equites ĕk´wĭtēz [key] [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 BC 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. BC 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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