1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Aedile

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AEDILE (Lat. aedilis), in Roman antiquities, the name of certain Roman magistrates, probably derived from aedis (a temple), because they had the care of the temple of Ceres, where the plebeian archives were kept. They were originally two in number, called “plebeian” aediles. They were created in the same year as the tribunes of the people (494 B.C.), their persons were sacrosanct or inviolable, and (at least after 471) they were elected at the Comitia Tributa out of the plebeians alone. Originally intended as assistants to the tribunes, they exercised certain police functions, were empowered to inflict fines and managed the plebeian and Roman games. According to Livy (vi. 42), after the passing of the Licinian rogations, an extra day was added to the Roman games; the aediles refused to bear the additional expense, whereupon the patricians offered to undertake it, on condition that they were admitted to the aedileship. The plebeians accepted the offer, and accordingly two “curule” aediles were appointed—at first from the patricians alone, then from patricians and plebeians in turn, lastly, from either—at the Comitia Tributa under the presidency of the consul. Although not sacrosanct, they had the right of sitting in a curule chair and wore the distinctive toga praetexta. They took over the management of the Roman and Megalesian games, the care of the patrician temples and had the right of issuing edicts as superintendents of the markets. But although the curule aediles always ranked higher than the plebeian, their functions gradually approximated and became practically identical.

Cicero (Legg. iii. 3, 7) divides these functions under three heads:—(1) Care of the city: the repair and preservation of temples, sewers and aqueducts; street cleansing and paving; regulations regarding traffic, dangerous animals and dilapidated buildings; precautions against fire; superintendence of baths and taverns; enforcement of sumptuary laws; punishment of gamblers and usurers; the care of public morals generally, including the prevention of foreign superstitions. They also punished those who had too large a share of the ager publicus, or kept too many cattle on the state pastures. (2) Care of provisions: investigation of the quality of the articles supplied and the correctness of weights and measures; the purchase of corn for disposal at a low price in case of necessity. (3) Care of the games: superintendence and organization of the public games, as well as of those given by themselves and private individuals (e.g. at funerals) at their own expense. Ambitious persons often spent enormous sums in this manner to win the popular favour with a view to official advancement.

In 44 Caesar added two patrician aediles, called Cereales, whose special duty was the care of the corn-supply. Under Augustus the office lost much of its importance, its juridical functions and the care of the games being transferred to the praetor, while its city responsibilities were limited by the appointment of a praefectus urbi. In the 3rd century A.D. it disappeared altogether.

Authorities.—Schubert, De Romanorum Aedilibus (1828); Hoffmann, De Aedilibus Romanis (1842); Göll, De Aedilibus sub Caesarum Imperio (1860); Labatut, Les Édiles et les mœurs (1868); Marquardt-Mommsen, Handbuch der römischen Altertümer, ii. (1888); Soltau, Die ursprüngliche Bedeutung und Competenz der Aediles Plebis (Bonn, 1882).