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Quaestor

Quaestor: Roman magistrate, responsible for fiscal administration.

The word quaestor means "the one who asks questions". This magistrate is first mentioned in the Laws of the Twelve Tables, although there are reports about quaestors who served under the Roman kings. Their task was to investigate murder cases; in fact, they were some kind of police inspectors. It is unclear how this function could change into a government office.

The first two quaestorian magistrates were elected in the 440s. They served as accountants and took charge of the aerarium (public treasury). Some twenty years later, their number was doubled. The new quaestors served as paymasters of the two consular armies. Two more quaestors were added in 267: they took charge of the tribute of the Italian allies. After the First Punic War, the annexation of the island of Sicily and Sardinia/Corsica led to the appointment of two additional quaestors. The number must have grown with the number of provinces. Under Sulla, there were 20 quaestors; under Julius Caesar, the Roman empire needed 40 accountants - or perhaps Caesar had discovered an easy way to give a job to his adherents.

Originally, one could not become quaestor unless one had 10 years of experience in the army. This was changed under Sulla, who stipulated a minimum age of 30 years for the questorship. The emperor Augustus lowered this age to 25 years. He also made an end to the practice to have the quaestors elected by the Comitia  tributa, an assembly of the people that was divided into voting districts. The election was transferred to the Senate.

Under the empire, two of the quaestors were appointed by the emperor in person (the quaestores Augusti). They had financial tasks as well, but were also responsible for messages of the emperor. A young man who obtained this job, was expected to become a very important official. An additional task of all quaestors was the supervision of the Games. Since the aedil, praetors and consuls were also responsible for the Games, it may be suspected that the magistrates were each others rivals.

A quaestor had no bodyguard (lictor) but was allowed to wear a purple-bordered toga.

This page was created in 2002; last modified on 21 July 2014.