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Magistrate ( Latin magistratus , from Latin magister ) was the name for the highest offices in the Roman Republic . A person who held one of these offices was called a magistrate . The traditional sequence of offices was the course honorum .


The term magistratus is since the 4th / 3rd. Century BC Chr. Inscription shows in the literature it first appears in Plautus on. The term magistrature is unknown in antiquity. It is possible that the general magistratus term was linked to a more specific term describing the precise authority, such as magistratus potestasve or magistratus imperiumve .

As a rule, the term magistratus refers to the holder of a magistrate, i.e. a holder of state power determined by a choice. At the same time, the term also describes the specific office, in the plural also the sum of the individual offices of Roman or Peregrine origin. At the end of the Roman Republic, the magistrates included the consuls , the praetors , the aediles , the tribunes , the quaestors , the vigintiviri , the special office of censorship and the exceptional offices of dictator and magister equitum . The exceptional offices lacked the legitimation from the People's Assembly, which was decisive for magistrates, but due to the extraordinary abundance of power they were included in the canon of the magistrates. The office of interrex and the politically insignificant tribunus militum were probably not offices of the magistrate.

A Roman magistrate had little in common with an official in our sense, the office was an honorary post and unpaid. The magistrates themselves provided their administrative apparatus, mostly slaves and freedmen. Officials were made available only for special tasks; these were paid by the state, their term of office was unlimited, and they were called apparitores . The magistrates themselves only held office for one year, the censors for 18 months. The magistrates also had a right of veto over decisions made by their colleagues and lower officials, insofar as these affected their own area of ​​office.


The Roman senior officials were elected, which was a result of the class struggles . There were numerous regulations for the order in which one was allowed to hold the various offices in the Roman state or at what age one could take up which office. The first requirement was ten years probation in lower offices. After that, it was potentially possible to advance from bursar to consul. In fact, only a few who began the official career made it to rise to praetor or consul.

The origin of the magistrates is controversial in research, as there are no reliable written sources for the early days of the Roman Republic and the retrospective annalistic historiography is not very trustworthy on such points. So it is uncertain whether there were magistrates or preliminary stages in the royal era . It is also unclear whether the office had one, two or three digits in the early republic. However, it is not to be assumed that the highest magistrate will be made up of two heads for the early period, as this was probably due to the class struggles in the 5th and 4th centuries BC. Was. It can be assumed that after the end of kingship an annually changing annual magistrate ( praetor maximus or magister populi ) was at the head of the city-state. This magistrate was probably assigned praetores or tribuni militum .

As a result of the class struggles for the upper office, the double consulate, in which one consul was occupied by the patricians and one by the plebeians , prevailed. There is also a patrician praetor as a minor collega . In order to be able to cope with the increasing internal and external political tasks in the following years, additional offices like censorship and aedility were created and other existing offices like praetur and bursar increased. With the Lex Hortensia (287 BC) the tribunes were incorporated into the existing system of offices.

Office categories

Different office categories were distinguished. There was a difference between the offices held by patricians, the magistratus patricii , and the magistratus plebeii , the plebeian institutions that had become regular offices in the course of the class struggles. In addition, the so-called curular magistrates were highlighted. These offices had certain official insignia, the sella curulis , in accordance with their judicial powers . These included the consuls and praetors as the senior officials and the patrician ("curular") aediles. In addition, there is the classification according to rank. A distinction is made here between higher and lower offices. The higher offices are those elected in the Comitia Centuriata , i.e. the consuls, praetors and censors; the lower offices are the tribunes, aediles and quaestors elected in the comitia tributa .


Promagistrates were not an office, but an extension of the authority of an office holder beyond the actual term of office. Since the year 327/326 BC Magistrates received such an extension ( prorogatio ) after the end of their year of office.

Individual evidence

  1. Varro , de lingua Latina 5.82; Digest 50,16,57 et al
  2. ^ Wilhelm Kierdorf : Magistratus. In: The Little Pauly (KlP). Volume 3, Stuttgart 1969, Sp. 877-881, here Sp. 877: “In addition to the Consules (under the older title praetores: Liv. 3,55,12. Fest. 249 L., see praetoria porta) there was initially only the quaestores as auxiliary officers (initially appointed: Tac ann. 11,22,4). In the following period, the magistracy was differentiated according to the external and internal requirements. "
  3. CIL 1, 25 : macistr [a] tos
  4. In four works, including Amphitruo 74
  5. In Titus Livius one reads: quattuor et viginti lictores apparere consulibus (24 lictors were available to the consuls). On the apparitores see above all the study by Jean-Michel David : Au service de l'honneur. Les appariteurs de magistrats romains. Les Belles Lettres, Paris 2019, ISBN 978-2-251-44894-7 .


Web links

Wiktionary: Magistratur  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations