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date: 21 April 2018


The title of one of a pair of senior Roman magistrates, elected by the centuriate assembly (see centuria) to hold office for eighteen months. Although they lacked imperium and the right to an escort of lictors (lictores), the censors possessed considerable authority and influence owing to the range of their responsibilities. The censorship was established in 443 bce as a civil magistracy with the primary function of making up and maintaining the official list of Roman citizens (census), previously the task of the consuls (see census). The censors were initially exclusively patrician. One of the leges Publiliae of 339 required that at least one of the censors be a plebeian (see publilius philo, q.), but not until 131 bce were both censors plebeian. The office came to be regarded as the highest position in the cursus honorum and to be held as a rule only by ex-consuls. Censors were normally elected every four (later five) years, but practice varied greatly. After Sulla, by whom the powers of the censors were for a time greatly reduced, election was very irregular, and no censors were elected after 22 bce. Thereafter the emperors themselves assumed responsibility for censorial functions or delegated them to lesser officials.

The powers of the censors extended well beyond the conduct of the census itself. At the most general level they exercised a supervision of the morals of the community (regimen morum). When the lists of citizens were drawn up the censors, if they agreed and stated the reason, might place a mark of censure (nota) against the name of a man whose conduct, public or private, they found reprehensible. The effect of this was to remove the man in question from his tribe (tribus), usually from all the tribes, in which case he became an aerarius, obliged to pay tax but not entitled to vote. The censors also revised the membership of the senate. Here the censorial nota meant exclusion from the senate. Initial admission to the senate was dependent upon the censors down to the time of Sulla, by whose legislation election to the quaestorship automatically brought membership of the senate. Of the equitesequo publico (the members of the equestrian centuries, who held the public horse) the censors conducted a review in the Forum. If the censors found an individual in any way unsuitable for service in the cavalry (or for the distinction it implied), they could deprive him of his horse and status.

The censors were the officials responsible for the leasing of revenue-producing public property (land, forests, mines, etc.), and it was they who made the contracts with the publicani for the collection of the revenue arising (vectigal), as for the collection of the harbour-taxes (portoria) within Roman territory. The contract for the collection of the taxes of an entire province could also be sold to publicani by the censors at Rome, as was most notably the case with the province of Asia (from 123 or 122 bce). In addition, the censors were usually responsible for the letting of contracts for public works (roads, buildings, etc.); the amount available for these was determined by the senate. As Rome's dominion grew, so did the financial operations of the censors, giving rise both to potentially great fortunes for the publicani and to tension between the censors and senate on one side and the publicani and equestrian order on the other.


T. Mommsen, Römisches Staatsrecht 23 (2008), 1, 331 ff.Find this resource:

F. Cancelli, Studi sui censores (1957).Find this resource:

J. Suolahti, The Roman Censors (1963).Find this resource:

H. F. Jolowicz and B. Nicholas, Historical Introduction to the Study of Roman Law, 3rd edn. (1972), 38 f., 51 ff.Find this resource:

A. Drummond, Cambridge Ancient History 72/2 (1989), 186 f. (with bibliog.).Find this resource:

A. W. Lintott, The Constitution of the Roman Republic (1999).Find this resource:

For the censorial fasti, see also

T. R. S. Broughton, The Magistrates of the Roman Republic (1951–1952).Find this resource:

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