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PRAEFECTUS URBI the title given to the deputy who, under the kings, was named to represent the supreme authority during his absence in war, or for any other reason. Lydus (de Magistr. 1.34, 38) says that he was originally called custos urbis; but this name is inappropriate to the office in its earlier stages, and is probably incorrectly applied (Mommsen, Staatsr. 1.639). The office is said by Dionysius (2.12) to have been held along with that of Princeps Senatus, and the same statement appears in a still more incorrect form in Lydus (de Mens. 1.19), but is quite erroneous. Whether he had the right to convoke the assembly of the populus, is doubtful, but on any emergency he might take such measures as he thought proper; for he had the imperium in the city. (Tac. Ann. 6.11; Liv. 1.59, 3.24.) Romulus is said to have conferred this dignity upon Denter Romulius, Tullus Hostilius upon Numa Marcius, and Tarquinius Superbus upon Sp. Lucretius. The statement of Lydus (de Magistr. 1.38) that in 487 B.C. it was elevated into a magistracy, to be bestowed by election, is wholly to be rejected; his evidence is worthless, and such a notion is foreign to the very nature of the office. All good authorities speak of the praefectus as nominated by the consul who last left the city (Liv. 3.3, 5, 24; Dionys. A. R. 6.13, 8.64, 10.23, 24; Tac. Ann. 6.11). Persons of consular rank were alone eligible; and down to the time of the Decemvirate every praefect that is mentioned occurs previously as consul. The only exception is P. Lucretius in Livy (3.24), but recent editors here read L. Lucretius, holding the MS. reading an error for this very reason. (Cf. Niebuhr, ii. p. 120, note 255.) In the early period of the Republic the praefectus exercised within the city all the powers of the consuls, if they were absent: he convoked the senate (Liv. 3.9; Gel. 14.7.4), held the comitia (Liv. 3.24), and, in times of war, even levied civic legions, which were commanded by him.

When the office of praetor urbanus was instituted, the wardenship of the city was swallowed up in it (Lydus, de Mens. 19, de Magistr. 2.6), or rather became needless, as in the absence of the consuls the praetor acted for them. Mommsen believes that the right of nominating a praefectus urbi was expressly taken away by the Licinian law (1.644). But as the praetor himself was absent during the Latin festivals, which lasted for several days, a praefectus urbi feriarum Latinarum was still annually appointed, solely for this period, and thus held a mere shadow of the former office. This praefectus had neither the power of convoking the senate nor the right of speaking in it; as in most cases he was a person below the senatorial age, and was not appointed by the people, but by the consuls. (Gel. 14.8.) When Varro, in the passage of Gellius here referred to, claims for the praefectus urbi the right of convoking the senate, he is probably speaking of the power of the praefect such as it was previously to the institution of the office of praetor urbanus. Of how little importance the office of praefect of the city had gradually become, may be inferred from the facts, that it was always given to young men of illustrious families (Tac. Ann. 4.36), and that Julius Caesar even appointed to it several youths of equestrian rank under age (D. C. 49.42; 43.29, 48). During the Empire such praefects of the city continued to be appointed so long as the Feriae Latinae were celebrated, and even assumed, though perhaps hardly seriously, some kind of jurisdiction. (Tac. Ann. 6.11; Suet. Nero 7, Claud. 4; D. C. 54.17; J. Capitol. Antonin. Phil. 4.) On some occasions, however, no praefectus urbi was appointed at all; and then his duties were performed by the praetor urbanus. (D. C. 41.14, 49.16; comp. Marquardt, Staatsverw. 3.285; Mommsen, Staatsr. 1.638-649.)

An office very different from this, though bearing the same name, was instituted by Augustus on the suggestion of Maecenas (D. C. 52.21; Tac. l.c.; Suet. Aug. 37), and because a permanent post of great importance under Tiberius. This new praefectus urbi was a regular magistrate, whom Augustus invested with all the powers necessary to maintain peace and order in the city, which he exercised even when a praetor or indeed a consul was present at Rome. But his functions were inactive when Augustus was in Italy. It was [p. 2.478]only during the long absence of Tiberius during the last eleven years of his reign, that the praefectus urbi became a permanent official of great power. He came to be included among the magistratus, and even imperium was accorded to him (Dig. 2, 4, 2). None but consulars were appointed to the office, and it was often the crowning point of a distinguished political career, answering somewhat to the censorship of the Republic. He had the superintendence of butchers, bankers, guardians, theatres, &c.; and to enable him to exercise his power, he had distributed throughout the city a number of milites stationarii, whom we may compare to a modern police. These composed the cohorts x., xi., and xii. of the cohortes urbanae, their number being afterwards increased. He also had jurisdiction in cases between slaves and their masters, between patrons and their freedmen, and over sons who had violated the pietas towards their parents (Dig. 1, 12, 1, 5-14; 37, 15, 1, 2). His jurisdiction, as being based upon a general duty of looking after the peace and prosperity of the city, thus became gradually extended; and as the powers of the ancient republican praefectus urbi had been swallowed up by the office of the praetor urbanus, so now the power of the praetor urbanus was gradually absorbed by that of the praefectus urbi; and at last there was no appeal from his sentence, except to the person of the princeps himself, while anybody might appeal from a sentence of any other city magistrate, and, at a later period, even from that of a governor of a province, to the tribunal of the praefectus urbi. (Vopisc. Florian. 5, 6; Suet. Aug. 33; D. C. 52.21, 33; Dig. 4, 4, 38.) His jurisdiction in criminal matters was at first connected with the quaestiones (Tac. Ann. 14.41, with the note of Lipsius), and to avoid collisions with the praetor it was decided that that court should hear a case before which it might first have been brought; but from the third century he exercised it alone, and not only in the city of Rome, but at a distance of one hundred miles from it, and he might sentence a person to deportatio in insulam. (Dig. 1, 12, 1, 3 and 4.) During the first period of the Empire and under good emperors, the office was generally held for a number of years, and in many cases for life (D. C. 52.21, 24, 78.14; J. Capitol. Antonin. Pius, 8; Lamprid. Commod. 14; Vopisc. Carin. 16); but from the time of Valerian a new praefect of the city occurs almost every year.

At the time when Constantinople was made the second capital of the Empire, this city also received its praefectus urbi. The praefects at this time were the direct representatives of the emperors; and all the other officers of the administration of the city, all corporations, and all public institutions were under their control. (Cod. 1, tit. 28, s. 4; Symmach. Epist. 10.37, 43; Cassiod. Variar. 6.4.) They also exercised a superintendence over the importation and the prices of provisions, though these subjects were under the more immediate regulation of other officers. (Cod. 1, tit. 28, s. 1; Orelli, Inscript. n. 3116.) The praefects of the city had every month to make a report to the emperor of the transactions of the senate (Symmach. Epist. 10.44), where they gave their vote before the consulares. They were the medium through which the emperors received the petitions and presents from their capital. (Symmach. Epist. 10.26, 29, 35; Cod. 12, tit. 49.) At the election of a pope the praefect of Rome had the care of all the external regulations. (Symmach. Epist. 10.71-83.)

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hide References (13 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (13):
    • Suetonius, Nero, 7
    • Tacitus, Annales, 14.41
    • Tacitus, Annales, 4.36
    • Tacitus, Annales, 6.11
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 33
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 37
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 3, 5
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 1, 59
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 3, 24
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 3, 3
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 3, 9
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 14.7.4
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 14.8
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