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16. The Role of Equestrians

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About this Lecture


In this lecture we think about the role of the equestrian order (also known as the knights) in Augustan Rome, focusing in particular on: (i) the property qualification for an equestrian (400,000 sesterces compared to 1 million for a senator); (ii) the ranks within the Roman military that gave one access to the equestrian order; (iii) the perks of equestrian status: the gold ring [anulus aureus] and the narrow-striped tunic [tunica angusticlavia]; (iv) the usefulness to Augustus of a political class who, unlike the senatorial aristocracy, could have no aspirations to the imperial purple; (v) the positions in Augustan Rome that could held only by an equestrian, including: the prefecture of Egypt, commander of the praetorian guard, commander of the city vigiles, and prefect of the corn supply.


In this course, Professor Matthew Nicholls (University of Oxford) explores the reign of the first Roman emperor, Augustus. Across twenty-one lectures, we consider a range of issues including: (i) the historical sources for reign of Augustus and their reliability; (ii) the events that led to the creation of the principate, particularly the Battle of Actium; (iii) the various constitutional settlements that formalised Augustus’ powers; (iv) his military achievements; (v) the importance of contemporary poetry (Virgil, Horace, Propertius, Ovid) and coinage for understanding his reign; (vi) the significance of key figures around Augustus, such as Livia, Marcus Agrippa, Tiberius and Germanicus; (vii) the extent to which Augustus really ‘restored the republic’ as he claimed he did; (viii) Augustus’ involvement in religious life at Rome and in the provinces; (ix) his administrative changes in Rome and in the provinces; (x) his management of various different sections of Roman society – the senatorial elite, the equestrian order, the army, the people of Rome and the provincial elites; (xi) challenges to his rule; (xii) his management of the succession; and (xiii) the importance of his own record of his achievements, the Res Gestae.


Matthew Nicholls is a visiting professor of classics at the University of Reading and Senior Tutor at St John's College, Oxford, specialising in the political and social history of the Romans, and the way the built environments of Rome and cities around the empire expressed their values and priorities. In 2014, Matthew was presented with a Guardian Teaching Award for his 'Virtual Rome' project, a digital model of the city of Rome, showing the city as it appeared in c. AD 315.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Nicholls, M. (2023, May 23). Augustus - The Role of Equestrians [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Nicholls, M. "Augustus – The Role of Equestrians." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 23 May 2023,