Censors: Populations and Morals

The Censor was an office of immense prestige in the Roman Republic. At the same time, it differed from other senatorial offices. This office was limited to a single term in office. Only former Consuls could be elected. However, this office would be done away with during the Empire.

Generally, former consuls were eligible for this office. Unlike other positions, the term was 18 months instead of 12. The minimum age for this office at 44 years old (42 for Consulship and a subsequent term as Governor). Every election saw 2 censors elected. The election had to be completed within the day or considered void. The Censors were voted by the Centuriate Assembly (since the assembly was divided into centuries). This assembly was vital to Rome, as it elected the high ranking magistrates (Praetors, Consuls and Censors), voted to act on war, voted for giving Imperium to magistrates and so forth.

Censors had no imperium despite being a senior magistrate. Thus,  no Lictors escorted them around the city. They were inferior in legislative matters to the Praetors and Consuls. However, there was immense dignity and respect attached to this position. It was called ‘Sanctus Magistratus’ or sacred magistracy. The tasks performed by the Censors were were considered vital. When a former censor died, their funeral was performed with immense grandeur. It was called ‘Funus Censorium’, or censorial funeral as it was called was even voted to Roman Emperors.

The duties attached to this position grew with time. The primary duties were, taking the Census, Keeping of the public morals and Administration of public works.

The Census was the primary duty of Censors. It was done every 5 years. The process was a long one. First the Censors would lay down the rules on how on how they’d be evaluating the wealth of the citizens. These rules were known as the ‘Leges Censui Censendo‘. Every Tribe was called separately to stand before the Censors. Every citizen had to identify themselves, and give a detailed assessment of their wealth. The main wealth attributes were land, slaves and livestock.
Census absenteeism was a major crime. Some censors threatened absenteeism with death, imprisonment or slavery. However, citizens could be represented by someone else. Soldiers on duty were exempt and were subject to special census in the provinces they were based in. The Census never took place during times of war (a bit obvious). 
After getting all the required names and information, all citizens were classified according to tribes and centuries and classes. The segregation of people into the various categories was the foundation of .

The Census of the City of Rome was a 5 year task done by the Censors.

Another part of the Census was to keep track of senatorial membership. Members of the senate were added at the end of 5 years (but soon after their term as Quaestor). Censors could add new names, or remove those senators they considered unworthy of the task.

The second task, was keeping of Public Morals. It was known as ‘Regimen Morum‘. It was a unique task. There wasn’t a way object the decision of the Censors. They had a nominal level of control over the public and private life of every person of Rome. While they could stop acts of crime and immorality, their main task through this was to maintain the ethics and characteristics of Rome. If a citizen was deemed to have acted in an immoral way, they were branded with an ‘Animadversio Censoria‘ or censorial reproach. The mark was a case of infamia, or a loss of legal social standing. It was given when both Censors could agree the citizen in question had violated their morals or such.
A person branded with the Censorial Mark was able to only appeal to the Censors themselves or try to get protection from one of the 2 magistrates. The punishments were dependent on the type of offence committed. Punishments included ejection from the senate, the removal of a horse from the equestrian order, or removal from the voting tribe.

This is interesting to note, that the censorial mark given by a set of presiding censors could be removed by the next of censors.


The final major task was maintenance of public buildings of Rome and auctioning of taxes and funds. In the month of March, the Censors in a public place would auction tax collection contracts to various collectors. These contractors, would bid how much tax could be collected from the various provinces. All terms and conditions were set by the Censors. They were called vectigalia. The bidder which could promise the most tax collected, was given the award.

The Censors made 5 year budgets for the Senate and ensured it had adequate funds to meet the expenses. They could even sell the land belonging to the Senate to finance any deficit. However, the revenues went to the treasury of the City, which was controlled by the Quaestors and Senate.
As stated, the upkeep of Public Buildings were their responsibility. Thus, the senate would give the Censors an annual budget for the same. Like tax farming contracts, maintenance contracts were auctioned off in public, but to the lowest bidder. These were called ultrotributa (hence, this and vectigalia were used as contrasting terms). Along with the discussed, Censors were able to construct new buildings in Rome and Italy. These included Temples, Walls, Aqueducts, Theaters, bridges, harbours, etc. Once again, they were contracted out.

The Aqueducts were some of the buildings that the Censors were constructed and maintained via tenders given out by the Censors.

There should be a note here. As stated in the article of the Aediles, they were in charge of the public buildings upkeep of Rome. While distinctions from historical sources have been a bit unclear, given the nature of the tasks, Censors would take a more financial aspect of the task. Of course the Aediles and Censors alike could construct public buildings from their own money. Only the Censors would be able to contract the tender.


In terms of traditional offices for Patricians in the Roman Republic, Censor was the last attainable post for any member of Senate. Beyond this, a patrician can either continue as a member of senate and try for other terms of consulship, or remain in the senate or retire as a private citizen. The next post will be on the position of ultimate authority, The Dictator.


Like the world Ancient Greece? Check out the Athenian Inspector’s blog here at https://athenianinspector.wordpress.com/

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