BMCR 2020.04.39

The quaestorship in the Roman Republic

, , The quaestorship in the Roman Republic. Klio. Beihefte, 31. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2019. 376 p.. ISBN 9783110663419 €99,95.

[Chapter titles are given below.]

The Quaestorship in the Roman Republic—the first comprehensive and exhaustive history of the quaestorship and the men who were quaestors—constitutes a valuable addition to the growing body of literature on Roman Republican political institutions. The authors have gleaned as much as one might hope from the sparse evidence for this office; yet, they admirably maintain reasonable caution in discussions of, e.g., the quaestorship’s early history. They are to be congratulated for completing this solid work of scholarship in a mere five years; many will also be grateful that they chose to publish in English.

The book’s first part (1-204) comprises discussions of the institution’s development and functions. The methodology is sound, the organization logical, and the prose lucid, jargon-free, and accessible to historians at all levels. Not only will readers gain a thorough grounding in the quaestorship itself, they will also gain insight into larger processes in the Republic’s financial life and political culture. The second part (205-376) includes appendices with prosopographical entries and a chronological listing of known quaestors down to 42 BCE (205-347), a bibliography (348-365), and indices (348-76). The authors have ranged far and wide in their research to incorporate recent scholarship on individual quaestors, thus providing a useful launching point for further scholarly inquiry on each. Since the book covers numerous important topics, an extended overview seems warranted.

Chapter 1, “The Origin of the Quaestorship,” is divided into three parts. The first assesses the fragmentary and contradictory evidence for the quaestorship’s origins and early development. The second reviews modern debates on the topic; Mommsen’s views, here as elsewhere, have dominated subsequent discussions. One question is how to reconcile accounts of quaestores paricidii, who served the kings as assistants and prosecutors, with accounts of the mid-fifth century creation of urban quaestors. The authors conclude that “the judicial quaestorship should be dissociated from the financial and administrative quaestorship, as these were distinct offices with utterly different duties and functions” (19); also, the urban quaestorship should be viewed as the product of a long period of experimentation that crystalized into an elective office shortly after the decemviral period. By 421, Rome’s chief magistrates acquired quaestorial assistants with civil and military competencies to support their own (22-3). By 409, the quaestorship became “the first regular magistracy to which plebeians gained access” (through election). (24)

Chapter 2, “The development of the quaestorship and the so-called Italian quaestors,” traces the quaestorship’s “diversification and specialization” (24) in the Middle Republic: while the position remained flexible enough for deployment in various ways as Rome’s government expanded, the office was increased from four to six (or eight) positions around 267-6 BCE (43-50). Fundamental to this discussion is the work of Jonathan Prag, who demonstrates that quaestors accompanied provincial governors as early as the third century and, as the number of provincial governors increased, Rome effectively doubled the number of available quaestors through regular prorogation; thus, the number of annually-elected quaestors could remain at eight until Sulla increased it to twenty in 81.[1]

Of special note is the discussion of the bronze rostra recently recovered off the Egadi (Aegates) Islands, site of the First Punic War’s final naval battle (241 BCE). Some rostra have inscribed on their cowl the names and titles of quaestors who supervised and approved the building of Roman ships during the war (38-41). This helps reconcile Lydus’s statement—i.e., that quaestores classici  (“naval quaestors”) were appointed in 267 to oversee shipbuilding—with evidence dating an increase of quaestors to the same period (36-38). The authors, however, limit that increase to two and date the addition of two more positions to 227, “when Sicily and Sardinia became regular praetorian provinciae” (42). They conclude by debunking the now-outmoded theories concerning “the so-called Italian quaestorships” (43-50).

Chapter 3, “The quaestorship within the political career: Age requirements and the cursus honorum,” demonstrates the utility of reconsidering primary sources in light of modern scholarship (dating back to Mommsen and earlier), reassessing basic assumptions and developing more nuanced methodologies. The main conclusions are: 1) in the pre-Sullan period the quaestorship was often the first regular magistracy in one’s career, held after, e.g., a military tribuneship (55-58); 2) Mommsen’s assumption (Röm.St. 1.544-548) that the minimum age for a pre-Sullan quaestor was 27 (following the mandatory ten years of military service) is sound; but, 3) exceptions exist where under-aged military service is attestable (58-62); and, 4) the quaestorship was neither compulsory nor subject to a fixed minimum age before 81 (63).

In Chapter 4: “Election, entry into office and allocation of quaestorian provinciae,” the authors argue that the quaestors’ inauguration on 5 December probably dates to 153, when consuls began taking office on 1 January. Whether they took office before the consuls in earlier periods—e.g., when consuls were inaugurated on March 15 (from the 220s to 154)—is unknown. Early inauguration allowed incoming urban quaestors to scrutinize treasury accounts, receive administrative orientation from treasury staff, and thus ready themselves to allocate funds at the senate’s request at the start of the consular year (they also prepared that year’s album of jurors) (65-67). In addition, all incoming quaestors were assigned scribae and apparitores by sortition at the treasury (Cic. Cat. 4.15) immediately after the sortition assigning quaestors to their provinciae. The authors provide a thorough discussion of how the senate produced a decree on the distribution of quaestorian provinciae and their competencies after elections, but before quaestors took office; of the sortition process itself; and of exceptions to that process, including extra sortem allotments and direct requests by magistrates and promagistrates to have a particular quaestor assigned to them for familial or patronal reasons (69-78).

Chapter 5, “The urban quaestorship,” includes ten subsections on the office’s major competencies. The most important was administration of the “aerarium populi Romani” in conjunction with apparitores, notably scribae, whose multi-year assignments to the treasury ensured its smooth functioning despite revolving-door leadership (not to mention opportunities for gas-lighting, corruption, and graft) (84-6). The authors explain how urban quaestors conducted financial audits of treasury accounts and accounts submitted by quaestors returning from provincial service (86-90); how they supervised public auctions to convert war booty, sureties-in-kind, and confiscated property into cash (91-4); and how they functioned as “comptrollers for the state,” supervising Rome’s income and expenses (95-7). Additional duties could include diplomacy and entertainment of foreign guests (98-102); arranging and paying for public funerals (103-5); road maintenance (105-7); producing Senate-authorized coinage to cover cash shortfalls or unplanned purchases (107-112); acting as public notaries in charge of registering and archiving official documents (Senate decrees, tribunician rogations, laws, state contracts, court records, etc.) (112-115); administering public oaths to magistrates (115-116); and selecting jurors for the permanent courts (116-117).

In “The political role of urban quaestors,” the authors conclude that their prominence in public administration was not matched by a concomitant prominence in politics, with rare exceptions: Q. Caepio, q. urb. 103 violently opposing tr. pl. L. Saturninus’s agrarian legislation; M. Cato, q. urb. 65, publicly accusing men awarded public funds for murdering Sulla’s proscribed enemies; and C. Trebonius, q. urb. 58, speaking publicly against tr. pl. P. Clodius on Cicero’s behalf. Such exceptions in fact highlight how infrequently our sources depict urban quaestors engaging in public aspects of Rome’s political life. As junior magistrates subordinate—and answerable—to aediles, praetors, and consuls, and given their busy workloads (see above), they probably found little time for politics. Nevertheless, an assiduous urban quaestor could learn much about the state’s financial apparatus and fiscal health that would prove helpful in his future career.

Chapter 6, “The quaestor overseas: Development and role of the quaestorship in the provinces,” draws upon Díaz Fernández’s monumental study on the nature and development of provincial commands in the Republican era. [2] The evidence deployed here includes numerous verbatim quotations in Latin and Greek; while glossed sufficiently to provide guidance to non-Classicists (usually), full translations would have been preferable. Section 1, “Provinces, sortitions, prorogations,” describes the quaestors’ main functions in the provinces, including taking over for commanders who had departed early (or died). Many quaestors were prorogued, serving an extra year or two, but they could legally return home at the end of their regular term (131-143). Three useful case studies follow: “Sicily as two provinciae quaestorae” (143-151), “Cyrene as a provincia quaestoria” (152-159), and “Cato Uticensis’ command in Cyprus” (159-163). Section 2, “The quaestor in his province” (163-195), discusses quaestors transporting and managing money for paying soldiers, supporting the governor’s entourage, and purchasing additional supplies (164-7); minting coins in the province to pay soldiers (167); keeping accounts in triplicate (two for deposit in the province’s two most important cities, one for submission to the urban quaestors in Rome); and auctioned spoils of war—including human chattel—and goods bequeathed to Rome by royal wills, all of which the quaestor or his superior brought to Rome for deposit in the aerarium (164-180). The chapter concludes with “Provinces, quaestors, and the high command” (180-195). In sum, as the second ranking magistrate elected by the Roman people, he was also the province’s second ranking authority; he could, therefore, be involved in all the things in which his superior was involved (181-2). Unsurprisingly, quaestors often functioned as legates (182-3). Their victories, however, were credited to the (pro)magistrates under whose auspices they had fought (185); indeed, quaestors had no regular imperium except by special grant from the Senate or from their superiors when leaving the province early. Remarkable examples of quaestors engaging in high-level negotiations or significant commands include Ti. Gracchus and the Numantines in the 130s (185-195) and C. Cassius Longinus in Syria in the 50s (188-189); quaestors could also take active part in jurisdiction and court proceedings as did Caesar in Spain (191-2). The chapter is, obviously, full of excellent material; it might have benefited, however, from additional signposting and minor edits to streamline and eliminate unnecessary repetition.

“Conclusions” neatly summarizes the major points of discussion throughout the book.

As noted above, the second part of the book is devoted to prosopographical entries on the 301 quaestors known from literary, numismatic, and epigraphic sources, including several of uncertain date. Where possible, the dates of subsequent magistracies (praetorship, consulship) are provided. Also, for those who minted coins (as quaestors or proquaestors), high quality images of their coins are included in their entry. Discussions are concise but fulsome with respect to ancient evidence and modern scholarship for each. The usefulness of this section cannot be overstated; nor can the gratitude of researchers who will profit in many ways from the prosopographical entries (and the book in general). Appendix 2, “Chronological list of quaestors in the Roman Republic” (336-347), is also useful, but might have been more helpful before the prosopography, which is arranged alphabetically. The lengthy “Bibliography” (348-365) includes, incredibly, entries right up to 2019, the year of publication; the “Index of Names” (366-373) includes bolded entries for quaestors included in the prosopography.  Surprisingly, the “Index of Subjects” (374-376) is quite brief, highlighting the actual limits of what can be discussed with respect to quaestors, their history, and their competencies.

The book is beautifully produced, as expected from De Gruyter. It is unfortunate, therefore, that their editors overlooked a number of obvious typos—missing or extraneous words, “cut-and-paste” fragments, and occasional misspellings (no space to elaborate). These are mere quibbles, however, given the book’s importance and utility. More important, there are no obvious errors of fact that obscure or misdirect.

To conclude. On page 204 the authors express their hope that this book may be worthy of the quaestors who have long deserved such a work. That hope has been admirably fulfilled.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: The origin of the quaestorship
Chapter 2: The development of the quaestorship and the so-called Italian quaestors
Chapter 3: The quaestorship within the political career: Age requirements and the cursus honorum
Chapter 4: Election, entry into office and allocation of quaestorian provinciae
Chapter 5: The urban quaestorship
Chapter 6: The quaestor overseas: Development and role of the quaestorship in the provinces
Appendix 1: A prosopography of the Roman Republican quaestorship
Appendix 2: Chronological list of quaestors in the Roman Republic
Index of names
Index of subjects


[1] Jonathan R. Prag, “The Quaestorship in the Third and Second Centuries BC,” in J. Dubouloz et al. (eds.), L’imperium Romanum en perspective. Les savoirs d’empire dans la République romaine et leur héritage dans l’Europe médiévale et moderne (Besançon 2014) 203-04.

[2] Alejandro Díaz Fernández, Provincia et Imperium: El mando provincial en la República romana (227-44 a.C.)(Sevilla 2015).