A Censor was a magistrate of high rank in the ancient Roman Republic. This position (called censura) was responsible for maintaining the census, supervising public morality, and overseeing certain aspects of the government's finances.
The censors' regulation of public morality is the origin of the modern meaning of the words "censor" and "censorship."
The magistracy continued to be controlled by patricians until 351 BC, when Gaius Marcius Rutilus was appointed the first plebeian censor (Livy vii.22). Twelve years afterwards in 339 BC, one of the Publilian laws required that one censor had to be a plebeian (Livy viii.12). Despite this, no plebeian censor performed the solemn purification of the people (the "lustrum"; Livy Periochae 13) until 280 BC. In 131 BC, for the first time, both censors were plebeians.
There were always two censors, because the two consuls had previously taken the census together. If one of the censors died during the time of his office, another had to be chosen to replace him, just as with consuls. This, however, happened only once, in 393 BC—the Gauls captured Rome in this lustrum (five-year period), so the Romans regarded it as "an offense against religion" thereafter (Livy v.31). From then on, if one of the censors died, his colleague resigned, and two new censors were chosen to replace them (Livy vi.27, ix.34, xxiv.43, xxvii.6).
The assembly for the election of the censors was held under different auspices from those at the election of the consuls and praetors, so the censors were not regarded as their colleagues, although they likewise possessed the maxima auspicia (Gellii xiii.15). The assembly was held by the new consuls shortly after they began their term of office (Livy xxiv.10, xxxix.41); and the censors, as soon as they were elected and the censorial power had been granted to them by a decree of the Centuriate Assembly (lex centuriata), were fully installed in their office (Cicero, de Lege Agraria ii.11; Livy xl.45).
As a general principle, the only ones eligible for the office of censor were those who had previously been consuls, but there were a few exceptions. At first, there was no law to prevent a person being censor twice, but the only person who was elected to the office twice was Gaius Marcius Rutilus in 265 BC. In that year, he originated a law stating that no one could be elected censor twice. In consequence of this, he received the surname of Censorinus (Plutarch, Life of Coriolanus 1; Valerius Maximus iv.1 §3).
Notwithstanding this, the censorship was regarded as the highest dignity in the state, with the exception of the dictatorship; it was a "sacred magistracy" (sanctus magistratus), to which the deepest reverence was due (Plutarch Life of Cato the Elder 16, Life of Flaminius 18, Life of Camillus 2, 14, Life of Aemilius 38; Cicero ad Familiares iii.10). The high rank and dignity which the censorship obtained was due to the various important duties gradually entrusted to it, and especially to its possessing the regimen morum, or general control over the conduct and the morals of the citizens. In the exercise of this power, they were regulated solely by their own views of duty, and were not responsible to any other power in the state (Dionys. in Mai, Nova Coll. vol. ii p516; Livy iv.24, xxix.37; Valerius Maximus vii.2 §6).
The censors possessed of course the "curule seat" (sella curulis) (Livy xl.45), but there is some doubt with respect to their official dress. A well-known passage of Polybius (vi.53) describes the use of the imagines at funerals; we may conclude that a consul or praetor wore the purple-bordered toga praetexta, one who triumphed the embroidered toga picta, and the censor a purple toga peculiar to him; but other writers speak of their official dress as being the same as that of the other higher magistrates (Zonar. vii.19; Athen. xiv. p660c). The funeral of a censor was always conducted with great pomp and splendour, and hence a "censorial funeral" (funus censorium) was voted even to the emperors (Tacitus Annales iv.15, xiii.2).
If the censorship was done away with by Sulla, it was at any rate restored in the consulship of Pompey and Marcus Licinius Crassus. Its power was limited by one of the laws of the tribune Publius Clodius Pulcher (58 BC), which prescribed certain regular forms of proceeding before the censors in expelling a person from the Roman Senate, and required that the censors be in agreement to exact this punishment (Cassius Dio xxxviii.13; Cicero pro Sestio 25, de Prov. Cons. 15). This law, however, was repealed in the third consulship of Pompey in 52 BC, on the urging of his colleague Caecilius Metellus Scipio (Cassius Dio xl.57), but the office of the censorship never recovered its former power and influence.
During the civil wars which followed soon afterwards, no censors were elected; it was only after a long interval that they were again appointed, namely in 22 BC, when Augustus caused Lucius Munatius Plancus and Aemilius Lepidus Paullus to fill the office (Suetonius Life of Augustus 37, Life of Claudius 16; Cassius Dio liv.2). This was the last time that such magistrates were appointed; the emperors in future discharged the duties of their office under the name of Praefectura Morum ("prefect of the morals").
Some of the emperors sometimes took the name of censor when they held a census of the Roman people; this was the case with Claudius, who appointed the elder Vitellius as his colleague (Suetonius Life of Claudius 16; Tacitus Annales xii.4, Historia i.9), and with Vespasian, who likewise had a colleague in his son Titus (Suet. Vesp. 8, Tit. 6). Domitian assumed the title of "perpetual censor" (censor perpetuus) (Cassius Dio liii.18), but this example was not imitated by succeeding emperors. In the reign of Decius we find the elder Valerian nominated to the censorship (Symmach. Ep. iv.29, v.9), but Valerian was never actually elected censor.
The original business of the censorship was at first of a much more limited kind, and was restricted almost entirely to taking the census (Livy iv.8), but the possession of this power gradually brought with it fresh power and new duties, as is shown below. A general view of these duties is briefly expressed in the following passage of Cicero (de Leg. ii.3): "Censores populi aevitates, soboles, familias pecuniasque censento: urbis templa, vias, aquas, aerarium, vectigalia tuento: populique partes in tribus distribunto: exin pecunias, aevitates, ordines patiunto: equitum, peditumque prolem describunto: caelibes esse prohibento: mores populi regunto: probrum in senatu ne relinquunto."
An account of the formalities with which the census was opened is given in a fragment of the Tabulae Censoriae, preserved by Varro (L.L. vi.86, 87, ed. Müller). After the auspices had been taken, the citizens were summoned by a public crier to appear before the censors. Each tribe was called up separately (Dionys. v.75), and the names in each tribe were probably taken according to the lists previously made out by the tribunes of the tribes. Every paterfamilias had to appear in person before the censors, who were seated in their curule chairs, and those names were taken first which were considered to be of good omen, such as Valerius, Salvius, Statorius, etc. (Festus, s.v. Lacus Lucrinus; Schol. Bob. ad Cic. pro Scaur. p374, ed. Orelli).
The census was conducted according to the judgment of the censor (ad arbitrium censoris), but the censors laid down certain rules (Livy iv.8, xxix.15), sometimes called leges censui censendo (Liv. xliii.14), in which mention was made of the different kinds of property subject to the census, and in what way their value was to be estimated. According to these laws, each citizen had to give an account of himself, of his family, and of his property upon oath, "declared from the heart" (Dionysius iv.15; Livy xliii.14).
First he had to give his full name (praenomen, nomen, and cognomen) and that of his father, or if he were a Libertus ("freedman") that of his patron, and he was likewise obliged to state his age. He was then asked, "You, declaring from your heart, do you have a wife?" and if married he had to give the name of his wife, and likewise the number, names, and ages of his children, if any (Gell. iv.20; Cicero de Oratore ii.64; Tab. Heracl. 142 (68); Digesta Iustiniani 50 tit.15 s3). Single women and orphans were represented by their guardians; their names were entered in separate lists, and they were not included in the sum total of heads (cf. Livy iii.3, Periochae 59).
After a citizen had stated his name, age, family, etc., he then had to give an account of all his property, so far as it was subject to the census. Only such things were liable to the census (censui censendo) as were property according to the Quiritarian law. At first, each citizen appears to have merely given the value of his whole property in general without entering into details (Dionysius iv.15; Cicero de Legibus iii.3; Festus, s.v. Censores); but it soon became the practice to give a minute specification of each article, as well as the general value of the whole (cf. Cicero pro Flacc. 32; Gell. vii.11; Plutarch Life of Cato the Elder 18).
Land formed the most important article of the census, but public land, the possession of which only belonged to a citizen, was excluded as not being Quiritarian property. If we may judge from the practice of the imperial period, it was the custom to give a most minute specification of all such land as a citizen held according to the Quiritarian law. He had to state the name and location of the land, and to specify what portion of it was arable, what meadow, what vineyard, and what olive-ground: and of the land thus described, he had to give his assessment of its value (Digesta Iustiniani 50 tit.15 s4).
Slaves and cattle formed the next most important item. The censors also possessed the right of calling for a return of such objects as had not usually been given in, such as clothing, jewels, and carriages (Livy xxxix.44; Plutarch Life of Cato the Elder 18). It has been doubted by some modern writers whether the censors possessed the power of setting a higher valuation on the property than the citizens themselves gave, but when we recollect the discretionary nature of the censors' powers, and the necessity almost that existed, in order to prevent fraud, that the right of making a surcharge should be vested in somebody's hands, we can hardly doubt that the censors had this power. It is moreover expressly stated that on one occasion they made an extravagant surcharge on articles of luxury (Livy xxxix.44; Plutarch Life of Cato the Elder 18); and even if they did not enter in their books the property of a person at a higher value than he returned it, they accomplished the same end by compelling him to pay a tax upon the property at a higher rate than others. The tax was usually one per thousand upon the property entered in the books of the censors, but on one occasion the censors compelled a person to pay eight per thousand as a punishment (Livy iv.24).
A person who voluntarily absented himself from the census was considered incensus and subject to the severest punishment. Servius Tullius is said to have threatened such individuals with imprisonment and death (Livy i.44), and in the Republican period he might be sold by the state as a slave (Cicero pro Caecina Oratio 34). In the later times of the republic, a person who was absent from the census might be represented by another, and be thus registered by the censors (Varr. L.L. vi.86). Whether the soldiers who were absent on service had to appoint a representative is uncertain. In ancient times, the sudden outbreaks of war prevented the census from being taken (Livy vi.31), because a large number of the citizens would necessarily be absent. It is supposed from a passage in Livy (xxix.37) that in later times the censors sent commissioners into the provinces with full powers to take the census of the Roman soldiers there, but this seems to have been a special case. It is, on the contrary, probable from the way in which Cicero pleads the absence of Archias from Rome with the army under Lucullus, as a sufficient reason for his not having been enrolled in the census (pro Licinio Archia 5), that service in the army was a valid excuse for absence.
After the censors had received the names of all the citizens with the amount of their property, they then had to make out the lists of the tribes, and also of the classes and centuries; for by the legislation of Servius Tullius the position of each citizen in the state was determined by the amount of his property (Comitia Centuriata). These lists formed a most important part of the Tabulae Censoriae, under which name were included all the documents connected in any way with the discharge of the censors' duties (Cic. de Leg. iii.3; Liv. xxiv.18; Plut. Cat. Maj. 16; Cic. de Leg. Agr. i.2). These lists, insofar as they were connected with the finances of the state, were deposited in the aerarium, which was the temple of Saturn (Liv. xxix.37); but the regular depositary for all the archives of the censors was in earlier times the Atrium Libertatis, near the Villa publica (Liv. xliii.16, xlv.15), and in later times the temple of the Nymphs (Cic. pro Mil. 27).
Besides the division of the citizens into tribes, centuries, and classes, the censors had also to make out the lists of the senators for the ensuing five years, or till new censors were appointed; striking out the names of such as they considered unworthy, and making additions to the body from those who were qualified. In the same manner they held a review of the Equestrians who received a horse from public funds (equites equo publico), and added and removed names as they judged proper. They also confirmed the princeps senatus, or appointed a new one. The princeps himself had to be a former censor.
After the lists had been completed, the number of citizens was counted up, and the sum total announced. Accordingly, we find that in the account of a census, the number of citizens is likewise usually given. They are in such cases spoken of as capita ("heads"), sometimes with the addition of the word civium ("of the citizens"), and sometimes not. Hence, to be registered in the census was the same thing as "having a head" (caput habere).
In this manner, the censors gradually assumed at least nominal complete superintendence over the whole public and private life of every citizen. They were constituted as the conservators of public morality; they were not simply to prevent crime or particular acts of immorality, but rather to maintain the traditional Roman character, ethics, and habits (mos majorum)- regimen morum also encompassed this protection of traditional ways (Cicero de Legibus iii.3; Livy iv.8, xxiv.18, xl.46, xli.27, xlii.3; Suetonius Life of Augustus 27), which was called in the times of the empire cura ("supervision") or praefectura ("command"). The punishment inflicted by the censors in the exercise of this branch of their duties was called nota ("mark, letter") or notatio, or animadversio censoria ("censorial reproach"). In inflicting it, they were guided only by their conscientious convictions of duty; they had to take an oath that they would act biased by neither partiality nor favour; and, in addition to this, they were bound in every case to state in their lists, opposite the name of the guilty citizen, the cause of the punishment inflicted on him, Subscriptio censoria (Livy xxxix.42; Cicero pro Cluentio Oratio 42‑48; Gell. iv.20).
This part of the censors' office invested them with a peculiar kind of jurisdiction, which in many respects resembled the exercise of public opinion in modern times; for there are innumerable actions which, though acknowledged by every one to be prejudicial and immoral, still do not come within the reach of the positive laws of a country; as often said, "immorality does not equal illegality". Even in cases of real crimes, the positive laws frequently punish only the particular offence, while in public opinion the offender, even after he has undergone punishment, is still incapacitated for certain honours and distinctions which are granted only to persons of unblemished character.
Hence the Roman censors might brand a man with their "censorial mark" (nota censoria) in case he had been convicted of a crime in an ordinary court of justice, and had already suffered punishment for it. The consequence of such a nota was only ignominia and not infamia (Cicero de Re Publica iv.6) Infamia and the censorial verdict was not a judicium or res judicata (Cicero pro Cluentio Oratio 42), for its effects were not lasting, but might be removed by the following censors, or by a lex (roughly "law"). A censorial mark was moreover not valid unless both censors agreed. The ignominia was thus only a transitory reduction of status, which does not even appear to have deprived a magistrate of his office (Livy xxiv.18), and certainly did not disqualify persons labouring under it for obtaining a magistracy, for being appointed as judices by the praetor, or for serving in the Roman armies. Mamercus Aemilius was thus, notwithstanding the reproach of the censors (animadversio censoria), made dictator (Livy iv.31).
A person might be branded with a censorial mark in a variety of cases, which it would be impossible to specify, as in a great many instances it depended upon the discretion of the censors and the view they took of a case; and sometimes even one set of censors would overlook an offence which was severely chastised by their successors (Cicero de Senectute 12). But the offences which are recorded to have been punished by the censors are of a threefold nature.
A person who had been branded with a nota censoria, might, if he considered himself wronged, endeavour to prove his innocence to the censors (causam agere apud censores, Varr. de Re Rust. i.7), and if he did not succeed, he might try to gain the protection of one of the censors, that he might intercede on his behalf.
In some cases, however, the censors did not acquiesce to this simple mode of proceeding, but addressed the senator whom they had noted, and publicly reprimanded him for his conduct (Livy xxiv.18). As, however, in ordinary cases an ex-senator was not disqualified by his ignominia for holding any of the magistracies which opened the way to the senate, he might at the next census again become a senator (Cicero pro Cluentio Oratio 42, Plutarch Life of Cicero 17).
It was this authority of the Roman censors which eventually developed into the modern meaning of "Censor" and "censorship" - i.e. officials who review published material and forbid the publication of material judged to be contrary to "public morality" as the term is interpreted in a given political and social environment.
The censors typically auctioned off to the highest bidder for the space of a lustrum the collection of the tithes and taxes. This auctioning was called venditio or locatio, and seems to have taken place in the month of March (Macrobius Saturnalia i.12), in a public place in Rome (Cicero de Lege Agraria i.3, ii.21). The terms on which they were let, together with the rights and duties of the purchasers, were all specified in the leges censoriae, which the censors published in every case before the bidding commenced (Cicero ad Qu. Fr. i.1 §12, Verr. iii.7, de Nat. Deor. iii.19, Varr. de Re Rust. ii.1). For further particulars see Publicani.
The censors also possessed the right, though probably not without the assent of the Senate, of imposing new vectigalia (Livy xxix.37, xl.51), and even of selling the land belonging to the state (Livy xxxii.7). It would thus appear that it was the duty of the censors to bring forward a budget for a five-year period, and to take care that the income of the state was sufficient for its expenditure during that time. In part, their duties resembled those of a modern minister of finance. The censors, however, did not receive the revenues of the state. All the public money was paid into the aerarium, which was entirely under the jurisdiction of the senate; and all disbursements were made by order of this body, which employed the quaestors as its officers.
In one important department the censors were entrusted with the expenditure of the public money, though the actual payments were no doubt made by the quaestors. The censors had the general superintendence of all the public buildings and works (opera publica), and to meet the expenses connected with this part of their duties, the senate voted them a certain sum of money or certain revenues, to which they were restricted, but which they might at the same time employ according to their discretion (Polybius vi.13; Livy xl.46, xliv.16). They had to see that the temples and all other public buildings were in a good state of repair (aedes sacras tueri and sarta tecta exigere, Livy xxiv.18, xxix.37, xlii.3, xlv.15), that no public places were encroached upon by the occupation of private persons (loca tueri, Livy xlii.3, xliii.16), and that the aqueduct, roads, drains, etc. were properly attended to.
The repairs of the public works and the keeping of them in proper condition were let out by the censors by public auction to the lowest bidder, just as the vectigalia were let out to the highest bidder. These expenses were called ultrotributa, and hence we frequently find vectigalia and ultrotributa contrasted with one another (Livy xxxix.44, xliii.16). The persons who undertook the contract were called conductores, mancipes, redemptores, susceptores, etc.; and the duties they had to discharge were specified in the Leges Censoriae. The censors had also to superintend the expenses connected with the worship of the gods, even for instance the feeding of the sacred geese in the Capitol; these various tasks were also let out on contract (Plutarch Roman Questions 98; Pliny Natural History x.22; Cicero pro Sexto Roscio Amerino Oratio 20).
Besides keeping existing public buildings and facilities in a proper state of repair, the censors were also in charge of constructing new ones, either for ornament or utility, both in Rome and in other parts of Italy, such as temples, basilicae, theatres, porticoes, fora, walls of towns, aqueducts, harbours, bridges, cloacae, roads, etc. These works were either performed by them jointly, or they divided between them the money, which had been granted to them by the senate (Liv. xl.51, xliv.16). They were let out to contractors, like the other works mentioned above, and when they were completed, the censors had to see that the work was performed in accordance with the contract: this was called opus probare or in acceptum referre (Cicero Verr. i.57; Livy iv.22, xlv.15; Lex Puteol. p73, Spang.).
The aediles had likewise a superintendence over the public buildings, and it is not easy to define with accuracy the respective duties of the censors and aediles, but it may be remarked in general that the superintendence of the aediles had more of a police character, while that of the censors were more financial in subject matter.
Long after the Roman census was no longer taken, the Latin word lustrum has survived, and been adopted in some modern languages, in the derived sense of a period of five years, i.e. half a decennium.
|499 or 496 BC|
|474 BC||103,000||474 BC||474 BC|
|454 BC||454 BC|
|433 BC||433 BC|
|428 BC||428 BC|
|412 BC||412 BC|
|392 BC||152,573||392 BC||392 BC|
|390 BC||390 BC|
|383 BC||383 BC|
|340 BC||165,000||340-338 BC|
|280 BC||287,222||280-275 BC|
|276 BC||271,224||276 BC?|
|250 BCE||250 BC|
|216 BC||216 BC|
|211-210 BC||211-210 BC|
|204 BC||214,000||204 BC|
|200 BC||200-195 BC|
|142 BC||322,442||142 BC|