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DECURIO´NES, CURIA´LES. In the constitution of the Italian towns (municipia, coloniae, praefecturae), as regulated by the Lex Julia Municipalis, B.C. 45, each municipality was governed by an assembly of the populus, which elected magistrates and made laws, and also by a senate, which was an administrative body. Subsequently, by a change corresponding to that which took place in Rome, the power of the popular assembly was transferred to the senate, which thus became the supreme municipal body for legislative and administrative purposes.

The municipal senate is sometimes called senatus, but the terms commonly used to denote it are ordo decurionum or simply ordo, and in later times curia. Decuriones or curiales signify members of the senate, these words being used indifferently in the same sense.

As opposed to the decuriones, which formed a [p. 1.607]kind of patrician class in each town, other citizens were called plebeii.

The word municipes usually comprehends all citizens, but it is used in the Theodosian code so as to include only the decuriones or citizens of the governing class.

The number of decuriones of which a municipal senate consisted was fixed by the constitution (lex municipii) of each municipality: it was frequently a hundred, the centumviri of inscriptions (Orelli, Nos. 108, 3448, 3706, 3737, 3738; cf. Cic. de Leg. agr. 2.3. 5, 96), but varied according to the size and custom of communities. The office (honor) of decurio was obligatory on all citizens called on to undertake it. Decuriones held office for life. Places in a curia which became vacant by death or incapacity of members were filled up periodically, probably every five years. Persons were made decuriones either by right of descent or by free election; sons succeeded in the place of their fathers; any qualified citizen might be chosen to fill the place of a decurio who left no son.

The ordo or curia co-opted new members, when its number was not complete. (Dig. 50, 2, 1. 6.5; Fronto, Epist. ad amic. 2.10; Cod. Theod. 12.1, 1. 66: cf. J. Gothofred, Paratit. ad Cod. Theod. xii. 1; Niebuhr, ad Frontonem, p. 218.) It is, however, maintained by some writers that, from and after the passing of the Lex Julia, decuriones were appointed by the higher magistrates, who drew up the album decurionum, and who are styled in some places quinquennales. (Tab. Heracl. Quicunque in municipiis, coloniis, praefecturis, foris, conciliabulis civium Romanorum iiviri, iiiiviri erunt,--ne quis eorum quem in eo municipio, colonia, praefectura--in senatum, decuriones, conscriptosve legito neve sublegito neve cooptato neve recitandos curato nisi in demortui damnative locum. Fabretti, Inscr. C. 9, p. 598. Marquardt. Röm. Staatsverw. i. p. 502.) To be eligible as decurio, a person was required to be of a certain age; the limit was thirty (Tab. Heracl. 23), till reduced by Augustus to twenty-five for the municipal senate as well as for the Roman.

A property qualification, the amount of which depended on the constitution of each town, was attached to the acquisition of membership in a curia, but membership was not vacated by loss of property. We learn from Pliny (Plin. Ep. 1.19) that at Comum a person who had less than 100,000 sesterces could not become a decurio. Criminals, bankrupts, persons of infamous character, and persons who followed certain employments, as praecones, designatores, libitinarii, were incapable of holding this office (Tab. Heracl. 23 (25); cf. Dig. 50, 2, 12). Freedmen were likewise incapable, but sometimes on account of extraordinary services they were given the ornamenta decurionalia by decree of the curia as an honorary distinction (Orelli, No. 3942).

The names of decuriones were inscribed on an album or register in a regular order, which was based partly on rank and partly on seniority. The album of Canusium, which was discovered in the last century and is now in the principal museum at Naples (Fabretti, Inscr. C. 9, p. 598; Orelli, No. 3721), shows the plan on which such an album was arranged.

The album contains the names of honorary and of actual members of the curia, the honorary members having precedence. The honorary members are styled patroni, and are of two classes, consisting (1) of decuriones, free from active service on account of their holding high office in the state; (2) of persons to whom honorary membership was given as a distinction (Cod. Theod. 8.5, 46). Among actual decuriones, those who had served as magistrates had the first rank, each ranking according to the importance of the office he had held; lastly come the actual decuriones who had not served any office: these rank according to seniority of service in the curia (Savigny, Gesch. d. R. R. 1.24).

Sometimes, though not in the album of Canusium, among actual members the first ten (decem primi or principes; cf. Liv. 29.15), or the first six, seven, or fifteen, are distinguished from the rest: in the Theodosian Code such decuriones are termed primati, primarii. As they were subject to greater responsibility than other decuriones, so they were superior in rank (Cod. Theod. 16.2, 39; 16.5, 52, 54).

The first of the principales, primus principalis, had precedence as president of the curia.

Decuriones were in close connexion with the civic magistracy, since all magistrates were elected by them, and no one who was not a decurio could be elected magistrate (Dig. 50, 2, 7.2).

In the early municipal constitution magisterial offices were not thus confined to decuriones, but open to citizens generally, magistrates being ex-officio members of the senate (Tab. Heracl.; Grüter, Inscript. p. 408, n. 1). Magistrates on retiring from office nominated their successors for election in the curia. A nominating magistrate was responsible for the good conduct of his nominee.

The position of decurio declined under the despotic administration of the empire, so that from having been one which was sought as a distinction it came to be regarded as a most oppressive burden. This change was mainly caused by the heavy public charges which were thrown upon decuriones; not only were their legal liabilities increased, but claims were enforced against them which had no foundation in law. Thus decuriones were legally obliged to make good any deficiency in the imperial taxes of their district, if the deficiency was due to their misconduct as tax collectors; but by a practice which was declared by many imperial constitutions to be illegal, they were forced to make good unpaid taxes, even when they were not in default.

The financial and other liabilities of decuriones were so onerous that persons tried to escape from them by every means in their power, as by becoming soldiers or even serfs. The difficulty of getting persons to fill the office and the degraded state into which it had fallen are illustrated by the fact that culprits were condemned to serve it by way of punishment: such punishment was, however, declared to be illegal. Even Jews and heretics were admitted to the decurionatus; but Justinian provided that persons belonging to these classes should not be entitled to the dignity of the office, though they were to remain subject to its liabilities. The [p. 1.608]Theodosian Code contains numerous provisions directed against those who tried to evade their duty of service in the curia. As an encouragement to induce people to fulfil their duty of service, privileges were attached to membership of the curia. Thus illegitimate children were legitimated by being made curiales.

According to a law of Constantine, decuriones could not go out of their own districts without leave.

The first mention we find of persons being compelled to become decuriones is in a letter of Pliny (Plin. Ep. 10.113). The municipal institution of the curia was not confined to Italy, but extended throughout the Roman empire: the statute law of the Theodosian Code respecting decuriones applied to municipalities everywhere. (Savigny, Geschichte des Röm. Rechts im Mittelalter, i. cap. 2; J. Gothofred, Paratit. ad Cod. Th. 12.1; Roth, de re municipali Romanorum ; Hegel, Geschichte der Stadteverfassung von Italien; Zumpt, Commentat. epigraph. pp. 73-158, 170, 475; Marquardt, Röm. Staatsverw. i. p. 501 ff.)


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