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A quaestor (/ˈkwiːstər/ KWEE-stər, Latin: [ˈkʷae̯stɔr]; “investigator”) was a public official in Ancient Rome. The position served different functions depending on the period. In the Roman Kingdom, quaestores parricidii (quaestors with judicial powers) were appointed by the king to investigate and handle murders. In the Roman Republic, quaestors (Lat. quaestores) were elected officials who supervised the state treasury and conducted audits. It was the lowest ranking position in the cursus honorum (course of offices). However, this means that in the political environment of Rome, it was quite common for many aspiring politicians to take the position of quaestor as an early rung on the political ladder. In the Roman Empire, the position, which was initially replaced by the praefectus (prefect), reemerged during the late empire as quaestor intra Palatium, a position appointed by the emperor to lead the imperial council and respond to petitioners.
Quaestor derives from the Latin verb quaero, quaerere, meaning “to inquire”. The job title has traditionally been understood as deriving from the original investigative function of the quaestores parricidii. Ancient authors, perhaps influenced by etymology, reasoned that the investigative role of the quaestores parricidii had evolved to include financial matters, giving rise to the similarly-named later offices. However, this connection has been questioned by modern scholars.
The earliest quaestors were quaestores parricidii (quaestors with judicial power), an office dating back to the Kingdom of Rome. Quaestores parricidii were chosen to investigate capital crimes, and may have been appointed as needed rather than holding a permanent position. Ancient authors disagree on the exact manner of selection for this office as well as on its earliest institution, with some dating it to the mythical reign of Romulus.
In the Roman Republic, quaestors were elected officials who supervised the treasury and financial accounts of the state, its armies and its officers. The quaestors tasked with financial supervision were also called quaestores aerarii, because they oversaw the aerarium (public treasury) in the Temple of Saturn. The earliest origins of the office is obscure, but by about 420 BC there were four quaestors elected each year by the Comitia Tributa (Assembly of the People). After 267 BC, the number was expanded to ten.
The office of quaestor, usually a former broad-striped tribune, was adopted as the first official post of the cursus honorum (lit. course of offices), the standard sequence that made up a career in public service. Once elected as quaestor, a Roman man earned the right to sit in the Senate and began progressing through the cursus honorum. Quaestors were not provided any lictors (civil servant bodyguards) while in the city of Rome, but while in the provinces, they were allowed to have the fasces (a bound bundle of wooden rods symbolizing a magistrate‘s authority and jurisdiction).
Every Roman consul, the highest elected official in the cursus honorum, and every provincial governor was appointed a quaestor. Some quaestors were assigned to work in the city and others in the provinces where their responsibilities could include being recruited into the military. Some provincial quaestors were assigned as staff to military generals or served as second-in-command to governors in the Roman provinces. Still others were assigned to oversee military finances.
Lucius Cornelius Sulla‘s reforms in 81 BC raised the number of quaestors to 20 and the minimum age for a quaestorship was 30 for patricians (members of ruling class families) and 32 for plebeians (commoners). Additionally, the reforms granted quaestors automatic membership in the Senate upon being elected, whereas previously, membership in the Senate was granted only after censors revised the Senate rolls, which occurred less frequently than the annual induction of quaestors.
There were at that time (B.C. 75) twenty Quæstors elected annually, some of whom remained in Rome; but most of the number were stationed about the Empire, there being always one as assistant to each Proconsul. When a Consul took the field with an army, he always had a Quæstor with him. This had become the case so generally that the Quæstor became, as it were, something between a private secretary and a senior lieutenant to a governor. The arrangement came to have a certain sanctity attached to it, as though there was something in the connection warmer and closer than that of mere official life; so that a Quæstor has been called a Proconsul’s son for the time, and was supposed to feel that reverence and attachment that a son entertains for his father.— Anthony Trollope, The Life of Cicero
This relationship between a consul and a quaestor was similar to that between a patron and a client. The quaestor was essentially a client to their superior. There was some level of mutual respect between the two individuals, but a defined sense of place and knowledge of each other’s roles. This relationship often continued past the designated terms of either individual, and the quaestor could be called upon for assistance or other needs by the consul. Breaking this pact or doing harm by a former superior would make the quaestor seem dishonorable or even treasonous.
Constantine the Great created the office quaestor sacri palatii (quaestor of the sacred place) which functioned as the Roman Empire’s senior legal official. Emperor Justinian I also created the offices quaesitor, a judicial and police official for Constantinople, and quaestor exercitus (quaestor of the army), a short-lived joint military-administrative post covering the border of the lower Danube. The quaestor sacri palatii survived long into the Byzantine Empire, although its duties were altered to match the quaesitor. The term is last attested in 14th century Byzantium as a purely honorific title.
Powers and responsibilities
In the early republic, there were two quaestors, and their duties were maintaining the public treasury, both taking in funds and deciding whom to pay them to. This continued until 421 BCE when the number of quaestors was doubled to 4. While two continued with the same duties of those that had come before, the other two had additional responsibilities, each being in service to the one of the consuls.
When consuls went to war, each was assigned a quaestor. The quaestor’s main responsibilities involved the distribution of war spoils between the aerarium, or public treasury, and the army. The key responsibility of the quaestor was the administration of public funds to higher-ranking officials in order to pursue their goals, whether those involve military conquests which require funding for armies or public works projects.
The office of quaestor was a position bound to their superior, whether that be a consul, governor, or other magistrate, and the duties would often reflect their superiors. For example, Gaius Gracchus was quaestor under the consul Orestes in Sardinia, and many of his responsibilities involved leading military forces. While not in direct command of the army, the quaestor would be in charge of organizational and lesser duties that were a necessary part of the war machine.
During the reign of the Emperor Constantine I, the office of quaestor was reorganized into a judicial position known as the quaestor sacri palatii. The office functioned as the primary legal adviser to the emperor, and was charged with the creation of laws as well as answers petitions to the emperor.
From 440 onward, the office of the quaestor worked in conjunction with the praetorian prefect of the East to oversee the supreme tribunal, or supreme court, at Constantinople. There they heard appeals from the various subordinate courts and governors.
Under the Emperor Justinian I, an additional office named quaestor was created to control police and judicial matters in Constantinople. In this new position, a quaestor was responsible for wills, as well as supervision of complaints by tenants regarding their landlords, and finally over the homeless.
See also Category: Roman Quaestors.
Following the death of his brother Tiberius Gracchus, Gaius Gracchus stayed out of the political spotlight for a period until he was forced to defend a good friend of his named Vettius in court. Hearing his vocal abilities, the Senate began to fear that Gaius would arouse the people in the same manner as his brother and appointed him quaestor to Gnaeus Aufidius Orestes in Sardinia to prevent him from becoming a tribune. Gaius used his position as quaestor to successfully defeat his enemies as well as gain a large amount of loyalty among his troops. Following an incident where Gaius won the support of a local village to provide for his troops, the Senate attempted to keep Gaius in Sardinia indefinitely by reappointing Orestes to stay in Sardinia. Gaius was not pleased by this and returned to Rome demanding an explanation, actions which eventually led to his election as a tribune of the people.
Marcus Antonius, or Mark Antony, who is most well known for his civil war with Octavian, started off his political career in the position of quaestor after being a prefect in Syria and then one of Julius Caesar‘s legates in Gaul. Through a combination of Caesar’s favor and his oratory skills defending the legacy of Publius Clodius, Antony was able to win the quaestorship in 51 BCE. This then led to Antony’s election as augur and tribune of the people in 50 BC due to Caesar’s efforts to reward his ally.
Gaius Julius Caesar
While Julius Caesar served as Quaestor to the Governor or Proconsul/Propraetor in Hispania Ulterior he took major military action against the rebellious tribes of the region. His time as Quaestor was uneventful although when he became Governor there, he settled the disputes.
Marcus Tullius Cicero
Marcus Tullius Cicero was the Quaestor to the Propraetor/Proconsul of Sicily. He fixed major agricultural problems in the region and improved on the purchase and selling of grain. The farmers after this loved Cicero and began to travel to Rome to vote for him in elections every year.