(horsemen or knights). The equites were originally a real division of the Roman army. At the beginning of the kingly period they were called Celeres, and their number is said to have been 300, chosen in equal parts from the three tribes of the Ramnes, Tities, and Luceres. (See Tribus.) A hundred formed a centuria, each centuria being named after the tribe from which it was taken. Thirty made a turma, and ten were under the command of a decurio (q. v.), while the whole corps was commanded by the tribunus celerum. During the course of the kingly period the body of equites was increased to sixteen centuriae, and the constitution of Servius Tullius finally raised it to eighteen. When the twelve new centuries were formed, consisting of the richest persons in the State, whose income exceeded that of the first class in the census, the corps of equites lost the exclusively patrician character which had hitherto distinguished it. At the same time its military importance was diminished, as it no longer formed the first rank, but took up a position on the wings of the phalanx. (See Exercitus.) The equites, however, retained both in the State and in the army their personal prestige. In the Comitia they voted first, and in centuriae of their own. They were the most distinguished troops in the army. No other soldiers were in a position to keep two horses and a groom apiece, a costly luxury, although they received an allowance for the purchase and keep of their horse. After the introduction of the pay system they received three times as much as the ordinary troops; on occasion of a triumph three times the ordinary share of booty; and at the foundation of a colony a much larger allotment than the ordinary colonist. The 1800 equites equo publico, or equites whose horses were purchased and kept by the State, were chosen every five years, at the census. The election was carried out in the republican period originally by the consuls, but in later times by the censors. After the general census was completed, the censors proceeded to review the equites (recognitio). They were arranged according to their tribes, and each of them, leading his horse by the hand, passed before the tribunal of the censors in the Forum. All who had served their time, and who were physically incapacitated, received their discharge. If an eques were judged unworthy of his position, he was dismissed with the words, Sell your horse (Vende equum). If there were nothing against him, he was passed on with the words Traduc equum (Lead your horse past). The vacancies were then filled up with suitable candidates, and the new list (album equitum) read aloud. In later times, the eques whose name was first read out was called princeps iuventutis. See Princeps.
During their time of service (between the ages of 17 and 46) the equites were bound to serve in a number of campaigns not exceeding ten. When their service expired, they passed into the first censorial class. The senators alone among the equites were, in earlier times, allowed to keep their equus publicus, their name on the roll, and their rights as equites unimpaired. But of this privilege the senators were deprived in the time of the Gracchi. The [figure in text: Representation of the Ceremony of Transvectio on Roman Censorial Coins. (Spanheim.)] number of the equites equo publico remained the same, as no addition was made to the sum expended by the State on the horses. Young men of property sometimes served on their own horses (equo privato) without any share in the political privileges of the equites. After the Second Punic War the body of equites gradually lost its military position, and finally ceased to exist as a special troop. In the first century B.C. the members of the equestrian centuriae only served in the cohors praetoria of the general, or in the capacity of military tribunes and praefecti of cohorts.
The wealthy class, who were in possession of the large capital which enabled them to undertake the farming of the public revenues, and who consequently had the opportunity of enriching themselves still further, had long enjoyed a very influential position. In B.C. 123 the lex iudiciaria of Gaius Gracchus transferred to the possessors of the equestrian census (400,000 sestertii, or about $17,000) the right to sit on juries, which had previously belonged exclusively to members of the Senate. Thus an ordo equester, or third order, standing between the Senate and the people, was formed, which began to play an important part in politics. Its members were called equites even if they were not enrolled in the centuriae equitum. The contests between the Senate and the equites for the exclusive right to sit on the juries continued with varying fortunes until the end of the Republic. Augustus allowed the ordo equester to continue in existence as a class in possession of a certain income; but the old fiscal and judicial system came to an end, and the ordo accordingly lost all its former importance. On the other hand, the equites proper rose into a position of great consideration. They were divided into six turmae, headed by an imperial prince as princeps iuventutis. True, they had no further standing as a corporation; but the emperor employed them in a variety of confidential posts. The title eques equo publico was necessary for the attainment [p. 617] of the office of military tribune, and for a number of the most important military posts. The power of conferring or withdrawing the title came at length to rest with the emperor alone. The review of the equites, which used to take place every five years, now became a mere ceremony, and was united by Augustus with the ancient annual parade (transvectio) of the 15th of July. The equites, in full uniform, rode through the Frum to the Capitol, past the Temple of Mars or Honos.
After the transference of the seat of government to Constantinople, the turmae equitum sank into the position of a city corporation, standing between the Senate and the guilds, and in possession of special privileges. The insignia of the equites were a gold ring and a narrow purple border on the tunic. (See Clavus Angustus; Ius Anuli Aurei; Tunica.) At the transvectio they wore the trabea, a mantle adorned with purple stripes, and crowns of olive. After B.C. 67 the first fourteen rows in the theatre were assigned to them.
See Zumpt, Ueber die rmischen Ritter, etc. (Berlin, 1840); Marquardt, Historiae Equitum Romanorum (Berlin, 1840); Mommsen, Rm. Staatsrecht, iii. 476-569; and the paragraph on the cursus honorum under Honores.