Politics of ancient Rome
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There were two pairs of aediles: the first were the "plebeian aediles" (Latin aediles plebis) and possession of this office was limited to plebeians; the other two were "curule aediles" (Latin aediles curules), open to both plebeians and patricians, in alternating years. An aedilis curulis was classified as a magister curulis.
The office of the aedilis was generally held by young men intending to follow the cursus honorum to high political office, traditionally after their quaestorship but before their praetorship. It was not a compulsory part of the cursus, and hence a former quaestor could be elected to the praetorship without having held the position of aedile. However, it was an advantageous position to hold because it demonstrated the aspiring politician's commitment to public service, as well as giving him the opportunity to hold public festivals and games, an excellent way to increase his name recognition and popularity.
History of the office
The plebeian aediles were created in the same year as the
Around 446 BC, they were given the authority to care for the decrees of the Senate. When a senatus consultum was passed, it would be transcribed into a document and deposited in the public treasury, the Aerarium. They were given this power because the consuls, who had held this power before, arbitrarily suppressed and altered the documents. They also maintained the acts of the Plebeian Council (People's Assembly), the "plebiscites". Plebiscites, once passed, were also transcribed into a physical document for storage. While their powers grew over time, it is not always easy to distinguish the difference between their powers, and those of the censors. Occasionally, if a censor was unable to carry out one of his tasks, an aedile would perform the task instead.
Besides having the right to sit on a curule seat (sella curulis) and to wear a toga praetexta, the curule aediles also held the power to issue edicts (jus edicendi). These edicts often pertained to matters such as the regulation of the public markets, or what we might call "economic regulation". Livy suggests, perhaps incorrectly, that both curule as well as plebeian Aediles were sacrosanct. Although the curule aediles always ranked higher than the plebeian, their functions gradually approximated and became practically identical. Within five days after the beginning of their terms, the four aediles (two plebeian, two curule) were required to determine, by lot or by agreement among themselves, what parts of the city each should hold jurisdiction over.
Differences between the two
There was a distinction between the two sets of aediles when it came to public festivals. Some festivals were plebeian in nature, and thus were under the superintendence of plebeian aediles. Other festivals were supervised exclusively by the curule aediles, and it was often with these festivals that the aediles would spend lavishly. This was often done to secure voters' support in future elections. Because aediles were not reimbursed for public expenditures, most individuals seeking the office were independently wealthy. Since this office was a stepping stone to higher office and the Senate, it helped to ensure that only wealthy individuals (mostly landowners) would win election to high office. These extravagant expenditures began shortly after the end of Second Punic War, and increased as the spoils returned from Rome's new eastern conquests. Even the decadence of the emperors rarely surpassed that of the aediles under the Republic, as could have been seen during Julius Caesar's aedileship.
Election to the office
Plebeian aediles and Curule aediles were elected by the Tribal Assembly. Since the plebeian aediles were elected by the plebeians rather than by all of the people of Rome (plebeians as well as patricians), they were not technically magistrates. Before the passage of the Lex Villia Annalis, individuals could run for the aedileship by the time they turned twenty-seven. After the passage of this law in 180 BC, a higher age was set, probably thirty-six. By the 1st century BC, aediles were elected in July, and took office on the first day in January.
Powers of the office
(1) Care of the city: the repair and preservation of temples, sewers and aqueducts; street cleansing and paving; regulations regarding traffic, dangerous animals and dilapidated buildings; precautions against fire; superintendence of baths and taverns; enforcement of
(2) Care of provisions: investigation of the quality of the articles supplied and the correctness of weights and measures; the purchase of grain for disposal at a low price in case of necessity.
(3) Care of the games: superintendence and organization of the public games, as well as of those given by themselves and private individuals (e.g., at funerals) at their own expense. Ambitious persons often spent enormous sums in this manner to win the popular favor with a view to official advancement.
Under the Empire
In 44 BC, Julius Caesar added two plebeian aediles called cereales, whose special duty was the care of the cereal (grain) supply. Under Augustus the office lost much of its importance, its judicial functions and the care of the games being transferred to the praetor, while its city responsibilities were limited by the appointment of an urban prefect. Augustus took for himself its powers over various religious duties. By stripping it of its powers over temples, he effectively destroyed the office, by taking from it its original function. After this point, few people were willing to hold such a powerless office, and Augustus was even known to compel individuals into holding the office. He accomplished this by randomly selecting former tribunes and quaestors for the office. Future emperors would continue to dilute the power of the office by transferring its powers to newly created offices. However, the office did retain some powers over licentiousness and disorder, in particular over the baths and brothels, as well as the registration of prostitutes. In the 3rd century, it disappeared altogether.
Under the Empire, Roman colonies and cities often had officials with powers similar to those of the republican aediles, although their powers widely varied. It seems as though they were usually chosen annually.
Today in Portugal the county mayor can still be referred to as edil (e.g. 'O edil de Coimbra', meaning 'the mayor of Coimbra'), a way of reference used also in Brazil and in Romania for any mayors (ex. 'Edil al Bucureștiului', meaning 'mayor of Bucharest'). In Spain (and Latin America) the members of municipal councils are called concejales or ediles.
- McCullough, 938
- Liv. III.55
- public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Aedile". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 244. This cites:
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- Göll, De Aedilibus sub Caesarum Imperio (1860)
- Labatut, Les Édiles et les moeurs (1868)
- Marquardt-Mommsen, Handbuch der römischen Altertümer, ii. (1888)
- Soltau, Die ursprüngliche Bedeutung und Competenz der Aediles Plebis (Bonn, 1882).
- Cic. Verr. V.14
- Liv. XXXI.56
- Liv. XXXI.50
- Plut. Caesar, 5
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The tribal assembly (comitia tributa) was a nonmilitary civilian assembly. It accordingly met within the city inside the pomerium and elected magistrates who did not exercise imperium (plebeian tribunes, plebeian aediles, and quaestors).
- Livy, XL.44
- Dio Cassius LV.24
- Tacitus Annales, II.85
- De Aedil. Col, &c. Otto. Lips. 1732
Shakespeare, William (1994). The Tragedies of William Shakespeare. Random House, Inc. pp. 1266. ISBN 0-679-60129-5.
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