As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I’m reading Peter Brown’s Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350–550 AD — superb, like everything he writes — and was struck by a word in the very first passage, about the “Harvester of Mactar,” who had his biography recorded in an epigraphic poem on a stele of which we have a substantial chunk. He “made his way up as a foreman of one of the great gangs of laborers … who would spread out over the plateau of eastern Numidia … as harvest laborers” to “the owner of a comfortable farm”; finally, “the income from his property made him eligible to membership of the town council of Mactar. … As a town councillor (a curialis—a member of the curia, the town council—or a decurio, which was a similar term) he became an honestior, a more honorable person.”
I was familiar with the Latin word curia because of its etymology (it’s from Old Latin coviria ‘gathering of men’: co- + vir ‘man”‘) and of course because of the Roman Curia of the Catholic Church, but I didn’t know about this use; the Wikipedia article gives a nice summary:
In the Roman Empire the curia (ordo, boule) was the town council, the governing body of a city and the hallmark of city rank. It was a co-optive body, whose members, the Decurions, sat for life. Its numbers vary greatly according to the size of the city. In the Western Empire, 100 seems to have been a common number, but in the East 500 was customary on the model of the Athenian Boule. However by the fourth century, curial duties had become onerous and it was difficult to fill all the posts, and often candidates had to be nominated. Constantine exempted Christians from their curial duties which led to many rich pagans claiming to be priests in order to escape the duties.
It meant various other things at other times; the whole article is worth a skim.