Equestrians

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Augustus

  • Encouraged marriage in Equestrian order. SUETONIUS tells us he found it hard to make the law effective and had to make ammendments but even with these the Equestrians werent happy and they demonstrated agains the law at public entertainments but Augustus made it very clear he had no intention of repealing the law. 
  • SUETONIUS says Aug cross-examined every eques on his personal affairs - behaviour was clearly important and any who had led particularly scandalous lives were thrown out of the Equestrian order. 
  • Generally treated them similarly to Senatorial class. e.g. SUETONIUS says that knights took part in stage plays etc until a decree put an end to the practise - Augustus was concerned with preserving the dignity of the equestrians
  • They had special reserved in the theatre and SUETONIUS tells us that many equestrians were fearful they would lose them after losing a lot of money in the civil wars but Augustus resassured them that any knight and son of a knight was entitled to the seats. 
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Tiberius

  • Shows similar concern as Aug with wanting to preserve dignity of higher classes - SUETONIUS says that knights were even getting downgraded so they could appear on stage and Tiberius when he realised this, exiled them. (quite an unlikely tale)
  • TACITUS ANNALS says that Tiberius would read out obituaries including knights in them - gives the example of Tib speaking highly of Gaius Gallus.
  • Equestrians were also vulnerable to prosecutions e.g. TACITUS ANNALS tells us of a knight who was found guilty of maiestas for writing a derogatory poem about Tiberius' son and was executed
  • Sejanus is a good example of how powerful an equestrian could become, he was commander of the Praetorian Guard and he was appointed consul by Tib SUETONIUS LIFE OF TIB 65
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Gaius

  • Like Augustus he reviews the list of knights and punishes those guilty of wicked behaviour but is more lenient towards smaller crimes and does not publicly degrade them SUETONIUS 16
  • Encouraged members of the plebs to steal the equestrians' theatre seats by scattering vouchers for gifts on their seats SUETONIUS
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Claudius

  • Awarded consular honours to provincial knights and if they refused them he would not allow them to remain knights SUETONIUS in context of emperor's patronage and ability to promote men to higher rank if thats what he wants
  • New regulations for the military careers of knights e.g. any freedman who tried to pass himself off as a knight had his property confiscated. SUETONIUS 
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Nero

  • he reserved seats for knights at the Circus just like in the theatre. SUETONIUS 11
  • opposite to other emperors he made 400 senators and 600 knights fight in the arena - would have been very degrading for them. SUETONIUS 12
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The Flavians

  • Vespasian reformed both senatorial and equestrian order - like Aug, Tib and Claudius he removed undesirables and replaced them with more eligible men. SUETONIUS. also goes on to say, but quite anecdotal, that in a dispute between a Senator and Knight, Vespasian ruled that no one could insult a senator unless provoked showing that Senators must still be treated as higher than equestrians (not particularly reliable)
  • SUETONIUS says Domitian forbade members of the public taking the knights' reserved seats. He also took a knight off the roll because he accused his wife of adultery but then took her back. 
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Conclusion

  • The Equestrians' roles, both military and in civilian administration increased greatly from the Augustan period
  • Why the emperors used equestrians so much during the imperial period is debated. Some say they liked to give positions like command or praetorian guard or governorship of Egypt to equestrians rather than senators because seantors might use them to try and challenge an emperor's power, being higher up on the cursus honorem. But senators also commanded legions etc. so not entirely consistent. Could also be argued that equestrians had lots of military and financial experience so were good to use. 
  • equites were just as important to emperors as senators - Emperors made sure the privileges of equestrian class were respected like the rights to reserved seats but also distinguished the two groups by way of dress and some legal privileges. 
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