- Not to be confused with Decurion (Roman cavalry officer)
A decurion was a member of a city senate in the Roman Empire. Decurions were drawn from the curiales class, which was made up of the wealthy middle class citizens of a town society. The emergence of the post of decurion may be found in Rome's decision to allow office-holders in Latin colonies in Italy to become Roman citizens in an attempt to create loyalty in 125 BC.
Decurions were the most powerful political figures at the local level. They were responsible for public contracts, religious rituals, entertainment, and ensuring order. Perhaps most importantly to the imperial government, they also supervised local tax collection.
Early in the imperial period, aristocratic citizens actively sought the post as a mark of prestige, they would gain seats in the front row of the theatre and be accepted into the class of honestiores (honourable men). Once elected, they were expected to pay large sums of their own money to perform public works; decurions would typically compete with each other to furnish the community with temples, baths and other public facilities.
Under the Dominate (284 and later), when the empire's finances demanded more draconian tax collection measures, the position of decurion ceased being a status symbol and became an unwanted civil service position. It was still limited to the aristocracy, but the primary emphasis was clearly on tax collection, and decurions were expected to make up any shortfall in the local tax collection out of their own pockets. Many decurions illegally left their positions in an attempt to seek relief from this burden; if caught, they would be subject to forfeiture of their property or even execution.
- History of the Later Roman Empire, Bury, J.B. Chapter 1.
- Salmon, E. T., Roman Colonization, 1969, Thames & Hudson, London, p. 118
- Decuriones / Curiales
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