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Cursus Honorum

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Togatus Barberini Marble, late 1st century B.C. Roman senator holding ancestral busts.

Togatus Barberini Marble, late 1st century B.C. Roman senator holding ancestral busts.

A. Hekler, "Greek & Roman Portraits", New York, 1912, pl. 127a. Courtesy of Wikimedia.

Hierarchy of Roman offices in the Cursus Honorum:

The order of advancement through elected offices (magistracies) in Republican Rome was known as the cursus honorum. The sequence of offices in the cursus honorum meant that an office couldn't be skipped, in theory. There were exceptions. There were also optional offices that could be steps along the cursus honorum.

Sequence Leading to the Top Office of Consul

A Roman male of the upper classes became Quaestor before he could be elected Praetor. He had to be elected Praetor before Consul, but the candidate need not have been either an Aedile or Tribune.

Other Requirements for Progress Along the Cursus Honorum:

The Quaestor candidate had to be at least 28. Two years had to elapse between the end of one office and the beginning of the next step on the cursus honorum.

The Roles of the Cursus Honorum Magistrates and the Senate:

Originally, the magistrates sought the advice of the Senate when and if they wished. Over time, the Senate, which was made up of the magistrates past and present, insisted on being consulted.

Insignia of the Magistrates and Senators:

Once admitted to the Senate, the magistrate wore a wide purple stripe on his tunic. This was called the latus clavus. He also wore a special scarlet colored shoe, the calceus mulleus, with a C on it. Like the equestrians, senators wore gold rings and sat in the reserved front row seats at performances.

The Meeting Place of the Senate:

The Senate usually met in the Curia Hostilia, north of the Forum Romanum and facing the street called the Argiletum. [See Forum Map.] At the time of Caesar's assassination, in 44 B.C., the Curia was being rebuilt, so the Senate met in Pompey's theater.

  • "The Procedure of the Senate," by A. G. Russell. Greece & Rome, Vol. 2, No. 5 (Feb., 1933), pp. 112-121.

The Magistrates of the Cursus Honorum:

Quaestor:

The first position in the cursus honorum was Quaestor. The term of Quaestor lasted a year. Originally there were 2 Quaestors, but the number increased to 4 in 421, to 6 in 267, and then to 8 in 227. In 81, the number was increased to 81. The Assembly of the 35 tribes, the Comitia Tributa, elected Quaestors.

Tribune of the Plebs:

Annually elected by the plebeian section of the Assembly of the Tribes (Comitia Tributa), known as the Concilium Plebis, there were originally 2 Tribunes of the Plebs, but by 449 B.C., there were 10. The Tribune held great power. His physical person was sacrosanct, and he could veto anyone, including another Tribune. A Tribune could not, however, veto a dictator.

The office of Tribune was not a mandatory stage of the cursus honorum.

Aedile:

The Concilium Plebis elected 2 Plebeian Aediles each year. The Assembly of the 35 tribes or Comitia Tributa elected 2 Curule Aediles annually. It was not necessary to be an Aedile while following the cursus honorum.

Praetor:

Elected by the Assembly of the Centuries, known as the Comitia Centuriata, the Praetors held office for a year. The number of Praetors increased from 2 to 4 in 227; and then to 6 in 197. In 81, the number was increased to 8. Praetors were accompanied by 2 lictores within the confines of the city. The lictores carried the ceremonial rods and axe or fasces that could, in fact, be used to inflict punishment.

Consul:

The Comitia Centuriata or Assembly of the Centuries elected 2 Consuls annually. Their honors included being accompanied by 12 lictores and wearing the toga praetexta. This is the top rung of the cursus honorum.

Further References:

  • Marsh, Frank Burr; revised by H.H. Scullard. A History of the Roman World From 146 to 30 B.C. London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1971.
  • www.theaterofpompey.com/rome/reviewmagist.shtml Regular Magistracies of the Roman Republic From T. S. R. Broughton's "Magistrates of the Roman Republic."
  • Jona Lendering Cursus Honorum

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