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PRAEFECTUS PRAETO´RIO was the commander of the troops who guarded the emperor's person. [PRAETORIANI] This office was instituted by Augustus, and was at first only military, and had comparatively small power attached to it (D. C. 52.24, 55.10; Suet. Aug. 49); but under Tiberius, who made Seianus commander of the praetorian troops, it became of much greater importance, till at length the power of these praefects became second only to that of the emperors. (Tac. Ann. 4.1, 2; Aurel. Vict. de Caes. 9.) The relation of the praefectus praetorio to the emperor is compared with that of the magister equitum to the dictator under the Republic. (Dig. 1, 11.) He was, as the officer of highest rank, always present at court, the natural medium through which the emperor issued his orders and carried out his decisions, although his actual influence would naturally depend mainly on his personal character. From the reign of Severus to that of Diocletian, the praefects, like the vizirs of the East, had the [p. 2.477]superintendence of all departments of the state, the palace, the army, especially in Italy, the finances, and the law: they also had a court in which they decided cases (Dig. 12, 1, 40), mainly as the representative of the emperor in appeals from the provinces. (Mommsen, Staatsr. 2.932.) Hence the office of praefect of the praetorium was in later times not confined to military officers; it was filled by Ulpian, Papinian, Paulus, and other distinguished jurists.

Originally there were two praefects (D. C. 4.10); afterwards sometimes one and sometimes two; fiom the time of Commodus sometimes three (Lamprid. Commod. 6), and even four. (Mommsen, Staatsr. 2.831, 3.) They were as a regular rule chosen only from the equites (D. C. 52.24; Suet. Tit. 6 Lamprid. Commod. 4); but from the time of Alexander Severus the dignity of senator was always joined with their office (Lamprid. Alex. Sev. 21).

Under Constantine the praefects were deprived of all military command, and changed into governors of provinces. He appointed four such praefects: the one (praefectus Orientis) who commonly attended on the imperial court had the command of Thrace, the whole of the East, and Egypt; the second (pr. Illyrici) had the command of Illyricum, Macedonia, and Greece, and usually resided first at Sirmium, afterwards at Thessalonica; the third (pr. Italiae) of Italy and Africa, residing usually at Milan; the fourth (praefectus Galliarum), who resided at Trèves, of Gaul, Spain, and Britain. (Zosimus, 2.33.) These praefects were the proper representatives of the emperor, and their power extended over all departments of the state: the army alone was not subject to their jurisdiction. They were co-ordinate with the praefects of the two capital cities of Rome and Constantinople. (Walter, Gesch. des röm. Rechts, § § 269, 341; Gibbon, Decline and Fall; 100.17.)

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hide References (4 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (4):
    • Tacitus, Annales, 4.1
    • Tacitus, Annales, 4.2
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 49
    • Suetonius, Divus Titus, 6
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