A quaestor was the lowest political rank in the government of Rome. Quaestors mainly handled financial matters. During the early Roman Republic*, there were only two quaestors each year, but as the Roman empire grew, so did the number of quaestors required to manage financial responsibilities.
Before the founding of the Roman Republic, the Roman kings appointed quaestors to prosecute capital crimes—that is, crimes punishable by death. During the first years of the republic, the consuls* chose two quaestors to act as their deputies in administering finances. After 447 B.C. quaestors were elected each year by an assembly of the people. In 421 B.C. the number of quaestors was increased to four. Four more were added in 267 B.C., and as the Roman empire expanded and more financial officers were needed, additional quaestors were added. Two quaestors administered the aerarium—the Roman state treasury. Others served as the financial officers for the governors of Roman provinces*.
The Roman general Sulla reformed the Roman administration in the late republic, increasing the number of quaestors to 20 and setting the minimum age requirement at 30. He also required that candidates for higher political office must first hold the position of quaestor. After Sulla, a quaestor automatically became a member of the Roman Senate after his year of service. Julius Caesar doubled the number of quaestors to 40, but Augustus, the first emperor, reduced the number back to 20. He also lowered the minimum age to 25 but took away from the quaestors the responsibility for the Roman treasury During the Roman Empire, the emperor chose two quaestors himself from among the upper-class young men of Rome. Because the emperor’s quaestors served as imperial* spokesmen and often drafted laws, prominent lawyers and men of literary talent often held the position. (See also Aedile; Consuls; Government, Roman; Law, Roman; Magistrates; Praetor.)
* Roman Republic Rome during the period from 509 B.C. to 31 B.C., when popular assemblies annually elected their governmental officials
* consul one of two chief governmental officials of Rome, chosen annually and serving for a year
* province overseas area controlled by Rome
* imperial pertaining to an emperor or empire