History of the Aedileship
by George Long, M.A., Trinity College
The name of these functionaries is said to be derived from their having the care of the temple (aedes) of Ceres. The aediles were originally two in number, and called aediles plebeii; they were elected from the plebes, and the institution of the office dates from the same time as that of the tribuni plebis, B.C. 494. Their duties at first seem to have been merely ministerial; they were the assistants of the tribunes in such matters as the tribunes entrusted to them, among which are enumerated the hearing of causes of smaller importance.
At an early period after their institution (B.C. 446), we find them appointed the keepers of the senatus consulta, which the consuls had hitherto arbitrarily suppressed or altered (Liv. iii.55). They were also the keepers of the plebiscita. Other functions were gradually entrusted to them, and it is not always easy to distinguish their duties from some of those which belong to the censors; nor to distinguish all the duties of the plebeian and curule aediles, after the establishment of the curule aedileship.
They had the general superintendence of buildings, both sacred and private: under this power they provided for the support and repair of temples, curiae, &c., and took care that private buildings which were in a ruinous state (aedes vitiosae, ruinosae) were repaired by the owners, or pulled down. The superintendence over the supply and distribution of water at Rome was, at an early period, a matter of public administration. According to Frontinus, this was the duty of the censors; but when there were no censors, it was within the province of the aediles. The care of each particular source or supply was farmed to undertakers (redemptores), and all that they did was subject to the approbation of the censors or the aediles (De Aquaeduct. Rom. lib. ii).
The care of the streets and pavements, with the cleansing and draining of the city, belonged to the aediles, and the care of the cloacae. They had the office of distributing corn￼ among the plebes, which was sometimes given gratuitously, sometimes sold at a cheap rate; but this distribution of corn at Rome must not be confounded with the duty of purchasing or procuring it from foreign parts, which was performed by the consuls, quaestors, and praetors, and sometimes by an extraordinary magistrate, as the praefectus annonae. The aediles had to see that the public lands were not improperly used, and that the pasture-grounds of the state were not trespassed on; and they had power to punish by fine any unlawful act in this respect. The fines were employed in paving roads, and in other public purposes.
They had a general supervision over buying and selling, and, as a consequence, the supervision of the markets, of things exposed to sale, such as slaves, and of weights and measures: from this part of their duty is derived the name under which the aediles are mentioned by the Greek writers (ἀãïñáíüìïé). It was their business to see that no new deities or religious rites were introduced into the city, to look after the observance of religious ceremonies, and the celebrations of the ancient feasts and festivals. The general superintendence of police comprehended the duty of preserving order, decency, and the inspection of the baths, and houses of entertainment, of brothels, and of prostitutes. The aediles had various officers under them, as praecones, scribae, and viatores.
The Aediles Curules, who were also two in number, were originally chosen only from the patricians, afterwards alternately from the patricians and the plebes, and at last indifferently from both (Liv. vii.1). The office of curule aediles was instituted B.C. 365, and, according to Livy on the occasion of the plebeian aediles refusing to consent to celebrate the ludi maximi for the space of four days instead of three; upon which a senatus consultum was passed, by which two aediles were to be chosen from the patricians. From this time four aediles, two plebeian and two curules, were annually elected (Liv. vi.42).
The distinctive honours of the aediles curules were, the sella curialis, from whence their title is derived, the toga praetexta, precedence in speaking in the senate, and the jus imaginum (Cic. Verr. v.14). Only the aediles curules had the jus edicendi, or the power of promulgating edicta (Gaius, i.6); but the rules comprised in their edicta served for the guidance of all the aediles. The edicta of the curule aediles were founded on their authority as superintendents of the markets, p19and of buying and selling in general. Accordingly, their edicts had mainly, or perhaps solely, reference to the rules as to buying and selling, and contracts for bargain and sale. They were the foundation of the actiones aediliciae, among which are included the actio redhibitoria, and quanti minoris (Dig. 21 tit.1 De Aedilicio Edicto; Gell. iv.2). A great part of the provisions of the aediles' edict relate to the buying and selling of slaves. The persons both of the plebeian and curule aediles were sacrosancti (Liv. iii.55).
It seems that after the appointment of the curule aediles, the functions formerly exercised by the plebeian aediles were exercised, with some few exceptions, by all the aediles indifferently. Within five days after being elected or entering on office, they were required to determine by lot, or by agreement among themselves, what parts of the city each should take under his superintendence; and each aedile alone had the care of looking after the paving and cleansing of the streets, and other matters, it may be presumed, of the same local character within his district (Tabul. Heracl. ed. Mazoch).
In the superintendence of the public festivals and solemnities, there was a further distinction between the two sets of aediles. Many of these festivals, such as those of Flora (Cic. Verr. v.14; Ov. Fast. v.278, &c.) and Ceres, were superintended by either set of aediles indifferently; but the plebeian games (plebeii ludi) were under the superintendence of the plebeian aediles (Liv. xxxi.56), who had an allowance of money for that purpose; and the fines levied on the pecuarii, and others, seem to have been appropriated to these among other public purposes (Liv. x.23; xxvii.6; Ov. Fast. v.278, &c.).
The celebration of the Ludi magni or Romani, of the Ludi scenici, and the Ludi Megalesii or Megalenses, belonged specially to the curule aediles (Liv. xxxi.50; and the Didascaliae to the plays of Terence), and it was on such occasions that they often incurred a prodigious expense, with the view of pleasing the people and securing their votes in future elections. This extravagant expenditure of the aediles arose after the close of the second Punic war, and increased with the opportunities which individuals had of enriching themselves after the Roman arms were carried into Greece, Africa, and Spain. Even the prodigality of the emperors hardly surpassed that of individual curule aediles under the republic; such as C. Julius Caesar (Plut. Caesar, 5) afterwards the dictator, P. Cornelius Lentulus Spinther; and, above all, M. Aemilius Scaurus, whose expenditure was not limited to bare show, but comprehended objects of public utility, as the reparation of walls, dockyards, ports, and aquaeducts (Cic. de Off. ii.17; Plin. H.N. xxiii.3, xxxvi.15).An instance is mentioned by Dion Cassius (xliii.48) of the Ludi Megalesii being superintended by the plebeian aediles; but it was done pursuant to a senatus consultum, and thus the particular exception confirms the general rule.
In B.C. 45, Julius Caesar caused two curule aediles and four plebeian aediles to be elected; and thenceforward, at least so long as the office of aedile was of any importance, six aediles were annually elected. The two new plebeian aediles were called Cereales, and their duty was to look after the supply of corn. Though their office may not have been of any great importance after the institution of a praefectus annonae by Augustus there is no doubt that it existed for several centuries, and at least as late as the time of Gordian.
The aediles belonged to the class of the minores magistratus. Dionysius states that the aediles were originally chosen at the comitia curiata (ix.43); but this is not probable. The plebeian aediles were originally chosen at the comitia centuriata, but afterwards at the comitia tributa (Dionys. vi.90, ix.43, 49; Liv. ii.56, 57), in which comitia the curule aediles also were chosen, at the same time (Plut. Marius, 5); but it appears that there was a separate voting for the curule and plebeian aediles, and that the curule aediles were elected first. It appears that until the lex annalis was passed, a Roman citizen might be a candidate for any office after completing his twenty-seventh year.
This lex annalis, which was passed at the instance of the tribune L. Villius Tappulus, B.C. 180, fixed the age at which each office might be enjoyed (Liv. xl.44). The passage of Livy does not mention what were the ages fixed by this law; but it is collected from various passages of Roman writers, that the age fixed for the aedileship was thirty-six. This, at least, was the age at which a man could be a candidate for the curule aedileship, and it does not appear that there was a different rule for the plebeian aedileship. In Cicero's time, the aediles were elected some time in July, the usual place of election was the Field of Mars (Campus Martius), and the presiding magistrate was a consul.
The aediles existed under the emperors; but their powers were gradually diminished, and their functions exercised by new officers created by the emperors. After the battle of Actium, Augustus appointed a praefectus urbi, who exercised the general police, which had formerly been one of the duties of the aediles. Augustus also took from the aediles, or exercised himself, the office of superintending the religious rites, and the banishing from the city of all foreign ceremonials; he also assumed the superintendence of the temples, and thus may be said to have destroyed the aedileship by depriving it of its old and original function. This will serve to explain the fact mentioned by Dion Cassius (lv.24), that no one was willing to hold so contemptible an office, and Augustus was therefore reduced to the necessity of compelling persons to take it; persons were accordingly chosen by lot, out of those who had served the office of quaestor and tribune; and this was done more than once.
The last recorded instance of the splendours of the aedileship is the administration of Agrippa, who volunteered to take the office, and repaired all the public buildings and all the roads at his own expense, without drawing anything from the treasury (Dion Cass. xlix.43; Plin. H.N. xxxvi.15). The aedileship had, however, lost its true character before this time. Agrippa had already been consul before he accepted the office of aedile, and his munificent expenditure in this nominal office was the close of the splendour of the aedileship. Augustus appointed the curule aediles specially to the office of putting out fires, and placed a body of 600 slaves at their command; but the praefecti vigilum afterwards performed this duty. In like manner the curatores viarum were appointed by him to superintend the roads near the city, and the quatuorviri to superintend those p20within Rome. The curatores operum publicorum and the curatores alvei Tiberis, also appointed by Augustus, stripped the aediles of the remaining few duties that might be called honorable.
They lost also the superintendence of wells, or springs, and of the aquaeducts (Frontinus ii. De Aquaeductibus). They retained, under the early emperors, a kind of police, for the purpose of repressing open licentiousness and disorder; thus the baths, eating-houses, and brothels were still subject to their inspection, and the registration of prostitutes was still within their duties (Tacit. Annal. ii.85). We read of the aediles under Augustus making search after libelous books, in order that they might be burnt; and also under Tiberius (Tacit. Ann. iv.35).
The coloniae, and the municipia of the later period, had also their aediles, whose numbers and functions varied in different places. They seem, however, as to their powers and duties, to have resembled the aediles of Rome. They were chosen annually (De Aedil. Col., &c. Otto. Lips. 1732).
The history, powers, and duties of the aediles are stated with great minuteness by Schubert, De Romanorum Aedilibus, lib. iv Regimontii, 1828. See also Wunder, De Romanorum Comitiis Aedilium Curialium, in his edition of Cicero's Oration Pro. Cn. Plancio, Leipzig, 1830.
William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.: A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.