previous next


PRAETOR This title, which Cicero (de Legg. 3.3, 8) connects with praeire, is found among the Latin races, and is used by Livy as equivalent to that of strategus with the Achaeans. Among the Romans we first read of it immediately after the expulsion of the kings: for a single hereditary ruler they substituted two annually elected magistrates, first known as Praetors, and only later as Consuls; whence Cicero, in the passage referred to, represents the title as properly descriptive of the Consuls as leaders of the armies of the state; and the familiar use of “Praetorium” in connexion with military command, and the meaning which it bears in Livy of the period and powers of the consular office, are also indicative of the original character of this magistracy.

As distinct from the consulship, the praetorship proper is said by Livy (6.42, 7.1) to have been instituted B.C. 366, though the truth would seem to be that so long as the military tribunate was in existence two consuls were from time to time elected in lieu of tribuni militares, and that when this was the case a third magistrate was always appointed, called praetor, to assist them in their duties. However this may be, the praetor, probably even at this period called praetor urbanus in allusion to the older magistracy of the custos urbis whom he superseded (Joan. Lydus, de Mens. 19; de Magistr. 2.6), was, as soon as the office became permanent, elected annually from the patricians only, who secured a monopoly of the new office as a compensation to themselves for being compelled to share the consulship with the plebeians (Livy, l.c.), none of the latter attaining the praetorship till B.C. 337; he was termed “collega” of the consuls, and was elected with the same auspices at the Comitia Centuriata (Liv. 7.1, 45.44; Gellius, 13.15). His chief functions were judicial (jus in urbe dicere, Liv. 6.42; jura reddere, ib. 7.1), it being to relieve the consuls (who according to the passage of Cicero referred to were called judices a judicando) of this class of business that his office was established; but the consuls in the earlier Roman history being so constantly engaged on active military service, he frequently had to take their place in the city (Liv. 24.9; Cic. Fam. 10.1. 2; D. C. 46.14, 109.24), in the senate (Gel. 14.7; Liv. 8.2, &c.), and in the Comitia (Liv. 22.33, 25.27), and in some cases of emergency even commanded the Roman armies. He was a curule magistrate and had the imperium, though in a less degree than the consuls (Gel. 13.15; Liv. 43.14; V. Max. 2.8, 2; Cic. Att. 9.9), to whom he owed obedience and all the external marks of reverence (Liv. 10.25, 27.5; D. C. 26.24; Plb. 23.1; Aurel. Victor, de Vir. illust. 72). His insignia of office were six lictors (Appian, de reb. Syr. 15), whence he is called by Polybius ἡγεμὼν or στρατηγὸς ἑξαπέλεκυς, and sometimes simply ἑξαπέλεκυς. Plutarch [p. 2.482]Sulla, 5) uses the expression στρατηγία πολιτική. At a later period the praetor had only two lictors in Rome (Censorinus, 100.24). As appears from Livy, the praetorship was at first given to a consul of the preceding year, and L. Papirius was praetor after being consul (Liv. 10.47).

Unlike the consulship, the office was one to the number of whose holders additions might be constitutionally made as circumstances required (Cic. de Legg. l.c.), and accordingly in B.C. 246 a second praetor was created, who for distinction's sake was called Praetor Peregrinus, for the administration of justice in all disputes between peregrini or peregrini and cives (Dig. 1, 2, 2, 28; Joan. Lydus, de Magistr. 1.38, 45; Liv. Epit. 19), and from this time onward the two offices seem to have been regularly divided between the patricians and plebeians (Niebuhr, Röm. Geschichte, 3.177), it being determined by lot which of the two should be urbanus and which peregrinus, though if either was required for military command the functions of both within the city were discharged by the other (Liv. 24.44, 25.3, 27.36). When the territories of Rome were extended beyond the limits of Italy, new praetors were created for the government of the provinces: two in 227 B.C. for the administration of Sicily and Sardinia (Liv. Epit. 20; Dig. 1, 2, 2, 32) and two thirty years later for the Spanish provinces (Liv. 32.27): it being settled by lot which of the praetorian provinces each of the four praetors who went abroad was to govern. Later it became common for the praetor urbanus or peregrinus, after he had discharged his judicial functions for one year, to be sent to govern a province for another; a period which in many cases was prolonged until by the Lex Julia of Caesar it was provided that no governor should administer a praetorian province for more than one year (Cic. Phil. 1.8, 19). In connexion with the institution of quaestiones perpetuae for the trial of crimes, Sulla increased the number of praetors from six to eight, all of whom as a rule exercised judicial functions at Rome during their proper year of office, becoming propraetors in the provinces for the following year: under Caesar the number was raised successively to ten, twelve, fourteen, and sixteen (Sueton. Jul. 41; D. C. 42.51, 43.47, 49, 51; Dig. 1, 2, 2, 32), and by Augustus reduced to twelve and earlier to ten (D. C. 53.32, 56.25); but under Tiberius there were as many as sixteen (D. C. 58.20, 59.20). Subsequently additional praetors were created for special departments of legal business: two by Claudius (reduced by Titus to one) for all suits relating to fideicommissa, when the business in this department of law had become considerable (Dig. l.c.; Sueton. Claud. 23), and one by Nerva for the hearing of actions between the fiscus and subjects of the Empire (Dig. ib.): so that, as Pomponius (speaking of his own time), says in Dig. 1, 2, 2, 34, “eighteen praetors jus dicunt in the state.” According to Capitolinus (Marc. 10), M. Aurelius added a nineteenth praetor. for matters relating to guardianship, upon whose duties Ulpian wrote a liber singularis (Dig. 27, 1, 3, 5, 9).

It will be clear from what has been said that the main business of the praetors was judicial; the praetors urbanus and peregrinus had the control of the whole system of Roman civil judicature, in connexion with which their work is sufficiently described under other articles, especially those on EDICTUM, JUDEX, and JURISDICTIO Sometimes, however, extraordinary duties were imposed on them: e. g. in B.C. 144 the praetor peregrinus was commissioned by a senatusconsultum to look after the repair of certain aqueducts and prevent the improper use of the water (Frontinus, de Aquaeduct. lib. i.): so too, though the appointment of guardians was no constitutional part of the praetor's province (Dig. 26, 1, 6, 2), it was conferred, within the city of Rome, on the praetor urbanus and the majority of the tribuni plebis by a lex Atilia (Gaius, 1.185). It was part of the same magistrate's duties to superintend the Ludi Apollinares, and so close an application to business was required from him that he was permitted to leave the city for only ten days at a time. With criminal prosecutions he had originally no more to do than any other magistrate; but when in 149 B.C. (Cic. Brut. 27, 106) L. Calpurnius Piso established the first quaestio perpetua for the trial of extortion (repetundae), one of the praetors was permanently entrusted with its supervision, and the same practice was followed with the quaestiones instituted by Sulla and others for the trial of Ambitus, Majestas, Peculatus, Falsum, Parricidium, &c. Though a praetor presided over the criminal proceedings in these cases, the judges were selected from the senators, knights, or tribuni aerarii at different periods of history, the condemnation or acquittal of the accused being determined by a majority of their votes. [JUDICIUM]

Any place in which the praetor might by law or custom exercise his magisterial functions was called jus (Dig. 1, 1, 11). Some of these, however, could never be performed elsewhere than pro tribunali, where his curule chair was set upon the comitium, the patrician portion of the Forum, and where he sat with his friends and assessors: contrasted with the tribunal were the Subsellia, or part occupied by the judices or other persons who were present (Cic. Brut. 84, 290).

Other judicial acts, however, could even tolerably early be performed by him anywhere (Gaius, 1.20), viz. acts of the voluntaria jurisdictio, such as legitimation of manumissions, in jure cessio, &c. In such cases he was said to exercise jurisdiction de piano, and the volume of business so transacted increased so steadily that at length regular sessiones de plano were held (fragm. Vat. 161), at which the praetor sometimes heard and adjudicated upon disputes: the rule as to what occasions required him to sit pro tribunali, and for what a de piano jurisdiction sufficed, may be gathered from Dig. 38, 1, 3, 8; 38, 15, 2, 1; 1, 16, 9, 1.

The office of the praetor continued to exist throughout the imperial period, though his activity in the issue of annual edicts must have slackened considerably at the fall of the Republic, and ceased altogether on the publication of the Edictum perpetuum of Salvius Julianus [EDICTUM]. In the Eastern Empire there were at first two praetors only, which number was gradually raised to eight, and then [p. 2.483]reduced to three, each of whom was distinguished by a special name, e. g. Constantinianus, triumphalis (Cod. Theod. 6, 4, 5, 13, &c.); they were selected by the senate, but the selection had to be confirmed by the emperor (Cod. Theod. 6, 4, 8, 9, 10, &c.). They still possessed jurisdictio, though their importance in the earlier imperial period was greatly diminished by the development of the emperor's own jurisdiction and of a regular system of appellate courts: under Justinian, and in fact from the abolition of the formula (A.D. 294) onward, the office seems to be merely that of a judge of first instance.

A person who had been ejected from the senate could recover his rank by being made praetor (D. C. 37.30; Plut. Cicero, 17). Sallustius was made praetor ἐπὶ τῷ τὴν βουλὴν ἀναλαβεῖν (Dio Cass. xlii.. 52).


hide References (24 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (24):
    • Cicero, Letters to his Friends, 10.1.2
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 9.9
    • Polybius, Histories, 23.1
    • Cicero, Philippics, 1.19
    • Cicero, Philippics, 1.8
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 43, 14
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 45, 44
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 8, 2
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 27, 36
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 27, 5
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 6, 42
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 24, 44
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 24, 9
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 25, 27
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 25, 3
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 10, 25
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 10, 47
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 7, 1
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 22, 33
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 32, 27
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 13.15
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 14.7
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 2.2
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 2.8
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: