Cursus honorum

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The cursus honorum (Latin: "succession of magistracies") was the sequential order of public offices held by aspiring politicians in both the Roman Republic and the early Empire. It was designed for men of senatorial rank. The cursus honorum comprised a mixture of military and political administration posts. Each office had a minimum age for election. There were minimum intervals between holding successive offices and laws forbade repeating an office. These rules were altered and flagrantly ignored in the course of the last century of the Republic. For example, Gaius Marius held consulships for five years in a row between 104 and 100 BC. Officially presented as opportunities for public service, the offices often became mere opportunities for self-aggrandizement. The reforms of Sulla required a 2-year period between holding offices or before another term in the same office.

In Rome, there was nothing resembling the modern political party as we have them today. Candidates were elected based on their familial and personal reputations. Candidates from older, established families were favoured because they could use their ancestor's feats as electoral propaganda. Though political parties weren't established, in the late Republic, factions such as the Populares and Optimates were developed. These factions lacted any real structure, just represented groups of individuals that were either favored the Popular Assemblies or the Senate as the chief governing body.

To have held each office at the youngest possible age (in suo anno, "in his year") was considered a great political success, since to miss out on a praetorship at 39 meant that one could not become consul at 42. Cicero expressed extreme pride both in being a novus homo ("new man") who became consul though none of his ancestors had ever served as a consul, and in having become consul "in his year".

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Roman Cursus Honorum

Military Tribune

The cursus honorum officially began with ten years of military duty in the Roman cavalry (the equites) or in the staff of a general who was a relative or a friend of the family. Nepotism was not condemned; it was an integral part of the system. A more prestigious postiton was that of a military tribune. 24 men at the age of around 20 were elected by the Tribal Assembly to serve as a legionary commander in one of the four consular legions, with six to each. These ten years were supposed to be mandatory to qualify for political office, but, in practice, the rule was not rigidly applied.

The following steps of the cursus honorum were achieved by direct election every year.


The first official post was that of quaestor. Candidates had to be at least 30 years old. However, men of patrician rank could subtract two years from this and other minimum age requirements. Twenty quaestors served in the financial administration at Rome or as second-in-command to a governor in the provinces. They could also serve as the pay master for a legion. A young man who obtained this job, was expected to become a very important official. An additional task of all quaestors was the supervision of public games. Also, election to quaestor brought automatic membership in the Senate starting from the late republic. As a quaestor, an official was allowed to wear the toga praetexta, but were not escorted by lictors or owned imperium.


At 36 years of age, former quaestors could stand for election to one of the four aedile positions. Of these aediles, two were plebian and two were patrician, with the patrician aediles called Curule Aediles. The aediles had administrative responsibilities in Rome. They had to take care of the temples, they organized games and were responsible for the maintenance of the public buildings in Rome. Moreover, they took charge of Rome's water and food supplies; in their quality of market superintendents, they served sometimes as judges in mercantile affairs. Of the Aediles, the Curule Aediles own imperium, were escorted by two lictors and were allowed to wear the toga praetexta. While part of the Cursus Honorum, this step was optional and not required to hold future offices.


After holding either the office of Quaestor or Aedile, a man of 39 years could run for Praetor. 18 Praetors' were elected each year to serve mainly judicial function through out Rome. In the absence of the Consuls, a Praetor would be given command of the garrison in Rome or in Italy. Also, a Praetor could exercise the functions of the Consuls throughout Rome, but their main function was that of a judge. They would preside over trials involving criminal acts as well as grant court orders or validate "illegal" acts as acts of administering justice. As a Praetor, a magistrate was escorted by six lictors, own imperium, and would wear the toga praetexta. After a term as Praetor, the magistrate would serve as a provincial governor in the office of Propraetor, owning Propraetor imperium, commanding the provinces legions, and possessed ultimate authority within their province(s).

Of all the Praetors, two were more prestigious then the others. The first was the Praetor Peregrinus, who was the chief judge in trials involving one or more foreigners. The other was the Praetor Urbanus, the chief judicial office in Rome. He had the power to over turn any verdict by any other courts, as well as the judge in cases involving criminal charges against provincial governors. The Praetor Urbanus was not allowed to leave the city for more ten days. If one of these two Praetors was absent from Rome, the other would perform the duties of both.


The office of consul was the most prestigious of all and represented the summit of a successful career. The minimum age was 42 for plebians and 40 for patricians. The names of the two elected consuls identified the year. Consuls were responsible for the city's political agenda, commanded large-scale armies and controlled important provinces. The consuls served for only one year (to prevent corruption) and could only rule when they agreed, because each consul could veto the other one's decision.

The consuls would alternate monthly as the chairmen of the Senate. They also were the supreme commander in the Roman army, with both begin granted two legions during their consular year. Consuls also exercised the highest juridical power in the Republic, being the only office with the power to override the decisions of the Praetor Urbanus. Only laws and the decrees of the Senate or the People's assembly limited their powers, and only the veto of a fellow consul or a tribune of the plebs could supersede their decisions.

A consul was escorted by twelve lictors, owned imperium and wore the toga praetexta. Because the consul was the highest executive office within the Republic, they had the power to veto any action or proposal by any other magistrate, save that of the Tribune of the Plebs. After a consulship, a consul was assigned one of more provinces and acted as the governor in the same way that a Propraetor, only owing Proconsular imperium. A second consulship could only be attempted after an interval of 10 years to prevent one man holding too much power..


After consul, the next step in the Cursus Honorum was the office of censor. This was the only office in the Roman Republic whos term was a period of 18 months instead of the usual 12. Censors were elected every five years and although the office held no military imperium, it was considered a great honor. The censors took a regular census of the people and then apportioned the citizens into voting classes on the basis of income and tribal affiliation. The censors enrolled new citizens in tribes and voting classes as well. The censors were also in charge of the membership roll of the Senate, every five years adding new senators who had been elected to the requisite offices. Censors could also remove unworthy members from the senate. This ability was lost during the dictatorship of Sulla. Censors were also responsible for construction of public buildings and the moral status of the city.

Censors also had financial duties, in that they had to put out to tender projects that were to be financed by the state. Also, the censors were in charge of the leasing out of conquered land for public use and auction. Though this office own no imperium, meaning no lictors for protection, they were allowed to wear the toga praetexta.

Tribune of the Plebs

Although officially not part of the Cursus Honorum, the office of Tribune of the Plebs was an important step in the political career of plebeians. The Tribune was an office created to protect the right of the common man in Roman politics and served as the head of the Council of the People. Those hold the office were granted sacrosanctity (the right to be legally protected from any physical harm), the power of rescue any plebeian from the hands of a patrician magistrate, and the right to veto any act or proposal of any magistrate, including another tribune of the people and the consuls. The tribune also had the power to exercise capital punishment against any person who interfered in the performance of his duties. The tribunes could even convene a Senate meeting and lay legislation before it and arrest magistrates. Their houses had to remain open for visitors even during the night, and they were not allowed to be more than a days' journey from Rome. Due to their unique power of sacrosanctity, the Tribune had no need for lictors for protection and own no imperium, nor could they wear the toga praetexta.

Princeps Senatus

Another office officially out of the Cursus Honorum was the Princeps Senatus, and was an extremely prestigious office for a patrician. The princeps senatus served as the leader of the Senate and was chosen to serve a five year term by each pair of Censors every five years. Censors could, however, confirm a princeps senatus for a period of another five years. The Princeps Senatus was chosen from any Patrician what had served as a Consul, with former Censors usually holding the office. The office tasks included declaring opening and closure of the senate sessions, deciding the agenda, deciding where the session should take place, imposing order and other rules of the session, meeting in the name of the senate with embassies of foreign countries, and writing in the name of the senate letters and dispatches. This office, like the Tribune, did not own imperium, was no escorted by lictors, and could not wear the toga praetexta.

Dictator and Master of the Horse

Of all the offices within the Roman Republic, none granted as much power and authority as the position of Dictator, known as the Master of the People. In times of emergencies, the Senate would declare that a dictator was required, and the current consuls would appoint a dictator, and this was the only decision that could not be vetoed by the Tribune of the Plebs. The dictator was the sole exception to the Roman legal principles of having multiple magistrate in the same office and being legally able to be held to answer for actions in office. There could never be more than one dictator at any one time for any reason, and no dictator could ever be held legally responsible for any action during his time in office for any reason. The dictator was the highest magistrate in degree of imperium and was attended by 24 lictors. Though his term lasted only 6 months instead of 12, all other magistrates were suspended, granted the dictator absolute authority in both civil and military matters through out the Republic.

When a Dictator entered office, he appointed a Master of the Horse to serve as his second-in-command and the office ceasing to exist once the Dictator left office. The Master of the Horse held Praetorian imperium, was attended by six lictors, and was charged with assisting the Dictator in managing the State. When the Dictator was away from Rome, the Master of the Horse usually remained behind to administrate the city. The Master of the Horse, like the Dictator, had unchangeable authority in all civil and military affairs, with his decisions only being overturned by the Dictator himself.

See also

External link

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