auxiliaries
* Hippeus

econdary sources

*
*

External links and sources

* [http://www.vroma.org/~bmcmanus/socialclass.html Roman Social Class and Public Display]
* [http://www.livius.org/ei-er/eques/eques.html Livius.org: Eques (Knight)]


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