An envoy from one State to another; an ambassador.
Envoys were sent from Rome, in the regal period, by the king; in the republican period by
the consuls, with the advice and authority of the Senate. In the later Republic the sending
and receiving of legati
was practically an exclusive function of the
Senate. In the Empire these rights passed to the emperor. In the royal and early Republican
periods envoys were always taken from the college of fetial priests. (See Fetiales
; Ius Fetiale.) When the Senate gained
substantial control of foreign affairs, legati
were always chosen from
the senatorial order. Like the fetials, the secular legati
and inviolable persons (iure gentium
). In the last century of the
Republic, senators travelling on private business or for pleasure were frequently invested
with the character of legati
without the least pretence of an actual
mission, the appointment assuring them not merely special consideration and protection, but
also free transportation at the cost of the State.
Envoys were also sent by the Senate to convey tidings or counsel to magistrates in the
field. When an important treaty was to be concluded by such a magistrate, a board of
senatorial legati was frequently sent, nominally to advise the general, actually to settle
the terms of the treaty. When conquered territory began to be organized into provinces (see
), it became customary to send out one
or more senatorial legati with the magistrate to whom the government of a province was
intrusted. These legati were legally under the command of the governor, and served as his
assistants in military, administrative, and judicial matters; but they also represented the
authority of the Senate, and the necessity of hearing their advice operated as a check upon
the governor's arbitrary powers. In the last two centuries of the Republic, legati were
regularly appointed to accompany consuls or praetors charged with important military
operations; and these legates, often nominated by the general in command, served as corps
commanders. As the military power began to overshadow that of the Senate, the generals
obtained free hand in selecting their legati (cf. the Lex Gabinia, B.C. 66, which gave Pompey
the selection of his own legati for the conduct of the war against the pirates), and the way
was prepared for the development of the imperial office of legatus.
whole evolution from envoy to officer is indicated, according to Mommsen, in the successive
forms of expression: legatus ad aliquem, legatus alicui, legatus
The Republican legatus had no imperium
and bore no fasces.
The symbol and credential of his office was a ring. Here again the Gabinian
law marked an innovation: the legati of Pompey had propraetorian powers. The same was true of
the legates of Iulius Caesar in Gaul (B. G.
In the Early Empire certain provinces were assigned to the princeps
, and these provinces he governed through legati of his own
selection. These legates had propraetorian powers and bore fasces
of twelve or six rods, like the consuls and praetors, but of five—legati quinquefascales
). Similar powers and insignia were accorded to the legates in
the senatorial provinces, who were now selected by the governor with the approval of the
emperor. In the imperial system, accordingly, the legati pro praetore
are vice-governors, subordinated in the provinces of Augustus to the emperor and in the other
provinces to the senatorial governor. Besides these, the emperors appointed other legati pro praetore
without fixed provinces and with purely military duties.
Still other legates were appointed for the provinces with special military or judicial
duties, the legati legionis
and the legati
These had no imperium
, and were subordinated to the
provincial governors and vice-governors. Cf. Mommsen's Römisches
, esp. ii. 675-701.