What Were the Qualifications to Become a Member of the Roman Senate?

Illustration of a Session of the Roman Senate
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In historical fiction members of the Roman Senate or young men who dodge their civic responsibilities but who are senatorial material are rich. Did they have to be? Were there property or other qualifications to become a member of the Roman Senate?

The answer to this question is one that I need to repeat more often: Ancient Roman history spanned two millennia and over that time, things changed. Several modern historical fiction mystery writers, like David Wishart, are dealing with the early part of the Imperial Period, known as the Principate.

Augustus instituted a property requirement for senators. The sum he set it at was, at first, 400,000 sesterces, but then he raised the requirement to 1,200,000 sesterces. Men who needed help meeting this requirement were at this time given grants. Should they mismanage their funds, they were expected to step down. Prior to Augustus, however, the selection of senators was in the hands of the censors and before the institution of the office of censor, selection was by the people, kings, consuls, or consular tribunes. The senators selected were from the wealthy, and generally from those who had already held a position as magistrate. In the period of the Roman Republic, there were 300 senators, but then Sulla increased their number to 600. Although the tribes selected the original men to fill the added ranks, Sulla increased the magistracies so there would be ex-magistrates in the future to warm the senate benches.

When there was a surplus, censors trimmed the excess. Under Julius Caesar and the triumvirs, the number of senators increased, but Augustus brought the number back down to Sullan levels. By the third century A.D. the number may have reached 800-900.

Augustus appears to have changed the age at which one could become senator, reducing it from perhaps 32 to 25.

Roman Senate References: