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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 were neutral 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 Provincia), 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. This whole evolution from envoy to officer is indicated, according to Mommsen, in the successive forms of expression: legatus ad aliquem, legatus alicui, legatus alicuius.

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. i. 21).


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 (not 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 iuridici. These had no imperium, and were subordinated to the provincial governors and vice-governors. Cf. Mommsen's Römisches Staatsrecht, esp. ii. 675-701.

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