Category Archives: Political Offices

College of Pontiffs: An Old World Tradition in the Modern Era

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Last week we explored a primarily religious role in Ancient Rome that ended up bleeding over into the government when we uncovered the Pontifex Maximus. For further information on this role please check out both Pontifex Maximus: The Greatest Bridge-Builder and Pontifex Maximus: From the Republic’s End to the Present.

Exploring that supreme position leads us into today’s journey as we discover the College of Pontiffs!

College of Pontiffs

The College of Pontiffs (LatinCollegium Pontificum) was a body of the ancient Roman state whose members were the highest-ranking priests of the state religion. The college consisted of the Pontifex Maximus and the other Pontifices, the Rex Sacrorum, the 15 Flamines, and the Vestales.

Goddess (Vesta or Concordia), extending a patera, emblem of the Epulones.

The College of Pontiffs was 1 of the 4 major priestly colleges of Rome. The others were the Augurs (who read omens), the Quindecimviri Sacris Faciundis (15 men who carry out the rites), and the Epulones (who set up feasts at festivals).

The title Pontifex comes from the Latin for Bridge Builder, a possible allusion to a very early role in placating the gods and spirits associated with the Tiber River. Ancient Roman scholar and writer Varro cites this position as meaning “able to do”.

The Pontifex Maximus was the most important member of the college. Until 104 BC, the Pontifex Maximus held the sole power in appointing members to the other priesthoods in the college.

The Flamens were priests in charge of 15 official cults of Roman religion, each assigned to a particular god. The 3 Major Flamens (Flamines Maiores) were the Flamen Dialis (High Priest of Jupiter), the Flamen Martialis (High Priest of Mars), and the Flamen Quirinalis (High Priest of Quirinus).

Flamines, distinguished by their pointed headdress, as part of a procession on the Augustan Altar of Peace.

The deities cultivated by the 12 Flamines Minores were Carmenta, CeresFalacer, FloraFurrina, Palatua, Pomona, Portunes, Volcanus (Vulcan), Volturnus, and 2 whose names are lost.

One of their most important duties was their guardianship of the Libri Pontificales (Pontifical Books). Among these were the ActaAnnales (yearly records of magistrates and important events), Fasti,  Indigitamenta, Ritualia (rituals) and Commentarii. These items were under the sole possession of the College of Pontiffs and only they were allowed to consult these items when necessary.

The Lex Acilia de Intercalando bestowed power on the college to manage the calendar. Thus, they determined the days which religious and political meetings could be held, when sacrifices could be offered, votes cast, and senatorial decisions brought forth.

The most prominent feature of the ruins that were once the Temple of Vesta is the hearth (seen here in the foreground).

The Vestal Virgins were the only female members of the college. They were in charge of guarding Rome’s sacred hearth, keeping the flame burning inside the Temple of Vesta.

Young girls were chosen for this position between ages 6 to 10 years old. These girls were obligated to perform the rites and obligations, including remaining chaste, for 30 years.

Membership in the various colleges of priests, including the College of Pontiffs, was usually an honor offered to members of politically powerful or wealthy families. Membership for the male priests was for life, while the female Vestal Virgins had a time limit.

During the Rēgnum Rōmānum of Roman history, the Pontiffs were primarily Concilia (Advisers) of the kings. However, after the expulsion of the last Roman King in 510 BC, the College of Pontiffs became religious advisers to the Roman Senate.

Chief Pontiff Lepidus (seated), Antony and Octavian in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (c. 42 BC).

As the most important of the 4 priestly colleges, the College of Pontiffs’ duties involved advising the Senate on issues pertaining to the gods, the supervision of the calendar and thus the supervision of ceremonies with their specific rituals, and the appeasement of the gods upon the appearance of omens.

In the early Res Publica Romana, only Pātriciī (Patricians) could become priests. However, that changed in 300 BC when the Lex Ogulnia opened up college to Plebeians.

Until the 3rd Century BC, the Collegium elected the Pontifex Maximus from their own number. The right of the Collegium to elect their own Pontifex Maximus was returned, but the circumstances surrounding this are unclear.

This changed again after Sulla, when in response to his reforms, the election of the Pontifex Maximus was once again placed in the hands of an assembly of 17 of the 25 tribes. However, the College still controlled which candidates the assembly voted on.

The Regia

The College of Pontiffs occupied the Regia during the early Republican Period, replacing the religious authority that was once held by the king. A position, the Rex Sacrorum, was even created to replace the king for purposes of religious ceremonies.

Prior to the start of the Imperium Rōmānum, the office was publicly elected from the candidates of existing Pontiffs. This changed when Julius Caesar automatically assumed the title of Pontifex Maximus upon taking control of Rome, and the Emperors from Augustus on simply followed suit.

The Pontifex Maximus was also a powerful political position to hold, and the candidates for office were often very active political members of the College. Many, such as Julius Caesar, went on to hold Consulships during their time as Pontifex Maximus.


The Pontiffs were assisted by Pontifical Clerks or Scribes (Scribae). This position was known in the earlier Republican period as a Scriba Pontificius, but by the Augustan period as a Pontifex Minorum.

Pontifex Minorum assisted at the rite (Res Divina) for Juno performed each Kalends, the first day of the month. He took up a position in the Curia Calabra, a sacred precinct (templum) on the Capitoline Hill, to observe the new moon.

Around AD 440, when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, Pope Leo I began using the title Pontifex Maximus to emphasize the authority of the Pope. The term Chief Priests in the New Testament (e.g. Mark 15:11) is translated as Pontifices in the Latin Vulgate and High Priest as Pontifex in Hebrews 2:17.

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We hope you enjoyed concluding our journey of the Pontifex Maximus and the College of Pontiffs. Thanks for stopping by and we look forward to having you back again soon.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Beard, Mary. “Roman Priesthoods” in Civilization of the Ancient Mediterranean: Greece and Rome. 3 vols. Scribner’s, 1988.

Cameron, Alan. “The Imperial Pontifex”. Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, 2007.

Dionysius of Halicarnassus. Roman Antiquities II. Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press.

Forsythe, Gary. A Critical History of Early Rome: From Prehistory to the First Punic War. University of California Press, 1 January 2006. ISBN 978-0-520-24991-2.

Lanciani, Rodolfo. New Tales of Ancient Rome. Kessinger Publishing, 2005. ISBN 978-1-41790821-9.

North, John A. “The Constitution of the Roman Republic” in A Companion to Roman Religion. Blackwell, 2010.

Plutarch. “Numa: The Institutions of Roman Religion, 7th Cent. BCE”.

Richardson, Lawrence. A New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.

Rüpke, Jörg. “Communicating with the Gods” in A Companion to Roman Religion. Blackwell, 2010.

Rüpke, Jörg. The Roman Calendar from Numa to Constantine: Time, History, and the Fasti. Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

Szemler, G.J. The Priests of the Republic: A Study of the Interactions between Priesthoods and Magistracies. Collection Latomus, 1972.

Pontifex Maximus: From the Republic’s End to the Present

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Within the realm of what was the Imperium Rōmānum there is almost an infinite amount of topics to uncover or people to discuss. Lucky for us, we got time.

Yesterday we began our examination of the Pontifex Maximus. In our exploration of Pontifex Maximus: The Greatest Bridge-Builder, we inspected what the role actually was and how it was established.

Today we further our examination of a position that was both religious and political in nature as we uncover the Pontifex Maximus: From the Republic‘s End to the Present!

Augustus Caesar as Pontifex Maximus

When we ended yesterday we had discovered that it had been taboo for the Pontifex Maximus to leave Italia, but by the time of Julius Caesar it was commonplace. And speaking of Julius Caesar, it was under Caesar’s authority as Pontifex Maximus that the Julian calendar was created.

After Julius Caesar’s assassination in 44 BC, his ally Marcus Aemilius Lepidus was selected as Pontifex Maximus. Though Lepidus eventually fell out of political favor and was sent into exile as Augustus consolidated power, but Lepidus still retained the priestly office until his death in 13 BC.

It was at this point which Augustus was selected to succeed Lepidus, and was given the right to appoint other Pontifices. So from the time of Augustus onward, there was no longer an election of Pontifices and membership into the Sacred College was deemed a sign of imperial favor.

The Sacred College

With this attribution, the new office of Emperor was given a religious dignity and the responsibility for the entire Roman state cult. Most authors contend that the power of naming the Pontifices was not really used as an Instrumentum Regni (Enforcing Power).

From this point on, Pontifex Maximus slowly lost its specific and historical powers as it gained the sacral aspect of the Emperor’s duties and powers. During the Imperial period, a Promagister (Vice-Master) performed the duties of the Pontifex Maximus in lieu of the Emperor during his absence.

In post-Severan times (post AD 235), the small number of pagan Senators interested in becoming Pontiffs led to a change in the pattern of office holding. In Republican and Imperial times no more than one family member of a gens was member of the College of Pontiffs, nor did one person hold more than one priesthood in this Collegium.

Crisis of the Third Century depicted on a Roman sarcophagus (c. 250 AD).

However, these rules were loosened in the later part of the 3rd Century AD due to the Crisis of the Third Century. The collapse of an entire empire due to invasion, civil war, plague, and economic depression will do that to some rules and regulations.

In periods of joint rule, originally only 1 of the Emperors bore the title of Pontifex Maximus. It occurred for the first time during the reign of Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, when only Marcus Aurelius was Pontifex Maximus.

Later on in AD 238, both Pupienus and Balbinus served together as Pontifex Maximi, an unthinkable situation in Republican times. In the Crisis of the Third Century, usurpers did not hesitate to claim for themselves the role not only of Emperor but of Pontifex Maximus as well.

Even the early Christian Emperors continued to use it. In AD 376, at the time of his visit to Rome, was the practice relinquished by Gratian.

Altar of Victory in Roman Senate

More probably the practice of dual Pontifex Maximi was abandoned in AD 383 when a delegation of pagan Senators implored Gratian to restore the Altar of Victory in the Senate House. A more recent article suggests that the title may have been kept by Gratian and even accepted by Theodosius and Valentinian.

The practice of religious and secular authority united in the sovereign has a long history. In ancient Athens, the Archon Basileus was the principal religious dignitary of the state and, according to legend, was supposed to inherit the religious functions of the king of Athens in earlier times.

With the adoption of Christianity, the Roman Emperors took it on themselves to issue decrees on matters regarding the Christian Church. Unlike the Pontifex Maximus, they did not themselves function as priests, but they acted practically as head of the official religion.

This officially unofficial tradition as head of the Christian Church continued with the Byzantine Emperors. In line with the theory of Moscow as the Third Rome, the Russian Tsars exercised supreme authority over the Russian Orthodox Church.

The title of Pontifex Maximus thus has a very ancient history, dating back to the times of the Roman Republic, but it does not predate the word Pope. The word Pope was found to already be in use during the time of Homer as a name used by a child for addressing a father.

A page from Codex Amiatinus

In the Vulgate translation of the New Testament, the word Pontifex is sometimes used to designate the Jewish high priest, as in John 11:49 and Hebrews 5:1. From perhaps as early as the 3rd Century, it has been used to denote a Bishop, not exclusively the Bishop of Rome.

The word Pontifex later became a term used for Christian Bishops, including the Bishop of Rome, and the title of Pontifex Maximus was applied within the Roman Catholic Church to the Pope as its chief Bishop. In the 15th Century, when the Renaissance stirred up new interest in ancient Rome, Pontifex Maximus became a regular title of honor for Popes.

Emblem of the Pope showcasing the title Pontifex Maximus.

The title Pontifex Maximus appears on buildings, monuments and coins of Popes of Renaissance through modern times. It should be noted that this title used by Popes has never been included in the official list of papal titles published in the Annuario Pontificio.

With the English Reformation, the sovereign of England became Supreme Governor of the Church of England and insisted on being recognized as such. Much the same occurred in other countries affected by the Protestant Reformation.

Joseph II by Joseph Hickel

Even in countries where there was no formal break with the Holy See, various sovereigns assumed similar authority. An example is Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor, whose ecclesiastical policy is described in the Catholic Encyclopedia article on him.

The name given to the book containing the liturgical rites to be performed by any Bishop, The Roman Pontifical, and to the form of liturgy known as Pontifical High Mass witness to the continued use of Pontifex in this wide sense.

In Emperor Theodosius’s edict De fide catholica of 27 February 380, enacted in Thessalonica and published in Constantinople for the whole Empire, by which he established Catholic Christianity as the official religion of the Empire. Theodosius referred to the western Bishop of Rome, Damasus, as a Pontifex, while calling the eastern Bishop of Alexandria, Peter, an Episcopus (Bishop).

Various forms of Summus Pontifex (Highest Pontiff or Bishop) were for centuries used not only of the Bishop of Rome but of other Bishops as well. Hilary of Arles is styled Summus Pontifex by Eucherius of Lyons, and Lanfranc is termed Primas et Pontifex Summus by his biographer, Milo Crispin.

Doubtless, they were originally employed with reference to the Jewish high-priest, whose place the Christian Bishops were regarded as holding each in his own Diocese. From the 11th Century on, however, they appear to be applied only to the Pope.

Pope Benedict XVI in 2010

In December 2012 Pope Benedict XVI adopted @pontifex as his Twitter handle, prompting users to pose questions with the #askpontifex hashtag. This has been maintained by his successor Pope Francis, who now uses it as his Twitter handle.

In C. S. Lewis‘s Christian novel The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Aslan  refers to himself as “the great Bridge-Builder”, a close translation of Pontifex Maximus.

In the dispensationalist fiction series Left Behind, the character Cardinal Peter Mathews is named Pontifex Maximus of the “Enigma Babylon One World Faith“, established by Nicolae CarpathiaGlobal Community Supreme Potentate and Antichrist.

In the X Universe‘s game series, the leader of the Paranid alien race is also referred to as “Pontifex Maximus”. In the game series, the Paranid are notorious for their extremist religious beliefs.

Cover of first edition

In Rick Riordan‘s Heroes of Olympus series main character Jason Grace is promoted to Pontifex Maximus at the end of the 5th book, The Blood of Olympus.

Damian North’s debut novel, his first in a Papal Trilogy, was titled Pontifex Maximus. Published in 2016, it sees the rise of the Antichrist in the heart of Rome.

We hope you enjoyed today’s journey and thanks for helping us wrap up a position that has kept itself alive, both religiously and politically, since the rise of Rome. Be sure to stop by again soon to see what we have in store.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Beard, Mary; North, John and Price, Simon (editors). Religions of Rome. Cambridge University Press, 1998. ISBN 978-0-52145646-3.

Cameron, Alan. “The Imperial Pontifex”. Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, 2007.

Forsythe, Gary. A Critical History of Early Rome: From Prehistory to the First Punic War. University of California Press, 1 January 2006. ISBN 978-0-520-24991-2.

Lanciani, Rodolfo. New Tales of Ancient Rome. Kessinger Publishing, 2005. ISBN 978-1-41790821-9.

Lendering, Jona. “Pontifex Maximus“.

Livy. Ab Urbe Condita.

Manzullo, Neil. “The Roman Persecution of Christians”. Persuasive Writing, 8 February 2000.

Pascal, Paul. “Medieval Uses of Antiquity”. The Classical Journal, Vol. 61, No. 5. February 1966.

Polybius. Corpus Inscriptionum Atticarum.

Sullivan, Francis Aloysius. From Apostles to Bishops. Paulist Press, 2001. ISBN 978-0-8091-0534-2.

Wilhite, David E. Tertullian the African. De Gruyter, Walter 2007. ISBN 978-3-11-019453-1.

Gratian”. Encyclopædia Britannica online, 2008.

Panel Reliefs of Marcus Aurelius and Roman Imperial Iconography”. State University of New York, College at Oneonta.

Pope Benedict to launch new Twitter account”. Vatican Radio, 3 December 2012.

The official Twitter page of Pope Francis

Pontifex Maximus: The Greatest Bridge-Builder

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Within the realm of what was the Imperium Rōmānum there is almost an infinite amount of topics to uncover or people to discuss. Lucky for us, we got time.

One thing that made Rome great was that there was lots of organization. Within the Roman Army or the system of government, everything had a person specifically in charge of certain tasks.

Today we examine a position that was both religious and political in nature as we uncover the Pontifex Maximus!

Pontifex Maximus, illustration by Jacques Grasset de Saint-Sauveur.
Pontifex Maximus, illustration by Jacques Grasset de Saint-Sauveur.

According to the usual interpretation of Latin, the term Pontifex literally means Bridge-Builder (Pons + Facere) while Maximus means Greatest. This was perhaps originally meant in a literal sense since the position of Bridge-Builder was indeed an important one in Rome.

It was in Rome that major bridges were constructed over the Tiber, both the sacred river and a deity. Only prestigious authorities with sacral functions could be allowed to disturb the Tiber with mechanical additions.

However, it was always understood in its symbolic sense as well since the Pontifices were the ones who smoothed the proverbial bridge between gods and men.

The Roman title Pontifex Maximus was rendered in Greek inscriptions and literature of the time. It was also used in the Septuagint text of the Old Testament and in the New Testament to refer to the Jewish high priest.

Early 18th Century depiction of the dedication of a Vestal, by Alessandro Marchesini.
Early 18th Century depiction of the dedication of a Vestal, by Alessandro Marchesini.

Even though this Greatest Pontiff was not building actual bridges, he was the high priest of the College of Pontiffs (Collegium Pontificum). We say “he” because aside from the Vestal Virgins, all religious activities were conducted by men in Ancient Rome.

Initially only Patricians (Pātriciī) were able to hold this most important position in the ancient Roman religion, but in 254 BC Plebian, Tiberius Coruncanius, occupied the post.

A distinctly religious office under the early Roman Republic, it gradually became politicized. Beginning with Rome’s Original EmperorAugustus, it was subsumed into the Imperial office.

Roman peasants, 2 Roman travelers, a nobleman, 2 assistants at sacrifices, a priest of Jupiter, and Pontifex Maximus (from L-R).
Roman peasants, 2 Roman travelers, a nobleman, 2 assistants at sacrifices, a priest of Jupiter, and Pontifex Maximus (from L-R).

Its last use with reference to the Emperors is in inscriptions of Gratian, who reigned from AD 375–383. It was Gratian, however, who then decided to omit the words Pontifex Maximus from his official title.

Even though it was the most influential office within Roman priesthood, the Pontifex Maximus was ranked 5th in the ranking of the highest Roman priests (Ordo Sacerdotum), behind the Rex Sacrorum (King of Sacred Rites) and the 3 Flamines Maiores (Flamen DialisFlamen MartialisFlamen Quirinalis).

College of Pontiffs
Procession of the College of Pontiffs.

The Collegium Pontificum (College of Pontiffs) was the most important priesthood of Ancient Rome. The foundation of this Sacred College and the office of Pontifex Maximus is attributed to the 2nd King of RomeNuma Pompilius.

Much of what is known about the regal period in Roman history is semi-legendary or mythical. The Collegium presumably acted as advisers to the Rex (King) in religious matters.

The Collegium was headed by the Pontifex Maximus, and all the Pontifices held their office for life. The pontifical records of early Rome were most likely destroyed when the city was sacked by the Gauls in 387 BC for the earliest accounts of Archaic Rome come from the literature of the Republic (1st Century BC and later).

Numa Pompilius, as imagined on a Roman coin minted by Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso during the reign of Emperor Augustus.
Numa Pompilius, as imagined on a Roman coin minted by Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso during the reign of Emperor Augustus.

According to the Augustan-era historian Livy, Numa Pompilius, a Sabine, devised Rome’s system of religious rites. This included the manner and timing of sacrifices, the supervision of religious funds, authority over all public and private religious institutions, instruction of the populace in the celestial and funerary rites including appeasing the dead, and expiation of prodigies.

Numa is said to have founded Roman religion after dedicating an altar on the Aventine Hill to Jupiter Elicius and consulting the gods by means of augury. Numa wrote down and sealed these religious instructions, and gave them to the initial Pontifex MaximusNuma Marcius.

An augur holding a lituus, the curved wand often used as a symbol of augury on Roman coins.
An augur holding a lituus, the curved wand often used as a symbol of augury on Roman coins.

According to Livy, after the overthrow of the monarchy the Romans created the priesthood of the Rex Sacrorum to carry out certain religious duties and rituals previously performed by the King. The Rex Sacrorum was explicitly deprived of military and political power, but the Pontifices were permitted to hold both magistracies and military commands.

The official residence of the Pontifex Maximus was the Domus Publica (State House) which stood between the House of the Vestal Virgins and the Via Sacra (close to the Regia) in the Roman Forum. His religious duties were carried out from the Regia.

Unless the pontifex maximus was also a magistrate at the same time, he was not allowed to wear the toga praetexta (i.e. – toga with the purple border). In artistic representations, he can be recognized by his holding an iron knife (secespita) or the patera, and the distinctive robes or toga with part of the mantle covering the head (capite velato).

As previously stated, the Pontifex was not simply a priest. He had both political and religious authority, but it is not clear which held the most importance.


In practice, particularly during the late Republic, the office of Pontifex Maximus was generally held by a member of a politically prominent family. It was a coveted position mainly for the great prestige it conferred on the holder, hence Julius Caesar became Pontifex in 73 BC and Pontifex Maximus in 63 BC.

In 300 BC the Lex Ogulnia opened the office of Pontifex Maximus to public election and permitted the Plebs to be priests. So, that part of the exclusivity of the title was lost.

The Lex Ogulnia also increased the number of Pontiffs (including the Pontifex Maximus) to 9. In 104 BC the Lex Domitia prescribed that the election of all Pontiffs would henceforward be voted by the Comitia Tributa, but only 17 of the 35 tribes (chosen by lot) of the city could vote.

This law was abolished in 81 BC by Sulla in his dictatorship, in the Lex Cornelia de Sacerdotiis, which restored to the great priestly colleges their full rights. Also under Sulla, the number of Pontifices was increased to 15 (the Pontifex Maximus included).

In 63 BC, the law of Sulla was abolished by the Tribunus Plebis Titus Labienus, and a modified form of the Lex Domitia was reinstated providing for election by Comitia Tributa once again. Under Julius Caesar, the number of Pontifices were increased to 16, possibly because Caesar’s own long absences from Rome necessitated the appointment of a deputy Pontiff for those occasions when 15 needed to be present.

The Curia Julia in the Roman Forum, the seat of the Imperial Senate.
The Curia Julia in the Roman Forum, the seat of the Imperial Senate.

The office came into its own with the abolition of the monarchy. Previously most sacral powers which had been vested in the King were transferred either to the Pontifex Maximus or to the Rex Sacrorum, though traditionally a (non-political) dictator was formally mandated by the Senatus (Senate) for one day, to perform a specific rite.

According to Livy in his Ab Urbe Condita Libri, an ancient instruction written in archaic letters commands: “Let him who is the Praetor Maximus fasten a nail on the Ides of September.” This notice was fastened up on the right side of the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, with this nail said to have marked the number of the year.

Speculative model of the first Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus (509 BC).
Speculative model of the first Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus (509 BC).

It was in accordance with this direction that the Consul Marcus Horatius Pulvillus dedicated the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus in the year following the expulsion of the Kings. From the Consuls the ceremony of fastening the nails passed to the Dictators, because they possessed greater authority.

As the custom had been subsequently dropped, it was felt to be of sufficient importance to require the appointment of a Dictator. Lucius Manlius was accordingly nominated for political reasons, but since then the rite has been performed by the Rex Sacrorum.

The main duty of the Pontifices was to maintain the Pax Deorum (Peace of the Gods). As head of the Sacred College, the real power of the Pontifex Maximus lay in the administration of Jus Divinum (Divine Law).

The information collected by the Pontifices related to the Roman religious tradition was bound in a body of text summarizing dogma and other concepts. The chief departments of Jus Divinum may be described as follows:

-The regulation of all expiatory ceremonials needed as a result of pestilence, lightning, etc.

-The consecration of all temples and other sacred places and objects dedicated to the gods.

-The regulation of the calendar; both astronomically and in detailed application to the public life of the state.

-The administration of the law relating to burials and burying-places, and the worship of the Manes or dead ancestors.

-The superintendence of all marriages by conferratio, i.e. originally of all legal Patrician marriages.

-The administration of the law of adoption and of testamentary succession.

-The regulation of the public morals, and fining and punishing offending parties.

Annales Maximi
Annales Maximi

The Pontifices had many relevant and prestigious functions such as being in charge of caring for the state archives, the keeping the official minutes of elected magistrates and list of magistrates. They also kept the records of their own decisions (commentarii) and of the chief events of each year, the Annales Maximi.

The Pontifex Maximus was also subject to several taboos, among them was the prohibition to leave Italia.

Plutarch described Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Serapio as the paramount to leave Italy, after being forced by the Senate to do so, and thus break the sacred taboo. Publius Licinius Crassus Dives Mucianus was the principal to leave Italy voluntarily.

Afterwards it became common and no longer against the law for the Pontifex Maximus to leave Italy. Among the most notable of those who left Italia while Pontifex Maximus was none other than Julius Caesar.

Denarius depicting Julius Caesar as Pontifex Maximus.
Denarius depicting Julius Caesar as Pontifex Maximus.

The Pontifices were in charge of the Roman calendar and determined when intercalary months needed to be added to synchronize the calendar to the seasons. Since the Pontifices were often politicians, and because a Roman Magistrate’s term of office corresponded with a calendar year, this power was prone to abuse.

A Pontifex could lengthen a year in which he, or one of his political allies, was in office or refuse to lengthen one in which his opponents were in power. This caused the calendar to become out of step with the seasons.

Caesar Crossing the Rubicon.
Caesar Crossing the Rubicon.

For example, Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon in January 49 BC actually took place in mid-autumn. Under his authority as Pontifex Maximus, Julius Caesar introduced the calendar reform that created the Julian calendar, with a fault of less than a day per century.

The Julian Calendar remained the standard till the Gregorian reform in the 16th Century. It also, coincidentally, made 46 BC, the year of Julius’s 3rd Consulship, 445 days long.

We hoped you enjoyed today’s journey, but we are not done with the Pontifex Maximus yet. Come back tomorrow to catch the closing half to this story.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Beard, Mary; North, John and Price, Simon (editors). Religions of Rome. Cambridge University Press, 1998. ISBN 978-0-52145646-3.

Cameron, Alan. “The Imperial Pontifex”. Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, 2007.

Forsythe, Gary. A Critical History of Early Rome: From Prehistory to the First Punic War. University of California Press, 1 January 2006. ISBN 978-0-520-24991-2.

Lanciani, Rodolfo. New Tales of Ancient Rome. Kessinger Publishing, 2005. ISBN 978-1-41790821-9.

Lendering, Jona. “Pontifex Maximus“.

Livy. Ab Urbe Condita.

Manzullo, Neil. “The Roman Persecution of Christians”. Persuasive Writing, 8 February 2000.

Pascal, Paul. “Medieval Uses of Antiquity”. The Classical Journal, Vol. 61, No. 5. February 1966.

Polybius. Corpus Inscriptionum Atticarum.

Sullivan, Francis Aloysius. From Apostles to Bishops. Paulist Press, 2001. ISBN 978-0-8091-0534-2.

Wilhite, David E. Tertullian the African. De Gruyter, Walter 2007. ISBN 978-3-11-019453-1.

Gratian”. Encyclopædia Britannica online, 2008.

Panel Reliefs of Marcus Aurelius and Roman Imperial Iconography”. State University of New York, College at Oneonta.

Pope Benedict to launch new Twitter account”. Vatican Radio, 3 December 2012.

The official Twitter page of Pope Francis








Roman Roads: Official Responsibilities and Travel

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Over the past few weeks we’ve taken a closer look at Roman Roads. We’ve seen where they went in Roman Roads: They All Lead Home and how they were made in Roman Roads: Construction and Types.Chariot Ruts

Today we continue that journey as we explore who was responsible for and who traveled on the Roads of Rome!

Roman Law defined the right to use a road as a servitus (claim). The Ius Eundi (Right of Going) established a claim to use an iter (footpath) across private land, while the Ius Agenda (Right of Driving), gave claim for a carriage track.

Via combined both types of servitutes, provided it was of the proper width, which was determined by an Arbiter. The law and tradition also forbade the use of vehicles in urban areas, except in certain cases.

Lex Iulia Municipalis
Lex Iulia Municipalis

Married women and government officials on business, for example, could ride in these vehicles. The Lex Iulia Municipalis restricted commercial carts to night-time access to the city within the walls and within a mile outside the walls.

Censors were the primary official responsible for all things dealing with Roman Roads and they handled their business in the Capital City. Due to the rapid growth of the Roman regions and the diverse labors which had previously detained, transference of the Censorial jurisdictions soon became a necessity

Certain improvised official bodies successively acted as constructing and repairing authorities as well. In Italy, the Censorial responsibility passed to the Commanders of the Roman Armies, and later to special Commissioners and local Magistrates.

Print of Roman ChariotIn the Provinces, the Consul or Praetor and his Legati received authority to deal directly with the contractor. The Aediles, probably by virtue of their responsibility for the freedom of traffic and policing the streets, co-operated with the Censors and the bodies that succeeded them.

It would seem that in the reign of Claudius (AD 41-54) the Quaestores had become responsible for the paving of the streets of Rome, or at least shared that responsibility with the Quatuorviri Viarum. It has been suggested that the Quaestores were obliged to buy their right to an official career by personal outlay on the streets.

There was certainly no lack of precedents for this enforced liberality. The change made by Claudius may have been a mere change in the nature of the expenditure imposed on the Quaestores.

Walls of RomeThe official bodies which first succeeded the Censors in the care of the streets and roads were 2 in number. They were the Quattuorviri Viis in Urbe Purgandis (With Jurisdiction Inside the Walls of Rome) and the Duoviri Viis Extra Urbem Purgandis (With Jurisdiction Outside the Walls).

Both these bodies were probably of ancient origin, but the true year of their institution is unknown. Little reliance can be placed on Pomponius, who states that the Quatuorviri were instituted eodem tempore (at the same time) as the Praetor Peregrinus (i.e. about 242 BC) and the Decemviri Litibus Iudicandis.

The first mention of either body occurs in the Lex Iulia Municipalis of 45 BC. The Quatuorviri were afterwards called Quatuorviri Viarum Curandarum.


The extent of jurisdiction of the Duoviri is derived from their full title as Duoviri Viis Extra Propiusve Urbem Romam Passus Mille Purgandis. Their authority extended over all roads between their respective gates of issue in the city wall and the first milestone beyond.

In case of an emergency in the condition of a particular road, men of influence and liberality were appointed, or voluntarily acted, as Curatores (Temporary Commissioners) to superintend the work of repair. The dignity attached to such a curatorship is attested by a passage of Cicero.

JCAmong those who performed this duty in connection with particular roads was Julius Caesar, who became Curator (67 BC) of the Via Appia, and liberally spent his own money upon it. Certain persons appear also to have acted alone and taken responsibility for certain roads.

In the country districts the Magistri Pagorum had authority to maintain the Viae Vicinales (Roads at or in Villages, Districts, or Crossroads). In Rome itself, each householder was legally responsible for the repairs to that portion of the street which passed his own house.

It was the duty of the Aediles to enforce this responsibility. The portion of any street which passed a temple or public building was repaired by the Aediles at the public expense.

When a street passed between a public building or temple and a private house, the public treasury and the private owner shared the expense equally. To secure uniformity, the personal liability of householders to execute repairs of the streets was commuted for a paving rate payable to the public authorities who were responsible from time to time.

Special Curatores for a term seem to have been appointed on occasion, even after the institution of the permanent Magistrates bearing that title. The Emperors who succeeded Augustus exercised a vigilant control over the condition of the public highways.

Forum and Emerita Augusta
Forum and Emerita Augusta

Their names occur frequently in the inscriptions to restorers of roads and bridges. Thus Vespasian, Titus, DomitianTrajan and Septimius Severus were commemorated in this capacity at Emerita Augusta.

The Itinerary of Antoninus remains as the standing evidence of the minute care which was bestowed on the service of the public roads. The writing was probably a work of much earlier date, then republished in an improved and enlarged form under one of the Antonine Emperors, but it still provides the details about Roman Roads.The Itinerary of Antoninus

Combined topographical and road-maps existed as specialty items in some Roman libraries, but they were expensive, hard to copy, and were not in general use. Travelers wishing to plan a journey could consult an itinerarium, which in its most basic form was a simple list of cities and towns along a given road, and the distances between them.

It was only a short step from lists to a master list, or a schematic route-planner in which roads and their branches were represented more or less in parallel, as in the Tabula Peutingeriana. The most thorough used different symbols for cities, way stations, water courses, and so on. The Roman government from time to time would produce a master road-itinerary.

Roman MapThree Greek geographers (Zenodoxus, Theodotus and Polyclitus) were hired to survey the system and compile a master itinerary in 44 BC by Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. The task took over 25 years and the resulting stone-engraved master itinerary was set up near the Pantheon, from which travelers and itinerary sellers could make copies.

Outside the cities, Romans were avid riders and rode on or drove quite a number of vehicle types, most common were carts driven by oxen. Horse-drawn carts could travel up to 25 to 31 mi per day, while pedestrians could get 12 to 16 mi.

For purposes of description Roman vehicles can be divided into: the car, the coach, and the cart. Cars were used to transport 1 or 2 individuals, coaches were used to transport parties, and carts to transport cargo.

CarrusThe most popular was the carrus (car), a standard chariot descending to the Romans from a greater antiquity, and a carrus survives today in the Vatican Museums. The top was open, the front closed, and it carried a driver and a passenger.

A carrus of 2 horses was a biga; of 3 horses, a triga; and of 4 horses a quadriga. The wheels were of iron, and when not in use, were removed for easier storage.

The carpentum, a more luxurious version, transported women and officials. It had an arched overhead covering of cloth and was drawn by mules.

A lighter version, the cisium (equivalent to a gig), was open above and in front and had a seat. Drawn by 1 or 2 mules or horses, it was used for cab work, the Cab Drivers (Cisiani).Cisium

Of the coaches, the mainstay was the 4-wheeled raeda. The high sides formed a sort of box in which seats were placed, with a notch on each side for entry.

It carried several people with baggage up to the legal limit of 1000 Roman Libra (pounds), modern equivalent 721 lbs, and was drawn by teams of oxen, horses or mules. A cloth top could be put on for weather, in which case it resembled a covered wagon.

Roman CarriageThe raeda was probably the main vehicle for travel on the roads. Raedae meritoriae were hired coaches. The fiscalis raeda was a government coach, with the driver and the builder both referred to as a Raedarius.

Of the carts, the main one was the plaustrum or plostrum. This was simply a platform of boards attached to wheels and a cross-tree.

The wheels were solid and were several inches thick. The sides could be built up with boards or rails.

A large wicker basket was sometimes placed on it. A 2-wheel version existed along with the normal 4-wheel type called the plaustrum maius.

Cursus ClabularisThe military used a standard wagon, the cursus clabularis, after the standard wagon. It transported the impedimenta (baggage of a military column).

MansioNon-military officials, and people on official business, had no Legio (Roman Legion) at their service so the government maintained way stations or mansiones (staying places) for their use. Mansiones, located about 16 to 19 mi apart from each other, provided the official traveler a complete villa dedicated to his use.

Often a permanent military camp or a town grew up around the mansio. For non-official travelers in need of refreshment, a private system of inns (cauponae) were placed near the mansiones.

They performed the same functions but were somewhat disreputable, as they were frequented by thieves and prostitutes. Graffiti decorate the walls of the few whose ruins have been found.

CauponaeGenteel travelers needed something better than cauponae. In the early days of the Viae, when little unofficial provision existed, houses placed near the road were required by law to offer hospitality on demand.

Frequented houses no doubt became the initial tabernae, which were hostels, rather than the taverns we know today. As Rome grew, so did its tabernae, becoming more luxurious and acquiring good or bad reputations as the case may be.Tabernae

One of the best hotels was the Tabernae Caediciae at Sinuessa on the Via Appia, with its large storage room containing barrels of wine, cheese and ham. Many cities of today grew up around a tabernae complex, such as Rheinzabern in the Rhineland and Saverne in Alsace.

MutationesA third system of way stations serviced vehicles and animals. Known as the mutationes (changing stations), they were located every 12 to 19 mi.

In these complexes, the driver could purchase the services of wheelwrights, cartwrights, and Equarii Medici (Veterinarians). Using these stations in chariot relays, the Emperor Tiberius hastened 184 mi in 24 hours to join his brother, Drusus Germanicus, who was dying of gangrene as a result of a fall from a horse.

No matter who was traveling, passports were required for identification. This was both for taxation for traveling, as well as to show the owners of the various inns that their guests were who they claimed to be.

Two postal services were available under the Empire, a public and a private. The Cursus Publicus, founded by Augustus, carried the mail of officials by relay throughout the Roman road system.

Postal ServiceThe vehicle for carrying mail was a cisium with a box, but for special delivery, a horse and rider was faster. On average, a relay of horses could carry a letter 50 mi in a day.

The postal service was a somewhat dangerous occupation, as postmen were a target for bandits and enemies of Rome. Private mail of the well-to-do was carried by Tabellarii, an organization of slaves available for a price.

Ancient Rome boasted impressive technological feats, using many advances that would be lost in the Middle Ages and would not be rivaled until the Modern Age. Many practical Roman innovations were adopted from earlier designs, but were altered to be typically Roman.Road

We hope you enjoyed today’s travel and look forward to having you back again soon. Please let your friends know about us, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Codrington, Thomas. Roman Roads in Britain. London, 1905.

Cresy, Edward. An Encyclopædia of Civil Engineering, Historical, Theoretical, and Practical. Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, Paternoster-Row, 1847.

Forbes, Urquhart A., and Arnold C. Burmester. Our Roman Highways. F.E. Robinson & Co, 1904.

Laurence, Ray. The roads of Roman Italy: mobility and cultural change. Routledge, 1999.

Roby, Henry John. Roman Private Law in the Times of Cicero and of the Antonines. Cambridge University Press, 1902.

Smith, William. A School Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities; Abridged from the Larger Dictionary by William Smith, 1858.

Smith, William, William Wayte, and G. E. Marindin. A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. J. Murray, 1890.

Notitia Dignitatum: Organizing an Empire

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

There is lots of information within the boundaries of what encompassed the Roman Empire. One thing that allowed Rome to last so long was its governmental organization.

Today we jump on Rome’s political policy train as we explore association of offices with the Notitia Dignitatum!ND

Latin for “The List of Offices” this document from the late Roman Empire details the administrative organization of the Eastern and Western Empires. What makes the Notitia Dignitatum unique is that it is one of very few surviving documents of Roman government and describes several thousand offices from the Imperial Court down to the Provincial level, diplomatic missions and Army units.

It is usually considered to be up to date for the Western Roman Empire in the AD 420s and for the Eastern or Byzantine Empire in the AD 390s. However, no absolute date is given in the text itself and omissions complicate deriving an absolute date from its content.

Palestine and the River JordanThere are several extant 15th and 16th Century copies, plus there is also a color-illuminated version from 1542. All the known and extant copies of this document are consequent, either directly or indirectly, from the Codex Spirensis.

This codex was known to have existed since 1542 in the library of the Domus Sanctae Mariae Spirae. It was lost before 1672, and cannot now be located.

As the dominant book form in the ancient world, this particular codex contained a collection of documents that brought together several previous documents and one from the 9th Century. The Notitia Dignitatum was the last and largest document in the Codex Spirensis, occupying 164 total pages.

The heraldry in illuminated manuscripts of Notitia is thought to copy or imitate no other examples than those from the lost Codex Spirensis. The 1542 copy, made for Otto Henry, Elector Palatine, was revised with “illustrations more faithful to the originals added at a later date,” and is held by the Bavarian State Library.

Medieval Copy (1436)
Medieval Copy (1436)

The most important copy of the Codex is that made for Pietro Donato and illuminated by Peronet Lamy.

For each half of the Empire, the Notitia enumerates all major offices in its gift, often with their location and even their exact Officium. These are organized by: Court Officials (including the most senior dignitaries such as Praetorian Prefects); Vicars and Provincial Governors, arranged by Praetorian Prefecture and Diocese; and Military commanders (Magistri MilitumComites Rei Militaris and Duces), showing the full titles and stations of their regiments.

The Notitia Dignitatum presents 4 main problems, as regards the study of the Empire’s military establishment:

Emperor. Principate. Augustus.
Emperor. Principate. Augustus.

The Notitia depicts the Roman Army at the end of the 4th Century. Therefore, its development from the structure of the Principate is largely conjectural, owing to the lack of other evidence.

It was compiled at 2 different times, with the Eastern section from c. AD 395 and the Western from c. AD 420. Each section is probably not a simultaneous picture, but relies on data stretching back as far as 20 years.

The Eastern section may contain data from as early as AD 379, the start of the rule of Theodosius I. The Western section contains data from as early as AD 400.

Britain Insignia of the Dux Britanniarum
Britain Insignia of the Dux Britanniarum

For example, it shows units deployed in Britannia, which must date from before AD 410, when Roman officialdom lost control in the island. In consequence, there is substantial duplication, with the same unit often listed under different commands.

It is impossible to establish whether these were detachments of the same unit in different places at the same time, or the same whole unit at different times. Also, it is likely that some units only existed on paper or contained just a skeleton personnel.

According to the former Professor of History at the University of LiverpoolRoger Collins, the Notitia Dignitatum was an archaizing text written around AD 425. Its unreliability is shown up by “the supposed existence of traditional (Roman military) units in Britain and Spain at a time when other evidence shows they were not there.”

The Notitia has many sections missing and lacunae (gaps) within sections. This is doubtless due to accumulated text losses and copying errors as it was repeatedly copied over the centuries.

The earliest manuscript possessed today dates from the 15th Century. The Notitia cannot therefore provide a comprehensive listing of all units in existence.

ND2The Notitia Dignitatum does not contain any personnel figures. Therefore, the size of individual units and of the various commands, cannot be ascertained since little other evidence of unit sizes at this time.

In turn, this makes it impossible to assess accurately the overall size of the Army. Depending on the strength of units, the late 4th Century Army may have equaled the size of the 2nd Century force (i.e. over 400,000 men).

For example, the forces deployed in Britain around AD 400 may have been just 18,000 against about 55,000 in the 2nd Century. The Notitia contains the earliest known depictions of the diagram which later came to be known as yin and yang symbol.

Shield Pattern of the Armigeri Defensores Seniores
Shield Pattern of the Armigeri Defensores Seniores

The Infantry units Armigeri Defensores Seniores (Shield-Bearers) and Mauri Osismiaci had a shield design which corresponds to the dynamic, clockwise version of the symbol. The emblem of the Thebaei, another Western Roman Infantry regiment, featured a pattern of concentric circles comparable to its static version.

The Roman patterns predate the earliest Taoist versions by almost 700 years. It is not known if there is a connection between them.

We appreciate you making it till the end and look forward to having you back real soon. We promise there will be an adventure to somewhere spectacular.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Collins, Roger. Early Medieval Europe: 300-1000. The Macmillan Press Ltd, 1991.

Goldsworthy, A. Roman Warfare. 2000.

Heather, P. Fall of the Roman Empire. 2005.

Ireland, Robert (ed). Notitia Dignitatum. British Archaeological Reports, International Series 63.2.

Jones, A.H.M. The Later Roman Empire, 284-602. A Social, Economic and Administrative Survey. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986. ISBN 0-8018-3285-3.

Mattingly, D. An Imperial Possession: Britain in the Roman Empire. 2006.

Monastra, Giovanni. The “Yin-Yang” among the Insignia of the Roman Empire? Sophia, 2000.

Nickel, Helmut. “The Dragon and the Pearl”. Metropolitan Museum Journal, 1991.

“Publication of Offices – Notitia Dignitatum (Sammelhandschrift)”World Digital Library, 1542.

Consilium Principis: Advising Rome’s “First Man”

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Ancient Rome was full of drama, adventure, scandal and laws. We are completely grateful for all that happened, otherwise we would not have anything to discuss.

Since typically we talk about people, places or buildings, we thought we’d mix it up a bit and discuss a position instead. A little unconventional (we know) but it seemed interesting when it was time to write.

Having said that, today we present to you the Office of the Consilium Principis!

Literally, Advisers to the Princeps this office was a council created by the original Roman EmperorAugustus (Princeps [First Man] was another title for the Emperor). The council came into effect during the latter years of Augustus’ reign to control legislation in the deliberative institution of the Senate.Rome-Greek-Senate

The Consilium Principis had a foundation in Imperial Roman government until 284-305 AD, the time of Emperor Diocletian. Augustus throughout his reign took legislative control from the Senate and placed it under his auspices.

However it was the creation of this new body that stood to make the Senate a 2nd tier legislative body, as fundamentally the Consilium Principis controlled the bills put forward to the Senate. Therefore the Senate, the most important administration of the Roman Republic, remained in name only.

Scullard states, “But though in practice the Senate increasingly developed into an active legislative assembly, the initiative and advice behind its activity may often have come from the Emperor.” Whilst the Senate grew in prestige with 3 censuses to reduce its membership in 28BC, 18BC and 11BC and similarly with the imposition of its membership with the requirement that senators be worth 1 million sesterces, Augustus increasingly had the foremost role in the Roman state.2

The Consilium Principis comprised Augustus, the Consuls and 15 Senators with lower ranking members rotating out of the body every 6 months, however, owing to Augustus’ auctoritas and him being Princeps the body fell under his auspices. Scullard reinforces this notion saying “In one important way he made the Senate more efficient and at the same time, more amenable to his own wishes: he established a senatorial standing committee.”

It was in AD 13, Augustus’ 76th year, that through his old age he became unable to properly manage the Senate. As a result the Emperor required Counselors, consisting of supporters and family members, to partake in controlling the legislation of the Senate.

The passage in Dio Cassius illuminates the Council’s position in the government of Rome:

He also asked for twenty counselors on account of his age, which did not permit him to go to the senate-house any longer except on rare occasions; previously it seems he had associated himself with fifteen advisors for six months at a time. It was also voted that any measure should be valid, as being satisfactory to the whole Senate, which should be resolved upon by him in deliberation with Tiberius and with these counselors, as well as the consuls of the year and the consuls designate, together with his grandchildren (the adopted ones, I mean) and such others as might at any time call on for advice.

The Consilium Principis grew in power over the course of Imperial Rome and, by the 3rd century AD, became the foremost element of imperial administration. The body by the reign of Diocletian became the Consistorium Principis and was recognized as an independent department of the imperial government.

augustus1Since he was the original Emperor, Augustus was able to establish a lot of long lasting traditions or ideas that his successors would employ. When you’re foremost ruler it is also easier to set such precedents, especially for ideas that work.

We realize that not everyone enjoys the ins and outs of government or politics, but we thank you for sticking it out and making it to the end. Hopefully we didn’t scare you off from future articles.

Come back soon to see what we have in store. It’s always an adventure since we never really know where will end up.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

AD 69 or The Year of the Four Emperors

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

If there is one thing we know about the Imperium Rōmānum it’s that it was never ever stagnant. Since the days of the Rēgnum Rōmānum, there were always men jockeying for a position at the top. Why would it be any different when Rome got an Emperor instead of a King?

Yes, some rulers were better than others (not everyone can be an Augustus or Constantine the Great) but some years were just a flat-out disaster. On that note we bring to you, The Year of the Four Emperors!Four Emperors

The suicide of Emperor Nero (AD 68) was followed by a brief period of Roman Civil War, the first since Augustus’s victory over Mark Antony in 30 BC. Between June 68 AD and December 69 AD, Rome witnessed the successive rise and fall of 3 different rulers before finding peace with a 4th.

The social, military and political upheavals of the period had Empire-wide repercussions, which included the outbreak of the Batavian rebellion. This Year of the Four Emperors began with Galba, continued with Otho, followed by Vitellius, until the final accession of Vespasian, first of the Imperial Flavian Dynasty.

In June AD 68 Praefectus Praetorio Nymphidius Sabinus, as part of a plot to become Emperor himself, incited his men to transfer their loyalty from Emperor Nero to Servius Sulpicius Galba (Galba). Nero was suddenly powerless and the Senate was able to declare him an enemy of the state.Nero

He fled the city and then committed suicide. Galba was recognized as Emperor and welcomed into the city at the head of Legio VII Galbiana, later known as VII Gemina.

This turn of events did not give the German Legions the reward for loyalty that they had expected but rather accusations of having obstructed Galba’s path to the throne. The new Emperor immediately replaced their commander with Aulus Vitellius (Vitellius) as Governor of Germania Inferior.

Galba did not remain popular for long. On his march to Rome, he either destroyed or took enormous fines from towns that did not accept him immediately.Bronze_Galba_MBA_Lyon

In Rome, Galba cancelled all the reforms of Nero, including benefits for many important persons. Like his predecessor, Galba had a fear of conspirators and executed many Senators and Eques without trial.

The Praetoriani were not happy either for Galba refused to pay them the rewards that the Prefect Nymphidius had promised them in Galba’s name. On 1 January 69 AD the civil war started with the Legions of Germania Inferior refusing to swear allegiance and obedience to Galba. The following day the Legions acclaimed Vitellius, their Governor, as the new Emperor.

Hearing the news of the loss of the Rhine forces, Galba panicked. He adopted a young senator, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Licinianus (Lucius), as his successor.

By doing this, Galba offended many people, above all Marcus Salvius Otho (Otho), an influential and ambitious man who desired the honor for himself. Otho bribed the Praetoriani, already very unhappy with the Emperor, to his side.

When Galba heard about the coup d’état, he went to the streets in an attempt to stabilize the situation. It proved a mistake, because he could attract no supporters. Shortly afterwards, the Praetoriani killed both Galba and his proclaimed successor Lucius in the Forum Romanum.

That same day Otho was recognized as Emperor by the Senate. The new Emperor was saluted with relief.Othon_pièce

Although ambitious and greedy, Otho was not known as a tyrant or for cruelty. Most Romans expected Otho to be a fair Emperor.

However, Otho’s initial efforts to restore peace and stability were soon checked by the revelation that Vitellius had declared himself Imperator in Germania. On top of that, Vitellius had dispatched half of his army to march on Italy.

Vitellius had behind him the finest fighting forces of the empire, composed of veterans of the Germanic Wars, such as I Germanica and XXI Rapax. Command of these Legions would prove to be the best arguments in his bid for power.

Otho was not keen to begin another civil war and sent emissaries to propose a peace. He also offered to have his marry Vitellius’ daughter, but it was too late to reason.

After a series of minor victories, Otho was defeated in the Battle of Bedriacum. Rather than flee and attempt a counter-attack, Otho decided to put an end to the anarchy and committed suicide having been Emperor for a little more than 3 months.

On the news of Otho’s suicide, Vitellius was recognized as Emperor by the Senate. Granted this recognition, Vitellius set out for Rome.Vittelius_monnaie_ag1

Things were not so easy for Vitellius, and he faced problems from the start of his reign. The city was left very skeptical when Vitellius chose the anniversary of the Battle of the Allia (in 390 BC), a day of bad auspices according to Roman superstition, to accede to the office of Pontifex Maximus.

Events would seemingly prove them right. With the throne tightly secured, Vitellius engaged in a series of feasts, thrice-daily banquets and triumphal parades that drove the imperial treasury close to bankruptcy.

Debts were quickly accrued and money-lenders started to demand repayment. Vitellius showed his violent nature by ordering the torture and execution of those who dared to make such demands.

With financial affairs in a state of calamity, Vitellius took the initiative of killing citizens who named him as their heir, often together with any co-heirs. Moreover, he engaged in a pursuit of every possible rival, inviting them to the palace with promises of power only to have them assassinated.

Meanwhile, the Legions stationed in the African province of Egypt and the Middle East provinces of Iudaea (Judea/Palestine)and Syria had acclaimed Titus Flavius Vespasianus (Vespasian) as Emperor. Vespasian had been given a special command in Judaea by Nero in AD 67 with the task of putting down the Great Jewish Revolt.Rom,_Titusbogen,_Triumphzug

Vespasian gained the support of the governor of Syria, Gaius Licinius Mucianus. A strong force drawn from the Judaean and Syrian legions marched on Rome under the command of Mucianus.

Vespasian himself travelled to Alexandria where he had been acclaimed Emperor on July 1, thereby gaining control of the vital grain supplies from Egypt. Vespasian’s son Titus remained in Judaea to deal with the Jewish rebellion.

Before the eastern legions could reach Rome, the Danubian legions of the provinces of Raetia and Moesia also acclaimed Vespasian as Emperor in August, and led by Marcus Antonius Primus invaded Italy. In October, the forces led by Primus won a crushing victory over Vitellius’ army at the Second Battle of Bedriacum.Second Battle of Bedriacum

Surrounded by enemies, Vitellius made a last attempt to win the city to his side, distributing bribes and promises of power where needed. He tried to levy by force several allied tribes, such as the Batavians, only to be refused.

The Danube army was now very near Rome. Realizing the immediate threat, Vitellius made a last attempt to gain time and sent emissaries, accompanied by Vestal Virgins, to negotiate a truce and start peace talks.

The following day, messengers arrived with news that the enemy was at the gates of the city. Vitellius went into hiding and prepared to flee, but decided on a last visit to the palace. There he was caught by Vespasian’s men and killed. In seizing the capital, they burned down the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus.

Again rushing to action, the Senate acknowledged Vespasian as the new Emperor on the following day. The year that had begun with Galba on the throne saw yet another Emperor, its 4th, come to power on 21 December AD 69.Vespasian_aureus_Fortuna

Vespasian met no direct threat to his imperial power after the death of Vitellius. Little information though survives about the government during Vespasian’s 10-year rule.

He reformed the financial system at Rome after the campaign against Judaea ended successfully, and initiated several ambitious construction projects. He built the Flavian Amphitheatre, better known today as the Roman Colosseum.

In reaction to the events of 68–69, Vespasian forced through an improvement in Army discipline.  Vespasian founded of the stable Flavian Dynasty that succeeded the Julio-Claudians and died of natural causes as Emperor in AD 79.

As in most cases, from chaos stability was achieved. It wasn’t easy but at least it only took a year.Roman_Empire_69.svg

We hope you enjoyed this look into the Year of the Four Emperors. Maybe you’ll even check one of these guys out a little more on your own.

Come back again to see what else we have in store. Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Greenhalgh, Peter. The Year of the Four Emperors (1975).

Goldsworthy, Adrian. Roman Warfare.

Morgan, Gwyn. 69 AD: The Year of Four Emperors (2006).

Suetonius. The Twelve Caesars, available from Project GutenbergThe Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Complete.

Tacitus. Histories.

Roman Censor – More than Simply Tracking the Population

Welcome to Rome Across Europe! In the past we’ve had some videos about particular Roman offices.

There’s been the Consul, the Cursus Honorum, Questor, Praetor and Aedile. Oh my!

It’s been a while since we’ve taken a look at any officer, but that ends now. Today we take a look at the Roman Censor!jacques-grasset-de-saint-sauveur-a-roman-censor

The Censor was an officer in Ancient Rome who was responsible for maintaining the census, supervising public morality, and overseeing certain aspects of the government’s finances. The Censors’ regulation of public morality is the origin of the modern meaning of the words “censor” and “censorship”.

The census was first instituted by Servius Tullius, the 6th Rex Romae. After the abolition of the monarchy and the founding of the Res Publica Romana, the Consules had responsibility for the census until 443 BC.

In 442 BC, no Consules were elected, but Tribunos with consular power were appointed instead. This was a move by the Plebeius to try to attain higher magistracies.

To avoid the possibility of Plebeians obtaining control of the census, the Patricii removed the right to take the census from the Consules and Tribunos, and appointed for this duty 2 magistrates, called Censores, elected exclusively from the patricians in Rome.Roman-Republic-Social-Hierarchy

The magistracy continued to be controlled by Patricians until 351 BC, when Gaius Marcius Rutilus was appointed the initial Plebeian Censor. Twelve years later, in 339 BC, one of the Publilian laws required that at least 1 of the 2 Censores had to be a Plebeian.

Despite this, no Plebeian Censor performed the formal purification of the people the lustrum until 280 BC. In 131 BC, for the first time, both Censores were Plebeius.

The reason for having a pair of Censors was that the 2 Consuls had previously taken the census together. If one of the Censores died during his term of office, another was chosen to replace him, just as with Consuls.pair of censors

This happened only once, in 393 BC. From then on, if one of the Censors died, his colleague resigned, and 2 new censors were chosen to replace them.

The duties of the Censores can be divided into 3 classes, all of which were closely connected with each other:

  • The Census or register of the citizens and of their property, in which were included the reading of the Senate‘s lists (lectio senatus) and the recognition of who qualified for Ordo Equester rank (Recognitio Equitum).
  • The Regimen Morum, or keeping of the public morals.
  • The administration of the finances of the state, under which were classed the superintendence of the public buildings and the erection of all new public works.

The original business of the censorship was at first much more limited, and was restricted to almost entirely to taking the census. The possession of this power gradually brought with it fresh power and new duties.

CiceroA general view of these duties is briefly expressed in the following translated passage of Cicero:  “The Censors are to determine the generations, origins, families, and properties of the people; they are to (watch over/protect) the city’s temples, roads, waters, treasury, and taxes; they are to divide the people into three parts; next, they are to (allow/approve) the properties, generations, and ranks [of the people]; they are to describe the offspring of knights and footsoldiers; they are to forbid being unmarried; they are to guide the behavior of the people; they are not to overlook abuse in the Senate.”

The Census, the first and principal duty of the censors, was always held in the Campus Martius, and from the year 435 BC onwards, in a special building called Villa Publica, which was erected for that purpose by the 2nd pair of Censors, Gaius Furius Pacilus and Marcus Geganius Macerinus.

An account of the formalities with which the census was opened is given in a fragment of the Tabulae Censoriae, preserved by Varro. After the auspices had been taken, the citizens were summoned by a public crier to appear before the Censors.

Each tribe was called up separately, and the names in each tribe were probably taken according to the lists previously made out by the tribunes of the tribes. Every paterfamilias had to appear in person before the Censores, who were seated in their curule chairs, and those names that were taken first were considered to be of good omen, such as ValeriusSalvius, Statorius, etc.

The census was conducted according to the judgment of the Censor (ad arbitrium censoris), but the Censors laid down certain rules, sometimes called leges censui censendo. According to these laws, each citizen had to give an account of himself, of his family, and of his property upon oath, “declared from the heart”.roman-republic-census

First he had to give his full name (praenomennomen and cognomen) and that of his father, or if he were a Libertus that of his patronus, and he was likewise obliged to state his age. He was then asked, “You, declaring from your heart, do you have a wife?” and if married he had to give the name of his wife, and likewise the number, names, and ages of his children, if any.

Single women and orphans were represented by their guardians. Their names were entered in separate lists, and they were not included in the sum total of heads.

After a citizen had stated his identity, he then had to give an account of all his property, so far as it was subject to the census. Only such things were liable to the census (censui censendo) as were property according to the Quiritarian law.

At first, each citizen appears to have merely given the value of his whole property in general without entering into details. Shortly thereafter it became the practice to give a specification of each article, as well as the general value of the whole.

Slaves and cattle formed the next most important item. The Censors also possessed the right of calling for a return of such objects as had not usually been given in, such as clothing, jewels, and carriages.census_slavery

A person who voluntarily absented himself from the census was considered incensus and subject to the severest punishment. Servius Tullius is said to have threatened such individuals with imprisonment and death, and in the Republican period he might be sold by the state as a slave.

In the later times of the Republic, a person who was absent from the census might be represented by another, and be thus registered by the Censors. Whether the soldiers who were absent on service had to appoint a representative is uncertain.

In ancient times, the sudden outbreaks of war prevented the census from being taken, because a large number of the citizens would necessarily be absent. It is supposed from a passage in Livy that in later times the Censors sent commissioners into the provinces with full powers to take the census of the Roman soldiers there, but this seems to have been a special case.

After the Censors had received the names of all the citizens with the amount of their property, they then had to make out the lists of the tribes, and also of the classes and centuries. By the legislation of Servius Tullius the position of each citizen in the state was determined by the amount of his property (Comitia Centuriata).censor_census

These lists formed a most important part of the Tabulae Censoriae, under which name were included all the documents connected in any way with the discharge of the censors’ duties. These lists, insofar as they were connected with the finances of the state, were deposited in the aerarium.

Besides the division of the citizens into tribes, centuries and classes, the Censors had also to make out the lists of the Senators for the ensuing 5 years, or until new Censors were appointed. In the same manner they held a review of the Equestrians who received a horse from public funds (equites equo publico), and added and removed names as they judged proper.

They also confirmed the Princeps Senatus, or appointed a new one. The Princeps Senatus himself had to be a former Censor.

After the lists had been completed, the number of citizens was counted up, and the sum total announced. A census was sometimes taken in the provinces, even under the Republic.cato census

The Emperor sent special officers called Censitores into the provinciae to take the census. Sometimes the duty was discharged by the Imperial legati.

The Censitores were assisted by subordinate officers, called Censuales, who made out the lists. In Rome, the census was still taken under the Empire, but the old ceremonies connected with it were no longer performed, and the ceremony of the lustration was not performed after the time of Vespasian.

Besides the conventional meaning of “valuation” of a person’s estate, the word census has other meaning in Rome. It could refer to:

  • The amount of a person’s property (hence we read of census senatorius, the estate of a senator; census equestris, the estate of an eques).
  • The lists of the censors.
  • The tax which depended upon the valuation in the census.

Keeping the regimen morum, or in the Empire the praefectura morum, was the next most important branch of the Censors’ duties, and the one which caused their office to be one of the most revered and the most dreaded in the Roman state. Because of this, the Censores were also known as Castigatores (chastisers).roman-censors-morals

It naturally grew out of the right which they possessed of excluding persons from the lists of citizens. In this manner, the Censors gradually assumed at least nominal complete supervision over the whole public and private life of every citizen.

Constituted as the conservators of public morality, the Censors were not simply to prevent crime or particular acts of immorality but rather to maintain the traditional Roman character, ethics, and habits (mos majorum).

Regimen morum also encompassed this protection of traditional ways. The punishment inflicted by the Censors in the exercise of this branch of their duties was called nota (mark, letter) or animadversio censoria (censorial reproach).

In inflicting the punishment, they were guided only by their conscientious convictions of duty. Censors also took an oath that they would act biased by neither partiality nor favor and, in addition to this, they were bound in every case to state in their lists, opposite the name of the guilty citizen, the cause of the punishment inflicted on him, Subscriptio censoria.

Roman Censors might brand a man with their nota censoria (censorial mark) in case he had been convicted of a crime in an ordinary court of justice, and had already suffered punishment for it. The consequence of such a nota was only ignominia (shame).nota

A censorial mark was also not valid unless both censors agreed. The ignominia was thus only a transitory reduction of status.

It doesn’t appear to have deprived a magistrate of his office, and it certainly did not disqualify persons from obtaining a magistracy, for being appointed as judices by the Praetor, or for serving in the Exercitus Romanus.

A person might be branded with a censorial mark in a variety of cases, which it would be impossible to specify, as in a great many instances it depended upon the discretion of the Censors and the view they took of a case.

Sometimes even one set of censors would overlook an offence which was severely chastised by their successors. But the offences which are recorded to have been punished by the Censors are of a threefold nature.

  • Living in celibacy at a time when a person ought to be married to provide the state with citizens. The obligation of marrying was frequently impressed upon the citizens by the censors, and the refusal to fulfill it was punished with a fine (aes uxorium).
  • Improper conduct towards one’s wife or children, as well as harshness or too great indulgence towards children, and disobedience of the latter towards their parents.
  • Inordinate and luxurious mode of living, or an extravagant expenditure of money. A great many instances of this kind are recorded. At a later time the leges sumptuariae were made to check the growing love of luxuries.
  • Neglect and carelessness in cultivating one’s fields.
  • Cruelty towards slaves or clients.
  • The carrying on of a disreputable trade or occupation.
  • Defrauding orphans
  • Improper conduct towards a magistrate, or the attempt to limit his power or to abrogate a law which the censors thought necessary.
  • Perjury
  • Neglect, disobedience, and cowardice of soldiers in the army.
  • The keeping of the Equus Publicus (a horse kept by patrician equestrian militia at public expense) in bad condition.

A variety of actions or pursuits which were thought to be injurious to public morality might be forbidden by an edict, and those who acted contrary to such edicts were branded with the nota and degraded.

A person who had been branded with a nota censoria might, if henota censoria considered himself wronged, endeavor to prove his innocence to the Censors. If he did not succeed, he might try to gain the protection of one of the Censors, which he might intercede on his behalf.

The punishments inflicted by the Censors generally differed according to the station which a man occupied, though sometimes a person of the highest rank might suffer all the punishments at once, by being degraded to the lowest class of citizens. But they are generally divided into 4 classes:

  1. Motio (removal) or ejectio e senatu (ejection from the Senate), or the exclusion of a man from the ranks of Senators. This punishment might either be a simple exclusion from the list of Senators, or the person might at the same time be excluded from the tribes and degraded to the rank of an aerarian.
  2. Ademptio equi or the taking away of the publicly funded horse from an Equestrian. This punishment might likewise be simple, or combined with the exclusion from the tribes and the degradation to the rank of an Aerarian.
  3. Motio e tribu or the exclusion of a person from his tribe. This punishment and the degradation to the rank of an Aerarian were originally the same. The motio e tribu transferred a person from the rustic tribes to the less respectable city tribes, and if the further degradation to the rank of an aerarian was combined with the motio e tribu, it was always expressly stated.
  4. Referre in aerarios or facere aliquem aerarium, and might be inflicted on any person who was thought by the censors to deserve it. This humiliation included all the other punishments, for an Equestrian could not be made an Aerarius unless he was previously deprived of his horse, nor could a member of a rustic tribe be made an aerarius unless he was previously excluded from it.

Administration of the state’s finances was another part of the censors’ office. In the first place the tributum (property-tax) had to be paid by each citizen according to the amount of his property registered in the census. Accordingly, the regulation of this tax naturally fell under the jurisdiction of the Censors.

They also had the superintendence of all the other revenues of the state, the vectigalia, such as the tithes paid for the public lands, the salt works, the mines, the customs, etc.taxpayingrelief_replica

The Censors typically auctioned off to the highest bidder for the space of a lustrum the collection of the tithes and taxes (tax farming). This auctioning (venditio or locatio) seems to have taken place in the month of March, in a public place in Rome.

The terms on which they were let, together with the rights and duties of the purchasers, were all specified in the leges censoriae, which the Censors published in every case before the bidding commenced.

The Censors also possessed the right, though probably not without the assent of the Senate, of imposing new vectigalia, and even of selling the land belonging to the state. It would thus appear that it was the duty of the Censors to bring forward a budget for a 5-year period, and to take care that the income of the state was sufficient for its expenditure during that time.

In addition, the Censors had the general superintendence of all the public buildings and works (opera publica). To meet the expenses connected with this part of their duties, the Senate voted the Censors a certain sum of money or certain revenues, to which they were restricted, but which they might at the same time employ according to their discretion.

They had to see that the temples and all other public buildings were in a good state of repair, that no public places were encroached upon by the occupation of private persons, and that the aqueduct, roads, drains, etc. were properly attended to.

Besides keeping existing public buildings and facilities in a proper state of repair, the Censors were also in charge of constructing new ones, both in Rome and in other parts of the Empire. These works were either performed by them jointly, or they divided the money between them to take on said projects.

When the jobs were completed, the Censors had to see that the work was performed in accordance with the contract. This was called opus probare or in acceptum referre.

After the Censors had performed their various duties and taken the 5-yearly census, the lustrum followed. When the Censors entered upon their office, they drew lots to see which of them should perform this purification with both of them being obliged to be present at the ceremony.lustrum

The Censors were elected on the same day in the Centuriate Assembly, which met under the presidency of a Consul. If the voting for the 2nd Censor was not finished in the same day, the election of the 1st Censor was invalidated and a new assembly had to be held.

The assembly for the election of the Censores was held under different patronage from those at the election of the Consules and Praetors. The Censors were not regarded as their colleagues, although they likewise possessed the maxima auspicia.

As a general principle, the only ones eligible for the office of Censor were those who had previously been Consuls, but there were a few exceptions. Initially there was no law to prevent a person being censor twice.

However, in 265 BC Gaius Marcius Rutilus was the first person to be elected Censor for a 2nd term. In that year, he originated a law stating that no one could be elected censor twice. In consequence of this, he received the cognomen of Censorinus.Censorinus_denarius

The censorship continued in existence for 421 years, from 443 BC to 22 BC. According to one statement, the office was abolished by Lucius Cornelius Sulla.

CrassusIf the censorship had been done away with by Sulla, it was at any rate restored in the consulship of Pompey and Marcus Licinius Crassus. The office of the censorship, however, never recovered its former power and influence.

During the Roman Civil Wars which followed soon afterwards, no Censors were elected. It was only after a long interval that they were again appointed in 22 BC, when Augustus caused Lucius Munatius Plancus and Aemilius Lepidus Paullus to fill the office.

This was the last time that such magistrates were appointed. In the future, Emperors discharged the duties of their office under the name of Praefectura Morum (Prefect of the Morals).

Sometimes Emperors took the name of Censor when they held a census of the Roman people. This was the case with Claudius, who appointed the elder Vitellius as his colleague, and with Vespasian, who likewise had a colleague in his son Titus.

DomitianDomitian assumed the title of Censor Perpetuus (Perpetual Censor), but this example was not imitated by succeeding Emperors. In the reign of Decius, we find the elder Valerian nominated to the censorship, but Valerian was never actually elected Censor.

When all is said and done, the office of Censor was a lot more than just counting the Empire’s population. Many of the duties and ideals originally formed by this elected official can be seen in modern governments.

We hope you enjoyed taking a look back on this ancient office. Come check us out tomorrow to see what we have in store.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Brunt, P. A. Italian Manpower 225 BC – AD 14. Oxford, 1971.

Suolahti, J. The Roman Censors: A Study on Social Structure. Helsinki, 1963.

Wiseman, T. P. The Census in the first century B.C. Journal of Roman Studies, 1969.

Roman Quaestors

Welcome back to Rome Across Europe. We are taking our final look at politics in the Res publica Romana. Earlier we have checked out Consuls, Praetors, the Cursus Honorum, and Aediles.

Today we discover a type of public official in the Cursus Honorum system who supervised the financial affairs of the state and conducted audits, aka the Quaestor. In the Roman Republic a Quaestor was an elected official, but in the Roman Empire, Quaestorii came to be simply appointed.

Today the term Quaestor is used as a senior police rank in Italy and Romania, and as the title of an office of financial oversight in some organizations.

The Quaestorii tasked with financial supervision were also called Quaestores Aerarii, because they oversaw the aerarium or public treasury in the Temple of Saturn.

Every Consul and every Provincial Governor was appointed a Quaestor, and whilst in the provinces their responsibilities could also include military recruitment.

This will wrap up our visual tour of Roman political life. We hope you’ve enjoyed yourself, and maybe even learned something new.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

Roman Aediles

Welcome back to another edition of Rome Across Europe. We’re carrying on with Roman politics. Already we’ve discussed Consuls, Praetors, and the Cursus Honorum.

Next in the Roman Republic there was the office of Aedile. Based in Rome, the Aediles were responsible for maintenance of public buildings and regulation of dies ferialis. They also had powers to enforce public order.

There were 2 pairs of Aediles: 2 were Aediles Plebis and were held only by Plebs; the other 2 were called the Aediles Curulis and these were open to both the Plebs and to Patricii. An Aedilis Curulis was classified as a Magister Curulis.

Thanks for joining us on another Roman political outing. We hope to see you again real soon.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!