The republican Rome was a society of many layers, many networks, many degrees and many signs of the importance and influence of the family, as well as of the individual. At the political field there was a system of cursus honorum, a chain of ever more prestigious public offices, which one was supposed to climb in certain order. Typically one couldn’t skip offices and there was always one more step to take to satisfy the ambition of individual and the craving of the family to rise to the top of the society, even for a short moment.
The obvious high point of the career was consulship, the top executive of Roman Republic. The importance of the consulship for the Romans is difficult to fully grasp in our modern minds: one year of being one of the two top magistrates of the republic was undoutably important office, but the importance attached into consulship was felt in other areas too. Being consul meant that forever on, the year of your consulship was named according to you: in the year of consulship of Domitius Ahenobarbus and Fannius. That was one way to reach immortality in the Roman sense: as long as you were remembered, you were dead, but not gone. Also the number of consecutive consulships in generations (father-son) was basis for recognising the nobilitas, the cream of the cream of the Roman society. So the consulship was very important for both the individual and for the family.
I have previously written about the number of consulships (here and here), so I will not deal with that subject now in any length. However, I want to move one step higher. After consulship one was expected to serve as military commander, provincial magistrate or in the senate assignments in the field of foreign policy. After an interval of few years one could try the final elected step in the public career, the censorship.
The office of censor was not part of the official cursus honorum and it was a special kind of office in other ways too. The term in office for a Roman magistrate was one year, but the censores served five year term. The highest offices of praetor and consul carried imperium, the military command power within it, which effectively meant that consules and praetores could enforce their decisions with violence, if necessary. Censor didn’t have an imperium. Instead censores were responsible for census, which also meant they were in charge of arranging the dignities of the Roman society into proper order: everyone into their place. They also maintained the list of senators. Their power was very real, even without imperium. The office of censor thus carried great amount of prestige, the currency of influence in the Roman republic.
The number of censors between the years of my focus, 150-50 was naturally much smaller than that of annually elected consuls. The number of censores was also low during these years also because during the 70’s only one pair was elected at year 70 because of the civil war and Sulla’s dictatorship. This means that any family with more than one censor during this period is really of very high prestige.
Here is a list of censorial families and their number of censorships between 154 and 50:
number of censorships – family – years of censorships
5 Caecilius Metellus (131, 120, 115, 102, 102)
3 Licinius Crassus (92, 89, 65)
2 Calpurnius Piso (120, 50)
2 Cassius Longinus (154, 125)
2 Claudius Pulcher (136, 50)
2 Cornelius Lentulus (147, 70)
2 Domitius Ahenobarbus (115, 92)
2 Valerius Messalla (154, 55)
1 Fulvius Nobilior (136)
1 Valerius Flaccus (97)
1 Scribonius Curio (61)
1 Servilius Caepio (125)
1 Servilius Vatia (55)
1 Marcius Censorinus (147)
1 Marcius Philippus (86)
1 Mummius (142)
1 Perperna (86)
1 Pompeius (131)
1 Licinius Geta (108)
1 Livius Drusus (109)
1 Lutatius Catulus (65)
1 Fabius Maximus (108)
1 Gellius Publicola (70)
1 Julius Caesar (89)
1 Cornelius Scipio (142)
1 Antonius (97)
1 Aurelius Cotta (64)
1 Aemilius Scaurus (109)
So 27 families reached the censorial status during the final century of the republic. 8 families reached more than one censorship. This means that those leading 8 families took 20 censorships from altogether 42 available offices, almost half. This is close to the percentage of the consulships grasped by the most influental families. The similarity is perhaps not great surprise, but offers a convincing evidence on the tendency of Roman society to form concentrations of power.
One also finds familiar names at the top listing when comparing the number of consulships:
1. Caecilius Metellus, 15 consulships
2. – 3. Cornelius Lentulus, Marius, 8 consulships
4. Calpurnius Piso, 7 consulships
5. Aemilius Lepidus, 6 consulships
6. – 11. Aurelius Cotta, Cassius Longinus, Claudius Pulcher, Cornelius Scipio, Licinius Crassus, Papirius Carbo, 5 consulships
At the censorship listing the dominance of the Caecili Metelli in the Roman politics during the 130’s, 120’s and 110’s is very evident, there is only period of 125-119 without a Caecilius Metellus as censor. Also one notices a very exceptional thing: both of the censores of 102 were of same family! This is unique occurance in the Roman history. They were cousins with common grandfater, consul of 206 Q. Caecilius Metellus Calvus. His sons were consuls in consequtive years 143 and 142 and they themselves were consuls at 113 and 109, at the golden period of the Caecilii Metelli.
The concentration of both consulships and censorships to these couple of generations of the Caecilii Metelli family is extraoridinary to say the least. Macedonicus has four of his sons as consul and three of them reached censorship with his nephew Numidicus rounding the number into record 5 censorships into one family. And all this within 131-102, i.e. only 30 years time. As with the number of consulships, in the number of censorships the plebeian family of Caecilii Metelli stands alone.