Roman Personal Names, Classes and Careers

Kindly provided to herculaneuminpictures by Michael Binns

Roman names

Men’s Names

The names of Roman citizens originally had a basic format very similar to that of modern English names, as in Gaius Marius, having first a personal name and then the family name. However, as time passed, some additional features were added to the end to show wider family relationship and origin. Some people—especially those involved in public life, it would seem—began to acquire additional names, which were then added to the end of all this. Finally, no doubt when there began to be sizable numbers of new Roman citizens enfranchised in the provinces or permanently residing away from Rome, the city of origin was added to the end of the rest.

This gave the following complete pattern.

praenomen  first, personal name (plural praenomina) A surprisingly limited range, often reduced to an initial: see the list below.
nomen family name (plural nomina) All end in -ius and their plurals in -ii: if any do not, they are not genuinely Roman and are probably Etruscan. It was the name of the gens, the wide family group or clan, though this had a very limited function as a social unit.
filiation “son of ...” The initial letter (or occasionally the full form) of the father’s praenomen in the genitive case (meaning “of”), usually followed by F for filius (son); sometimes influential families added further ancestry, such as N for nepos (grandson).
tribus “tribe”, wider family group (plural is also tribus) Used for registration and voting purposes during the Republic, and usually abbreviated to three or four initials. The original four “urban” tribes were gradually supplemented by thirty-one “rustic” until 241 bc and referred to the place of residence. Thereafter new citizens were added to the existing tribes fairly indiscriminately, the names no longer indicating the origins or residence of their current members. Citizens started to include their tribe in their full name after 84 bc, no doubt because in that year large numbers of Italians, who had been granted Roman citizenship after the Social War of 91–87, were then assigned to tribes after attempts to manipulate where their votes would go. See below for more information about tribes’ names and where they occur.
cognomen family subdivision (plural cognomina) Not all of even the powerful families had these until the later first century AD; some showed supposed occupations or personal characteristics, but, as the names were normally inherited, they were as unreliable as such modern surnames as Old, Butcher, Sergeant, and Sidebottom: “Caesar” meant “long-haired”, but Julius Caesar was bald!
agnomen honorific name (plural agnomina) An individual honour, often publicly awarded and not heritable: it may refer to successful military campaigns, such as in the case of Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus; occasionally it came about from popular usage, as with Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus.
origo city of family residence (plural origines) Usually only recorded if other than Rome.


Here is an example in its full formality.

      M · TVLLIVS · M · F · M · N · COR · CICERO
      Marcus Tullius Marci filius Marci nepos Cornelia tribu Cicero
      praenomen · nomen · filiation (& grandfather’s name) tribe · cognomen

However, this was clearly inconvenient, and so the basic two or three names (the tria nomina of praenomen, nomen, and cognomen) were much more commonly used, and in everyday use individual preference varied: some people were called by their praenomen and nomen, others by their praenomen and cognomen, yet others by their nomen and cognomen.

Under the Empire it became fashionable to become “double-barrelled” by adding after your own names those of perhaps a maternal ancestor or more commonly those of someone who had bequeathed to you and presumably to your successors not only their wealth but also their names. The record is held by a consul ordinarius of AD 169, who had a total of 38 names! See CIL XIV 3609 and Wikipedia - Quintus_Pompeius_Senecio_Sosius_Priscus.

Women’s Names

Women’s names were at first, it seems, similar to men’s, but they seem to have discontinued the use of praenomina at an early date, and these are not often recorded. They took their father’s nomen, but in the feminine form, ending in -ia, and increasingly his cognomen too. After the abandonment of praenomina women sometimes acquired less formal personal cognomina from the need to distinguish them from namesakes. They did not have the modern western custom of taking their husband’s family name, but at some very formal weddings there was an interesting and perhaps comparable custom, whereby the new wife accepted her husband by saying, “Vbi tu Gaius, ego Gaia”, “When you are Gaius, I am Gaia”, playing on the masculine and feminine versions of the praenomen.

Information about women’s names is very limited in written Roman historical sources, as they were written by men and were concerned almost entirely with men’s business—war, politics, and the like. Women mainly occur in literature in poetry, where formal names were not an issue, and it too was written by men! Some information about women’s names comes from historians of the Empire, when women in the imperial families could become involved in state affairs, such as Iulia Domna, the wife of Septimius Seuerus, and Iulia Maesa, her sister and the mother of Iulia Soaemias Bassiana and Iulia Auita Mamaea.

A much more useful source is epigraphy, where we find a good number of women’s tombstones and even letters written by women, such as Claudia Seuera’s birthday invitation to her friend, Sulpicia Lepidina, which was found at Chesterholm, Vindolanda, on Hadrian’s Wall. Furthermore, the modern greater involvement of women in further academic study is sure to increase a timely interest in women’s names and more research into them as into other aspects of women in history.


An adopted person took the same status as a natural child of his adopter and his name too, if the latter were a Roman citizen, at least as far as his praenomen and nomen, but he added his former nomen with the suffix -ianus as his new cognomen. Much less commonly the suffix -inus was used on the former cognomen, or even, from the first century BC, the former cognomen may be kept unaltered. The system applied not only to children but to adults too, for it was used to ensure the continuance of wealthy but shrinking families and sometimes to establish a close link between powerful political families.

Here is an example. In his will Gaius Iulius Caesar adopted his great-nephew Gaius Octauius (who had only two names) and made him his chief heir, and so by normal usage the latter would have become Gaius Iulius Caesar Octauianus, but for political reasons (the magic name of Gaius Iulius Caesar!) it suited him to ignore the Octauianus part, whereas we prefer to call him Octavian to avoid confusion: he later received the agnomen of Augustus and became the first emperor of Rome.


Slaves only had one name, as at law they were property and so could have no family of their own. In the third century and the first half of the second century BC Rome acquired Greek slaves through warfare against Greeks, and so became accustomed to slaves with Greek names, whether or not the slaves really were Greek: it seems that later slaves from other places received Greek names from Greek slave-merchants to make them more sellable. Some early slaves, presumably not Greek, had names ending in ­por (from puer, “boy”, here in the sense of “slave”; cf. “boy” in older usage in southern USA): so Marcipor was the slave of a Marcus. Quite regularly slaves add their master’s name with S for seruus, “slave”, after their own name as a substitute for filiation, as in Tiro M(arci) Tulli S(eruus), Tiro, slave of Marcus Tullius (Cicero, the orator). Women slaves were usually called ancilla rather than serua, but translating this as “maid” is misleading, and simply “slave” should be used or “slave-woman” or “slave-girl”, if her gender matters.


Some slaves received their freedom, becoming liberti, “freedmen”, or libertae, “freedwomen”, and their names then changed in a similar way to those of adoptees, their former slave name becoming their cognomen without change. As he had no legal father, a freedman substituted his former master’s name with L for libertus in place of the filiation; women used L for liberta. For example, when Marcus Tullius Cicero (the orator) freed his slave Tiro, he then became Marcus Tullius M(arci) L(ibertus) Tiro. Strange cognomina and in particular Greek ones after normal Roman praenomina and nomina are often the marks of a slave origin, not necessarily for that person but for an ancestor, though it may also be a sign of free foreign origin: see the next section.

Other Grants of Citizenship

Grants of Roman citizenship could be made to communities or to individuals, and so to their descendants too, by grant of the Roman People, that is by passing a law, which happened occasionally during the earlier Republic. A law had to have a proposer, and so anyone who obtained citizenship in this way received the praenomen and nomen of the proposer of the law, who became his patronus, his legal patron to whom he owed certain duties of respect and deference as a cliens. However, as mentioned above, after the Social War of 91–87 BC most Italians received Roman citizenship—and Roman names, although it seems that the normal method of receiving the praenomen and nomen of the proposer of the law was not followed because of the enormous numbers and the political implications of the vast patronage involved, a point not considered in most student textbooks.

From the late Republic onwards large grants of Roman citizenship to entire cities in the provinces became increasingly common, especially by Caesar, Augustus, and other early emperors. At first the accompanying political support was often an important factor, especially in periods of internal conflict, but it also became an instrument for encouraging acceptance of Roman administration and ideas. Hence we find huge numbers of people with emperors’ praenomina and nomina from these grants, and so from the later second century AD praenomina started to fall out of use, as so many people had the same ones, and people were indentified by different cognomina instead. The loss of praenomina became almost complete finally in AD 212, when the emperor Caracalla granted Roman citizenship to all free inhabitants of the Roman Empire, and so huge numbers took his first two names, making their praenomina tediously predictable and best ignored!

Roman Praenomina

On inscriptions Roman praenomina are normally abbreviated as below: some are rare and only occur in certain families; a very few others exist, such as Paullus, and tend to be written in full. The lists below are taken from the consul lists up to AD 100 and so only reflect patterns among the more privileged, but it gives a starting-point: you are welcome to delve further. Very few others are known either from literature or from inscriptions, but some do occur in regions that spoke Oscan or Etruscan rather than Latin. Some praenomina were apparently unique to a single family, like Appius (AP) to the Claudii.

Abbreviation praenomen  (plural praenomina)
A Aulus (pronounced “owl-us”)
C Gaius (note the difference of the initials)
CN Gnaeus (note the difference of the initials)
D Decimus(pronounced with a hard c, like a k)
L Lucius (pronounced with a hard c, like a k)
M Marcus
Manius or Manlius (both pronounced with a long a: “maan-(l)i-us”)
MAM Mamercus (rare)
P Publius
Q Quintus
S, SEX Sextus
SER Seruius (the first u is pronounced like a w)
SP Spurius (pronounced “spoo-ri-us”)
T Titus (pronounced with a short i)
TI, TIB  Tiberius (pronounced with a short i and a short e)

SP(urius) also occurs as a bureaucratic creation for the praenomen of illegitimate legionary recruits, who were entered in the rolls as S(ine) P(atre), “without father”.


Some rarer praenomina (with known families from the consular lists up to AD 100)

Most are before 400 BC and so are especially patrician; a few run on later, most notably Appius in the gens Claudia (see an interesting article at
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claudia_(gens)) or re-appear after the end of the Republic.

Abbreviation praenomen  (plural praenomina)
AGR  Agrippa (Furii, 446, 391; ?Curtii; Menenii, 503, 439, 419, 417)
  Ancus (Marcius, king, regn. 642–617; Publicius, early plebeian)
AP  Appius (Claudii, 495, 471, 451–449, 424, 403, 349, 307–296, 268, 264, 212, 185, 143, 130, 79, 54, 38; Iunius, AD 28; Annii, AD 67)
  Hostus (Lucretii, 429)
Caeso (Fabii, 484, 481, 479, 404–390; Duillii, 450–449, 336; Quinctii, 271)
  Lars (?Herminii, 448)
  Licinus (Menenii, 387–376)
MAM  Mamercus (Aemilii, 438, 77)
Numerius (Fabii, ?421, 415–407, 406–390, 266, 247; and several at Pompeii)
OPET  Opiter (Verginii, 478)
POST  Postumus (Aebutii, 442; Cominii, 493)
PROC  Proculus (Geganii, 440; Verginii, 486, ?435–434)
  Volero (Publilii, 399)
VOP Vopiscus (Iulii, 473)


Some later praenomina (again from the consular lists up to AD 100)

Africanus (Fabii, 10 BC)
Camerinus (Antistii, AD 46)
Cossus (Cornelii, 1 BC, AD 25, 60)
Faustus (Cornelii, AD 31, 52)
Galeo (Tettiieni, AD 76)
Galus (Sulpicii, 4 BC)
Iullus (Antonii, 10 BC)
Messalla (Vipstani, AD 48)
Paullus (Aemilius, 34 BC; Fabii, AD 34)
Potitus (Valerii, 29 BC)
Senecio (Memmii, AD 99)
Sisenna (Statilii, AD 16)

The 35 Tribus (with their standard abbreviations).

Tribes of emperors Standard Abbreviation  Areas found (C. means central, E. eastern, etc.)

Urban (4)

   rarely including provincials except where noted.
Palatina PAL  includes some freedmen.
Succusana SVC  
Esquilina ESQ  
Collina COL  includes some men from eastern provinces.

Rustic (31)

Aemilia AEM  W. Italy (6 cities); Macedonia (3).
Aniensis ANI  C. & N. Italy (7); provinces (3).
Arnensis ARN  C. & N. Italy (10); N. Africa (14).
Camilia CAM  S. Italy (1), C. & N. Italy (8?); none outside.
Claudia CLA  Claudius for coloniae and municipia; S. Italy (4), C. & N. Italy (16); N. provinces (8), other (3?); Colchester.
Cornelia COR  C. & S. Italy (10?); provinces (2).
Clustumina CLV  C. Italy (2?), Etruria (10); none outside.
Fabia FAB  Caesar and Augustus; Rome; Italy (12?); provinces (5?).
Falerna FAL  C. Italy (9), rest (2); none outside.
Galeria GAL  Italy (8); Africa (1); Spain (56?); Lyon.
Horatia HOR  Italy (4); Africa (3).
Lemonia LEM  C. & N. Italy (6); none outside.
Maecia MAE  Italy (4); Macedonia (1).
Menenia MEN  C. Italy (6), N. Italy (2); none outside.
Oufentina OVF  C. & N. Italy (9), S. Italy (1); none outside.
Papiria PAP  Nerva and Trajan; C. & N. Italy (8), S. Italy (1); N. Africa (23?); N. provinces (8), other (4?); Gloucester.
Poblilia POB  C. & N. Italy (8); none outside.
Pollia POL  N. Italy (19); Pontus et Bithynia (1); includes men giving “castris” as origo.
Pomptina POM  Galba; W. Italy (12?); none outside.
Pupinia PVP  N.E. Italy (5); Gallia Narbonensis (1).
Quirina QVI  Claudius (individual grants) and Flavian emperors; C. & N. Italy (14); Gaul (7?); N. Africa (44?); Spain (79?); other W. provinces (5), other N. (5?), other (4?); Lincoln.
Romulia ROM  C. & N. Italy (2); none outside.
Sabatina SAB  N. Italy (3?); none outside.
Scaptia SCA  N. Italy (5); Macedonia (1).
Sergia SER  Hadrian; C. & N. Italy (15); Spain (10?); Balkans (8); Danube (5); Galatia (7).
Stellatina STE  C. & N. Italy (14?), S. Italy (1); none outside.
Teretina TER  C. Italy (6); Gallia Narbonensis (1).
Tromentina TRO  C. & N.W. Italy (6); Balkans (5?).
Velina VEL  Picenum (16), rest of Italy (5?); Hispania Tarraconensis (2).
Voltinia VOL  C. & N.W. Italy (7); Gallia Narbonensis (13); Macedonia (1).
Voturia VOT  Ostia, N. Italy (Gallic) (2); none outside.


False tribes derived from the nomen of an enfranchising emperor (7)

Name Abbreviation  Emperor: correct tribes, if known
Aelia AEL  Hadrian; Sergia
Aurelia AVR  Marcus Aurelius, Commodus, Caracalla, Elagabalus; ?
Flauia FLA  Vespasian, Titus, Domitian; Quirina
Iulia IVL  Caesar, Augustus; Fabia
Neruia NER  Nerva; Papiria
Septimia SEP  Septimius Severus; ?
Vlpia VLP  Trajan; Papiria

(Tribes section derived from E. Birley & J. C. Mann, c. 1968, and not up to date.)


Some Naming Sources

Taylor, L. R. (2013). Voting Districts of the Roman Republic. University of Michigan; revised ed. by Linderski, J. Discusses the tribus.
Kajanto, I. (1965). The Latin Cognomina. Helsinki: Societas Scientiarum Fennica.
Broughton, T. R. S. (1951–1986). The Magistrates of the Roman Republic, 3 Vols. New York: The American Philological Association.
Pauly, A; Wissowa, G. (1894–1980). Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft. A vast German encyclopedia of classical scholarship in 84 volumes in two Reihen with many Bände, Supplementbände, and a Register; much is now dated.
Brill’s New Pauly: Encyclopedia of the Ancient World. (2002–2014). Leiden and Boston: Brill. Updated and in English in 28 volumes.There is a German update too: Der Neue Pauly (1996–2012) of 25 volumes.


Roman Social Classes

The Equites and the Senatores

Roman society had a two-tier upper class, the Equites and the Senatores, the latter being a subset of the former, and attempts to force a match with recent British concepts of middle and upper classes are simple-minded and quite wrong, but they have often been appealing concepts to those whose knowledge of the subject has been limited or who have a political will to manipulate history. Each of these upper Roman classes was defined in law, and by the early years of the Empire there were quite separate public career structures operating for those who cared to become involved, structures which were apparently considered to be very effective and fulfilling, as they were to stay largely unchanged for some two hundred and fifty years. Each system was called a cursus honorum, “a run of posts of distinction”, a sequence of official appointments.

Free-born Roman citizens had always been recorded at birth by their “tribe” (a traditional and largely artificial grouping of families for the organisation of voting in certain elections), by their family, and by their wealth (originally to know how they would be able to equip themselves for army service), and so this wealth categorization was a long standing and accepted part of Roman life. As Rome expanded over the centuries from a minor Italian city to become a world superpower, this traditional classification continued in at least one respect, that of identifying the top wealth-class, the Equites. These were citizens with property worth, as eventually defined, over four hundred thousand sesterces, originally a very substantial amount that was possessed by quite a small proportion of the population and derived mainly from agriculture, but, as time passed, the real value decreased with inflation, and Rome’s territorial expansion around the Mediterranean offered many opportunities for enrichment, which generated a large increase in those who qualified financially. However, wealth was not the only criterion, for religious scruple required that those registered as Equites be free from censure in a number of ways, including their source of wealth, and removal and reclassification were real possibilities.

Some old families, all of equestrian classification, had from early times formed the Senate, the traditional council of older and so presumably wiser citizens that is found in most early societies—at least they had had enough wits to survive for many years and to stay prosperous. With the expansion of the Roman population and wealth came an increased demand for involvement in decision making, sometimes only achieved through violence, and so from time to time the numbers of Senators changed, usually upwards, finally settling at around 600 in the early first century BC. It became a requirement that a million sesterces was the minimum wealth for entry and that it was not achieved from trading, whence the eager Victorian desire to link Roman Senators and Equites with their contemporary concepts of upper and middle classes. Entry to the Senate was by election to annual public office as quaestor, but the accompanying membership of the Senate was for life, provided that the member stayed free from official censure and stayed within the wealth requirements. Reaching the curule aedileship or the praetorship gave you the ius imaginum, the legal right to have a lifelike wax bust of yourself made for your family to display at religious functions for ever, and the powerful families had large col lections of imagines; reaching the consulship made you and your family nobilis for ever.

So it can be seen that the 600 or so Senators were simply a small subset of the Equites who had consciously chosen a lifetime career in public service and politics with the accompanying opportunities for personal power, fame, further wealth, and catastrophe. It tended to remain a preserve of a smallish group of powerful wealthy families, and achieving the higher posts in the system was unusual for an entrant from a family that had not traditionally been involved in the Senate, and reaching the consulship particularly so, so that the man was called a nouus homo, “a new chap”. Most of those wanting an involvement in the politics and government of Rome had property far in excess of the legal minimum, as for that matter had probably most Senators, and had equally blameless (or equally well protected) reputations, but found a frustrating lack of opportunity. However, under the Empire the greatly increasing needs of administration and a reluctance by emperors to allow Senators too much access to real power led to a second career structure becoming established for those Equites who were not members of the Senate. It began less formally under the first emperor, Augustus, and was so well formally structured by the emperor Claudius around AD 50 that it outlasted the senatorial system and became in its revised third-century form the main administrative structure of the later Roman Empire.

Patricians and Plebeians

The word patricius is clearly linked with pater, “father” in the sense of father of the city. The patricians appear as a group of citizens who have acquired certain precedence and privileges, particularly the right to hold the main civil and religious offices, that separate them from the remaining citizens, the plebeians. The origin of the distinction between patricians and plebeians is unclear: there are grounds for thinking that it developed after the expulsion of the kings in 510 BC. It may be guessed that the patricians were the heads of the leading families, to whom the kings had looked for advice and support—and who eventually had expelled them. Presumably the distinction was accepted by the plebeians at first, but soon dissatisfaction arose, and they demanded access to political office in particular and a general removal of exclusivity between the orders: for instance, until 445 patricians were not allowed to marry plebeians. At some point a few patrician family groups, gentes, developed plebeian branches: the gens Claudia did this with the Claudii Marcelli being plebeian, but we do not know the circumstances. In 451–0 the Lex Duodecim Tabulorum, the Law of the Twelve Tables, was passed, the first attempt to write down the basic laws of Rome and so to limit patrician control of the processes of government, for until then knowledge of the laws had been the prerogative of the patrician priests.

Five secessiones, formal withdrawals of the plebeians from Rome, are recorded, but some may be later inventions. The secessiones were further attempts by the plebeians to break patrician control of civil and religious office and to gain equal access. In 287 BC, the date of the last secession, the last of the patricians’ main political privileges were removed, but they did retain certain minor privileges throughout the Republic: they alone could be rex sacrorum and interrex, and probably princeps Senatus. However, they often made a point in private life of preserving older, elaborate ritual, such as in the marriage ceremony of confarreatio.

Patricians could become plebeian by a formal transitio ad plebem, a personal crossing to the plebeians, by adoptio, individual adoption, or by adrogatio, the ritual extinction of one family and its inclusion within another. The attraction of becoming plebeian was eligibility for the tribunate, which was exclusively a plebeian post and in the late Republic a post with considerable power, as shown by Publius Sulpicius Rufus and Publius Clodius Pulcher, tribunes in 88 and 58, though both of patrician origin.

The numbers of patricians gradually fell with time: there were around 50 patrician gentes in the fifth century BC, 22 gentes with 81 families around 367 BC, and only 14 with 30 families at the end of the Republic. Being himself patrician, Caesar clearly felt a duty to remedy this decline and was given the power to admit new members in 45 or 44 by a Lex Cassia, as was Octavian in 30 by a Lex Saenia, and later emperors occasionally admitted further members by using their censorial powers. Patricians seem to disappear from public life in the third century AD, and in the fourth the title becomes merely a mark of honour bestowed by the emperor for faithful service and probably no longer heritable.

The following 17 patrician gentes are recorded in the Senate in 179 BC, although others may still have been in existence without being active there at the time.

Aebutii, gone by 55 BC
Claudii except Claudii Marcelli
Furii, gone by 55 BC
Sergii, gone by 55 BC


A nobilis (plural nobiles) was a man who held or had held or one of whose ancestors had held the consulship. It was heritable, and the honour applied also to the women of the holder’s family. If a man who was not of such noble birth reached the consulship, he was referred to by the others as a nouus homo, “a new chap”, which was slightly disparaging. The status gave the ius imaginum, the right to keep imagines (singular imago) of ancestors, wax busts, which were then publicly displayed at such family events as marriages and funerals.

Public Service Careers under the Empire

There had been a long established senatorial career system in public administration under the Republic, but it had come about completely haphazardly and had proved quite inadequate to cope with Rome’s vast growth, being in no small way responsible for the turmoil of the last century of the Republic. Much was done by the first emperor, Augustus (30 BC–AD 14), to regularize and revise the senatorial system and start a new equestrian one to increase the manpower, while Claudius (AD 41–54) was largely responsible for completing the latter, which in the third century was developed into the main administrative system in place of the senatorial one. Both the systems were in use for the intervening two centuries with very little change: they clearly worked well. The systems described below are those that were developed under the Empire and not the purely senatorial system of the Republic which is described elsewhere.

The Equestrian Cursus Honorum (Brief Summary)

Equites started their careers in three main ways, in minor administration in Rome, in command of auxiliary army units (the tres militiae), or in the legionary or city centurionate. Their later careers might lead, if they proved suitable and wished to continue, to a succession of posts as procurator, including the prefectures of fleets (as the elder Pliny), prefect of Legio II Traiana Fortis in Egypt, governorships of minor provinces, and senior financial posts in Rome. At the top of the career were the four major equestrian prefectures, praefectus uigilum, praefectus annonae, praefectus Aegypti, and praefectus praetorio. Occasionally equestrians who had particularly impressed the emperor were “adlected” by him into the Senate at an appropriate grade and so into the Senatorial cursus honorum thereafter.

The Senatorial Cursus Honorum

Men of senatorial family started their careers at about 18 with a post as XXuir (uigintiuir) for one year. Some of these young men (and some of the quaestores, tribuni plebis, aediles, praetores, and consules—see below) were candidati Caesaris, and as such were formally elected unopposed; others competed for the remaining posts. There were four groups of posts within the vigintivirate, and these had an order of prestige, which is normally reflected in the men’s later careers.

In the following year these twenty men were given appointments as tribuni militum of a legion, technically second in command, but clearly they were in the post to learn the business of legionary command for later use; occasionally they received command of detachments. As there were up to thirty-three legions, some men were required to serve a second term (and rarely a third), normally in a different legion.

The next appointment was as quaestor at a minimum age of 25, but at some later date reduced to 24. There were twenty posts, and election formally admitted the man into the Senate; before then he was technically an eques. The posts lasted one year, commencing on 5th December, and at the top was at least one post, probably two, as quaestor Caesaris, possibly later entitled quaestor candidatus Caesaris. From 38 BC two quaestors were attached to each consul. Patricians were guaranteed election as quaestor Caesaris; it was a mark of imperial favour for a plebeian to be so nominated. Ten quaestors were allotted to the ten senatorial provincial governors, and so presumably spent the first part of their term in Rome before accompanying their governor to his province for a year, when he set off in the early summer, and so holding office for almost a year and a half.

A year had to elapse between appointments to major magistracies of Rome (quaestor, tribunus plebis, aedilis, praetor, and consul), unless the emperor gave special dispensation or certain other factors were involved. Unless a man were patrician, he must become a tribunus plebis (10 posts) or aedilis (6 posts) next, before becoming praetor. In AD 14 there were 12 praetorships, raised to 18 by the end of the first century AD, held at a minimum age of 30, and clearly some men decided to seek no further post, once they had entered the Senate—or were offered none. Some praetors had specific legal duties, others apparently had no duties we know of. Otherwise continuous employment could now be expected for ten or fifteen years.

After being praetor he would receive three-year appointments first as legatus legionis and then as governor, legatus Augusti pro praetore, of a smaller imperial province, before becoming eligible for the consulship at 37 (33, if he were a patrician). Occasionally a man might become prefect of one of the two treasuries in Rome instead of one of the other posts; the younger Pliny was unique in holding both posts in succession and nothing else. There were a range of other posts at this level, including nine curatores uiarum. An able man would expect to receive an appointment suo anno, “in his own year”, at the minimum age, but others, the “B stream”, would hold further posts and probably go no further than the consulship, held in their early forties. Careers could be accelerated by Augustus’ lex Papia Poppaea, also known as the ius trium liberum, whereby fathers of up to three children could claim up to three years earlier candidature for office.

There were always two consuls at the same time, but during the Empire they were changed at various intervals during the year, normally about every three months, unless emergencies occurred. The minimum age was 37, or 33 for patricians, unless advances could be claimed for children. The consuls taking up office on 1st January were the consules ordinarii, as their names were placed on the list (ordo) that named the year as the year when X and Y were consuls; later appointees were consules suffecti and did not give their names to the year. If the consul were a member of the imperial family, or a patrician, or consul for a second or subsequent time, he would be a consul ordinarius; otherwise this was a mark of imperial favour. The consulship was now a post of distinction and honour with duties that were only formal. Afterwards able men would be appointed to two or three further three-year tours as governors of major provinces with the largest armies, often finishing in Britain, Syria, or Upper Pannonia (Hungary), each of which had three legions until the end of the second century. Before leaving for the provinces, some men did a three-year spell as curator of a city service (the river and sewers, shrines and public buildings, or aqueducts) in Rome.

At this point the emperor might invite a man to become an amicus Augusti, a member of his informal group of widely experienced advisors who formed his cabinet or privy council, the consilium Caesaris. An outstanding man might continue to become governor for one year (at about 50) of one of the two top senatorial provinces of Africa or Asia, and then praefectus urbis in Rome, responsible for the daytime security of the city, a post requiring absolute loyalty and reliability, with a second consulship at about 60 or 70 for long service! Further consulships were rare, but did occur.

Summary scheme

Minimum Age Number of posts Title of office Where held Tenure
 18   20 posts  XXuir  Rome  1 year
 19   27–33 posts  tribunus militum legionis  province  1 year
 20    —?again  tribunus militum legionis  province  1 year
 25   20 posts  quaestor  Rome  1 year
 27–28   10 posts  tribunus plebis (unless patrician)  Rome  1 year or
 27–28    6 posts  aedilis  Rome  1 year
 30   16 posts  praetor  Rome  1 year
 31–34   27–33 posts  legatus legionis  province  3 years
B stream
 34+    legatus legionis— again province  3 years or
 34+    legatus Augusti pro praetore prouinciae province  3 years
 34+   or other posts
 early 40s   8+ posts  consul  Rome  3 months?
A stream
 34–37   11–14 posts  legatus Augusti pro praetore prouinciae  province  3 years
 37   8+ posts  consul  Rome  3 months?
 38+   3 posts  curator aquarum, etc.  Rome  3 years
 38+   11–14 posts  legatus Augusti pro praetore prouinciae  province  3 years
 38+   —again,  legatus Augusti pro praetore prouinciae  province  3 years
 38+   and again?  legatus Augusti pro praetore prouinciae  province  3 years
 50+   2 posts  proconsul Africae or Asiae  province  1 year
 50+   1 post  praefectus Vrbis  Rome  1 year
 60+    consul II  Rome  3 months?


Michael Binns

University of Durham, Department of Archaeology;

Created 1976-06-11; last rev. 2015-10-09




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Ultimo aggiornamento - Last updated: 21-Nov-2023 18:08