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Form: Roman.
The officials whose duty it was (after 444 B.C.) to take the place of the consuls in superintending the five-yearly census. The office was one of the higher magistracies, and could only be held once by the same person. It was at first confined to the Patricians; in 351 B.C. it was thrown open to the Plebeians, and after 339 one of the censors was obliged by law to be a plebeian. On occasion of a census, the censors were elected soon after the accession to office of the now consuls, who presided over the assembly. They were usually chosen from the number of consulares, or persons who had been consuls. Accordingly the censorship was regarded, if not as the highest office of state, at least as the highest step in the ladder of promotion. The newly elected censors entered immediately, after due summons, upon their office. Its duration was fixed in 433 B.C. to eighteen months, but it could be extended for certain purposes. For the object of carrying out their proper duties, the census and the solemn purifications (lustrum) that concluded it, they had the power of summoning the people to the Campus Martius, where, since 434 B.C., they had an official residence. in the Villa Publica. The tribunes had no right of veto as against their proceedings in taking the census; indeed, so far as this part of their duties was concerned, they were irresponsible, being bound only in conscience by the oath which they took on entering upon and laying down their office. Having no executive powers, they had no lictors, but only messengers (viatores) and heralds (praecones). Their insignia were the sella curulis and a purple toga. The collegial character of the office was so pronounced, that if one censor died, the other abdicated. From the simple act of taking the census and putting up the new list of citizens, their functions were in course of time extended, so as to include a number of very important duties. Among these must be mentioned in particular a general superintendence of conduct (regimen morum). In virtue of this they had the power of affixing a stigma on any citizen, regardless of his position, for any conceivable offence for which there was no legal punishment. Such offences were neglect of one's property, celibacy, dissolution of marriage, bad training or bad treatment of children, undue severity to slaves and clients, irregular life, abuse of power in office, impiety, perjury, and the like. The offender might be punished with degradation; that is, the censors could expel a man from the senate or ordo equester, or they could transfer him from a country tribe into one of the less respectable city tribes, and thus curtail his right of voting, or again they could expel him from the tribes altogether, and thus completely deprive him of the right of voting. This last penalty might be accompanied by a fine in the shape of additional taxation. The censors had also the power of issuing edicts against practices which threatened the simplicity of ancient Roman manners; for instance, against luxury. These edicts had not the force of law, but their transgression might be punished by the next censors. The effect of the censorial stigma and punishment lasted until the next census. The consent of both censors was required to ratify it, and it directly affected men only, not women. The censors exercised a special superintendence over the equites and the senate. They had the lectio senatus, or power of ejecting unworthy members and of passing over new candidates for the senatorial rank, as, for instance, those who had held curule offices. The equites had to pass singly, each leading his horse, before the censors in the forum, after the completion of the general census. An houourable dismissal was then given to the superannuated or the infirm; if an eques was now found, or had previously been found, unworthy of his order (as for neglecting to care for his horse), he was expelled from it. The vacant places were filled up from the number of such individuals as appeared from the general census to be suitable. There were certain other duties attached to the censorship, for the due performance of which they were responsible to the people, and subject to the authority of the senate and the veto of the tribunes. (1) The letting of the public domain lands and taxes to the highest bidder. (2) The acceptance of tenders from the lowest bidder for works to be paid for by the State. In both these cases the period was limited to five years. (3) Superintendence of the construction and maintenance of public buildings and grounds, temples, bridges, sewers, aqueducts, streets, monuments, and the like. After 167 B.C. Roman citizens were freed from all taxation, and since the time of Marius the liability to military service was made general. The censorship was now a superfluous office, for its original object, the census, was hardly necessary. Sulla disliked the censors for their power of meddling in matters of private conduct, and accordingly in his constitution of 81 B.C. the office was, if not formally abolished, practically superseded. It was restored in 70 B.C. in the consulship of Pompey and Crassus, and continued to exist for a long time, till under the Empire it disappeared as a separate office. The emperor kept in his own hands the right of taking the census. He took over also the other functions of the censor, especially the supervision of morals, a proceeding in which he had Caesar's example to support him. The care of public buildings, however, he committed to a special body.
Type: Standard
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