There has been much discussion over the last hundred years or so of the purpose of the legislation at Rome that regulated the order and age in which persons held magistracies—often referred to as the cursus honorum. This debate has revolved around the reconstruction of the laws and the implications of these for political life at Rome (see Astin 1958; Badian 1964:140-56 for summaries of discussion). The principle concern has been that of the period down to Julius Caesar’s death in 44 BC, with little connection with the discussion of the cursus honorum under the emperors (Birley 1981:15-35; Syme 1958: appendix 19 for summary of the subject). The discussion of the period of the Roman Republic and that of the Roman Emperors has often been conducted separately with little or no connection between the two historic periods. The emphasis on constitutional niceties has been overemphasised to exclude the social dimension of the cursus honorum for individuals within the political elite. We wish in this chapter to relate the changes in the cursus honorum from the second century BC through to the first century AD as a way of highlighting its role in the life course, and the alteration of the view of age and stages of life over a period of three hundred years.
Marcus Tullius Cicero was proud not only of the fact that as a new man, that is a person whose family had not been amongst the senators before, he had held the consulship, but also that he had been elected to each magistracy on the way up the cursus honorum in what he called ‘my year’ (Cic.Leg.Agr.2.3-4, Off.2.59, Brut.323). What he refers to by this phrase is the first year in which he was permitted to stand. This provides us with an important reference point for understanding the minimum age of political success at Rome. Cicero was elected quaestor at the age of thirty, praetor at the age of thirty-nine and consul at the age of forty-two. Here we see the age of politics as that associated with the thirty- to forty-somethings at Rome, but we need to ask why there was such a structure in place to prevent anyone under the age of thirty from holding office and why there were clear restrictions on the order and age at which offices could be held.