The centumviral court and aristocratic competition in the early Roman empire
IU Department of Classical Studies Lecture Series
Dr. Matthew Roller, Johns Hopkins University
November 21, 2019
IMU Oak Room
As Augustus, victorious in civil war, consolidated his power and slowly imposed social and political order on the Roman state, certain arenas in which aristocrats had traditionally competed for social prominence and power came to be restricted. Well-known examples include the slow elimination of competitive elections for high magistracies and the limitation of prestigious military honors to the regime’s inner circle. Also, the public criminal courts or quaestiones, in which prominent aristocrats had appeared as advocates and which were highly visible and politically influential in Cicero’s day, were relocated or given new institutional settings that tended to reduce their visibility and political impact. In light of these developments, aristocrats from the Augustan era onward generated new arenas in which to compete, particularly in the domain of eloquence. The centumviral court was one such arena. A civil court, its jurisdiction was wills and other matters of succession. All but invisible when the quaestiones reigned supreme, it gained visibility and prestige throughout the Augustan and Julio-Claudian periods to become, by the Trajanic era, the premier competitive venue for aristocratic advocates. This talk traces the emergence and development of this court as an arena of aristocratic competition in the early empire, and argues that its rise in status is due, in large part, to its being a large-jury court whose trials were held in a highly public and accessible location where it could draw large crowds of interested onlookers.