Was there a Roman civil service?
The term ‘civil service’ as we know it encompasses a huge range of different offices for the government. Individuals are typically employed based on professional merit and proven credentials. They also rarely encompass anything related to the military. But was this the case in Ancient Rome? This is what I will answer through looking at the various civil bodies and the evidence of these I hope to build a coherent view of the offices held within Rome and whether this can be considered a civil service. There were many offices under the Roman Empire, but was this a coherent system as we see the civil service?
There were various roles within the Roman state working directly for the emperor in the management of the Empire; can this be considered a civil service? I believe so; but our view and interpretation of this may be different to how they actually operated. Currently bodies of officials make decisions based on a framework that has been implemented and authorised from a deciding figure. In our case the prime minister, for Rome the Emperor it would be shallow to think that the Emperor did not take political and social advise from advisors but unlike modern day Britain one man had the power to make the final decision. My point here is, that though we give it the same title the reality of its implication maybe entirely different.
It is only when we get to the end of the Republic that we begin to hear more regarding the civil services, through Cicero in his letter to Quintus and Sulla’s law on the twenty quaestors which we know about through the iconography, along with the inscriptions that appear throughout the imperial period.
One aspect of the Roman administration system that we would deem integral to a civil service was the cursus honorum, which was the framework for the order of public offices held by those progressing through Roman politics. This was only one route through political life – it is just the one, which is most commonly discussed. But the Roman system was a mixture of military and senatorial rank that had a minimum age requirement for each position. There was also a time element attached to each office and supposed gaps between them; this was however frequently ignored for specific individuals. There were also Aediles , they were responsible for who overseeing public buildings and gardens along with the organising of public events. Most importantly in my opinion, they took charge of roman water supply, food supply and acted as judges – all fundamental elements of a successful empire. So clearly this was an important office, not an area that would have been left in the hands of the inexperienced – which many magistrates were. Whereas the aediles were career professionals who had a full understanding of the processes and what was required from the role.
There was no upper age limit for the positions those who reached the higher offices were usually in the later stages of life and could be why some were allowed deputies to aid in their role. These seconds-in-commands or assistants effectively had the position without the years of work to progress to the office. Something that could be what these lower clerical levels could have progressed to.
Through looking at the different positions that were held by individuals we get a much better idea of the system as a whole. These sub level positions illuminate areas of concern for the Emperor through having a specific office dedicated to these ‘at risk’ areas. There were so many different levels of the civil service it would be tedious to detail all of them. Magistrates are the first people that we think of when considering the Roman system. There were many subcategories of the system and those who worked for the magistrates such as the ministry. The ministri were the servants of the magistrates but were more commonly referred to as the Appariterea, as their job was to carry out the commands of the magistrates, there were...
Bibliography: Anthon, C. (1851) A manual of Roman antiquities, Harper & Brothers
Butler, S. (2002), The Hand of Cicero, Routledge
Johnson, A. Coleman-Norton, P. and Bourne, F. (2003), Ancient Roman Statutes: A Translation With Introduction, Commentary, Glossary, and Index, The Lawbook Exchange.
Jones, H. M. (1949), ‘The Roman Civil Service (Clerical and Sub-Clerical Grades)’, The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 39, Parts 1 & 2 pp. 38-55
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[ 1 ]. Johnson, 2003, 67
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[ 3 ]. Harlow, 2002, 106
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[ 15 ]. Anthon, 1851, 122
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[ 32 ]. ILS 18945, 1898, 1926, 2748, 9036
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[ 55 ]. ILS 2392, 2424
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