Quaestor - Encyclopedia

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QUAESTOR (from Lat. quaero, investigate), a Roman magistrate whose functions, at least in the later times of the republic, were mainly financial, though he was originally concerned chiefly with criminal jurisdiction. The origin of the quaestorship is obscure, but it was probably instituted simultaneously with the consulship in 509 B.C. 1 The number of the quaestors was originally two, but this was successively increased to four (in 421 B.C.), eight (in 267 or 241 B.C.), and by Sulla (in 81 B.C.) to twenty. Julius Caesar raised the number to forty (in 45 B.C.), but Augustus reduced it again to twenty, which remained the regular number under the empire. The original quaestors were afterwards distinguished by the title of urban quaestors (quaestores urbani). When the number was raised from, two to four in 421 B.C. the office was thrown open to the plebeians. It was the lowest of the great offices of state and hence it was regularly the first sought by aspirants to a political career (cursus honorum) . Towards the close of the republic, if not earlier, the successful candidate was bound to have completed his thirtieth year before he entered on office, but Augustus lowered the age to twenty-five. Originally the quaestors seem to have been nominated by the consuls, but later, perhaps from the fall of the decemvirs (449 B.C.), they were elected by the people assembled in tribes (comitia tributa) under the presidency of a consul or another of the higher magistrates. The quaestors held office for one year, but, like the consuls and praetors, they were often continued in office with the title of proquaestor. Indeed it was a rule that the quaestor attached to a higher magistrate should hold office as long as his superior; hence, when a consul regularly presided over the city for one year, and afterwards as proconsul governed a province for another year, his quaestor also regularly held office for two years. Before the election of the quaestors the senate decided the duties to be undertaken by them, and after election these duties were distributed amongst the new quaestors either by lot or by the choice of the higher magistrates to whom quaestors were assigned. A peculiar burden laid on the quaestors, not as an official duty, but rather as a sort of fee exacted from all who entered on the political career, was the paving of the high roads, for which Claudius substitiited the exhibition of gladiatorial games.

1 Plutarch (Popl. 12) states that the office was instituted by the first consul. Tacitus, on the other hand (Ann. xi. 22), says that it dated from the time of the kings, but his ground is merely that they were mentioned in the Lex Curiata of the consul Brutus, which Tacitus assumes to have been identical with that of the kings.

Various classes of quaestors may be distinguished according to the duties they had respectively to discharge.

1. The Urban Quaestors

Originally the duties of the quaestors, like those of the consuls, were undefined; the consuls were the superior magistrates of the republic, the quaestors their assistants. From a very early time, however, the quaestors possessed criminal jurisdiction. In the code of the Twelve Tables they are designated quaestores parricidii, " inquisitors of parricide or murder"; 2 and perhaps originally this was their full title, which was afterwards abbreviated into quaestors when their functions as criminal judges fell into the background. In addition to parricide or murder we can hardly doubt that all other crimes fell within the jurisdiction of the quaestors; political crimes only seem to have been excepted. The criminal jurisdiction of the quaestors appears only to have terminated when towards the close of the republic trial by permanent courts (quaestiones perpetuae) was extended to criminal cases.' The quaestors had also charge of the public treasury (aerarium) in the temple of Saturn, and this was in the later times of the republic their most important function. They kept the keys of the treasury and had charge of its contents, including not only coin and bullion but also the military standards and a large number of public documents, which in later times comprised all the laws as well as the decrees of the senate. Their functions as keepers of the treasury were withdrawn from the urban quaestors by Augustus and transferred to other magistrates, but the office itself continued to exist into the 3rd century, though as to the nature of the duties attached to it we have little or no information.

2. The Military Quaestors

These were instituted in 421 B.C., when two new quaestors were added to the original two. They never had a distinctive appellation like that of the urban quaestors, from whom, however, they were clearly distinguished by the fact that, while the urban quaestors did not stand in a special relation of subordination to any particular magistrate, a non-urban quaestor was regularly assigned as an indispensable assistant or adjutant to every general in command, whose name or title the quaestor usually added to his own: Originally they were the adjutants of the consuls only, afterwards of the provincial praetors, and still later of the proconsuls and propraetors. The dictator alone among military commanders had no quaestor, because a quaestor would have been a limitation to his powers. The governor of Sicily had two quaestors; all other governors and commanders had but one. Between the quaestor and his superior a close personal relation, analogous to that between a son and his father, existed, and was not severed when their official connexion ceased. Not till the close of the republic do cases occur of a quaestor being sent to a province invested with praetorial and even consular powers; in one case at least the quaestor so sent had a second quaestor placed under him. The duties of the military quaestor, like those of the treasury quaestor, were primarily financial. Moneys due to a provincial governor from the state treasury were often, perhaps regularly, received and disbursed by the quaestor; the magazines seem to have been under his charge; he coined money, on which not unfrequently his name appears alone. The booty taken in war was not necessarily under the control of the quaestor, but was dealt with, especially in later times, by inferior officers called praefecti fabrum. But, though his duties were primarily financial, the quaestor was after all the chief assistant or adjutant of his superior in command, and as such he was invested with a certain degree of military power; under the republic his military rank was superior to that of the legates, though under the empire this relation was reversed. When the general left his province before the arrival of his successor he usually committed it to the care of his quaestor, and, if he died or was incapacitated from naming his successor, the quaestor acted as his representative. Unlike the urban quaestor, the military quaestor possessed not a criminal but a civil jurisdiction corresponding to that of the aediles at Rome.

3. The Italian Quaestors

The subjugation of Italy occasioned the institution (in 267 B.C.) of four new quaestors, who appear to have been called quaestores classici because they were originally intended to superintend the building of the fleet (classes); their functions, however, are very imperfectly known. Though no doubt intended to assist the consuls, they were not subordinated (like the military quaestors) to a special consul. They were stationed at Ostia, at Cales in Campania, and in Gaul about the Padus (Po). The station of the fourth is not mentioned; perhaps it was Lilybaeum in Sicily.

2 The etymology and original meaning of parricidium are doubtful. In the latter part of the word we have, of course, the same root as in caedere, " to kill," but whether or not the former part is from pater, " a father," or from the same root that we have in per-peram, per-jurium, is a moot point. Mommsen takes the latter view.

3 It is often supposed that the quaestores parricidii were an old magistracy quite distinct from the ordinary quaestors. For the identification of the two, see Mommsen, Romisches Staatsrecht, ii. pt. I, p. 506.

4 Thus Cicero speaks of the provincia consularis of the quaestor, and we find quaestor Cn. Pompei, &c.

Literature. - For a fuller treatment of all these points see Mommsen, Staatsrecht, ii. p. 523 foll.; for the existence of the quaestorship under the monarchy, and a different view of the second station of the Italian quaestors, see A. H. J. Greenidge, Roman Public Life, pp. 63, 215.

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