The Aedile was the second official (but optional) step in the Cursus Honorum.
Before getting into the details, something things to clarify. There were four positions of Aedile on an annual basis. Two were reserved for the Patricians called ‘Curule Aedile’ (elected by the Roman Assembly or appointed by the Consul) and two were for the Plebs or common folk and called Plebian Aediles (elected by the Plebian council).
The two types of Aediles had similar tasks though there were certain differences. The Plebian Aediles supervised Plebian only festivals and the Curule Aediles supervised other festivals. The Curule Aediles were given a status of rank in office. They had a ‘Curule Chair’, could issue edicts regarding the market, and of course were given two lictors as body guards. This article will focus on the Curule Aedile.
First of all, the office of Aedile was an optional step for the Cursus Honorum. The age to stand for this office has been mid-30s. Since there’s no clear indication when it’s a reasonable guess to assume the age of 35. It was a sort of a filler office between a Quaestor and Praetor. There was no compulsion to take this office. One could bypass it and still be elected Praetor or Consul at the later stages of their career. However, it was considered honourable to take the full Cursus Honorum route.
‘Subsequently, when his elder brother Lucius was a candidate for the Aedileship, which is about the most honourable office open to a “young” man at Rome:’ – Polybius Histories 10.4
The office of Aedile wasn’t exactly a typical administrative position. It was based in Rome. The main responsibilities were maintain of all public buildings, baths, temples of Rome, along with the sewers, aqueducts. There was a mercantile aspect to the job as they were responsible for ensuring the right weights were used in trade, enforced mercantile edicts and could be mercantile judges for such disputes. Other major responsibilities was managing the supply of grain to the city, as grain was given at a subsidised rate to the mob (who have a lot of power, something that would become a big factor in Roman politics later). The Aedile’s had to ensure there was enough grain to meet the requirements.
From the point of view of the individual being elected, this responsibility was the most important. The Aediles had to supervise various festivals and organise celebratory games. Through this, the organizer would be visible to the people, a brilliant popularity tool.
There was a major down side to this particular task.
In other offices, the magistrates either had the state treasury to use for any expense, or had a sufficient area to generate the required funds. As a Curule Aedile to host the games and ceremonies? The money comes from the pocket of the individual. There would be no reimbursement of any expenses. In fact, only the Plebian Aediles, hosting festivals for Plebs would get a small amount of money from the treasury. Not Curule Aediles.
So the Aedile faces two choices
1. Hope they are able to have enough clients and support to bypass the office of Aedile entirely, or be amazing orators.
2. Second, they could be really rich or take large loans (with the hope of becoming Consul and then making money back as a governor).
In a sense, maximum benefit of being an Aedile could be an expensive gamble. If you were successful, become a Praetor and/or Consul, get governorship of provinces and line your pockets with money, it is worked out. If not, as a private citizen with no legal immunity, you would be prosecuted by your creditors.
However, even popular orators such as Cicero and Caesar took this position. As an example for this post, the year of Caesar as Curule Aedile is the best example.
The man who would play centre stage for the waning years of the Republic was elected to the office of Curule Aedile along with Marcus Bibulus (coincidentally, the same sorry excuse of a senator would be his fellow consul in the future) in 65 BCE.
‘When aedile, Caesar decorated not only the Comitium and the Forum with its adjacent basilicas, but the Capitol as well, building temporary colonnades for the display of a part of his material. He exhibited combats with wild beasts and stage-plays too, both with his colleague and independently. The result was that Caesar alone took all the credit even for what they spent in common, and his colleague Marcus Bibulus openly said that his was the fate of Pollux: “For,” said he, “just as the temple erected in the Forum to the twin brethren, bears only the name of Castor, so the joint liberality of Caesar and myself is credited to Caesar alone.” p15 2 Caesar gave a gladiatorial show besides, but with somewhat fewer pairs of combatants than he had purposed; for the huge band which he assembled from all quarters so terrified his opponents, that a bill was passed limiting the number of gladiators which anyone was to be allowed to keep in the city’ – Suetonius on the life of Caesar.
To get on the good side of the mob there were three things that helped win support: Grain, Violent entertainment, Religion.
Caesar borrowed lavishly and spent a lot of money from the treasury and took greater loans (with the intention of somehow paying it later). The festival to Jupiter was a high point during his Aedileship, with no expenses spared in a grand spectacle. Not only were there feasts and drama, there were a reported 320 gladiators (outfitted in silver armour) and wild beasts to entertain the people.
The costs would have been huge, but worth it, since he ended up becoming a really rich citizen after his Gallic conquests.
The office of Aedile was different from the other magistrate positions. The opportunity to become a popular person was there, but the costs involved to really succeed was enormous. With only 2 patrician’s being elected a year, it was one most would gladly avoid. Yet, in the latter years of the Republic, the mob support would prove vital and as an Aedile, it is one way to increase your standing.
The next article will be the first of the senior positions in Rome. The Praetor. This office is one that had immense power, authority and responsibilities that any ambitious man desired.
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