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Who were the back benchers in the Senate?

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Who were the back benchers in the Senate? Were they aristocrats? Were they elected? Could a back bencher become a front bencher? What were the requirements to be back bencher?

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Members of the Senate were appointed originally by the kings.


After establishment of the republic new members were initially appointed by the consuls, and after 443BC by the censors. Tradition apparently required the censors to choose from the ex magistrates (who, it seems, were allowed to sit in the senate during and after thier term of office - until the next censorship), and this was made mandatory by the lex Ovinia (312BC ?). Censors could also expel a member for misconduct.


Generally then, the "back benches" of the senate consisted of men from the political classes who had been elected to the quaestorship or higher office by the people. However, in the late 80'sBC there were mass additions to make up for the casualties in the civil wars. Sulla added 300 members of the equestrian class to the senate, and despite complaints by aristocrats that they were forced to sit with butchers and common soldiers, Sulla's new senators seem to have been perfectly respectable aristocrats from the Latin and Italian towns and wealthy Roman farmers and businessmen who had previously avoided politics. Sulla also increased the number of quaestors to 20 - all of whom entered the senate after their year in office.

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Some amplification: Lintott ("Constitution of the Roman Republic" pg 70) does not allow senate membeship for ex quaestors until Sulla's dictatorship (App BC 1.100.468). tribunes may not have been automatically qualified for senate membership until the lex Atinia (122-102BC).


Lintott says that several sources put the number of senators at 300 (Plut G Gracc 5.3, App BC 1.35.158) but it is not clear whether the censors regarded this number as a maximum or a general target. He calculates that if the six praetors elected annually in the early second century BC lived an average of 60 years, and if about 20 ex aediles had not yet become (or failed to become) praetor, that would account for about 170 senators - leaving 130 for the censors to select from men who had not yet held office. Lintott assumes that the selection would be made from patricians and distinguished plebians who were too young to have reached the aedileship. Other evidence indicates that certain priesthoods and winners of the corona civica were qualified for membership. After Sulla, the 20 ex quaestors added each year would have kept the senate up to strength.

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