The term Eques® completely eques Romanus ( German ', (Roman) tab ; from Latin equus ' horse', plural equites , traditionally known as " knights " translated), described in the Roman Empire , the member of the equester ordo , one equipped with special privileges object . In terms of social ranking, he came after the senatorial class ( ordo senatorius ) , which established itself as a separate class in the principate . In the republic there were also members of the nobilityto the equites , as long as they had not been accepted into the Senate after holding the relevant offices.
In the dark early days of the Roman Republic , probably the richest citizens, who could afford their own horse and equipment, served as riders in the army . Their military role disappeared no later than the 4th century BC. BC, but the Equites remained a politically prominent group. It was a special honor to belong to the "knights with state horse" who formed the equites in the narrower sense. In the later republic, as senators since 218 BC. B.C. were no longer officially allowed to carry out commercial transactions, many equites were economically active, for example by taking on government contracts ( publicani ) ; not infrequently they also acted as front men for senators. The knights gained political importance especially after Gaius Sempronius Gracchus , the 122 BC. BC tried to build up the Equites as a counterweight to the Senate, and entrusted them with legal tasks, in which they partly also judged senators.
Even for equites who did not belong to the nobility, because of their wealth and relationships, it was easier to get into political offices than the "ordinary" citizens, whose dress was connected with promotion to the Senate. Such persons, who, like Marcus Tullius Cicero, were the first of their families to achieve the rank of consul , were called homines novi ( singular homo novus 'new man'). Up to Augustus , however, as I said, every member of a senatorial family was a knight until he was accepted into the Senate - only in the imperial era was there a formal separation of ordo senatorius and equester ordo .
In the beginning of the imperial period ( principate ) the equites became a clearly defined class with a minimum census of 400,000 sesterces and badges (knight's ring, anulus aureus ; narrow purple border on the tunic , the so-called angustus clavus ). Members of the equester ordo exercised prominent jobs in administration and the military; Most of the top positions were reserved for the senators, but both the Praetorian prefects and the prefectus Aegypti were usually knights. Well-known members of this class at the time of the Principate included Virgil , Ovid , Pontius Pilatus , Seian , Pliny the Elder , Suetonius and Timesitheus . The Cheruscan tribal prince Arminius was also accepted into the knighthood.
In addition, the purely military meaning of the word eques continued, which could designate the rider of an auxiliary force unit or legion . There were also mounted gladiators , which were also referred to as equites .
In the course of the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, the importance of knights increased, especially within the imperial administration. Since Septimius Severus , the character of the knighthood has changed more and more: From then on one could become a knight through a military career. Quite a few of these "new" knights managed to climb the Senate, and since Macrinus some have even ascended the throne themselves, which until then had only been available to former consuls . While the 3rd century can therefore be described as "the great time of the Roman knighthood" ( Géza Alföldy ), its importance decreased rapidly in the 4th century, because most of the chivalric offices up to then became senatorial until the equester ordo finally disappeared .
To the equites as a stand:
- Arthur Stein: The Roman knighthood. A contribution to the social and personal history of the Roman Empire , Munich 1927.
- Géza Alföldy : The position of knights in the ruling class of the Roman Empire . In: Chiron 11, 1981, pp. 169-215.
- Jochen Bleicken: Cicero and the Knights , Göttingen 1995.
- PA Brunt: Princeps and equites. In: The Journal of Roman Studies 73, 1983, pp. 42-75.
- Caillan Davenport: A History of the Roman Equestrian Order , Cambridge 2019 (current standard work).
- Ségolène Demougin (Ed.): L'ordre équestre. Histoire d'une aristocratie (II e siècle av. J.-C.-III e siècle ap. J.-C.) . Rome 1999. ISBN 2-7283-0445-9 ( online ).
- Richard Duncan-Jones: Who were the equites? In: Carl Deroux (Ed.): Studies in Latin Literature and Roman History XIII . Brussels 2006, pp. 183-223.
- Werner Eck: The transformation of the political leadership class - senators and knighthood , in: Werner Eck u. a. (Ed.), The administration of the Roman Empire in the High Imperial Era, Vol. 1, Basel 1995 (AREA 3), pp. 103–160.
On the cavalry in Roman times:
- Marcus Junkelmann : Roman Cavalry - Equites Alae. The combat equipment of the Roman cavalry in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. Württembergisches Landesmuseum, Stuttgart 1989 ( Writings of the Limes Museum Aalen. 42).
- Marcus Junkelmann: The riders of Rome. Cultural history of the ancient world . Mainz 1990 ff. For the individual volumes see here .