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equites (ĕkˈwĭtēz) [Lat.,=horsemen], the original cavalry of the Roman army, chosen, according to legend, by Romulus from the three ancient Roman tribes; the equites were selected from the senatorial class on the basis of wealth. During the late republic they numbered 1,800, but during the empire their number more than doubled. A law passed by Caius Sempronius Gracchus in 123 B.C. transferred judicial functions from the senate to the body of equites, who, though later deprived of these powers by Sulla, attained much influence in the state. In the 1st cent. B.C. the equites were a distinct class allowed to engage in business and they allied themselves alternately with the popular and the senatorial parties. During the reign of Augustus, the equites lost their political power.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



one of the privileged estates in ancient Athens (where they were called hippeis), ancient Rome, Thessaly, and other states of antiquity. In Athens, the equites as an estate group formed as a consequence of Solon’s reforms (594-593 B.C.). They constituted the second highest category of the population (after thepentacosiomedimni), with a property census requirement of 300 medimni (about 450 bushels of grain). The equites could hold all elective offices. For army service they had to appear on horses.

In ancient Rome, the equites from the earliest times were designated as a privileged group of military men who served in the cavalry. The reform of Servius Tullius (sixth century B.C.) divided the equites into 18 centuries, forming part of the highest census category of Roman citizens (the property requirement was 100,000 asses). The Roman equites were a military group until the end of the fourth century B.C. After the third century, with the development of usury and commerce, usurers and owners of large workshops began to enter the ranks of the equites (according to the property census). Toward the close of the decade ending in 120 B.C. the equites were converted into a separate estate of Roman society whose material base was the ownership of large monetary means and movable property. From the end of the first century B.C. (the time of Augustus), the status of the equites became hereditary and the property census was fixed at 400,000 sesterces. From the first century A.D., army commanders were recruited from the equites, who also held a number of offices in provincial administration (such as the prefecture of Egypt, procurator posts, and so on). As an estate, the equites in Rome existed until the fourth century.


Nemirovskii, A. I. “Vsadnicheskoe soslovie v politicheskoi bor’be 90-80-kh gg. 1 v. do n. e.,” Uch. zap. Penzenskogo pedagogicheskogo in-ta, 1953, issue 1, pp. 125-59.
Martin, A. Les Cavaliers athéniens. Paris, 1887.
Nicolet, C. L’Ordre équestre a l’epoque républicaine (312-43 av. J.C.). Paris, 1956. New edition: Paris, 1966. (The bibliography of this work, reviewed by A. I. Nemirovskii from the 1956 edition, appeared in Vestnik drevnei istorii, 1969, no. 2).


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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