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A quaestor (UK //, US //, Latin for investigator) was a public official in Ancient Rome. The position served different functions depending on the period. In the Roman Kingdom, quaestores parricidii (quaestors with judicial powers) were appointed by the king to investigate and handle murders. In the Roman Republic, quaestors (also pluralized quaestores) were elected officials that supervised the state treasury and conducted audits. It was the lowest ranking position in the cursus honorum (course of offices). In the Roman Empire, the position, which was initially replaced by the praefectus (prefect), reemerged during the late empire as quaestor intra Palatium, a position appointed by the emperor to lead the imperial council and respond to petitioners.
In modern usage in Italy and Romania, a quaestor is a senior ranking officer on the police force. In some organizations, a quaestor is the officer that oversees its finances, similar to a treasurer in other organizations.
The earliest quaestors were quaestores parricidii (quaestors with judicial power), an office dating back to the Kingdom of Rome. Quaestores parricidii were chosen to investigate capital crimes, and may have been appointed as needed rather than holding a permanent position. Ancient authors disagree on the on the exact manner of selection of this office as well as its earliest institution, with some dating it to the mythical reign of Romulus.
In the Roman Republic, quaestors were elected officials who supervised the treasury and financial affairs of the state, its armies and its officers. The quaestors tasked with financial supervision were also called quaestores aerarii, because they oversaw the aerarium (public treasury) in the Temple of Saturn. The earliest origins of the office is obscure, but by about 420 BCE there were four quaestors elected each year by the Comitia Tributa (Assembly of the People). After 267 BCE, the number was expanded to ten.
The office of quaestor, usually a former broad-striped tribune, was adopted as the first official post of the cursus honorum (lit. course of offices), the standard sequence that made up a career in public service. Once elected as quaestor, a Roman man earned the right to sit in the Senate and began progressing through the cursus honorum. Quaestors were also given a fasces (a bound bundle of wooden rods symbolizing a magistrate's authority and jurisdiction) and were entitled one lictor (civil servant bodyguard).
Every Roman consul, the highest elected official in the cursus honorum, and every provincial governor was appointed a quaestor. Some quaestors were assigned to work in the city and others in the provinces where their responsibilities could include being recruited into the military. Some provincial quaestors were assigned as staff to military generals or served as second-in-command to governors in the Roman provinces. Still others were assigned to oversee military finances.
Lucius Cornelius Sulla's reforms in 81 BCE raised the number of quaestors to 20 and the minimum age for a quaestorship was 30 for patricians (members of ruling class families) and 32 for plebeians (commoners). Additionally, the reforms granted quaestors automatic membership in the Senate upon being elected, whereas previously, membership in the Senate was granted only after censors revised the Senate rolls, which occurred less frequently than the annual induction of quaestors.
There were at that time (B.C. 75) twenty Quæstors elected annually, some of whom remained in Rome; but most of the number were stationed about the Empire, there being always one as assistant to each Proconsul. When a Consul took the field with an army, he always had a Quæstor with him. This had become the case so generally that the Quæstor became, as it were, something between a private secretary and a senior lieutenant to a governor. The arrangement came to have a certain sanctity attached to it, as though there was something in the connection warmer and closer than that of mere official life; so that a Quæstor has been called a Proconsul’s son for the time, and was supposed to feel that reverence and attachment that a son entertains for his father.— Anthony Trollope, The Life of Cicero
Constantine the Great created the office quaestor sacri palatii (quaestor of the sacred place) which functioned as the Roman Empire's senior legal official. Emperor Justinian I also created the offices quaesitor, a judicial and police official for Constantinople, and quaestor exercitus (quaestor of the army), a short-lived joint military-administrative post covering the border of the lower Danube. The quaestor sacri palatii survived long into the Byzantine Empire, although its duties were altered to match the quaesitor. The term is last attested in 14th century Byzantium as a purely honorific title.
Quaestor derives from the Latin verb quaero, quaerere, meaning "to inquire". The job title has traditionally been understood as deriving from the original investigative function of the quaestores parricidii. Ancient authors, perhaps influenced by etymology, reasoned that the investigative role of the quaestores parricidii had evolved to include financial matters, giving rise to the similarly-named later offices. However, this connection has been questioned by modern scholars.
The Capuchin friars, in earlier centuries, would designate one or more of the members of each community as quaestor, whose duty was to go about the region collecting alms to support the friars and their works of charity.
In Italy a quaestor (Italian: questore) heads the police of his province (Polizia di Stato), and his office is called questura. Some quaestors have other assignments, however.
The European Parliament has five Quaestors to look after the financial and administrative needs of its members.
Some ancient British universities, such as the University of St Andrews, have a quaestor who is responsible for financial management.
In the United States, the Sigma Chi Fraternity and the Kappa Delta Rho Fraternity currently uses the Officer title quaestor as their treasurer's name as he oversees the financial obligations of the Fraternity.
- "quaestor". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
- The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica (2016), "Quaestor: Ancient Roman Official", Encyclopædia Britannica Online, Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., retrieved 1 August 2016
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