Decuriones or Curiales: members of the town councils in the Roman municipalities.

Relief showing the two mayors of a Roman town
Relief showing the two mayors of a Roman town

Just like today, Roman towns had a municipal council, which was called a curia (from co + viria, "gathering of men"). Usually, it had some hundred members although smaller towns had smaller councils and larger councils are not unheard of either. The members of the council, called decuriones or curiales, were not directly elected. In many towns, one had to win the elections and become mayor first. (The mayor was called duovir, which suggests that there were two mayors in every town; there is evidence, however, for municipalities with one summus magistratus, supreme magistrate.) After a term in office as mayor, one automatically became member of the council.

However, the ancient mortality rate was high and it was impossible to maintain a body of hundred people by adding only two men every year. (The minimum age was 25 years, and it is only possible to keep the body of hundred intact if the average life expectancy at 25 is fifty.) Therefore, the mayors selected respectable men to join the council; in several towns, these additional members were co-opted by the council itself. "Respectable" meant, in Antiquity, that one needed to have citizenship of the town and had to be wealthy. Of course former convicts and freedmen were excluded as well. The curia had to be a dignified body because it represented the community, which wanted to make a good impression on others.

Latin inscription (AE 1973, 503) mentioning a honorary member of the decurional order.
Latin inscription mentioning a honorary member of the decurional order.

Becoming a member of the council was supposed to be a joyous occasion and new decuriones were therefore expected to celebrate it by a donation of money to the municipal treasury. On other occasions, the members of the council had to pay for the upkeep of monuments or offer money to the poor. The benefits of their position, however, were substantial, although symbolical. Decuriones had seats on the front ranks in the theater and amphitheater, which was a great privilege. They also belonged to the class of honestiores ("honorable men"), which meant that during a trial, they would not be tortured.

Two officials from Karaköprü (near Sanli Urfa)
Two officials from Karaköprü (near Sanli Urfa)

Among the financial obligations of the decuriones was to advance the imperial taxes. This was in itself not a very heavy obligation, because the hundred members just advanced the money to the provincial governor and received their money back from their loyal tax-paying fellow-citizens. However, in the third century CE, the taxes started to rise, and advancing the money was increasingly difficult. At the same time, inflation destroyed the funds for the upkeep of public monuments, which meant that decuriones were forced to pay lots of money.

As a consequence, they started to evade their obligations. The emperors took countermeasures. The minimum age became eighteen years and people of sufficient means could be forced to become decuriones. There were many complaints about this.note

This page was created in 2006; last modified on 23 November 2018.