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p23 Aerarium

Unsigned article on pp23‑25 of

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

AERA′RIUM (τὸ δημόσιον), the public treasury at Rome, and hence the public money itself. After the banishment of the kings the temple of Saturn was employed, upon the proposition of Valerius Poplicola, as the place for keeping the public money, and it continued to be so used till the later times of the empire (Plut. Popl. 12, Quaest. Rom. 42; Festus, s.v. Aerarium).1 Besides the public money and the accounts connected with its receipts, expenditure, and debtors, various other things were preserved in the treasury; of these the most important were:— 1. The standards of the legions (Liv. III.69, IV.22, VII.23). 2. The various laws passed from time to time, engraven on brazen tablets (Suet. Caes. 28). 3. The decrees of the senate, which were entered there in books kept for the purpose, though the original documents were preserved in the temple of Ceres under the custody of the aediles (Joseph. Ant. XIV.10 § 10; Plut. Cat. Min. 17; Cic. de Leg. III.4; Tac. Ann. III.50). [Aediles]

The aerarium was the common treasury of the state, and must be distinguished from the publicum, which was the treasury of the populus or the patricians. It is mentioned as one of the grievances of the plebeians that the booty gained in war was frequently paid into the publicum (redigitur in publicum) instead of being paid into the aerarium, or distributed among the soldiers (Liv. II.42); but since we no longer read, after the time of the decemvirate, of the booty being paid into the publicum, but always into the aerarium, it is supposed by Niebuhr that this was a consequence of the decemviral legislation (Niebuhr, Hist. Rom. vol. II notes 386, 954). Under the republic the aerarium was divided into two parts: the common treasury, in which were deposited the regular taxes [Tributum, Vectigalia], and from which were taken the sums of money needed for the ordinary expenditure of the state; and the sacred treasury (aerarium sanctum or sanctius, Liv. XXVII.10; Flor. IV.2; Caes. B. C. 1.14; Cic. ad Att. VII.21), which was never touched except in cases of extreme peril. Both of these treasuries were in the temple of Saturn, but in distinct parts of the temple. The sacred treasury seems to have been first established soon after the capture of Rome by the Gauls, in order that the state might always have money in the treasury to meet the danger which was ever most dreaded by the Romans, — a war with the Gauls (Appian, B. C. II.41). At first, probably part of the plunder which the Romans gained in their wars with their neighbours was paid into this sacred treasury; but a regular means for augmenting it was established in B.C. 357 by the Lex Manlia, which enacted that a tax of five per cent (vicesima) upon the value of every manumitted slave should be paid into this treasury. As this money was to be preserved, and therefore space was some object, it had, at least at a later time, either to be paid in gold or was kept in the treasury in gold, since Livy speaks of aurum vicesimarium (Liv. VII.16, XXVII.10; comp. Cic. ad Att. II.16). A portion of the immense wealth obtained by the Romans in their conquests in the East was likewise deposited in the sacred treasury; and though we cannot suppose p24that it was spared in the civil wars between Marius and Sulla, yet Julius Caesar, when he appropriated it to his own use on the breaking out of the second civil war, B.C. 49, still found in it enormous sums of money (Plin. H. N. XXXIII.3 s17; Dion Cass. XLI.17; Oros. VI.15; Lucan, III.155).

Upon the establishment of the imperial power under Augustus, there was an important change made in the public income and expenditure. He divided the provinces and the administration of the government between the senate, as the representative of the old Roman people, and the Caesar: all the property of the former continued to be called aerarium, and that of the latter received the name of fiscus. [Fiscus.] The aerarium consequently received all the taxes from the provinces belonging to the senate, and likewise most of the taxes which had formerly been levied in Italy itself, such as the revenues of all public lands still remaining in Italy, the tax on manumissions, the custom-duties, the water-rates for the use of the water brought into the city by the aquaeducts, the sewer-rates, &c.

Besides the aerarium and the fiscus, Augustus established a third treasury, to provide for the pay and support of the army, and this received the name of aerarium militare. It was founded in the consulship of M. Aemilius Lepidus and L. Arruntius, A.D. 6, in consequence of the difficulty which was experienced in obtaining sufficient funds from the ordinary revenues of the state to give the soldiers their rewards upon dismission from service. Augustus paid a very large sum into the treasury upon its foundation, and promised to do so every year. In the Monumentum Ancyranum, Augustus is said to have paid into the treasury in the consulship of Aemilius and Arruntius 170 millions of sesterces; but this sum is probably the entire amount which he contributed to it during his whole reign. As he reigned eight years and a half after the establishment of the treasury, and would probably have made the payments half yearly, he would in that case have contributed ten millions of sesterces every half year. He as imposed several new taxes to be paid into this aerarium (Suet. Aug. 49; Dion Cass. LV.23, 24, 25, 32; Monumentum Ancyranum, pp32, 65, ed. Franzius and Zumptius, Berol. 1845). Of these the most important was the vicesima hereditatum et legatorum, a tax of five per cent, which had to be paid by every Roman citizen upon any inheritance or legacy being left to him, with the exception of such as were left to a citizen by his nearest relatives, or such as were below a certain amount (Dion Cass. LV.25, LVI.28; Plin. Paneg. 37‑40; Capitol. M. Anton. 11). This tax was raised by Caracalla to ten per cent, but subsequently reduced by Macrinus to five (Dion Cass. LXXVIII.9, LXXVIII.12), and eventually abolished altogether (Cod. 6 tit. 33 s3). There was also paid into the aerarium militare a tax of one per cent upon every thing sold at auctions (centesima rerum venalium), reduce by Tiberius to half per cent (ducentesima), and afterwards abolished by Caligula altogether for Italy (Tac. Ann. I.78, II.42; Suet. Calig. 16); and likewise a tax upon every slave that was purchased, at first of two per cent (quinquagesima), and afterwards of four per cent (quinta et vicesima) of its value (Dion Cass. LV.31; Tac. Ann. XIII.31; Orelli, Inscr. No. 3336). Besides these taxes, no doubt the booty obtained in war and not distributed among the soldiers was also deposited in the military treasury.

The distinction between the aerarium and the fiscus continued to exist at least as late as the reign of M. Aurelius (τὸ βασιλικὸν καὶ τὸ δημόσιον, Dion Cass. LXXI.33; Vulcat. Gallic. Avid. Cass. 7); but as the emperor gradually concentrated the administration of the whole empire into his hands, the aerarium likewise became exclusively under his control, and this we find to have been the case even in the reign of M. Aurelius, when the distinction between the aerarium and the fiscus was still retained (Dion Cass. LXXI.33). When the aerarium ceased to belong to the senate, this distinction between the aerarium and fiscus naturally ceased also, as both of them were now the treasury of the Caesar; and accordingly later jurists used the words aerarium and fiscus indiscriminately, though properly speaking there was no treasury but that of the Caesar. The senate, however, still continued to possess the management of the municipal chest (arca publica) of the city (Vopisc. Aurelian. 20).

In the time of the republic, the entire management of the revenues of the state belonged to the senate; and under the superintendence and control of the senate the quaestors had the charge of the aerarium [Senatus; Quaestor]. With the exception of the consuls, who had the right of drawing from the treasury whatever sums they pleased, the quaestors had not the power to make payments to any one, even to a dictator, who a special order from the senate (Polyb. VI.12, 13; Liv. XXXVIII.55; Zonar. VII.13). In B.C. 45, when no quaestors were chosen, two praefects of the city had the custom of the aerarium (Dion Cass. XLIII.48); but it doubtless passed again into the hands of the quaestors, when they were elected again in the following year. In their hands it seems to have remained till B.C. 28, when Augustus deprived them of it and gave it to two praefects, whom he allowed the senate to choose from among the praetors at the end of their year of office; but as he suspected that this gave rise to canvassing, he enacted, in B.C. 23, that two of the praetors in office should have the charge of the aerarium by lot. (Suet. Octav. 36; Dion Cass. LIII.2, 32; Tac. Ann. XIII.29). They were called praetores aerarii (Tac. Ann. I.75; Frontin. de Aquae Duct. 100) or ad aerarium (Orelli, Inscr. n723). This arrangement continued till the reign of Claudius, who restored to the quaestors the care of the aerarium, depriving them of certain other offices which they had received from Augustus (Tac. Ann. XIII.29; Suet. Claud. 24; Dion Cass. LX.24); but as their age seemed too young for so grave a trust, Nero took it from them and gave it to those who had been praetors, and who received the title of praefecti aerarii (Tac. Ann. XIII.28, 29). During the latter part of the reign of Trajan, or the beginning of that of Vespasian, a fresh change seems to have been made, for we read of praetores aerarii in the time of the latter (Tac. Hist. IV.9) but in the reign of Trajan, if not before, it was again entrusted to praefects, who appear to have held their office for two years; and henceforth no further change seems to have been made (Plin. Paneg. 91, 92; Ep. X.20; Suet. Claud. 24). They are called in inscriptions praefecti aerarii Saturni, and they appear to have had quaestors also to assist them in their duties, as we find mention of quaestores p25aerarii Saturni in inscriptions under Hadrian and Severus (Gudius, Ant. Inscr. p125 n6, p131 n3; Gruter, p1027, n4). These praefects had jurisdiction; and before their court in the temple of Saturn, all informations were laid respecting property due to the aerarium and fiscus (Plin. Paneg. 36; Dig. 49 tit. 14 ss13, 15).

The aerarium militare was under the care of distinct praefects, who were first appointed by lot from among those who had filled the office of praetor, but were afterwards nominated by the emperor (Dion Cass. LV.25; comp. Tac. Ann. V.8). They frequently occur in inscriptions under the title of praefecti aerari militaris. (Walter, Geschichte des Römischen Rechts, pp201, &c., 397, &c. 2d edition; Lipsius, ad Tac. Ann. XIII.29).


The Author's Note:

1 Of this temple three Corinthian pillars with the architrave are still extant, standing on the Clivus Capitolinus to the right of a person ascending the hill. It was rebuilt by L. Munatius Plancus in the time of Augustus (Suet. Aug. 29; Orelli, Inst. No. 590), and again restored by Septimius Severus (Becker, Handbuch der Römischen Alterthümer, vol. I p315).

Thayer's Note: For full details, see the article Aedes Saturni in Platner and Ashby's Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome.


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