The Roman Empire - In The First Century
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Ranking immediately below senators, equestrians became an important human resource, whose work underpinned the smooth running of the Roman Empire.

As its name suggests, the equestrian class was originally composed of the Roman cavalry. In 218 BC, equestrians took on more commercial roles when Lex Claudia prevented Senators from becoming involved in trade or business.

The business classes

As a result, many in the equestrian class became wealthy businessmen. Many were tax collectors, bankers, miners and exporters, while others governed lucrative public contracts, such as those awarded to build roads or aqueducts.

The Emperor Augustus recognized the importance of the equestrians, reorganized them into a military class and encouraged others to join. Now Roman citizens of any social level could become equestrians, as long as they were of good reputation, in good health and owned at least 400,000 sesterces (Roman coins).

Running the empire

By using equestrians in responsible positions in government, Augustus founded the imperial civil service, which equestrians would later head. Their business background made them particularly suited for positions in the financial administration of the provinces. Over the following decades, the number of equestrians increased dramatically, until there were thousands throughout the empire.

By the time of Claudius, equestrians could reasonably expect a good career. After serving in the army as an officer, a potential equestrian might become a procurator an agent of the emperor. He could then become a prefect, or government administrator, at home or abroad. Prefects had responsibilities as varied as the fire brigade, grain supply, and foreign provinces, such as Egypt.

Opportunity knocks

Equestrians could rise to the rank of senator. The senatorial class found it difficult to supply enough men of its own, so they recruited from the equestrian class. Also, sons of senators were automatically classified as equestrians until they had gained the necessary age, experience and office.

Because equestrians did not have to be Roman or Italian by birth, this opened up the ranks of senators to non-Italians. When Vespasian increased the number of senators, the popularity of the equestrian class meant that the Senate now included citizens born in provinces such as Gaul and Spain. It was a sign that talented men from all over the empire could hold important office. Before long, the Emperor Trajan would be in power and, for the first time, Rome would be ruled by a man born abroad.

Where to next:
Social Order - Senators
Writers - Ovid
Emperors - Trajan

Related Links:

Augustus   Augustus
Senators   Senators
The Roman Empire

Republic to Empire

Age of Augustus

Years of Trial

Empire Reborn


Social Order
- Patricians
- Senators
- Equestrians
- Plebians
- Slaves & Freemen
- Soldiers
- Women
- On The Frontiers

Life in Roman Times


Enemies and Rebels


The Roman Empire - In The First Century