The Formation of the Equites
The Equestrian order arose out of an institution ascribed to Romulus the founder of Rome, who chose from each of the three tribes, one hundred young men, the most distinguished for their rank, wealth, and other accomplishments, who should serve on horseback and guard his person.
The Role of the Equites
Their number was afterwards increased by Tullus Hostilius, who chose three hundred from the Albans. They were chosen from both the Patricians and Plebeians. The age requisite was eighteen, and the fortune was four hundred sestertia, a considerable amount of money. The Equites were given marks of distinction, which were a horse given them at the public expense, and a gold ring. Their office, at first, was only to serve in the army; but afterwards, to act as judges or jurymen, and take charge of the public revenues. The Equites belonged to the social class that was just below the level of senator, they had control over administration and finance.
The Procession of the Equites
A great degree of splendor was added to the Equites by a procession which they made throughout the city every year, on the 15th day of July, from the temple of honor, just outside the city to the Capitol, riding on horseback, with wreaths of olives on their heads, dressed in the Togae palmatae or trabeae, of a scarlet color, and bearing in their hands the military ornaments, which they had received from their general, as a reward for their valor. At this time they could not be summoned before a court of justice. If any Equite was corrupt in his morals, or had diminished his fortune, the censor ordered him to be removed from the order by selling his horse.
An equestrian in Rome (Latin eques, plural equites) eventually became known as a member of one of the two upper social classes in the Roman Republic and early Roman Empire. This social class is often translated as "knight" however, the later Roman Equites had little to do with horses and the term became symbolic and was the nearest Roman equivalent to the knights of the Medieval nobility.
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