, plural equites
) was a member of one of the two upper social classes in the Roman Republic
and early Roman Empire
. This class is often translated as knight
. However, this translation is a bit misleading, since medieval
knights relied on the physical power of their horse and armor
to support their position, while the connection of Roman equestrians to horses was more symbolic.
The reforms of the Gracchi brothers in the second century BC made an official distinction between equestrians and senators. Under Augustus, commoners were permitted to become equestrians by obtaining a fixed amount of wealth (400,000 sesterces). Equestrians could rarely move to the senatorial class, by being elected to a magistracy. Equestrians were permitted to operate businesses that senators could not.
See also: Roman Senate.
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