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Latin, Roman magistrate, from censēre to give as one's opinion, assess; perhaps akin to Sanskrit śaṁsati he praises


  • 1: a person who supervises conduct and morals: as a : an official who examines materials (as publications or films) for objectionable matter
b : an official (as in time of war) who reads communications (as letters) and deletes material considered sensitive or harmful


The censor was an officer in ancient Rome who was responsible for maintaining the census, supervising public morality, and overseeing certain aspects of the government's finances.

The censors' regulation of public morality is the origin of the modern meaning of the words "censor" and "censorship."


The censorship differed from all other Roman magistracies in the length of office. The censors were originally chosen for a whole lustrum (the period of five years), but as early as ten years after its institution (433 BC) their office was limited to eighteen months by a law of the dictator Mamercus Aemilius Mamercinus. The censors were also unique with respect to rank and dignity. They had no imperium, and accordingly no lictors. Their rank was granted to them by the Centuriate Assembly, and not by the curiae, and in that respect they were inferior in power to the consuls and praetors.

Notwithstanding this, the censorship was regarded as the highest dignity in the state, with the exception of the dictatorship; it was a "sacred magistracy" (sanctus magistratus), to which the deepest reverence was due. The high rank and dignity which the censorship obtained was due to the various important duties gradually entrusted to it, and especially to its possessing the regimen morum, or general control over the conduct and the morals of the citizens. In the exercise of this power, they were regulated solely by their own views of duty, and were not responsible to any other power in the state.

The censors possessed of course the "curule chair" (sella curulis), but there is some doubt with respect to their official dress. A well-known passage of Polybius describes the use of the imagines at funerals; we may conclude that a consul or praetor wore the purple-bordered toga praetexta, one who triumphed the embroidered toga picta, and the censor a purple toga peculiar to him; but other writers speak of their official dress as being the same as that of the other higher magistrates. The funeral of a censor was always conducted with great pomp and splendour, and hence a "censorial funeral" (funus censorium) was voted even to the emperors.


The duties of the censors may be divided into three classes, all of which were closely connected with one another:

  • 1. The Census, or register of the citizens and of their property, in which were included the reading of the Senate's lists (lectio senatus) and the recognition of who qualified for equestrian rank (recognitio equitum);
  • 2. The Regimen Morum, or keeping of the public morals; and
  • 3. The administration of the finances of the state, under which were classed the superintendence of the public buildings and the erection of all new public works.

The original business of the censorship was at first of a much more limited kind, and was restricted almost entirely to taking the census, but the possession of this power gradually brought with it fresh power and new duties.. A general view of these duties is briefly expressed in the following passage of Cicero: "Censores populi aevitates, soboles, familias pecuniasque censento: urbis templa, vias, aquas, aerarium, vectigalia tuento: populique partes in tribus distribunto: exin pecunias, aevitates, ordines patiunto: equitum, peditumque prolem describunto: caelibes esse prohibento: mores populi regunto: probrum in senatu ne relinquunto."[1]