CURIA, in ancient Rome, a section of the Roman people, according to an ancient division traditionally ascribed to Romulus. He is said to have divided the people into three tribes, and to have subdivided each of these into ten curiae, each of which contained a number of families (gentes). It is more probable that the curiae were not purely artificial creations, but represent natural associations of , artificially regulated and distributed to serve a political purpose. The local names of curiae which have come down to us suggest a local origin for the groups; but as membership was hereditary, the local tie doubtless grew weak with successive generations. Each curia was organized as a political and religious unit. As a political corporation it had no recognized activities beyond the command of a vote in the Comitia Curiata (see Comitia), a vote whose nature was determined by a majority in the votes of the individual members (curiales). But as a religious unit the curia had more individual activity. There were, it is true, ceremonies (sacra) performed by all the curiae to Juno Curis in which each curia offered its part in a collective rite of the whole people; but each curia had also its peculiar sacra and its own special place of worship. The religious affairs of each were conducted by a priest called curio assisted by a flamen curialis. The thirty curiae must always have comprised the whole Roman people; for citizenship depended on membership of a gens (gentilitas) and every member of a gens was ipso facto attached to a curia. They therefore included plebeians as well as patricians (q.v.) from the date at which plebeians were recognized as free members of the body politic. But, just as enjoyment of the full rights of gentilitas was only very gradually granted to plebeians, so it is probable that a plebeian did not, when admitted through a gens into a curia, immediately exercise all the rights of a curialis. It is unlikely, for instance, that plebeians voted in the Comitia Curiata at the early date implied by the authorities; but it is probable that they acquired the right early in the republican period, and certain that they enjoyed it in Cicero’s time. A plebeian was for the first time elected curio maximus in 209 B.C. The curia ceased to have any importance as a political organization some time before the close of the republican period. But its religious importance survived during the principate; for the two festivals of the Fornacalia and the Fordicidia were celebrated by the Curiales (Ovid, Fasti, ii. 527, iv. 635).
The term curia seems often to have been applied to the common shrine of the curiales, and thus to other places of assembly. Hence the ancient senate house at Rome was known as the Curia Hostilia. The curia was also adopted as a state division in a large number of municipal towns; and the term was often applied to the senate in municipal towns (see Decurio), probably from the name of the old senate house at Rome.
Authorities.—Mommsen, Römisches Staatsrecht, iii. p. 89 ff. (Leipzig, 1887); Römische Forschungen i. p. 140 ff. (Berlin, 1864, &c.); Clason, “Die Zusammensetzung der Curien und ihrer Comitien” (Kritische Erörterungen i., Rostock, 1871); Karlowa, Römische Rechtsgeschichte, i. p. 382 ff. (Leipzig, 1885); E. Hofmann, Patricische und plebeische Curien (Wien, 1879); for the Fornacalia, &c., Marquardt, Staatsverwaltung, iii. p. 197 (Leipzig, 1885); for local names of curiae, Pauly-Wissowa, Realencyclopädie, iv. p. 1822 (new edition, 1893, &c.); O. Gilbert, Geschichte und Topographie der Stadt Rom (Leipzig, 1883); for municipal curiae, Mommsen, in Ephemeris epigraphica, ii. p. 125; Schmidt, in Rheinisches Museum, xlv. (1890) p. 599 ff. On the Roman comitia in general see also G. W. Botsford, Roman Assemblies (1909). (A. M. Cl.)
In medieval Latin the word curia was used in the general sense of “court.” It was thus used of “the court,” meaning the royal household (aula); of “courts” in the sense of solemn assemblies of the great nobles summoned by the king (curiae solennes, &c.); of courts of law generally, whether developed out of the imperial or royal curia (see Curia Regis) or not (e.g. curia baronis, Court Baron, curia christianitatis, Court Christian). Sometimes curia means jurisdiction, or the territory over which jurisdiction is exercised; whence possibly its use, instead of cortis, for an enclosed space, the court-yard of a house, or for the house itself (cf. the English “court,” e.g. Hampton Court, and the Ger. Hof). The word Curia is now only used of the court of Rome, as a convenient term to express the sum of the organs that make up the papal government (see Curia Romana).
See Du Cange, Gloss. med. et inf. Lat. (1883), s.v. “Curia.”