Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2018.10.53 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2018.10.53

Maximilian Becker, “Suntoque aediles curatores urbis …” Die Entwicklung der stadtrömischen Aedilität in republikanischer Zeit. Frankfurter Historische Abhandlungen, Band 50.   Stuttgart:  Franz Steiner Verlag, 2017.  Pp. 342.  ISBN 9783515118804.  €59,00.  

Reviewed by Kaj Sandberg, Åbo Akademi University (


Recent years have seen renewed attention to the political institutions of the Roman Republic, which for an extended period of time used to be all but neglected. They were, at any rate, decidedly under-researched as long as the prosopographical paradigm held sway, that is, until a few decades ago. The revival of interest in the legal and constitutional foundations of political life—as opposed to family relationships, factions and other sociologically and politically determined relations and groupings—has, inter alia, resulted in the publication of several substantial books (including monographic studies) on the magistracies of the Romans. The volume under review here is a manifestation of a new surge of interest in the various offices of the cursus honorum.1 A revised version of its author’s doctoral dissertation, which was defended and approved at the Goethe University Frankfurt in 2016, the work represents the first full-length study in any language of its subject—the Roman aedileship and its development in the republican period.2

The book is structurally very complex, with altogether over 70 chapters and subchapters at various hierarchical levels. The main body of the book is divided into five sections, the first of which is an extensive introduction (I. Einleitung, pp. 13–36). Here the author provides an introduction to his subject along with a presentation of the questions he proposes to address (I.1. Zur Begründung von Gegenstand und Frage, pp. 13–18), a (surprisingly short, perhaps) discussion of the primary sources and their problems (I.2. Die Quellenlage und ihre Probleme, pp. 19–21), an overview of earlier scholarship on the aedileship (I.3. Die Aedilität in der Forschung, pp. 23–34, a chapter consisting of several subchapters), and a carefully argued presentation of the objectives, structure and organization of the book (I.4. Konzeption und Fragestellung, pp. 34–36).

In dealing with his subject the author proceeds chronologically, breaking nearly half a millennium of political and constitutional developments into three distinct periods. The introduction is followed by sections dedicated to, respectively, the origins of the plebeian aedileship in the Early Republic and its development until the Licinian-Sextian legislation, which saw the creation of the curule aedileship (II. Ursprung und Entwicklung der Aedilität bis 367/366, pp. 37–139), the development of both aedileships until the early first century BCE (III. Die Entwicklung beider Aedilitäten bis ins frühe 1. Jh., pp. 140–232), and the developments between the reforms of Sulla and the End of the Republic (IV. Die Entwicklung der Aedilitäten von Sulla bis zum Ende der Republik, pp. 233–275).

Now we will take a look at the specific contents of these parts of the book.

In the second section, on the origins and early history of the plebeian aedileship, a number of various topics are dealt with. The author begins with considering the historical accounts of the creation of the office; according to the annalistic tradition it was instituted together with the tribunate of the plebs following the first secessio plebis in 494/493 BCE (II.2.a. Schaffung der Aedilität gemäß den Quellen, pp. 40–44). Then follows a discussion of the etymology of the word aedilis, both in classical authors and in modern interpretation (II.2.b. Zur Etymologie des Wortes aedilis, pp. 44–49). Thereafter, the author discusses the relations between the aedileship and the temple and cult of Ceres on the Aventine (II.2.c. Zum Bezug zwischen Aedilität und aedis Cereris, pp. 50–62) and critically examines the attribution to the aediles, by our sources for this early period, of the various curae (annonae, urbis, ludorum sollemnium) that were later associated with them (II.2.d. Die aedilizischen curae vor den Licinisch-Sextischen Gesetzen, pp. 62–87). The following topics are the aedileship as a plebeian office and its relationship with the tribunate of the plebs and other formal institutions, in the context of the social and political milieu of the Early Republic (II.2.e. Die Aedilität als plebejisches Amt, pp. 88–115), and the leges Liciniae Sextiae and the creation of the curule aedileship (II.3. Die Licinisch-Sextischen Gesetze und die Schaffung der curulischen Aedilität, pp. 116–136). A summarizing overview of the results arrived at in the various chapters concludes this section of the volume (II.4. Rückschau und Ausblick, pp. 136–139).

The third section, on the developments between the constitutional reforms of the tribunes C. Licinius Stolo and L. Sextius Lateranus and those of Sulla nearly three hundred years later, starts with a chapter providing preliminaries and context for the problems considered (III.1. Vorbemerkung und Kontextualisierung, pp. 140–145). The following chapter focuses on the co-existence of, and interrelationship between, the two sets of aediles. With the settlement of 367/366 a new constitutional situation had emerged. The Licinian-Sextian reforms did not only open the consulship to men of plebeian families, they also instituted a curule aedileship. From now on two pairs of aediles were elected each year—in addition to the aediles plebeii, there would be two patrician aediles curules. The chapter deals with the qualifications and eligibility for, and the elections to, the aedileships, and also with the specific insignia (toga praetexta, sella curulis) and privileges (ius imaginum) that were the distinguishing markers between the two manifestations of the office (III.2. Plebejische und curulische Aedilität, pp. 145–167). In the third chapter, which is concerned with the responsibilities of the aediles from the middle of the fourth century BCE to the Second Punic War, the author traces the expansion of aedilician duties from supervision of the market trading in the city (Marktaufsicht) to superintendence of the city itself and its vital functions (Stadtaufsicht, cura urbis) and also discusses the organization of public games, which became an increasingly important responsibility in the period in question (III.3. Zuständigkeiten bis zum Hannibal-Krieg, pp. 168–195). The fourth chapter, addressing a series of innovations after the Second Punic War, is mainly concerned with the further expansion of the cura ludorum sollemnium and the cura urbis (III.4. Neuerungen im Zuge des Hannibal-Krieges, pp. 194–209). In the fifth chapter the author traces the developments in these areas up till the period of Sulla (III.5. Die Ausweitung der Kompetenzen bis in die Zeit Sullas, pp. 209–228). Again, a summarizing overview of the results arrived at in the various chapters concludes this section (III.6. Rückschau und Ausblick, pp. 228–232).

The fourth section commences with a chapter providing preliminaries and general context for the discussion of the developments between the reforms of Sulla and the end of the republican period (IV.1. Vorbemerkung und Kontextualisierung, pp. 233–236). Thereafter the Sullan reforms are discussed, with the focus on their impact on aedilician functions. Taking Cicero’s tenure of the office as his point of departure, the author discusses the development of the aedileship during the last decades of the Republic and its place in the post-Sullan cursus honorum (IV.2. Die Aedilitäten und Sullas Reformen, pp. 236–250). The last discussion of the section is dedicated to the development of the aedilician competences in the first century BCE and their decline under Augustus, when the princeps assumed the responsibility for the various curae (IV.3. Die Entfaltung der Kompetenzen im 1. Jh. und deren Rückgang unter Augustus, pp. 250–272). A summary of the results arrived at in the various discussions concludes the section (III.6. Rückschau und Ausblick, pp. 228–232).

The last numbered section of the volume is a conclusion concisely summarizing the results of the study (V. Schluss: Die Entwicklung der stadtrömischen Aedilität in republikanischer Zeit, pp. 276–282). A bibliography (pp. 283–319) along with a series of indices—of sources, names and subjects (pp. 321–342)—conclude the book.

Already by filling a conspicuous void in scholarship, the volume constitutes a most valuable addition to the scholarly literature on the political and institutional fabric of the Roman Republic. It is not a focused study, in the sense that it does not limit itself to addressing a few key problems, but it conveniently brings together all the primary evidence for the aedileship, all its subsequent interpretations and all the major discussions on aedilician themes. Moreover, throughout the volume, the author provides interesting and judicious deliberations on the various topics he discusses.


1.   Among recent publications on Roman magistracies in the republican period we should note at least the following: T. Corey Brennan, The Praetorship in the Roman Republic I–II, Oxford 2000; Francisco Pina Polo, The Consul at Rome. The Civil Functions of the Consuls in the Roman Republic, Cambridge 2011; Hans Beck, Antonio Duplá, Martin Jehne, Francisco Pina Polo (eds.), Consuls and Res Publica. Holding High Office in the Roman Republic, Cambridge 2011.
2.   A monograph on the aedileship appeared shortly before the release of Becker’s study, but it deals with the fully developed office in the last decades of the Republic and its subsequent development into the third century CE: Anne Daguet-Gagey, Splendor aedilitatum. L’édilité à Rome (Ier s. avant J.-C.-IIIe s. après J.-C.) (Collection de l’École française de Rome 498), Rome 2015.

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