Quaestor is a name which was given to two distinct classes of Roman officers. It is derived from quaerere, and Varro (De Ling. Lat. V.81) gives a definition which embraces the principal functions of both classes of officers: "Quaestores a quaerendo, qui conquirerent publicas pecunias et maleficia." The one class therefore had to do with the collecting and keeping of the public revenues, and the others were a kind of public accusers. The former bore the name of quaestores classici, the latter of quaestores parricidii (Dig. 1 tit. 2 s2 § 22, 23).
The quaestores parricidii were, as we have said, public accusers, two in number, who conducted the accusation of persons guilty of murder or any other capital offence, and carried the sentence into execution (Festus, s.v. Parici and Quaestores; Liv. II.41; Dionys. VIII.77). There are many points which might make us inclined to believe that the quaestores parricidii and the duumviri perduellionis were the same officers; but a closer examination shows that the former were a permanent magistracy, while the latter were appointed only on special emergencies.
During the Roman Kingdom
All testimonies agree that these public accusers existed at Rome during the period of the kings, though it is impossible to ascertain by which king they were instituted (Festus, l.c.; Tacit. Annal. xi.22; Dig. 1 tit. 13), as some mention them in the reign of Romulus and others in that of Numa. When Ulpian takes it for certain that they occurred in the time of Tullus Hostilius, he appears to confound them, like other writers, with the duumviri perduellionis, who in this reign acted as judges in the case of Horatius, who had slain his sister.
During the kingly period there occurs no instance in which it could be said with any certainty, that the quaestores parricidii took a part. As thus everything is so uncertain, and as late writers are guilty of such manifest confusions, we can say no more than that such public accusers existed, and infer from the analogy of later times that they were appointed by the people on the presentation of the king.
Under the republic
In the early period of the republic the quaestores parricidii appear to have become a standing office, which, like others, was held only for one year (Liv. III.24, 25). They were elected by the people or the curies on the presentation of the consuls (Dig. 1 tit. 2 s2 § 23; Tacit. l.c.).
When these quaestores discovered that a capital offence had been committed, they had to bring the charge before the comitia for trial (Liv. III.24; Dionys. VIII.75). They convoked the comitia through the person of a trumpeter, who proclaimed the day of meeting from the capitol, at the gates of the city, and at the house of the accused (Varro, de Ling. Lat. VI.90, ed. Müller).
When the sentence had been pronounced by the people, the quaestores parricidii executed it; thus they threw Spurius Cassius from the Tarpeian rock (Dionys. VIII.77; Liv. II.41; Cic. de Re Publ. ii.35).
They were mentioned in the laws of the Twelve Tables, and after the time of the decemvirate they still continued to be elected, though probably no longer by the curies, but either in the comitia centuriata or tributa, which they therefore must also have had the right to assemble in cases of emergency (Varro, de Ling. Lat. VI.9). This appears to be implied in the statement of Tacitus, that in the year 447 B.C. they were created by the people without any presentation of the consuls. From the year 366 B.C. they are no longer mentioned in Roman history, as their functions were gradually transferred to the triumviri capitales (Val. Max. V.4 §7, Val. Max. VIII.4 §2; Sallust, Cat.), and partly to the aediles and tribunes. (Aediles, Tribuni; Niebuhr, Hist. of Rome, vol. III p44; Zachariae, Sulla, als Ordner, &c. vol. II p147, &c.).
The quaestores parricidii have not only been confounded with the duumviri perduellionis, but also with the quaestores classici (Tacit. l.c.; Zonar. VII.13, &c.), and this probably owing to the fact, that they ceased to be elected at such an early period, and that the two kinds of quaestors are seldom distinguished in ancient writings by their characteristic epithets (Becker, Handb. der Röm. Alterth. vol. II pt. ii p228, &c.).
The quaestores classici were officers entrusted with the care of the public money. It is established by the clearest possible evidence, that during the kingly period this magistracy did not exist (Liv. IV.4; Plut. Popl. 12), and it would seem that a considerable time elapsed after the expulsion of the kings, before this magistracy was instituted. Their distinguishing epithet classici is not mentioned by any ancient writer, except Lydus (De Mag. I.27), who however gives an absurd interpretation of it. Niebuhr (vol. II p430) refers it to their having been elected by the centuries ever since the time of Valerius Publicola, who is said to have first instituted the office (Plut. Publ. 12).
They were at first only two in number, and of course taken only from the patricians. As the senate had the supreme administration of the finances, the quaestors were in some measure only its agents or paymasters, for they could not dispose of any part of the public money without being directed by the senate.
Their duties consequently consisted in making the necessary payments from the aerarium, and receiving the public revenues. Of both they had to keep correct accounts in their tabulae publicae (Polyb. VI.13). Demands which any one might have on the aerarium, and outstanding debts were likewise registered by them (Pseudo-Ascon. in Verrin. p158, Orelli; Plut. Cat. Min. 27). Fines to be paid to the public treasury were registered and exacted by them (Liv. XXXVIII.60; Tacit. Annal. xiii.28).
Another branch of their duties, which however was likewise connected with the treasury, was to provide the proper accommodations for foreign ambassadors and such persons as were connected with the republic by ties of public hospitality.
Lastly they were charged with the care of the burials and monuments of distinguished men, the expenses for which had been decreed by the senate to be defrayed by the treasury. In the aerarium, and consequently under the superintendence of the quaestors, were kept the books in which the senatus consulta were registered (Joseph. Ant. Jud. XIV.10.10; Plut. Cat. Min. 17), while the original documents were in the keeping of the aediles, until Augustus transferred the care of them also to the quaestors (Dion Cass. LIV.36).
In the year B.C. 421 the number of quaestors was doubled, and the tribunes tried to effect by an amendment of the law that a part (probably two) of the quaestores should be plebeians (Liv. IV.43; Niebuhr, vol. II p430, &c.). This attempt was indeed frustrated, but the interrex L. Papirius effected a compromise, that the election should not be restricted to either order. After this law was carried, eleven years passed without any plebeian being elected to the office of quaestor, until in B.C. 409, three of the four quaestors were plebeians (Liv. IV.54).
A person who had held the office of quaestor had undoubtedly, as in later times, the right to take his seat in the senate, unless he was excluded as unworthy by the next censors. And this was probably the reason why the patricians so determinately opposed the admission of plebeians to this office.
Henceforth the consuls, whenever they took the field against an enemy, were accompanied by one quaestor each, who at first had only to superintend the sale of the booty, the produce of which was either divided among the legion, or was transferred to the aerarium (Liv. IV.53). Subsequently however we find that these quaestors also kept the funds of the army, which they had received from the treasury at Rome, and gave the soldiers their pay; they were in fact the pay-masters in the army (Polyb. VI.39).
The two other quaestors, who remained at Rome, continued to discharge the same duties as before, and were distinguished from those who accompanied the consuls by the epithet urbani.
In the year B.C. 265, after the Romans had made themselves masters of Italy, and when, in consequence, the administration of the treasury and the raising of the revenues became more laborious and important, the number of quaestors was again doubled to eight (Lyd. de Mag. i.27; Liv. Epit. lib. 15; Niebuhr, vol. III p645); and it is probable that henceforth their number continued to be increased in proportion as the empire became more extended.
One of the eight quaestors was appointed by lot to the quaestura ostiensis, a most laborious and important post, as he had to provide Rome with corn (Cic. pro Muren. 8, pro Sext. 17).
Besides the quaestor ostiensis, who resided at Ostia, three other quaestors were distributed in Italy to raise those parts of the revenue which were not farmed by the publicani, and to control the latter. One of them resided at Cales, and the two others probably in towns on the Upper Sea (Cic. in Vat. 5). The two remaining quaestors, who were sent to Sicily, are spoken of below.
Sulla in his dictatorship raised the number of quaestors to twenty, that he might have a large number of candidates for the senate (senatui explendo, Tacit. Annal. xi.22), and Julius Caesar even to forty (Dion Cass. XLIII. 47, 51).
In the year B.C. 49 no quaestors were elected, and Caesar transferred the keeping of the aerarium to the praetorii, and sometimes again to quaestors. Quaestors however, both in the city and in the provinces, occur down to the latest period of the empire. Some of them bore the title of candidati principis, and their only duty was to read in the senate the communications which the princeps had to make to this assembly (libri principales, epistolae principis, Dig. 1 tit. 13 §2 and 4; Lyd. de Mag. i.28; Lamprid. Alex. Sev. 43; Plin. Epist. VII.16).
From the time of the emperor Claudius all quaestors, on entering their office, were obliged to give gladiatorial games to the people, at their own expense, whereby the office became inaccessible to any one except the wealthiest individuals (Suet. Claud. 24; Tacit. Ann. l.c. xiii.5; Suet. Domit. 4; Lamprid. Alex. Sev. 43).
When Constantinople had become the second capital of the empire, it received like Rome its quaestors, who had to give games to the people on entering upon their office; but they were probably, like the praetors, elected by the senate and only announced to the emperor (Becker, Handb. der Röm. Alterth. vol. II pt. ii p332, &c.; Walter, Gesch. des Röm. Rechts, p371).
Quaestors in the provincial administration
The proconsul or praetor, who had the administration of a province, was attended by a quaestor. This quaestor had undoubtedly to perform the same functions as those who accompanied the armies into the field; they were in fact the same officers, with the exception that the former were stationary in their province during the time of their office, and had consequently rights and duties which those who accompanied the armies could not have.
In Sicily, the earliest Roman province, there were two quaestors answering to the two former divisions of the island into the Carthaginian and Greek territory. The one resided at Lilybaeum, the other at Syracuse. Besides the duties which they had in common with the pay-masters of the armies, they had to levy those parts of the public revenue in the province which were not farmed by the publicani, to control the publicani, and to forward the sums raised, together with the accounts of them, to the aerarium (Pseudo-Ascon. in Verrin. p167, Orelli).
In the provinces the quaestors had the same jurisdiction as the curule aediles at Rome (Gaius, I.6). The relation existing between a praetor or proconsul of a province and his quaestor was according to ancient custom regarded as resembling that between a father and his son (Cic. Divin. 19, c. Verr. II.1.15, pro Planc. 11, ad Fam. III.10).
When a quaestor died in his province, the praetors had the right to appoint a proquaestor in his stead (Cic. c. Verr. l.c.), and when the praetor was absent, the quaestor supplied his place, and was then attended by lictors (Cic. ad Fam. II.15, pro Planc. 41). In what manner the provinces were assigned to the quaestors after their election at Rome, is not mentioned, though it was probably by lot, as in the case of the quaestor ostiensis. But in the consulship of D. Drusus and Porcina it was decreed that the provinces should be distributed among the quaestors by lot ex senatus consulto (Dig. 1 tit. 13 §2; Cic. c. Verr. II.1.13).
During the time of the empire this practice continued, and if the number of quaestors elected was not sufficient for the number of provinces, those quaestors of the preceding year, who had had no province, might be sent out. This was, however, the case only in the provinces of the Roman people, for in those of the emperors there were no quaestors at all.
In the time of Constantine the title of quaestor sacri palatii was given to a minister of great importance, whose office probably originated in that of the candidati principis. Respecting his power and influence see Walter, Gesch. d. Röm. R. p365.
Lacus Curtius - A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, by William Smith
Quaestores in Nova Roma
- Quaestor overview: a comparison of ancient Roman and Nova Roman quaestores