Property Qualifications for the Republican Senate

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Property Qualifications for the Republican Senate

Postby Publius Nonius Severus on Mon Jan 08, 2007 7:56 pm

Salvete Omnes!

While seeking a theme for an article or essay to contribute to this collegium (my first) I came upon through a series of twists and turns a question for which I cannot find an answer and would like to see if you, the august participants of this forum, might have one. The question is: Did the Republican Senate have specific (that is minimally defined) property qualifications?

I came upon this question while doing some research on the breakdown of the centuriate classes, that is, what level of wealth that was required to be of one class or the other. It has often been presented that those of the Senatorial and Equestian Order were in the first (wealthiest) class and thus made up the first 98 centuries. Okay, so senators and equites were in the first class (which according to Livy (I. 43) was a minimum of 100,000 asses (250,0000 sesterces). Now, There are numerous (secondary/tertiary) sources that state to be a member of the order equester, one had to have a minimum of 400,000 sesterces. To be a senator, one had to have 1,000,000 sesterces. But, when were those specific amounts fixed?

The hitch: There are two noteworthy sources that state that Augustus established (and later increased, twice) the qualification levels for senators. First at 400,000 sesterces, then 800,000, and then at either 1,000,000 or 1,200,000 (depending on the source). This is documented in The Life of Augustus, 41 by Seutonius and Roman History by Cassius Dio, liv. and lv. But, there is no source that I can find that demonstrably shows such levels existed for Senators during the Republic.

In his Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, p. 1018, William Smith states:

"..we may safely take it for granted that during the whole of the republican period no such census existed (Plin. H.N. XIV.1), although senators naturally always belonged to the wealthiest classes."

His cite above from Pliny's (The Elder) Natual History is to me vague as evidence of this:

"...For these later ages, the enlarged boundaries of the habitable world, and the vast extent of our empire, have been a positive injury. Since the Censor has been chosen for the extent of his property, since the judge has been selected according to the magnitude of his fortune,..."

My interpretation is that Pliny is suggesting that only in the later ages (post-republic) are positions based on certain levels of wealth (I could be looking at the wrong portion of the cite since chapter 1 is long, but the rest has to do with vines so this appears to be the only pertinent passage)

However, cites in support of a republican-era senatorial census (minimum property qualification) are equally (if not more so) vague. Ab Urbe Condita by Livy, xxiv. 11:

"...As there was a deficiency of sailors, the consuls, acting upon the instructions of the senate, published an order to meet the case. Every one who had been assessed or whose father had been assessed in the censorship of L. Aemilius and C. Flaminius at from 50,000 to 100,000 ases or whose property had since reached that amount, was to furnish one sailor with six months' pay; those whose assessment was from 100,000 to 300,000 were to supply three sailors with twelve months' pay; from 300,000 to 1,000,000 the contribution was to be five sailors, and above that amount seven. The senators were to furnish eight sailors and a year's pay..."

My interpretation of this cite is that if someone was worth more than 1,000,000 asses they had to provide seven sailors and a Senator had to provide eight, then the passage "implies" that a senator had to be worth more than 1,000,0000 asses (2,500,000 sesterces - unless my math is off or the value of money changed). I think this may be an incorrect inference. The reason why senators may have had to provide more sailors is because as conscript fathers, they had a larger stake in the defense of the republic. Additionally, unless of course my math or valuation is wrong, 2,500,000 sesterces is far higher than the qualification that even Augustus set for senators many decades later which seems to further reduce the inferred relevance of minimum wealth and senatorial status.

There is also a cite from Cicero's Letters Ad Familiares, xiii. 5. that is also vague but implies Caesar actually established a senatorial census:

“…Recently also Caesar has selected him for a seat in the senate--a rank which he can scarcely maintain if he loses this holding. Now it is a great hardship that, having been raised in rank, he should occupy an inferior position in regard to wealth, and it is not at all consistent that a man who is a senator by Caesar's favour should be dispossessed of land which is being divided by Caesar's order.”

Again my humble interpretation is that were the person being discussed in the letter (Gaius Curtius) to lose a particular property he owns, then he would not have enough wealth to remain in the senate. Although more compelling than the previous cite (or at least more relevant), it is still far from conclusive that there was a minimum.

So the questions I pose is does anyone here know of a source that gives proof of an actual senate property qualification during the republic?

I realize this point may be trivial in that we already know that senators were of the most wealthy of citizens so what does an exact amount matter. But, in my quest to better understand what I deem to be the most fascinating form of government the earth as ever seen, this is another piece in the puzzle.

Multas gratias vobis ago!



Smith -

Livy (xxiv. 11) -

Cicero (ad fam. xiii. 5) -

Plin. H. N. xiv. 1 -

Suet. Aug, 41 -*.html

Cas Dio Aug liv. -*.html

Cas Dio Aug lv. -*.html
Publius Nonius Severus
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