Roman cursus honorum

This diagram shows the ladder of political advancement (cursus honorum) during the late Republic. The straight ladder shows the typical path of advancement, beginning with election to quaestor, the lowest office, and proceeding to consul, the highest (of course very few men made it that far; it was quite exceptional when a man like Cicero, who did not come from a noble family, was elected consul). Red text designates "curule magistrates," who had the right to sit on a special ivory folding stool (sella curulis) as a symbol of their office; they also had the right to wear the purple-bordered toga (toga praetexta). Offices marked with an asterisk carried imperium, the highest political authority, which included the right to command an army, to interpret and carry out the law, and to pass sentences of death. Magistrates whose title began with "pro" were in charge of provinces; the Senate normally conferred these after the men had finished their term of office in Rome. The more important provinces, especially those requiring large military forces, were assigned to ex-consuls, while the less significant provinces were governed by ex-praetors.


2 *consuls—chief magistrates who convoked and presided over the Senate and assemblies, initiated and administered legislation, served as commander-in-chief in military campaigns, and represented Rome in foreign affairs. Consuls could appoint and/or serve as *dictator for up to 6 months in times of emergency when the constitution was suspended. When their term of office was completed, consuls usually governed a province as *proconsul.

8 *praetors—served primarily as judges in law courts, but could convoke the Senate and assemblies; they assumed administrative duties of consuls when these were absent from Rome. When their term of office was completed, praetors might govern a province as *propraetor.

2 censors—elected every 5 years for terms of 1½ yrs.; revised lists of senators and equestrians; conducted census of citizens and property assessments for tax purposes; granted state contracts.

4 aediles—supervised public places, public games, and the grain supply in the city of Rome; 2 were required to be plebeians, and the other two (who had more status) could come from either order; the latter 2 were called curule aediles.

10 tribunes—had to be plebeian, because the office was established to protect the plebeians from arbitrary actions of magistrates; hence the primary power of tribunes was negative—they could veto the act of any magistrate and stop any official act of administration; they were by law sacrosanct, meaning that anyone who attacked them physically could be immediately and summarily killed; they could convoke the Senate and assemblies and initiate legislation.

20 quaestors—administered finances of state treasury and served in various capacities in the provinces; when elected quaestor, a man automatically became eligible for membership in the Senate, though censors had to appoint him to fill a vacancy