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p22 Aerarii

Article by Leonhard Schmitz, Ph.D., F.R.S.E., Rector of the High School of Edinburgh
on pp22‑23 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

AERA′RII, a class of Roman citizens, who are said not to have been contained in the thirty tribes instituted by Servius Tullius. It is, however, one of the most difficult points in the Roman constitution to determine who they were; since all the passages in which they are mentioned refer only to the power of the censors to degrade a citizen, for bad conduct, by removing him from his tribe and making him an aerarian; but we nowhere find any definition of what an aerarian was. The Pseudo-Asconius (ad Cic. divin. in Caecil. p103, ed. Orelli), says that a plebeian might be degraded by being transferred to the tabulae Caeritum and becoming an aerarius. The error in this statement is, that not only a plebeian, but a senator and an eques also might become an aerarian, while for a plebeian there was no other punishment except that of becoming an aerarian. From the Pseudo-Asconius we collect that to have one's name transferred to the tables of the Caerites was equivalent to becoming an aerarian; secondly, that an aerarian no longer belonged to a century; and, thirdly, that he had to pay the tribute in a different manner from the other citizens. These statements p23are confirmed by the Scholiasta Cruquius on Horace (Epist. I.6.62) and by Gellius (XVI.13). If we strictly keep to what we there learn, we cannot adopt the opinion that the aerarians consisted of artizans and freedmen (Niebuhr, Hist. of Rome, vol. I p472), for some artizans had a very honourable position in the Servian constitution; but there were certain occupations, especially those of retail dealers (caupones, κάπηλοι), which were thought degrading, and which were carried on generally by isopolites, who took up their abode at Rome, and the number of this class of persons (municipes or cives sine suffragio) may have been very great. These people we conceive to have been the aerarii, not, indeed, on account of their occupation, but because they were citizens who did not enjoy the suffrage. Hence the Caerites were probably the first body of aerarians; and any Roman citizen guilty of a crime punishable by the censors, might be degraded to the rank of an aerarian; so that his civic rights were suspended, at least for the time that he was an aerarian. But we cannot suppose that the fact of a Roman citizen engaging in trade brought about such a degradation; for there can be little doubt that the persons constituting the city tribes (tribus urbanae) were more or less all engaged in trade and commerce. Hence, to remove a man from a country tribe to a city tribe, cannot have been equivalent to making him an aerarian (Cic. pro Cluent. 43), and the latter can have been the case only when he was excluded from all the tribes, or when he belonged to a city tribe; so that moving him from his tribe was equivalent to excluding him from all tribes. Persons who were made infames likewise became aerarians, for they lost the jus honorum and the suffragium (Augustin. de Civ. Dei, II.13; Cic. pro Cluent. 42). The two scholiasts above referred to agree in stating that the aerarians had to pay a tributum pro capite; and that this tax was considerably higher than that paid by the other citizens, must be inferred from Livy (IV.24), who states that Aemilius Mamercus was made an aerarian octuplicato censu. They were not allowed to serve in the legions; but as they nevertheless enjoyed the protection of the state, such a high rate of taxation cannot be considered unjust.

It has been asserted that the libertini, as such, belonged to the class of the aerarians; but this opinion is founded upon a wrong statement of Plutarch (Poplic. 7), that freedmen did not obtain the suffrage till the time of Appius Claudius; for Dionysius (IV.22) informs us that Servius Tullius incorporated them with the city tribes (cf. Zonaras, VII.9; Huschke, Verfassung des Serv. Tull. p494, &c.; Göttling, Gesch. der Röm. Staatsverf. p260, &c.; Becker, Handbuch der Röm. Alterth. vol. II pp183‑196).


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