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QUAESTOR the name of a class of Roman officers. The origin of the quaestorship is somewhat uncertain. The best authorities know nothing of it in the time of the kings. Cicero (de Rep. 2.35, 60) mentions it in connexion with the trial of Sp. Cassius in B.C. 485. Livy (2.41) refers to it first on the same occasion, and in a chronological enumeration of the magistrates places it between the tribuneship of the commons (B.C. 493) and the decemvirate (B.C. 451). Dionysius mentions quaestors incidentally in speaking of the sale of booty in B.C. 507 (5.34), and speaks also of their action in the case of Sp. Cassius. Tacitus (Tac. Ann. 11.22) ascribes them to the time of the kings, but on grounds which plainly do not bear out his view. The silence of our earlier authorities on occasions like the trial of Horatius makes it evident that there was no good reason for believing that the office was then in existence; and this view is confirmed by the fact that the quaestors were elected in the comitia of the tribes. It cannot be upset by the assertions of later writers, such as Ulpian (in Dig. 1, 13, 1 pr.) and Lydus (de Mag. 1.24). Further, the quaestors were at first two in number; and this of itself makes it highly probable that the office came into being along with the consulship, as a part of the earliest republican constitution. When the consulship was suspended under the decemvirate, the quaestorship ceased along with it.

As early as B.C. 421 the number was raised to four, one being assigned to each consul for domestic affairs and one for war. In B.C. 267, or perhaps not until B.C. 241, four more were added to take part in the administration of Italy. The number probably steadily increased with the addition of new provinces; but we are only told that Sulla raised the annual total to twenty (Tac. Ann. 11.22; cf. C. I. L. i. p. 108). Julius Caesar increased it to forty, but there is reason to believe (Mommsen, Staatsrecht, 2.516, note 1) that Augustus reduced it again to twenty.

The quaestorship was the first of the ordinary magistracies to be thrown open to the plebeians: in B.C. 421 it was agreed that patricians and plebeians should be eligible without distinction (Liv. 4.43), and in B.C. 409 three of the four were actually plebeians (Liv. 4.54). Tacitus asserts (Ann. 11.22) that the quaestors were at first nominated by the consuls, and that it was only sixty-three years after the expulsion of the kings that they were elected by the people; that is, probably in consequence of the Valerio-Horatian laws of B.C. 449. This is at variance with the view of Junius Gracchanus (in Dig. 1, 13, 1 pr.), that they were elected by popular vote, even under the kings; but that we have already seen to be erroneous, and, though Livy does not mention the introduction of popular election, the probabilities of the case are decidedly in favour of the statement of Tacitus. The quaestors were elected in the comitia of the tribes (Mommsen, Röm. Forsch. 1.159 ff.), and their elections came off last in the annual series. The office was held for one year: but when the custom sprang up that the consul should govern a province as proconsul in the year after his consulate, it came to be usual that his quaestors should accompany him with an extension of powers as proquaestors. The quaestors had the usual insignia of magistrates, but a sella which was not curulis, but one with straight legs, such as that used by the judex quaestionis, if he was not a curule magistrate. They were attended by scribae, viatores, and praecones.

The provinces of the various quaestors were determined by a resolution of the senate each year, before the new quaestors entered upon office. The number of the posts to be filled probably exceeded that of the new quaestors, before their number was increased by Sulla, seventeen being known to us. Deficiencies seem to have been made good by continuing some in office as proquaestors; perhaps also by giving governors of provinces the right of choosing their proquaestors. Under the Empire the number of posts appears to have exactly equalled that of the annual appointments.

When the provinciae had been determined by the senate, they were distributed among the quaestors, partly by selection by the superior magistrates, to whom they were severally attached (Liv. 30.33; Cic. Att. 6.6, 4), confirmed by the senate, partly by lot (Cic. pro Mur. 8, 18; Div. in Caec. 14, 46, and elsewhere). Under the Empire the selection was made by the emperor and by the consuls (Plin. Ep. 4.15).

The duties of the quaestors will be best discussed under the head of the various provinciae.

1. Quaestores urbani. This was the official designation, frequently occurring in inscriptions, of the two quaestors whose duty required them to remain in Rome during their year of office. Their primary function was to be officials subordinate to the consuls, the only other magistrates in existence at the time of the creation of the office. Hence such duties as the latter could discharge by deputy commonly fell to the quaestors. They had no functions in connexion with civil jurisdiction; the superintendence of this naturally lay with the supreme authority, while the decision of details was committed to a private judex. But in criminal jurisdiction they took an important part, from which indeed they originally derived their name. The title quaestor is only another form of quaesitor (cf. sartor by the side of sarcitor from sarcire), and denotes “investigator.” In the Twelve Tables they appear under the full title of quaestores parricidii (cf. [p. 2.533]Pomponius in Dig. 1, 2, 2, 23; Festus, p. 221, “parricidi quaestores appellabantur qui solebant creari causa rerum capitalism quaerendarum:” cf. p. 258). When this part of their functions fell into desuetude, the term parricidii, at first necessary for distinctiveness, was dropped, or replaced by some other phrase, a fact which led some late authorities into the error of supposing that the term quaestores parricidii denoted an obsolete office, distinct from the later quaestorship. That this is an error is proved indirectly by the silence of Livy, Dionysius, and Tacitus, and explicitly by the language of Varro (L. L. 5.81, “quaestores a quaerendo, qui conquirerent publicas pecunias et maleficia” ). Modern scholars have been misled by the statement of Pomponius (Dig. l.c.), which must certainly be rejected. But the quaestors never had the imperium, nor the right of convoking the centuries on their own account. It is therefore necessary that we should regard them as acting by virtue of a mandate from the consuls. It is a reasonable conjecture that under the kingship, as an appeal from a capital sentence to the judgment of the people was allowed, the king, in order to avoid the appearance of a conflict between his authority and the rights of the community, exercised his jurisdiction through a representative; and that the consul, after the institution of the quaestorship, was bound by tradition to choose a quaestor as his representative. Thus, through the action of the right of appeal, the power of criminal jurisdiction came to attach itself to the quaestorship. This accounts for the fact that originally this jurisdiction extended only to capital offences, where the accused had a right of appeal, if condemned. It did not, however, include the offences against the state, included under the head of perduellio: these were tried, not by the standing magistrates, the quaestors, but by special commissioners [PERDUELLIONIS DUO VIRI] appointed specially for the purpose. It is probable that in cases of less gravity, where the punishment was not capital, the quaestors had no right of jurisdiction, as no appeal was allowed; but when an appeal came to be permitted in cases of fine above a fixed maximum, these too fell under their cognisance.

We hear very little of the criminal jurisdiction of the quaestors, because they had nothing to do with political prosecutions, almost the only prosecutions of which history takes notice. A formula preserved by Varro (6.91) proves that it was in operation in the latter part of the third century B.C. We know further that there was no authority which could have taken their place until a century after this date. The tribunes prosecuted only political offences; the aediles only offences against special laws entailing a fine for their violation: the tres viri capitales acted as police magistrates, and in cases of ordinary offences, where individual citizens were the complainants. Hence it seems clear that the quaestors must have tried cases of murder and arson until these were brought under the jurisdiction of the quaestiones perpetuae.

The second main branch of the duties of the quaestors likewise devolved upon them as subordinates of the consuls. The same consuls who passed the Valerio-Horatian law of appeal (provocatio), founded the aerarium populi Romani; and it is probable that the first quaestors were quaestores aerarii as well as parricidii. The consuls indeed retained, subject to the senate, the supreme control of the treasury, but the quaestors had the actual charge of the money and kept the accounts, receiving the former from the consuls and paying it out on their order. They held the keys of the treasury in the temple of Saturn (cf. Plb. 23.14, where Scipio threatens, as consul, to take the keys and open it himself), and had charge of all that was in it, including not only coin and bullion, but also the military standards (Liv. 3.69; 4.22; 7.23). State papers of all kinds were also preserved there, not only account-books, contracts, and lists of persons who had claims on the treasury, but (after the institution of the curule aedileship) decrees of the senate, and (after the Lex Licinia Junia of B.C. 62) all laws and proposals of laws. Lists of magistrates and senators, who had taken the oaths of office, of jurymen, and of other official appointments were also preserved there, and it seems to have been the duty of the quaestors to satisfy themselves as to their genuineness and accuracy (Plut. Cat. Mi. 17; Cic. Phil. 5.4, 12).

It was further the duty of the quaestors to see to the payment of arrears of taxation (Liv. 33.42), probably through the tribuni aerarii, and to keep lists of defaulters; to receive the sums due from the publicani (Cic. pro Flacc. 32, 79), the balances in the hands of ex-governors of provinces, fines due on a legal sentence to the treasury, and the war indemnities exacted from a conquered enemy (Liv. 32.2; 42.6).

In cases of default the quaestors had the right to proceed against the debtor per manus injectionem; but we hear nothing of any state-debtors being sold into slavery, or serving as nexi: hence it seems that the custom of proceeding against the debtor's property and not his person established itself earlier here than in private legal actions. The property was seized and sold by auction (sectio).

The quaestors also had to conduct the ordinary sales of state property, so far as these were not managed by the censors, including prisoners of war and booty, and also estates coming to the nation by will or by confiscation.

We know very little about the details of the receipt of taxes and payments from the exchequer: but there is evidence that there were distinct treasuries attached to different departments. The payment of the soldiers, for instance, was made through the tribuni aerarii: the few salaries paid under the Republic, and the cost of maintenance for the public slaves, were defrayed directly from the treasury. So were the expenses of entertaining distinguished strangers, in connexion with whose visits we often find the quaestors mentioned (V. Max. 5.1, 1; Liv. 45.13, 12; 44, 7, &c.).

Contracts were only managed by the quaestors in comparatively unimportant cases. They naturally took a part in discussing financial questions in the senate, like that of our Chancellor of the Exchequer (Auct. ad Herenn. 1.12, 21). It seems strange to us that such important duties should be assigned to young and inexperienced magistrates, changing yearly; [p. 2.534]but possibly much of the duty was done by permanent officials, like the permanent heads of our own state offices. It was only after the battle of Actium that Augustus gave the charge of the treasury to two ex-praetors (called praefecti aerarii Saturni), elected annually by the senate (Tac. Ann. 13.29; Sueton. Aug. 36): subsequently, to avoid the excitement of elections, it was committed to two of the praetors chosen by lot. Claudius in A.D. 44 gave it back to two of the quaestors, selecting himself those who were to fill this office, which now was held for three years, under the title of quaestores aerarii Saturni. Finally Nero, in A.D. 56, restored it to ex-praetors, again holding the title of praefecti aerarii Saturni, but now appointed by the emperor for three years at a time (Tac. Ann. 13.28, 29), sometimes extended, as we see from the case of Pliny (see Hermes, 3.90). Quaestores urbani continued to be elected late into the third century; possibly their functions were restricted to the charge of such state papers as were not of a financial nature.

The duties of criminal prosecution and of the charge of the treasury were the main, if not the sole duties of the quaestores urbani: and they were both of a nature to make their continuous presence in the city necessary. On the other hand, the

2. Quaestores, not distinguished as urbani, nor by any special appellation, were regularly attached, each to some general or governor of a province, as his adjutant. The dictator alone was not required to have any such assistant. Nor were quaestors attached to the praetors who remained in the city to preside in the courts. But the magistrates who had quaestors at all, always had them. If the term of office of the quaestor expired before that of his superior, it was extended by prorogatio: if the quaestor died or left the province, the governor nominated some one, usually one of his legati, to be pro quaestore (Cic. in Verr. 1.4, 12). It was only in Sicily, where the province was divided into an eastern and a western district, that more than one quaestor was ever assigned to a governor: in that case there were two. The praetor was supposed to hold a kind of parental relation to his quaestor (Cic. pro Planc. 11, 28; ad Fam. 13.10, 1, and often), even after the term of office had expired.

The special duties of what may be termed (somewhat loosely) provincial quaestors were financial. As the consul could only draw upon the state treasury through the quaestores urbani, so the generals and governors were similarly restricted. Receipts and payments passed through his hands, and he seems to have been in charge of the military stores (Plb. 6.31). Even when coins were stamped by a general, the quaestor's name often appears alone upon them (Mommsen, Röm. Münzwesen, p. 374). The accounts of the campaign had to be given in by him, although the commander shared the responsibility. But the booty was disposed of by the commander at his pleasure; and if he sold it, he often did so through inferior officers, especially the praefecti fabrum.

But even from a military point of view the quaestor ranked next to the commander: he had three sentinels, and the legati only two, and the quaestorium was an important centre in the camp [CASTRA]. In case of the death of the commander, he succeeded to the vacancy; and if the former left the camp, it was usually the quaestor whom he chose to replace him pro praetore (Cic. Fam. 2.1. 5, 4). Similarly, in judicial business, as the governor exercised the jurisdiction of the praetor in civil business, the quaestor exercised that of the aediles, and issued the appropriate edicts (Gaius, 1.6). Under the Empire no quaestors were sent to imperial provinces (ib.); but a senatorial proconsular governor had attached to him a quaestor pro praetore.

While no quaestor was specially attached to a consul for his duties in the city, each would receive one as a military adjutant when he took the field, and doubtless he would use his services also in the city as he had occasion for them: for instance, for the organisation of a consular army. So, at the time of the conspiracy of Catiline, P. Sestius, the quaestor attached by lot to the consul C. Antonius, was sent with an armed force to Capua, to remove the danger of a rising there (Cic. pro Sest. 4, 9). When the custom came in for a consul to proceed at the end of his year of office to govern a province as proconsul, it was the regular thing for his quaestor to accompany him as pro quaestore: thus Sestius followed Antonius to Macedonia in B.C. 62. From B.C. 38 each consul had two quaestors, selected by himself (D. C. 48.43), who assisted him, among other things, in his duties of presiding in the senate. Nothing is known as to the disuse of this practice. Under the Empire we meet with quaestores principis or Augusti; they were two in number, assigned to the emperor as holding proconsular power, and employed by him, when he thought fit, to read in the senate any written communication to that body (Ulpian, Dig. 1, 13, 1, 2). But the duty did not necessarily fall upon them: Augustus in his later years employed the services of Germanicus (D. C. 56.26), Nero the consuls (Suet. Nero 15), and Vespasian one of his sons (Suet. Tit. 6). The

3. Quaestores classici were four in number, established after the reduction of Italy in B.C. 267, originally subordinates of the consuls, charged especially with the defence of the coast. Their stations were at Ostia, at Cales,1 the oldest Latin colony in Campania, and doubtless the centre of the Roman administration of that district [Calles, in Tac. Ann. 4.27, can be hardly anything but a corruption for Cales], in Cisalpine Gaul about the Po (ταμίας τῆς περὶ Πάδον Γαλατίας, Plut. Sert. 4), probably at Ariminum, and at a fourth place, nowhere mentioned, but possibly Lilybaeum in Sicily. Their duties were generally those of the provincial quaestors; but as they had no resident superior, they had in practice more independent powers, including certainly military authority, as we see from Tac. Ann. 4.27. They had also the duty of seeing that the allies furnished the proper contingents for the fleet, and the quaestor at Ostia had important and onerous functions in connexion with the corn supply, which made it an unpopular office (Cic. pro Mur. 8, 18). If the quaestorship at Lilybaeum ever belonged to this [p. 2.535]group, its character must have been changed, after Sicily became a province; and that at Cales seems to have been suppressed soon after A.D. 24 (the date of the events mentioned by Tacitus, l.c.), for when Claudius in A.D. 44 transferred again to the quaestors the charge of the treasury, he suppressed the other two, and none were then left. There are references to a provincia aquaria, discharged by one of the quaestors (Cic. in Vatin. 5, 12), which had probably reference to the water-supply, but we know nothing of it definitely.

The quaestors, as a body, were charged, probably at an early date under the Empire, with the expense of paving roads, but we do not know to what extent: this seems to have been a device for making them “pay their footing” when entering the senate. Claudius substituted for this the duty of giving a gladiatorial show (Suet. Cl. 24, “collegio quaestorum pro stratura viarum gladiatorium munus injunxit:” cf. Tac. Ann. 11.22, 13.5). This is the only instance of common action on the part of the college.

(The above account follows closely that given by Mommsen, Römisches Staatsrecht, ii.2 511-537. The account in Becker, Handbuch, 2.2, 327-358, is confused by an attempt to distinguish two different kinds of quaestors from the first, following, as usual, the theories of Niebuhr. Madvig, Verf. u. Verwalt. 1.438 ff., also shares this view, rightly rejected by Bouché--Leclercq, Manuel, p. 75; Willems, Droit Public, p. 303: cf. Lange, Röm. Alt. i.3 881-897; Herzog, Gesch. d. Röm. Verf. i. pp. 814-826.)


1 Willems, Le Sénat, 2.603, rejects this view.

hide References (36 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (36):
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 6.4
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 6.6
    • Polybius, Histories, 23.14
    • Polybius, Histories, 6.31
    • Cicero, For Lucius Murena, 8
    • Cicero, For Flaccus, 32
    • Cicero, For Plancius, 11
    • Cicero, Against Vatinius, 5
    • Cicero, Philippics, 5.12
    • Cicero, Philippics, 5.4
    • Suetonius, Nero, 15
    • Tacitus, Annales, 11.22
    • Tacitus, Annales, 13.28
    • Tacitus, Annales, 13.29
    • Tacitus, Annales, 13.5
    • Tacitus, Annales, 4.27
    • Suetonius, Divus Claudius, 24
    • Suetonius, Divus Titus, 6
    • Pliny the Younger, Epistulae, 4.15
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 45, 12
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 45, 13
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 45, 7
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 7, 23
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 33, 42
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 42, 6
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 45, 44
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 32, 2
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 2, 41
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 3, 69
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 4, 22
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 4, 43
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 4, 54
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 30, 33
    • Plutarch, Cato Minor, 17
    • Plutarch, Sertorius, 4
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 5.1
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