The Centuriate System

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The Centuriate System

Postby M Arminius Maior on Wed Aug 11, 2004 3:40 am

Source: The Beginnings of Rome, T.J.Cornell

The people of Rome was divided into centuries, according with their wealth, in five classes, making the Comitia Centuriata.

According with Livy and Dionysius of Halicarnassos, the organization was so (around 211 BC):
(class / property rating / number of centuries)
Class I 100.000 80
Class II 75.000 20
Class III 50.000 20
Class IV 25.000 20
Class V 11-12.500 30

Supernumerary: equites (18, normally placed in 1st class); engineers (2, 2nd class); musicians (2, 4th class); proletarii (1, no class).

The classes above are further sub-divided in seniores and iuniores, half each. The iuniores are the ones with age 17-45, and the seniores, 46-60. Because of the mortality, a centuria senior will have much less people, perhaps a third of a centuria iunior.

Method of assesment: "membership of the classes depended on an assesment of the value of a familiy's estate; the paterfamilias and all free-born males within his potestas were then assigned to the appropriate class". This assesment of value is measured in "as"/"asses", a pound of bronze.

So, if you is (that is, was) a roman citizen, and the Censores evaluated your fortune as being, say, 60.000 asses, then they will put you in the III class. If you is poor, without even a slave, then you is in the last centuria, one of the proletarii.
M Arminius Maior

Postby M Arminius Maior on Wed Aug 11, 2004 3:51 am

My first question is, what is, more or less, 25.000 or 100.000 asses? Is a lot of money in that time? How much costs a chicken or a shoe 2.200 years ago in Rome?

I suppose that a pound of bronze (that is, the "as") means around 450-500 g of metal; this, assuming that it is not the "sextantal as", that weights two ounces, 1/6 of the roman pound.

Belonging to the Classis Prima, it would mean that your family estate will amount to the equivalent to 50 ton. of bronze. Seems to be a great fortune.

What is included in the family estate? I suppose that is: land, house, cattle, gold/money, slaves, and other very valuable objects (statues etc.). How much a great farm costed?

It would be interesting to know the relative prices of the different things, from food and objects to luxuries and metals.
M Arminius Maior

Postby M Arminius Maior on Wed Aug 11, 2004 3:58 am

My second question is, if the centuriate system would be transposed to the modern world, who will be in each class?

My first thought was to transpose the different proportions if each class to the modern society. If, say, 10% of the people in Rome was proletarii, then its only to keep the percentual in mind.
But the things arent so easy. The proportin between the classes varied enormously even in Rome. At the beginning of the Republic, the proletarii was few in number, and at the end it was the majority.
M Arminius Maior

Postby Curio Agelastus on Thu Aug 12, 2004 1:10 am

Salve Marce Arminii,

I don't remember the exact values, but I believe that a loaf of bread cost only a few sesterces - the price fluctuating with grain gluts and shortages, of course. This is one of our best ways of working out just how much every day objects cost in ancient Roma, and I do remember one historian trying to work it all out, but unfortunately I remember neither the name nor the values.

Bene vale,
Marcus Scribonius Curio Britannicus.
Marcus Scribonius Curio Agelastus
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A price list

Postby Aldus Marius on Thu Aug 12, 2004 2:24 am

Avete amici...!

About this time last year I posted a list of prices for everyday necessities in Ancient Rome. I called it "Goin' Shoppin'", and dropped it on the Collegium Via Quotidiana. I reproduce it here for your edumacation!

The list itself is a composite of various ones found in Pompeii. The period, accordingly, is early Empire. It is by no means complete; but it'll give you an idea of what things cost in an established small city of the Flavian era. I put in a relative-values-of-Roman-coins chart, too. (An as is very small, like a penny.) Read on...

I have here a little book called Pompeii: The Day a City Died. In the back of it are reprinted several contemporary documents. And among these are a week's worth of shopping-lists for a small Pompeiian household, with prices. Now, I'm pretty sure I saw a request for some such information; but I don't remember in which thread, or even which Collegium, as it was a long time ago. So I'm posting selections of it here...

[atque memento: 4 asses = 1 sestertius; 4 sestertii = 1 denarius; 25 denarii = 1 aureus.]

- a modius (14 pounds) of corn: 12 asses
- a modius of wheat: 30 asses
- a modius of lupins (beans, I think): 3 asses
- a pound of oil: 4 asses
- a measure of ordinary wine: 1 as
- a measure of fine wine: 4 asses
- a stewpot: 1 as
- a plate: 1 as
- a small drinking-vase: 2 asses
- a bucket: 9 asses
- a lamp: 1 as
- a silver sieve, if you just had to have one: 90 denarii
- a tunic: 15 sesterces
--- take said tunic to the cleaners: 1 denarius
- a mule: 520 sesterces
- two slaves: 5048 sesterces
- cheese: 1 as
- bread for family: 8 asses
- bread for slave: 2 asses
- onions: 5 asses
- semolina: 3 asses
- dates: 1 as
- incense: 1 as
- hard wheat: 16 asses
- black pudding: 1 as
- soft cheese: 4 asses
- leeks: 1 as
- small fishes: 2 asses

Okay. Consider that the as was the Roman equivalent of the penny...
...and the sestertius filled the role of a quarter...
...and the denarius, being the actual unit of exchange, was basically used like a dollar.

Then consider all those supermarkets that advertise their "Low, LOW Prices!!!", and dare any competitor to beat them.

What say we each print out this list and show the loudmouths what competition really looks like!?!

** Marius sprouts an absolutely Fiendish Evil Grin, wolfish as well **

In amicitia,
Aldus Marius Peregrinus.
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Postby Horatius Piscinus on Thu Aug 12, 2004 1:38 pm

Salvete Mari et omnes

And what did it take to get a lil' ass in your sinus? I recall you posted before on a soldier's pay. To make comparison of an ass to a penny you also need to compare income.

As for percentages of population, that was always changing too. At the end of the second century so much wealth had entered Rome that they had to invent a new subclass in the prima classis. These equites had a minimum four times that of the minimum to be in prima classis. By 100 BCE, according to Marcius Philippus, there were barely 2000 families in this upper level. Comparable I suppose to 1% of the population. At that tiime too though the proletarii were shrinking. Proletarii were not generally recruited into the army, although they were during the Punic Wars, and maybe with Marius. However they were commonly recruited for the Roman navy. By the end of the second century Rome could not find enough proletarii citizens to fill out a navy. That indicates something of what was happening in Roman society. The urban poor were increasingly non-citizens, or freedmen. Some freedmen received enfranchisement and were included in the centuriata classes, such as 5000 freedmen who were recruited into the army during the Social War. The classes did not include the very poor or the propertied poor, that is, anyone, in modern terms, who would was below the poverty level. It did not include non-citizens, who would also have made up a good portion of the population in Rome. In other periods things would be different.

M Horatius Piscinus

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