Just as we might think of them today, in ancient Rome, censors were census-takers and morality keepers.
The 5th Roman king, Servius Tullius, re-divided the Romans into tribes, creating new ones in addition to the 3 original ones (ramnes, tities, luceres), and carried out the first census for the purpose of distinguishing the ranks of the people on the basis of wealth and property.
After the dissolution of the monarchy, consuls took over the task of taking the census, and then in 443, a new magistracy was created to carry out the task of taking the census. Such a magistrate was called a censor (pl. censores). In addition to serving as census-takers, these high-ranking magistrates acted more in what we think of as appropriate behavior for a censor because they became the guardian of morality. By being two in number they carried on the tradition of the dual consuls.
- The comitia curiata elected the censores.
- At first their term of office was a lustrum or about 5 years, but it was soon reduced to a period of 18 months.
- Although the censors were awarded no imperium (roughly, power), and therefore had no lictors to serve as axe-carrying bodyguards, the office was above the consul and second only to the office of dictator in dignity.
- The dictator Q. Publilius Philo proposed what are called the Leges Publiliae (339 B.C.). The first of these laws was one to make one of the censors a plebeian.
- The censorship lasted from 443-22 B.C.
Sources: Censor - William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.: A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.
T.J. Cornell, The Beginnings of Rome. Routledge: 1995.
Also see: "Regimen Morum," by Alan E. Astin. The Journal of Roman Studies Vol. 78 (1988), pp. 14-34.
- to register citizens and their property,
- superintend new buildings and public works, and
- preserve the public morality.