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The ''equites'' (; la, eques nom. singular; literally "horse-" or "cavalrymen", though sometimes referred to as "
knight A knight is a person granted an honorary title A title is one or more words used before or after a person's name, in certain contexts. It may signify either generation, an official position, or a professional or academic qualification. In so ...

knight
s" in English) constituted the second of the property-based classes of
ancient Rome In historiography Historiography is the study of the methods of historian ( 484– 425 BC) was a Greek historian who lived in the 5th century BC and one of the earliest historians whose work survives. A historian is a person who stud ...
, ranking below the
senatorial class
senatorial class
. A member of the equestrian order was known as an ''eques''.


Description

During the
Roman kingdom The Roman Kingdom, also referred to as the Roman monarchy, or the regal period of ancient Rome, was the earliest period of Roman history The history of Rome includes the history of the Rome, city of Rome as well as the Ancient Rome, civili ...
and the first century of the
Roman Republic The Roman Republic ( la, Rēs pūblica Rōmāna ) was a state of the classical Roman civilization, run through public In public relations Public relations (PR) is the practice of managing and disseminating information from an indiv ...
,
legionary A recreation of Roman legionaries wearing the '' lorica segmentata'', 1st–3rd century The ancient Rome, Roman legionary (in Latin ''legionarius'', plural ''legionarii'') was a professional heavy infantryman of the Roman army after the Marian refo ...
cavalry was recruited exclusively from the ranks of the
patrician Patrician may refer to: * Patrician (ancient Rome), the original aristocratic families of ancient Rome, and a synonym for "aristocratic" in modern English usage * Patrician (post-Roman Europe), the governing elites of cities in parts of medieval a ...
s, who were expected to provide six ''
centuriae ''Centuria'' (, plural ''centuriae'') is a Latin term (from the stem ''centum'' meaning one hundred) denoting military units consisting of (originally) 100 men. The size of the century changed over time and from the first century B.C.E. throughou ...
'' of cavalry (300 horses for each consular legion). Around 400BC, 12 more ''centuriae'' of cavalry were established and these included non-patricians (
plebeians In ancient Rome, the plebeians (also called plebs) were the general body of free Roman citizenship, Roman citizens who were not Patrician (ancient Rome), patricians, as determined by the capite censi, census, or in other words "commoners". Both ...

plebeians
). Around 300 BC the
Samnite Wars The First, Second, and Third Samnite Wars (343–341 BC, 326–304 BC, and 298–290 BC) were fought between the Roman Republic The Roman Republic ( la, Rēs pūblica Rōmāna ) was a state of the , run through of the . Beginning with t ...
obliged Rome to double the normal annual military levy from two to four legions, doubling the cavalry levy from 600 to 1,200 horses. Legionary cavalry started to recruit wealthier citizens from outside the 18 ''centuriae''. These new recruits came from the first class of commoners in the
Centuriate Assembly The Centuriate Assembly (Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language A classical language is a language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to b ...
organisation, and were not granted the same privileges. By the time of the
Second Punic War The Second Punic War, which lasted from 218 to 201BC, was the second of three wars fought between Carthage Carthage was the capital city of the ancient , on the eastern side of the in what is now . Carthage was the most important trading ...

Second Punic War
(218–202 BC), all the members of the first class of commoners were required to serve as cavalrymen. The presence of ''equites'' in the Roman cavalry diminished steadily in the period 200–88 BC as only ''equites'' could serve as the army's senior officers; as the number of legions proliferated fewer were available for ordinary cavalry service. After 88 BC, ''equites'' were no longer drafted into the legionary cavalry, although they remained technically liable to such service throughout the ''
principate The Principate is the name sometimes given to the first period of the Roman Empire The Roman Empire ( la, Imperium Rōmānum ; grc-gre, Βασιλεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων, Basileía tôn Rhōmaíōn) was the post-Republican Republ ...
'' era (to AD 284). They continued to supply the senior officers of the army throughout the ''principate''. With the exception of the purely hereditary patricians, the ''equites'' were originally defined by a property threshold. The rank was passed from father to son, although members of the order who at the regular quinquennial (every five years) census no longer met the property requirement were usually removed from the order's rolls by the Roman censors. In the late republic, the property threshold stood at 50,000 ''
denarii The denarius (, dēnāriī ) was the standard Roman Roman or Romans most often refers to: *, the capital city of Italy *, Roman civilization from 8th century BC to 5th century AD *, the people of ancient Rome *', shortened to ''Romans'', a ...
'' and was doubled to 100,000 by the emperor
Augustus Caesar Augustus (23 September 63 BC19 August AD 14) was the first Roman emperor The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire during the imperial period (starting in 27 BC). The emperors used a variety of different titles through ...

Augustus
(sole rule 30 BC – AD 14) – roughly the equivalent to the annual salaries of 450 contemporary legionaries. In the later republican period, Roman senators and their offspring became an unofficial
elite In Political philosophy, political and sociology, sociological theory, the elite (French ''élite'', from Latin ''eligere'', to select or to sort out) are a small group of powerful people who hold a economic inequality, disproportionate amount o ...

elite
within the equestrian order. Under Augustus, the senatorial elite was given formal status (as the ''ordo senatorius'') with a higher wealth threshold (250,000 ''denarii'', or the pay of 1,100 legionaries) and superior rank and privileges to ordinary ''equites''. During the ''principate'', ''equites'' filled the senior administrative and military posts of the imperial government. There was a clear division between jobs reserved for senators (the most senior) and those reserved for non-senatorial ''equites''. But the career structure of both groups was broadly similar: a period of junior administrative posts in Rome or
Roman Italy (the Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roman Repub ...

Roman Italy
, followed by a period (normally a decade) of military service as a senior army officer, followed by senior administrative or military posts in the provinces. Senators and ''equites'' formed a tiny elite of under 10,000 members who monopolised political, military and economic power in an empire of about 60 million inhabitants. During the 3rd century AD, power shifted from the Italian aristocracy to a class of ''equites'' who had earned their membership by distinguished military service, often rising from the ranks: career military officers from the provinces (especially the
Balkan The Balkans ( ), also known as the Balkan Peninsula, are a geographic area in southeastern Europe Europe is a continent A continent is any of several large landmass A landmass, or land mass, is a large region In geograp ...

Balkan
provinces) who displaced the Italian aristocrats in the top military posts, and under
Diocletian Diocletian (; la, Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus; born Diocles; 22 December c. 244 – 3 December 311) was from 284 to 305. Born to a family of low status in , Diocletian rose through the ranks of the military to become a commander of ...
(ruled 284–305) from the top civilian positions also. This effectively reduced the Italian aristocracy to an idle, but immensely wealthy, group of landowners. During the 4th century, the status of ''equites'' was debased to insignificance by excessive grants of the rank. At the same time the ranks of senators were swollen to over 4,000 by the establishment of the
Byzantine Senate The Byzantine Senate or Eastern Roman Senate ( el, Σύγκλητος, ''Synklētos'', or , ''Gerousia'') was the continuation of the Roman Senate, established in the 4th century by Constantine I Constantine I ( la, Flavius Valerius Consta ...
, a second senate in
Constantinople la, Constantinopolis ota, قسطنطينيه , alternate_name = Byzantion (earlier Greek name), Nova Roma ("New Rome"), Miklagard/Miklagarth (Old Norse Old Norse, Old Nordic, or Old Scandinavian is a stage of development of North Germa ...

Constantinople
and the tripling of the membership of both senates. The senatorial order of the 4th century was thus the equivalent of the equestrian order of the ''principate''.


Regal era (753–509 BC)

According to Roman legend, Rome was founded by its first king,
Romulus Romulus () was the legendary founder Founder or Founders may refer to: Places *Founders Park, a stadium in South Carolina, formerly known as Carolina Stadium * Founders Park, a waterside park in Islamorada, Florida#In popular culture, Islamora ...
, in 753 BC. However, archaeological evidence suggests that Rome did not acquire the character of a unified city-state (as opposed to a number of separate hilltop settlements) until 625BC. Roman tradition relates that the Order of Knights was founded by Romulus, who supposedly established a cavalry regiment of 300 men called the ''
Celeres __NoToC__ The ''celeres'' () were the bodyguard of the King of Rome, Kings of Rome. Traditionally established by Romulus, the legendary founder and first King of ancient Rome, Rome, the celeres comprised three hundred men, ten chosen by each of th ...
'' ("Swift Squadron") to act as his personal escort, with each of the three Roman "tribes" (actually voting constituencies) supplying 100 horses. This cavalry regiment was supposedly doubled in size to 600 men by King
Lucius Tarquinius Priscus Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, or Tarquin the Elder, was the legendary fifth king of Rome , established_title = Founded , established_date = 753 BC , founder = King Romulus , image_map = Map of comune of Rome (m ...
(traditional dates 616–578 BC). That the cavalry was increased to 600 during the regal era is plausible, as in the early republic the cavalry fielded remained 600-strong (two legions with 300 horses each). However, according to Livy, King
Servius Tullius Servius Tullius was the legendary sixth king of Rome The king of Rome ( la, rex Romae) was the chief magistrate Chief magistrate is a public official, executive or judicial, whose office is the highest in its class. Historically, the two d ...
(traditional reign-dates 578–535 BC) established a further 12 ''centuriae'' of ''equites'', a further tripling of the cavalry. Yet this was probably anachronistic, as it would have resulted in a contingent of 1,800 horse, incongruously large, compared to the heavy infantry, which was probably only 6,000 strong in the late regal period. Instead, the additional 12 ''centuriae'' were probably created at a later stage, perhaps around 400 BC, but these new units were political not military, most likely designed to admit plebeians to the Order of Knights. Apparently, ''equites'' were originally provided with a sum of money by the state to purchase a horse for military service and for its fodder. This was known as an ''equus publicus''.Livy I.43
Theodor Mommsen Christian Matthias Theodor Mommsen (; 30 November 1817 – 1 November 1903) was a German classical scholar Classics or classical studies is the study of classical antiquity, and in the Western world traditionally refers to the study of Anci ...

Theodor Mommsen
argues that the royal cavalry was drawn exclusively from the ranks of the
patricians The patricians (from la, patriciusPatricius may refer to: People * Patricius (consul 500), prominent East Roman general and consul *Patricius (jurist), 5th-century Roman jurist * Patricius (usurper) (died 352), leader of the Jewish revolt aga ...
(''patricii''), the aristocracy of early Rome, which was purely hereditary. Apart from the traditional association of the aristocracy with horsemanship, the evidence for this view is the fact that, during the republic, six ''centuriae'' (voting constituencies) of ''equites'' in the ''
comitia centuriata The Centuriate Assembly (Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power o ...

comitia centuriata
'' (electoral assembly) retained the names of the original six royal cavalry ''centuriae''. These are very likely the "''centuriae'' of patrician nobles" in the ''comitia'' mentioned by the lexicologist
Sextus Pompeius Festus Sextus Pompeius Festus, usually known simply as Festus, was a Ancient Rome, Roman grammarian who probably flourished in the later 2nd century AD, perhaps at Narbo (Narbonne) in Gaul. Work He made a 20-volume epitome of Verrius Flaccus's voluminous ...
. If this view is correct, it implies that the cavalry was exclusively patrician (and therefore hereditary) in the regal period. (However, Cornell considers the evidence tenuous).


Early republic (509–338 BC)

It is widely accepted that the Roman monarchy was overthrown by a patrician coup, probably provoked by the Tarquin dynasty's populist policies in favour of the plebeian class. Alfoldi suggests that the coup was carried out by the ''celeres'' themselves. According to the Fraccaro interpretation, when the Roman monarchy was replaced with two annually elected ''praetores'' (later called "consuls"), the royal army was divided equally between them for campaigning purposes, which, if true, explains why
Polybius Polybius (; grc-gre, Πολύβιος, ; ) was a Greek historian of the Hellenistic period The Hellenistic period covers the period of Mediterranean history between the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and the emergence of the ...

Polybius
later said that a legion's cavalry contingent was 300 strong. The 12 additional ''centuriae'' ascribed by Livy to Servius Tullius were, in reality, probably formed around 400 BC. In 403 BC, according to Livy, in a crisis during the
siege of Veii The Battle of Veii, also known as the Siege of Veii,Michael Grant, ''The History of Rome'', p. 42 was a battle involving ancient Rome In historiography Historiography is the study of the methods of historian ( 484– 425 BC) was ...
, the army urgently needed to deploy more cavalry, and "those who possessed equestrian rating but had not yet been assigned public horses" volunteered to pay for their horses out of their own pockets. By way of compensation, pay was introduced for cavalry service, as it had already been for the infantry (in 406 BC). The persons referred to in this passage were probably members of the 12 new ''centuriae'' who were entitled to public horses, but temporarily waived that privilege. Mommsen, however, argues that the passage refers to members of the first class of commoners being admitted to cavalry service in 403 BC for the first time as an emergency measure. If so, this group may be the original so-called ''equites'' ''equo privato'', a rank that is attested throughout the history of the republic (in contrast to ''equites'' ''equo publico''). However, due to a lack of evidence, the origins and definition of ''equo privato'' ''equites'' remain obscure. It is widely agreed that the 12 new ''centuriae'' were open to non-patricians.Online 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica ''equites'' Thus, from this date if not earlier, not all ''equites'' were patricians. The patricians, as a closed hereditary caste, steadily diminished in numbers over the centuries, as families died out. Around 450 BC, there are some 50 patrician ''gentes'' (clans) recorded, whereas just 14 remained at the time of Julius Caesar (dictator of Rome 48–44 BC), whose own
Iulii The gens Julia was one of the most ancient patrician (ancient Rome), patrician families in ancient Rome. Members of the gens attained the highest dignities of the state in the earliest times of the Roman Republic, Republic. The first of the fami ...
clan was patrician.Oxford ''Patricians'' In contrast, the ranks of ''equites'', although also hereditary (in the male line), were open to new entrants who met the property requirement and who satisfied the
Roman censors The censor (at any time, there were two) was a magistrate in ancient Rome who was responsible for maintaining the census, supervising public morality, and overseeing certain aspects of the government's finances. The power of the censor was abso ...
that they were suitable for membership. As a consequence, patricians rapidly became only a small minority of the equestrian order. However, patricians retained political influence greatly out of proportion with their numbers. Until 172 BC, one of the two consuls elected each year had to be a patrician. In addition, patricians may have retained their original six ''centuriae'', which gave them a third of the total voting-power of the ''equites'', even though they constituted only a tiny minority of the order by 200 BC. Patricians also enjoyed official precedence, such as the right to speak first in senatorial debates, which were initiated by the ''princeps senatus'' (Leader of the Senate), a position reserved for patricians. In addition, patricians monopolized certain priesthoods and continued to enjoy enormous prestige.


Later republic (338–30 BC)


Transformation of state and army (338–290)

The period following the end of the
Latin War The (Second) Latin War (340–338 BC)The Romans customarily dated events by noting the consuls who held office that year. The Latin War broke out in the year that Titus Manlius Imperiosus Torquatus and Publius Decius Mus were consuls and ende ...
(340–338 BC) and of the
Samnite Wars The First, Second, and Third Samnite Wars (343–341 BC, 326–304 BC, and 298–290 BC) were fought between the Roman Republic The Roman Republic ( la, Rēs pūblica Rōmāna ) was a state of the , run through of the . Beginning with t ...
(343–290) saw the transformation of the Roman Republic from a powerful but beleaguered city-state into the hegemonic power of the Italian peninsula. This was accompanied by profound changes in its constitution and army. Internally, the critical development was the emergence of the
senate The Curia Julia in the Roman Forum ">Roman_Forum.html" ;"title="Curia Julia in the Roman Forum">Curia Julia in the Roman Forum A senate is a deliberative assembly, often the upper house or Debating chamber, chamber of a bicameral legislatu ...

senate
as the all-powerful organ of state.Cornell (1995) 369 By 280 BC, the senate had assumed total control of state taxation, expenditure, declarations of war, treaties, raising of legions, establishing colonies and religious affairs. In other words, of virtually all political power. From an ''ad hoc'' group of advisors appointed by the consuls, the senate had become a permanent body of around 300 life peers who, as largely former
Roman magistrates The Roman magistrates were elected officials in Ancient Rome In historiography Historiography is the study of the methods of historian ( 484– 425 BC) was a Greek historian who lived in the 5th century BC and one of the earliest hi ...
, boasted enormous experience and influence. At the same time, the political unification of the
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roman Republic, it became ...
nation, under Roman rule after 338 BC, gave Rome a populous regional base from which to launch its wars of aggression against its neighbours. The grueling contest for Italian hegemony that Rome fought against the Samnite League led to the transformation of the Roman army from the Greek-style ''
hoplite Hoplites () ( grc, ὁπλίτης : hoplítēs) were citizen-soldiers of Ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language Greek ( el, label=Modern Greek Modern Greek (, , or , ''Kiní Neoellinikí Glóssa' ...
''
phalanx The phalanx ( grc, φάλαγξ; plural phalanxes or phalanges, , ) was a rectangular In Euclidean plane geometry, a rectangle is a quadrilateral A quadrilateral is a polygon in Euclidean geometry, Euclidean plane geometry with four Edge ...
that it was in the early period, to the Italian-style manipular army described by Polybius. It is believed that the Romans copied the manipular structure from their enemies the Samnites, learning through hard experience its greater flexibility and effectiveness in the mountainous terrain of central Italy.Cornell (1995) 354 It is also from this period that every Roman army that took the field was regularly accompanied by at least as many troops supplied by the ''
socii The ''socii'' ( in English) or ''foederati ''Foederati'' (, singular: ''foederatus'' ) were peoples and cities bound by a treaty A treaty is a formal, legally binding written agreement between actors in international law Internationa ...
'' (Rome's Italian military confederates, often referred to as "Latin allies"). Each legion would be matched by a confederate ''ala'' (literally: "wing"), a formation that contained roughly the same number of infantry as a legion, but three times the number of horses (900).
Legionary cavalry Roman cavalry (Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Ro ...
also probably underwent a transformation during this period, from the light, unarmoured horsemen of the early period to the Greek-style armoured
cuirassier Cuirassiers (; ) were cavalry Historically, cavalry (from the French word ''cavalerie'', itself derived from "cheval" meaning "horse") are soldier A soldier is a person who is a member of a professional army An army (from La ...

cuirassier
s described by Polybius. As a result of the demands of the Samnite hostilities, a normal consular army was doubled in size to two legions, making four legions raised annually overall. Roman cavalry in the field thus increased to approximately 1,200 horses. This now represented only 25% of the army's total cavalry contingent, the rest being supplied by the Italian confederates. A legion's modest cavalry share of 7% of its 4,500 total strength was thus increased to 12% in a confederate army, comparable with (or higher than) any other forces in Italy except the Gauls and also similar to those in Greek armies such as Pyrrhus's.


Political role

Despite an ostensibly democratic constitution based on the sovereignty of the people, the Roman Republic was in reality a classic
oligarchy Oligarchy (; ) is a form of power structure A power structure is an overall system of influence between any individual and every other individual within any selected group of people. A description of a power structure would capture the way in ...
, in which political power was monopolised by the richest social echelon. Probably by 300 BC, the ''centuriate'' organisation of the Roman citizen body for political purposes achieved the evolved form described by Polybius and Livy. The ''comitia centuriata'' was the most powerful people's assembly, as it promulgated
Roman laws This is a partial list of Roman laws. A Roman law (Latin: ''lex'') is usually named for the sponsoring legislator and designated by the adjective, adjectival form of his ''gens'' name (''Roman naming convention, nomen gentilicum''), in the feminine ...
and annually elected the
Roman magistrates The Roman magistrates were elected officials in Ancient Rome In historiography Historiography is the study of the methods of historian ( 484– 425 BC) was a Greek historian who lived in the 5th century BC and one of the earliest hi ...
, the executive officers of the state: consuls, ''
praetors Praetor ( , ), also pretor, was the title A title is one or more words used before or after a person's name, in certain contexts. It may signify either generation, an official position, or a professional or academic qualification. In some langu ...
'', ''
aediles Aedile ( ; la, aedīlis , from , "temple edifice") was an elected office of the Roman Republic The Roman Republic ( la, Rēs pūblica Rōmāna ) was a state of the classical Roman civilization, run through public In public relations ...
'' and ''
quaestors A ( , ; "investigator") was a public official in Ancient Rome In historiography Historiography is the study of the methods of historian ( 484– 425 BC) was a Greek historian who lived in the 5th century BC and one of the earliest ...
''.Cornell (1995) 379-80 In the assembly, the citizen body was divided into 193 ''centuriae'', or voting constituencies. Of these, 18 were allocated to ''equites'' (including patricians) and a further 80 to the first class of commoners, securing an absolute majority of the votes (98 out of 193) for the wealthiest echelon of society, although it constituted only a small minority of the citizenry. (The lowest class, the ''proletarii'', rated at under 400 ''drachmae'', had just one vote, despite being the most numerous). As a result, the wealthiest echelon could ensure that the elected magistrates were always their own members. In turn, this ensured that the senate was dominated by the wealthy classes, as its membership was composed almost entirely of current and former magistrates.


Military officer role

In the "''polybian''" army of the mid-republic (338 – 88 BC), ''equites'' held the exclusive right to serve as senior officers of the army. These were the six ''tribuni militum'' in each legion who were elected by the ''comitia'' at the start of each campaigning season and took turns to command the legion in pairs; the ''praefecti sociorum'', commanders of the Italian confederate ''alae'', who were appointed by the consuls; and the three '' decurions'' that led each squadron (''
turma A ''turma'' (Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roman ...
'') of legionary cavalry (a total of 30 ''decurions'' per legion).


Cavalry role

As their name implies, ''equites'' were liable to cavalry service in the legion of the mid-republic. They originally provided a legion's entire cavalry contingent, although from an early stage (probably from c. 400 and not later than c. 300 BC), when equestrian numbers had become insufficient, large numbers of young men from the first class of commoners were regularly volunteering for the service, which was considered more glamorous than the infantry. The cavalry role of ''equites'' dwindled after the
Second Punic War The Second Punic War, which lasted from 218 to 201BC, was the second of three wars fought between Carthage Carthage was the capital city of the ancient , on the eastern side of the in what is now . Carthage was the most important trading ...

Second Punic War
(218–201 BC), as the number of equestrians became insufficient to provide the senior officers of the army and general cavalrymen as well. ''Equites'' became exclusively an officer-class, with the first class of commoners providing the legionary cavalry.


Ethos

From the earliest times and throughout the Republican period, Roman ''equites'' subscribed, in their role as Roman cavalrymen, to an ethos of personal heroism and glory. This was motivated by the desire to justify their privileged status to the lower classes that provided the infantry ranks, to enhance the renown of their family name, and to augment their chances of subsequent political advancement in a martial society. For ''equites'', a focus of the heroic ethos was the quest for ''spolia militaria'', the stripped armour and weapons of a foe whom they had killed in single combat. There are many recorded instances. For example,
Servilius Geminus Pulex The gens Servilia was a patrician Patrician may refer to: * Patrician (ancient Rome), the original aristocratic families of ancient Rome, and a synonym for "aristocratic" in modern English usage * Patrician (post-Roman Europe), the governing elit ...
, who went on to become Consul in 202 BC, was reputed to have gained ''spolia'' 23 times. The higher the rank of the opponent killed in combat, the more prestigious the ''spolia'', and none more so than ''spolia duci hostium detracta'', spoils taken from an enemy leader himself. Many ''equites'' attempted to gain such an honour, but very few succeeded for the reason that enemy leaders were always surrounded by large numbers of elite bodyguards. One successful attempt, but with a tragic twist, was that of the decurion Titus Manlius Torquatus in 340 BC during the Latin War. Despite strict orders from the consuls (one of whom was his own father) not to engage the enemy, Manlius could not resist accepting a personal challenge from the commander of the Tusculan cavalry, which his squadron encountered while on reconnaissance. There ensued a fiercely contested joust with the opposing squadrons as spectators. Manlius won, spearing his adversary after the latter was thrown by his horse. But when the triumphant young man presented the spoils to his father, the latter ordered his son's immediate execution for disobeying orders. "Orders of Manlius" (''Manliana imperia'') became a proverbial army term for orders that must on no account be disregarded.


Business activities

In 218 BC, the ''
lex Claudia ''The Lex Claudia'' () also known as the ''plebiscitum Claudianum'' or the ''lex Claudia de nave senatoris'', was a Roman law Roman law is the legal system of ancient Rome In historiography, ancient Rome is Roman people, Roman civilizatio ...
'' restricted the commercial activity of senators and their sons, on the grounds that it was incompatible with their status. Senators were prohibited from owning ships of greater capacity than 300 ''amphorae'' (about seven tonnes) - this being judged sufficient to carry the produce of their own landed estates but too small to conduct large-scale sea transportation. From this time onwards, senatorial families mostly invested their capital in land. All other equestrians remained free to invest their wealth, greatly increased by the growth of Rome's overseas empire after the Second Punic War, in large-scale commercial enterprises including mining and industry, as well as land. Equestrians became especially prominent in
tax farming Farming or tax-farming is a technique of financial management in which the management of a variable revenue stream is assigned by legal contract to a third party and the holder of the revenue stream receives fixed periodic rents from the contract ...
and, by 100 BC, owned virtually all tax-farming companies (''
publicani In antiquity Antiquity or Antiquities may refer to Historical objects or periods Artifacts * Antiquities, objects or artifacts surviving from ancient cultures Eras Any period before the European Middle Ages In the history of Europe, ...
''). During the late republican era, the collection of most taxes was contracted out to private individuals or companies by competitive tender, with the contract for each province awarded to the ''publicanus'' who bid the highest advance to the state treasury on the estimated tax-take of the province. The ''publicanus'' would then attempt to recoup his advance, with the right to retain any surplus collected as his profit. This system frequently resulted in extortion from the common people of the provinces, as unscrupulous ''publicani'' often sought to maximise their profit by demanding a much higher rates of tax than originally set by the government. The provincial governors whose duty it was to curb illegal demands were often bribed into acquiescence by the ''publicani''.Encyclopædia Britannica Online ''Publicani'' The system also led to political conflict between 'equites publicani'' and the majority of their fellow-''equites'', especially senators, who as large landowners wanted to minimise the tax on land outside Italy (''tributum solis''), which was the main source of state revenue.Talbert (1996) 341 This system was terminated by the first Roman emperor,
Augustus Caesar Augustus (23 September 63 BC19 August AD 14) was the first Roman emperor The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire during the imperial period (starting in 27 BC). The emperors used a variety of different titles through ...

Augustus
(sole rule 30 BC – 14 AD), who transferred responsibility for tax collection from the ''publicani'' to provincial local authorities (''civitates peregrinae''). Although the latter also frequently employed private companies to collect their tax quotas, it was in their own interests to curb extortion. During the imperial era, tax collectors were generally paid an agreed percentage of the amount collected. ''equites publicani'' became prominent in banking activities such as money-lending and money-changing.


Privileges

The official dress of equestrians was the (narrow-striped tunic), worn underneath the
toga The toga (, ), a distinctive garment of ancient Rome In historiography Historiography is the study of the methods of historian ( 484– 425 BC) was a Greek historian who lived in the 5th century BC and one of the earliest histori ...
, in such a manner that the stripe over the right shoulder was visible (as opposed to the broad stripe worn by senators.Talbert (1996) 326) ''equites'' bore the title ''eques Romanus'', were entitled to wear an ''anulus aureus'' (gold ring) on their left hand, and, from 67 BC, enjoyed privileged seats at games and public functions (just behind those reserved for senators).Jones (1964) 8


Augustan equestrian order (Principate era)


Differentiation of the senatorial order

The senate as a body was formed of sitting senators, whose number was held at around 600 by the founder of the ''principate'', Augustus (sole rule 30 BC – AD 14) and his successors until 312. Senators' sons and further descendants technically retained equestrian rank unless and until they won a seat in the senate. But Talbert argues that Augustus established the existing senatorial elite as a separate and superior order ''(ordo senatorius)'' to the ''equites'' for the first time. The evidence for this includes: * Augustus, for the first time, set a minimum property requirement for admission to the senate, of 250,000 ''denarii'', two and a half times the 100,000 ''denarii'' that he set for admission to the equestrian order. * Augustus, for the first time, allowed the sons of senators to wear the ''tunica laticlavia'' (tunic with broad purple stripes that was the official dress of senators) on reaching their majority even though they were not yet members of the senate. * Senators' sons followed a separate ''
cursus honorum The ''cursus honorum'' (; , or more colloquially 'ladder of offices') was the sequential order of public offices held by aspiring politicians in the Roman Republic The Roman Republic ( la, Rēs pūblica Rōmāna ) was a state of the cla ...
'' (career-path) to other ''equites'' before entering the senate: first an appointment as one of the ''vigintiviri'' ("Committee of Twenty", a body that included officials with a variety of minor administrative functions), or as an ''augur'' (priest), followed by at least a year in the military as ''tribunus militum laticlavius'' (deputy commander) of a legion. This post was normally held before the tribune had become a member of the senate. * A marriage law of 18 BC (the ''
lex Julia A ''Lex Julia'' (or: Lex Iulia, plural: Leges Juliae/Leges Iuliae) was an ancient Roman law that was introduced by any member of the Julian family. Most often, "Julian laws", ''Lex Iulia'' or ''Leges Iuliae'' refer to moral legislation introduced ...
'') seems to define not only senators but also their descendants unto the third generation (in the male line) as a distinct group. There was thus established a group of men with senatorial rank (''senatorii'') wider than just sitting senators (''senatores''). A family's senatorial status depended not only on continuing to match the higher wealth qualification, but on their leading member holding a seat in the senate. Failing either condition, the family would revert to ordinary knightly status. Although sons of sitting senators frequently won seats in the senate, this was by no means guaranteed, as candidates often outnumbered the 20 seats available each year, leading to intense competition.


''Ordo equester'' under Augustus

As regards the equestrian order, Augustus apparently abolished the rank of ''equo privato'', according all its members ''equo publico'' status. In addition, Augustus organised the order in a quasi-military fashion, with members enrolled into six ''turmae'' (notional cavalry squadrons). The order's governing body were the ''seviri'' ("Committee of Six"), composed of the "commanders" of the ''turmae''. In an attempt to foster the ''equites'' ''esprit de corps'', Augustus revived a defunct republican ceremony, the ''recognitio equitum'' (inspection of the ''equites''), in which ''equites'' paraded every five years with their horses before the consuls. At some stage during the early ''principate'', ''equites'' acquired the right to the title "''egregius''" ("distinguished gentleman"), while senators were styled "''clarissimus''", "most distinguished"). Beyond ''equites'' with ''equus publicus'', Augustus' legislation permitted any Roman citizen who was assessed in an official census as meeting the property requirement of 100,000 ''denarii'' to use the title of ''eques'' and wear the narrow-striped tunic and gold ring. But such "property-qualified ''equites''" were not apparently admitted to the ''ordo equester'' itself, but simply enjoyed equestrian status.Jones (1964) 7, 8Encyclopædia Britannica Online ''Ancient Rome'' Only those granted an ''equus publicus'' by the emperor (or who inherited the status from their fathers) were enrolled in the order. Imperial ''equites'' were thus divided into two tiers: a few thousand mainly Italian ''equites equo publico'', members of the order eligible to hold the public offices reserved for the ''equites''; and a much larger group of wealthy Italians and provincials (estimated at 25,000 in the 2nd century) of equestrian status but outside the order.Jones (1964) 7, 8 Equestrians could in turn be elevated to senatorial rank (e.g.
Pliny the Younger Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, born Gaius Caecilius or Gaius Caecilius Cilo (61 – c. 113), better known as Pliny the Younger (), was a lawyer, author, and magistrate of Ancient Rome In historiography Historiography is the study ...

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 of 250,000 ''denarii'', but also had to be elected a member of the senate. There were two routes for this, both controlled by the emperor: * The normal route was election to the post of ''
quaestor A ( , ; "investigator") was a public official in Ancient Rome In historiography Historiography is the study of the methods of historian ( 484– 425 BC) was a Greek historian who lived in the 5th century BC and one of the earliest ...
'', the most junior magistracy (for which the minimum eligible age was 27 years), which carried automatic membership of the senate. Twenty ''quaestors'' were appointed each year, a number that evidently broadly matched the average annual vacancies (caused by death or expulsion for misdemeanors or insufficient wealth) so that the 600-member limit was preserved. Under Augustus, senators' sons had the right to stand for election, while equestrians could only do so with the emperor's permission. Later in the Julio-Claudian period, the rule became established that all candidates required imperial leave. Previously conducted by the people's assembly (''comitia centuriata''), the election was in the hands, from the time of
Tiberius Tiberius Caesar Augustus (; 16 November 42 BC – 16 March AD 37) was the second Roman emperor The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire during the History of the Roman Empire, imperial period (starting in 27 BC). The emperors use ...

Tiberius
onwards, of the senate itself, whose sitting members inevitably favored the sons of their colleagues. Since the latter alone often outnumbered the number of available places, equestrian candidates stood little chance unless they enjoyed the special support of the emperor. * The exceptional route was direct appointment to a senate seat by the emperor (''
adlecti During the Roman Kingdom The Roman Kingdom, also referred to as the Roman monarchy, or the regal period of ancient Rome, was the earliest period of Roman history The history of Rome includes the history of the Rome, city of Rome as well as ...
o''), technically using the powers of
Roman censor The censor (at any time, there were two) was a magistrate in ancient Rome In historiography Historiography is the study of the methods of historian ( 484– 425 BC) was a Greek historian who lived in the 5th century BC and one of ...
(which also entitled him to expel members). ''Adlectio'' was, however, generally used sparingly in order not to breach the 600-member ceiling. It was chiefly resorted to in periods when senate numbers became severely depleted e.g. during the , following which the emperor
Vespasian Vespasian (; la, Vespasianus ; 17 November AD 9 – 23/24 June 79) was a Roman emperor who reigned from 69 to 79 AD. The fourth and last emperor who reigned in the Year of the Four Emperors, he founded the Flavian dynasty that ruled the Empire ...

Vespasian
made large-scale ''adlectiones''.


Equestrian public careers

In public service, ''equites'' ''equo publico'' had their own version of the senatorial ''
cursus honorum The ''cursus honorum'' (; , or more colloquially 'ladder of offices') was the sequential order of public offices held by aspiring politicians in the Roman Republic The Roman Republic ( la, Rēs pūblica Rōmāna ) was a state of the cla ...
'', or conventional career-path, which typically combined military and administrative posts. After an initial period of a few years in local government in their home regions as administrators (local ''aediles'' or ''duumviri'') or as priests (''augures''), ''equites'' were required to serve as military officers for about 10 years before they would be appointed to senior administrative or military posts.Talbert (1996) 340 Equestrians exclusively provided the ''praefecti'' (commanders) of the imperial army's auxiliary regiments and five of the six ''tribuni militum'' (senior staff officers) in each legion. The standard equestrian officer progression was known as the "''
tres militiae The ''tres militiae'' ("three military posts") was a career progression of the Roman Imperial army for men of the equestrian order The ''equites'' (; la, eques nom. singular; literally "horse-" or "cavalrymen", though sometimes referred to ...
''" ("three services"): ''praefectus'' of a ''
cohors A cohort (from the Latin ''cohors'', plural ''cohortes'', see wikt:cohors for full inflection table) was a standard tactical military unit Military organization or military organisation is the structuring of the armed force A milit ...
'' (auxiliary infantry regiment), followed by ''tribunus militum'' in a legion, and finally ''praefectus'' of an '' ala'' (auxiliary cavalry regiment). From the time of Hadrian, a fourth militia was added for exceptionally gifted officers, commander of an ''ala milliaria'' (double-strength ''ala''). Each post was held for three to four years. Most of the top posts in the imperial administration were reserved for senators, who provided the governors of the larger provinces (except Egypt), the ''legati legionis'' (legion commanders) of all legions outside Egypt, and the ''
praefectus urbi The ''praefectus urbanus'', also called ''praefectus urbi'' or urban prefect in English, was prefect Prefect (from the Latin ''praefectus'', substantive adjectival form of ''praeficere'': "put in front", meaning in charge) is a Magistrate, m ...
'' (prefect of the city of Rome), who controlled the ''
Cohortes Urbanae The ''cohortes urbanae'' (Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language A classical language is a language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "t ...
'' (public order battalions), the only fully armed force in the city apart from the Praetorian Guard. Nevertheless, a wide range of senior administrative and military posts were created and reserved for equestrians by Augustus, though most ranked below the senatorial posts. In the imperial administration, equestrian posts included that of the governorship (''praefectus Augusti'') of the province of Egypt, which was considered the most prestigious of all the posts open to ''equites'', often the culmination of a long and distinguished career serving the state. In addition, ''equites'' were appointed to the governorship (''procurator Augusti'') of some smaller provinces and sub-provinces e.g.
Judaea Judea or Judaea ( or ; from he, יהודה, Standard Standard may refer to: Flags * Colours, standards and guidons * Standard (flag), a type of flag used for personal identification Norm, convention or requirement * Standard (metrolog ...
, whose governor was subordinate to the governor of
Syria Syria ( ar, سُورِيَا or ar, سُورِيَة, ''Sūriyā''), officially the Syrian Arab Republic ( ar, ٱلْجُمْهُورِيَّةُ ٱلْعَرَبِيَّةُ ٱلسُّورِيَّةُ, al-Jumhūrīyah al-ʻArabīyah as-S ...
.Goldsworthy (2003) 64–5 Equestrians were also the chief financial officers (also called '' procuratores Augusti'') of the imperial provinces, and the deputy financial officers of senatorial provinces. At Rome, equestrians filled numerous senior administrative posts such as the emperor's secretaries of state (from the time of Claudius e.g. correspondence and treasury) and the '' praefecti annonae'' (director of grain supplies). In the military, equestrians provided the '' praefecti praetorio'' (commanders of the Praetorian Guard) who also acted as the emperor's chiefs of military staff. There were normally two of these, but at times irregular appointments resulted in just a single incumbent or even three at the same time. Equestrians also provided the '' praefecti classis'' (admirals commanding) of the two main imperial fleets at
Misenum Miseno is one of the ''frazioni A ''frazione'' (plural: ) is a type of subdivision of a ''comune The (; plural: ) is a basic Administrative division, constituent entity of Italy, roughly equivalent to a township or municipality. Impo ...
in the bay of Naples and at
Ravenna Ravenna ( , , also ; rgn, Ravèna) is the capital city of the Province of Ravenna The province of Ravenna ( it, provincia di Ravenna; ) is a province A province is almost always an administrative division Administrative division, admin ...

Ravenna
on the Italian
Adriatic The Adriatic Sea () is a body of water separating the Italian Peninsula from the Balkans. The Adriatic is the northernmost arm of the Mediterranean Sea, extending from the Strait of Otranto (where it connects to the Ionian Sea) to the northwest a ...

Adriatic
coast. The command of Rome's fire brigade and minor constabulary, the ''
vigiles The ''Vigiles'' or more properly the ''Vigiles Urbani'' ("watchmen of the City A city is a large human settlement.Goodall, B. (1987) ''The Penguin Dictionary of Human Geography''. London: Penguin.Kuper, A. and Kuper, J., eds (1996) ''The Soci ...
'', was likewise reserved for ''equites''. Not all ''equites'' followed the conventional career-path. Those equestrians who specialised in a legal or administrative career, providing judges (''iudices'') in Rome's law courts and state secretaries in the imperial government, were granted dispensation from military service by Emperor
Hadrian Hadrian (; la, Caesar Traianus Hadrianus ; 24 January 76 – 10 July 138) was Roman emperor from 117 to 138. He was born into a Roman Italo-Hispanic family, which settled in Spain from the Italian city of Atri, Abruzzo, Atri in Picenum. Hi ...

Hadrian
(r. AD 117–138).Jones (1964) At the same time, many ''equites'' became career military officers, remaining in the army for much longer than 10 years. After completing their ''tres militiae'', some would continue to command auxiliary regiments, moving across units and provinces. Already wealthy to start with, ''equites equo publico'' accumulated even greater riches through holding their reserved senior posts in the administration, which carried enormous salaries (although they were generally smaller than senatorial salaries). For example, the salaries of equestrian ''procuratores'' (fiscal and gubernatorial) ranged from 15,000 to a maximum of 75,000 ''denarii'' (for the governor of Egypt) per annum, whilst an equestrian ''praefectus'' of an auxiliary cohort was paid about 50 times as much as a common foot soldier (about 10,000 ''denarii''). A ''praefectus'' could thus earn in one year the same as two of his auxiliary rankers combined earned during their entire 25-year service terms.


Relations with the emperor

It was suggested by ancient writers, and accepted by many modern historians, that Roman emperors trusted equestrians more than men of senatorial rank, and used the former as a political counterweight to the senators. According to this view, senators were often regarded as potentially less loyal and honest by the emperor, as they could become powerful enough, through the command of provincial legions, to launch coups.Tacitus ''Annales'' II.59 They also had greater opportunities for
peculation Embezzlement is the act of withholding asset In financial accounting Financial accounting is the field of accounting Accounting or Accountancy is the measurement, processing, and communication of financial and non financial informa ...
as provincial governors. Hence the appointment of equestrians to the most sensitive military commands. In Egypt, which supplied much of Italy's grain needs, the governor and the commanders of both provincial legions were drawn from the equestrian order, since placing a senator in a position to starve Italy was considered too risky. The commanders of the Praetorian Guard, the principal military force close to the emperor at Rome, were also usually drawn from the equestrian order. Also cited in support of this view is the appointment of equestrian fiscal ''procuratores'', reporting direct to the emperor, alongside senatorial provincial governors. These would supervise the collection of taxes and act as watchdogs to limit opportunities for corruption by the governors (as well as managing the imperial estates in the province). According to Talbert, however, the evidence suggests that ''equites'' were no more loyal or less corrupt than senators. For example, c. 26 BC, the equestrian governor of Egypt,
Cornelius Gallus Gaius Cornelius Gallus (c. 70 – 26 BC) was a Roman poet A poet is a person who creates poetry. Poets may describe themselves as such or be described as such by others. A poet may simply be a writer of poetry, or may perform their art to an ...
, was recalled for politically suspect behaviour and sundry other misdemeanours. His conduct was deemed sufficiently serious by the senate to warrant the maximum penalty of exile and confiscation of assets. Under Tiberius, both the senatorial governor and the equestrian fiscal procurator of
Asia Asia () is Earth's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the Eastern Hemisphere, Eastern and Northern Hemisphere, Northern Hemisphere of the Earth, Hemispheres. It shares the continental landmass of Eurasia with the cont ...
province were convicted of corruption. There is evidence that emperors were as wary of powerful ''equites'' as they were of senators. Augustus enforced a tacit rule that senators and prominent equestrians must obtain his express permission to enter the province of Egypt, a policy that was continued by his successors. Also, the command of the Praetorian Guard was normally split between two ''equites'', to reduce the potential for a successful ''coup d'état''. At the same time, command of the second military force in Rome, the ''cohortes urbanae'', was entrusted to a senator.


Oligarchical rule in the early ''principate'' (to AD 197)

Because the senate was limited to 600 members, ''equites'' ''equo publico'', numbering several thousands, greatly outnumbered men of senatorial rank. Even so, senators and ''equites'' combined constituted a tiny elite in a citizen-body of about 6 million (in AD 47) and an empire with a total population of 60–70 million. This immensely wealthy elite monopolised political, military and economic power in the empire. It controlled the major offices of state, command of all military units, ownership of a significant proportion of the empire's arable land (e.g. under
Nero Nero ( ; full name: Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus; 15 December AD 37 – 9 June AD 68) was the fifth emperor of Rome. He was Adoption in Ancient Rome, adopted by the Roman emperor Claudius at the age of 13 and s ...

Nero
(r.54–68), half of all land in ''
Africa proconsularis Africa is the world's second-largest and second-most populous continent A continent is one of several large landmasses. Generally identified by convention (norm), convention rather than any strict criteria, up to seven regions are co ...
'' province was owned by just six senators) and of most major commercial enterprises. Overall, senators and ''equites'' cooperated smoothly in the running of the empire. In contrast to the chaotic civil wars of the late republic, the rule of this tiny oligarchy achieved a remarkable degree of political stability. In the first 250 years of the ''principate'' (30 BC – AD 218), there was only a single episode of major internal strife: the .


Equestrian hierarchy

It seems that from the start the equestrians in the imperial service were organised on a hierarchical basis reflecting their pay-grades. According to
Suetonius Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (), commonly known as Suetonius ( ; c. AD 69 – after AD 122), was a Roman historianRoman historiography stretches back to at least the 3rd century BC and was indebted to earlier Greek historiography. The Romans ...

Suetonius
, writing in the early part of the second century AD, the equestrian procurators who "performed various administrative duties throughout the empire" were from the time of
Emperor Claudius I Claudius ( ; Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus; 1 August 10 BC – 13 October AD 54) was the fourth Roman emperor, ruling from AD 41 to 54. A member of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, Claudius was born to Nero Claudius D ...
organised into four pay-grades, the ''trecenarii'' the ''ducenarii'', the ''centenarii'', and the ''sexagenarii'', receiving 300,000, 200,000, 100,000, and 60,000 sesterces per annum respectively. Cassius Dio, writing a century later, attributed the beginnings of this process to the first emperor, Augustus, himself. There is almost no literary or epigraphic evidence for the use of these ranks until towards the end of the 2nd century. However, it would seem that the increasing employment of equestrians by the emperors in civil and military roles had had social ramifications for it is then that there begin to appear the first references to a more far-reaching hierarchy with three distinct classes covering the whole of the order: the ''Viri Egregii'' (Select Men); the ''Viri Perfectissimi'' ("Best of Men"); and the ''Viri Eminentissimi'' ("Most Eminent of Men"). The mechanisms by which the equestrians were organised into these classes and the distinctions enforced is not known. However, it is generally assumed that the highest class, the ''Viri Eminentissimi'', was confined to the ''
Praetorian Prefect The praetorian prefect ( la, praefectus praetorio, el, ) was a high office in the Roman Empire The Roman Empire ( la, Imperium Rōmānum ; grc-gre, Βασιλεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων, Basileía tôn Rhōmaíōn) was the post-Repub ...
s'', while the ''Viri Perfectissimi'' were the heads of the main departments of state, and the great prefectures, including Egypt, the city watch (''vigiles''), the corn supply (''annona'') etc. and men commissioned to carry out specific tasks by the emperor himself such as the military ''
duces ''Dux'' (; plural: ''ducēs'') is Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through ...
''. The defining characteristic of the ''perfectissimate'' seems to have been that its members were of or associated socially (i.e. as ''clientes'' - see
Patronage in ancient Rome Patronage ''(clientela)'' was the distinctive relationship in Social class in ancient Rome, ancient Roman society between the ''patronus'' ("patron") and their ''cliens'' ("client"). The relationship was hierarchical, but obligations were mutual. ...
of Great Men) with the imperial court circle and were office-holders known to the emperor and appointed by his favour. It is also possible that system was intended to indicate the hierarchy of office-holders in situations where this might be disputed. The ''Viri Egregii'' comprehended the rest of the Equestrian Order, in the service of the emperors. The ''Viri Egregii'' included officials of all four pay-grades. ''Ducenariate'' procurators governing provinces not reserved for senators were of this category as were the ''praefecti legionum'', after
Gallienus Publius Licinius Egnatius Gallienus (; c. 218 – September 268) was Roman emperor with his father Valerian (emperor), Valerian from 253 to 260 and alone from 260 to 268. He ruled during the Crisis of the Third Century that nearly caused the coll ...

Gallienus
opened all legionary commands to equestrians. However, it seems that after 270 AD the ''procuratores ducenarii'' were elevated into the ranks of the ''Viri Perfectissimi''.


Equestrians in the later empire (AD 197–395)


Rise of the military equestrians (3rd century)

The 3rd century saw two major trends in the development of the Roman aristocracy: the progressive takeover of the top positions in the empire's administration and army by military equestrians and the concomitant exclusion of the Italian aristocracy, both senators and ''equites'' and the growth in hierarchy within the aristocratic orders. Augustus instituted a policy, followed by his successors, of elevating to the ''ordo equester'' the ''primus pilus'' (chief centurion) of each legion, at the end of his single year in the post. This resulted in about 30 career-soldiers, often risen from the ranks, joining the order every year. These ''equites primipilares'' and their descendants formed a section of the order that was quite distinct from the Italian aristocrats who had become nearly indistinguishable from their senatorial counterparts. They were almost entirely provincials, especially from the Danube provinces where about half the Roman army was deployed. These Danubians mostly came from Pannonia, Moesia, Thrace, Illyria and Dalmatia. They were generally far less wealthy than the landowning Italians (not benefiting from centuries of inherited wealth) and they rarely held non-military posts. Their professionalism led emperors to rely on them ever more heavily, especially in difficult conflicts such as the
Marcomannic Wars The Marcomannic Wars (: ''bellum Germanicum et Sarmaticum'', "German and Sarmatian War") were a series of wars lasting from about 166 AD until 180. These wars pitted the against, principally, the and and the ; there were related conflicts w ...
(166–180). But because they were only equestrians, they could not be appointed to the top military commands, those of ''
legatus Augusti pro praetore A ''legatus Augusti pro praetore'' (literally: "envoy of the emperor – acting for the praetor") was the official title of the governor A governor is, in most cases, a public official with the power to govern the Executive (government), executi ...
'' (governor of an imperial province, where virtually all military units were deployed) and ''
legatus legionis A ''legatus'' (anglicised Linguistic anglicisation (or anglicization, occasionally anglification, anglifying, or Englishing) is the practice of modifying foreign words, names, and phrases to make them easier to spell, pronounce, or understan ...
'' (commander of a legion). In the later 2nd century, emperors tried to circumvent the problem by elevating large numbers of ''primipilares'' to senatorial rank by ''adlectio''.Goldsworthy (2000) 164 But this met resistance in the senate, so that in the 3rd century, emperors simply appointed equestrians directly to the top commands, under the fiction that they were only temporary substitutes (''praeses pro legato'').
Septimius Severus Lucius Septimius Severus (; 11 April 145 – 4 February 211) was Roman emperor from 193 to 211. He was born in Leptis Magna (present day Al-Khums, Libya) in the Roman province of Africa (Roman province), Africa. As a young man he advanced thro ...
(r. AD 193–211) appointed ''primipilares'' to command the three new legions that he raised in 197 for his Parthian War, Legio I, II & III Parthica
Gallienus Publius Licinius Egnatius Gallienus (; c. 218 – September 268) was Roman emperor with his father Valerian (emperor), Valerian from 253 to 260 and alone from 260 to 268. He ruled during the Crisis of the Third Century that nearly caused the coll ...

Gallienus
(r. AD 253–268) completed the process by appointing ''equites'' to command all the legions. These appointees were mostly provincial soldier-equestrians, not Italian aristocrats. Under the reforming emperor
Diocletian Diocletian (; la, Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus; born Diocles; 22 December c. 244 – 3 December 311) was from 284 to 305. Born to a family of low status in , Diocletian rose through the ranks of the military to become a commander of ...
(r. AD 284–305), himself an Illyrian equestrian officer, the military equestrian "takeover" was brought a stage further, with the removal of hereditary senators from most administrative, as well as military posts. Hereditary senators were limited to administrative jobs in Italy and a few neighbouring provinces (Sicily, Africa, Achaea and Asia), despite the fact that senior administrative posts had been greatly multiplied by the tripling of the number of provinces and the establishment of
dioceses In church governance, a diocese or bishopric is the ecclesiastical district under the jurisdiction of a bishop A bishop is an ordained, consecrated, or appointed member of the Clergy#Christianity, Christian clergy who is generally entrust ...
(super-provinces). The exclusion of the old Italian aristocracy, both senatorial and equestrian, from the political and military power that they had monopolised for many centuries was thus complete. The senate became politically insignificant, although it retained great prestige. The 3rd and 4th centuries saw the proliferation of hierarchical ranks within the aristocratic orders, in line with the greater stratification of society as a whole, which became divided into two broad classes, with discriminatory rights and privileges: the ''honestiores'' (more noble) and ''humiliores'' (more base). Among the ''honestiores'', equestrians were divided into five grades, depending on the salary-levels of the offices they held.Jones (1964) 525 These ranged from ''egregii'' or ''sexagenarii'' (salary of 60,000 ''
sesterces The sestertius (plural sestertii), or sesterce (plural sesterces), was an ancient Roman In historiography, ancient Rome is Roman people, Roman civilization from the founding of the Italian city of Rome in the 8th century BC to the collaps ...
'' = 15,000 ''denarii'') to the ''eminentissimi'' (most exalted), limited to the two commanders of the Praetorian Guard and, with the establishment of Diocletian's
tetrarchy The Tetrarchy was the system instituted by Roman Emperor The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire during the imperial period (starting in 27 BC). The emperors used a variety of different titles throughout history. Often when ...
, the four ''praefecti praetorio'' (not to be confused with the commanders of the Praetorian Guard in Rome) that assisted the tetrarchs, each ruling over a quarter of the empire.Jones (1964) 525


Idle aristocracy (4th century)

From the reign of
Constantine I Constantine I ( la, Flavius Valerius Constantinus; ; 27 February 22 May 337), also known as Constantine the Great, was Roman emperor The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire during the imperial period (starting in 27 BC). Th ...

Constantine I
the Great (312–37) onwards, there was an explosive increase in the membership of both aristocratic orders. Under Diocletian, the number of sitting members of the senate remained at around 600, the level it had retained for the whole duration of the ''principate''. But Constantine established
Byzantium Byzantium () or Byzantion ( grc-gre, Βυζάντιον) was an ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the used in and the from around 1500 BC to 300 BC. It is often roughly divided into the following periods: (), Dark A ...

Byzantium
as a twin capital of the empire, with its own senate, initially of 300 members. By 387, their number had swollen to 2,000, while the senate in Rome probably reached a comparable size, so that the upper order reached total numbers similar to the ''equo publico'' ''equites'' of the early ''principate''. By this time, even some commanders of military regiments were accorded senatorial status.Jones (1964) 528 At the same time the order of ''equites'' was also expanded vastly by the proliferation of public posts in the late empire, most of which were now filled by equestrians. The ''Principate'' had been a remarkably slim-line administration, with about 250 senior officials running the vast empire, relying on local government and private contractors to deliver the necessary taxes and services. During the 3rd century the imperial 'bureaucracy,' all officials and ranks expanded. By the time of the ''
Notitia Dignitatum The ''Notitia Dignitatum'' (Latin for "The List of Offices") is a document of the Late Antiquity, late Roman Empire that details the administrative organization of the Eastern and Western Empires. It is unique as one of very few surviving docume ...
'', dated to 395 A.D. comparable senior positions had grown to approximately 6,000, a 24-fold increase. The total number enrolled in the imperial civilian service, the ''militia inermata'' ('unarmed service') is estimated to have been 30-40,000: the service was professionalized with a staff made up almost entirely of free men on salary, and enrolled in a fictional legion, I Audiutrix. In addition, large numbers of '' decuriones'' (local councillors) were granted equestrian rank, often obtaining it by bribery. Officials of ever lower rank were granted equestrian rank as reward for good service e.g. in 365, the '' actuarii'' (accountants) of military regiments. This inflation in the number of ''equites'' inevitably led to the debasement of the order's prestige. By AD 400, ''equites'' were no longer an echelon of nobility, but just a title associated with mid-level administrative posts. Constantine established a third order of nobility, the ''comites'' (companions (of the emperor), singular form ''
comes ''Comes'' ( ), plural ''comites'' ( ), is the Latin word for "companion", either individually or as a member of a collective denominated a "''comitatus ''Comitatus'' was in ancient times the Latin term for an armed escort or retinue. The term is ...
'', the origin of the medieval noble rank of
count Count (feminine: countess) is a historical title of nobility Nobility is a social class normally ranked immediately below Royal family, royalty and found in some societies that have a formal aristocracy (class), aristocracy. Nobility ...

count
). This overlapped with senators and ''equites'', drawing members from both. Originally, the ''comites'' were a highly exclusive group, comprising the most senior administrative and military officers, such as the commanders of the ''comitatus'', or mobile field armies. But ''comites'' rapidly followed the same path as ''equites'', being devalued by excessive grants until the title became meaningless by 450. In the late 4th and in the 5th century, therefore, the senatorial class at Rome and Byzantium became the closest equivalent to the ''equo publico'' equestrian class of the early ''principate''. It contained many ancient and illustrious families, some of whom claimed descent from the aristocracy of the republic, but had, as described, lost almost all political and military power. Nevertheless, senators retained great influence due to their enormous inherited wealth and their role as the guardians of Roman tradition and culture. Centuries of capital accumulation, in the form of vast landed estates (''latifundia'') across many provinces resulted in enormous wealth for most senators. Many received annual rents in cash and in kind of over 5,000 lbs of gold, equivalent to 360,000 ''
solidi The solidus (Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roman Republic, it ...
'' (or 5 million Augustan-era ''denarii''), at a time when a ''miles'' (common soldier) would earn no more than four ''solidi'' a year in cash. Even senators of middling wealth could expect an income 1,000–1,500 lbs of gold. The 4th-century historian
Ammianus Marcellinus Ammianus Marcellinus (born , died 400) was a Roman soldier This is a list of Roman army units and bureaucrats. *''Accensus'' – Light infantry men in the armies of the early Roman Republic, made up of the poorest men of the army. *''Actuarius' ...
, a former high-ranking military staff officer who spent his retirement years in Rome, bitterly attacked the Italian aristocracy, denouncing their extravagant palaces, clothes, games and banquets and above all their lives of total idleness and frivolity. In his words can be heard the contempt for the senatorial class of a career soldier who had spent his lifetime defending the empire, a view clearly shared by Diocletian and his Illyrian successors. But it was the latter who reduced the aristocracy to that state, by displacing them from their traditional role of governing the empire and leading the army.Jones (1964) 50, 525


Notes


See also

*
Publican In antiquity Antiquity or Antiquities may refer to Historical objects or periods Artifacts * Antiquities, objects or artifacts surviving from ancient cultures Eras Any period before the European Middle Ages In the history of Europe, ...
*
Hippeus ''Hippeis'' ( grc, ἱππεῖς, singular ἱππεύς, ''hippeus'') is a Ancient Greece, Greek term for cavalry. In Ancient Athens, ancient Athenian society, after the Solonian Constitution, political reforms of Solon, the ''hippeus'' was th ...


Citations


References


Ancient

*
Ammianus Marcellinus Ammianus Marcellinus (born , died 400) was a Roman soldier This is a list of Roman army units and bureaucrats. *''Accensus'' – Light infantry men in the armies of the early Roman Republic, made up of the poorest men of the army. *''Actuarius' ...
, ''Res Gestae'' (c. 390 AD) *
Dio Cassius Lucius Cassius Dio (; ) or Dio Cassius ( ''Dion Kassios'')), Cassius Lucius Dio or Cassius Claudius Dio; alleged to have the ' (nickname) Cocceianus was a Roman statesman and historian of Greek and Roman origin. He published 80 volumes of the ...

Dio Cassius
, ''Roman History'' (c. 250 AD) *
Livy Titus Livius (; 59 BC – AD 17), known in English as Livy ( ), was a Ancient Rome, Roman historian. He wrote a monumental history of Rome and the Roman people, titled , covering the period from the earliest legends of Rome before the traditiona ...
, ''
Ab urbe condita 300px, Antoninianus of Pacatianus, Roman usurper, usurper of Roman emperor Philip the Arab, Philip in 248. It reads ''ROMAE AETERANMIL ESIMOET PRIMO'', 'To eternal Rome, in its one thousand and first year.' ''Ab urbe condita'' ( ...
'' (c. 15 AD) *
Plutarch Plutarch (; grc-gre, Πλούταρχος, ''Ploútarchos''; ; AD 46 – after AD 119) was a Greek Middle Platonist Middle Platonism is the modern name given to a stage in the development of Platonic philosophy, lasting from about 90 BC&nbs ...

Plutarch
, ''Lives'' (c. 100 AD) *
Polybius Polybius (; grc-gre, Πολύβιος, ; ) was a Greek historian of the Hellenistic period The Hellenistic period covers the period of Mediterranean history between the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and the emergence of the ...

Polybius
, ''Histories'' (c. 150 BC) *
Suetonius Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (), commonly known as Suetonius ( ; c. AD 69 – after AD 122), was a Roman historianRoman historiography stretches back to at least the 3rd century BC and was indebted to earlier Greek historiography. The Romans ...

Suetonius
, ''Caesares XII'' (c. 100 AD) *
Tacitus Publius Cornelius Tacitus ( , ; – ) was a Roman historian and politician. Tacitus is widely regarded as one of the greatest Roman historians by modern scholars. He lived in what has been called the Silver Age of Latin literature Classi ...

Tacitus
, ''Annales'' (c. 100 AD) * Tacitus, ''Historiae'' (c. 100 AD)


Modern

* * Burton, G. (1987): "Government and the Provinces". In J. Wacher, ed., ''The Roman World'' Vol I * (Bury (1898)): * Cornell, T.J. (1995): ''The Beginnings of Rome'' * Eck, Werner (2000): "Emperor, Senate & Magistrates". In ''Cambridge Ancient History'' 2nd ed., Vol XI *
Goldsworthy, Adrian Adrian Keith Goldsworthy (; born 1969) is a British historian ( 484– 425 BC) was a Greek historian who lived in the 5th century BC and one of the earliest historians whose work survives. A historian is a person who studies and writes about ...
(2000): ''Roman Warfare'' * Goldsworthy, Adrian (2003): ''The Complete Roman Army'' * Heather, Peter (2005): ''Fall of the Roman Empire'' * Jones, A.H.M. (1964): ''Later Roman Empire'' * * Ritner, R.K. (1998): "Egypt Under Roman Rule: the Legacy of Ancient Egypt". In ''Cambridge History of Egypt, Vol I''. Ed. C.F. Petry. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. * Scheidel, Walter (2006): ''Population & Demography'' (Princeton-Stanford Working Papers in Classics) * Sidnell, Philip (2006): ''Warhorse'' * Smith W. (1890): ''Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities'' * Talbert, Richard (1996): "The Senate and Senatorial and Equestrian Posts". In ''Cambridge Ancient History'' 2nd ed., Vol X. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. *


Further reading

*Berry, D. H. 2003. "Eqvester Ordo Tvvs Est: Did Cicero Win His Cases Because of His Support for the Eqvites?" ''The Classical Quarterly'' 53, no. 1: 222–34. . *Breeze, David. 1969. "The organization of the legion: The first cohort and the ''equites'' legionis". ''Journal of Roman Studies'', 59:50–55. *--. 1974. "The organisation of the career structure of the immunes and principales of the Roman army". ''Bonner Jahrbücher'', 174: 245–92. *Coulston, Jonathan. 2000. "'Armed and belted men': The soldiery in imperial Rome". In ''Ancient Rome: The archaeology of the eternal city''. Edited by Jonathan Coulston and Hazel Dodge, 76–118. Oxford: Oxbow. *Duncan-Jones, Richard. 2016. ''Power and Privilege In Roman Society''. New York, NY:
Cambridge University Press Cambridge University Press (CUP) is the publishing business of the University of Cambridge , mottoeng = Literal: From here, light and sacred draughts. Non literal: From this place, we gain enlightenment and precious knowled ...
. *Speidel, Michael P. 1994. ''Riding for Caesar: The Roman Emperor’s horseguards''. Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press Harvard University Press (HUP) is a publishing house Publishing is the activity of making information, literature, music, software and other content available to the public for sale or for free. Traditionally, the term refers to the distrib ...
.


External links

* * {{DEFAULTSORT:Equestrian Order Social classes in ancient Rome Types of cavalry unit in the army of ancient Rome Cavalry units and formations of ancient Rome