Book Review: A History of the Roman Equestrian Order


by Caillan Davenport

Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019. Pp. xxvi, 720. Illus., tables, gloss., notes, biblio., index. $180.00. ISBN: 1107032539

The Rise of the Roman “Knights”

Dr. Davenport (Macquarie) examines the evolution of the Orodo Equester – the Equestrians, sometimes known as Rome’s “Knightly Order” – over some nine hundred years, from the fall of the Kingdom around 500 BC through the evening of the Empire around AD 400.

Equestrians were originally those men not rich enough to be members of the Senate, but wealthy enough to be liable for service as cavalrymen. During the Republic they became Rome’s business class, engaging in trade, tax farming, and the like, and were often as wealthy as men of senatorial rank, but not inclined to a political career. During the late Republic and early empire Equestrians were less often found in the army but became increasingly involved as administrative officials. While Senators may have served as governors of provinces, Equestrians were the ones actually running administration of their bailiwicks. Under the early Empire, Equestrians became prominent in the bureaucracy, and, if they served, were often officers in the auxilia.

By the mid-third century Emperors began entrusting Equestrians with many of the duties hitherto reserved for Senators. They began to hold provincial governorships and even major military commands, considered more reliable than the often politically ambitious or unreliable members of the higher rank.

Drawing upon a very large body of sources, Davenport traces this evolution across the centuries, and produced a very impressive work.

Although intended primarily for the serious scholar of Roman institutions, those with more than a passing interest in Roman history will find A History of the Roman Equestrian Order of considerable value.


Note: A History of the Roman Equestrian Order is also available in several e-editions.

StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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