previous next


PROCURA´TOR The term procurator signifies agent, and is used to denote the transaction of agency of almost any description. It was applied chiefly to the managing agents of property at Rome, and is often used in a sense almost equivalent to vilicus or calculator (Senec. Ep. 14, 16); although the procurator had more freedom of action than the former, and more extended functions than the latter. While one entrusts a commission to a procurator, one gives direct commands to a bailiff, or vilicus (Cic. de Orat. 1.58, 249). It is used especially of the managers of the landed property of a dominus or owner, who transacts business with others, manages his slaves, and directs his agricultural operations through a procurator; such an agent had the management and control, subject to direction, of one or more estates (Plin. Ep. 3.19, 2). They were generally freedmen, or even favoured slaves, and, if slaves, might be transferred to another party with the sale of the house or estate to which they were attached (Cic. Att. 14.1. 6).

As a term denoting a legal personality, in the civil law of Rome, procurator is a parallel term to cognitor; and is almost equivalent to the modern attorney [ACTIO]. Like the cognitor, he was the person through whose agency a legal action, not primarily his own, might be undertaken; the appointment was simple, only depending on the expression of will on the part of the procurator so appointed. The presence of neither of the parties to the dispute was necessary to his taking up the case; and he was thus able of himself to represent the persona of an absent litigant, and to become an actor in the legal sense (Festus, s. v. cognitor).

The political sense of the word procurator originated with the Empire, and the personal government that it brought about. In that [p. 2.497]division of state administration which was managed by the princeps, he himself was the one supreme head; certain state functions he delegated to praefecti; most, however, were managed by the imperial agents, the procuratores Caesaris. They were in a strict sense the servants of the emperor, with no independent but only representative authority, appointed to perform the lesser administrative duties of the Empire (ministeria principatus, Tac. Hist. 1.58, 1). Like other parts of the emperor's household, they were originally slaves or freedmen, generally of the latter class, as is shown by Tacitus (Tac. Ann. 4.6, 7), and especially by inscriptions. The holders of offices about the emperor's person, such as are described in the expressions a libellis, a rationibus, auditors and accountants, would be procurators. Pallas, for instance, one of the favourite freedmen of Claudius, was his procurator a rationibus. Gradually, however, as the administrative duties of the princeps extended, these posts came to be of more importance, and there came to be gradations of rank connected with them. The more responsible procuratorships were subsequently given, not to freedmen, but to equites: and this change, due in the first instance to the Emperor Vitellius (Tac. Hist. 1.58, 1), was more thoroughly carried out by the Emperor Hadrian (Hirschfeld, Untersuch. i. p. 32). The lower grades were held, without distinction, either by equites or freedmen (D. C. 52.25). The filling of the higher procuratorships gradually became one of the marks of a permanent equestrian career: so much so, that Tacitus expressly calls this office the equestris nobilitas. No senator, or man who had a senatorial career in view, could be a procurator; for, in the Roman world of the Empire, there were two distinct patents of nobility. The quaestorship, and certain lower offices that led to it, formed the road to senatorial nobility: a procuratorship in the emperor's household was the stepping stone to a prefecture, which was the crown of equestrian nobility. The original powers with which the procurator Caesaris was supposed to be invested are well defined in the words of Tiberius (Tac. Ann. 4.15, 3), that “his procurator's rights only extended over his slaves and personal property.” This reference is only to the emperor's private pecuniary agent in a senatorial province; but, as no real distinction can be drawn between the original legal relations of the fiscus and patrimonium respectively to the emperor, so the distinction between the emperor's private agent and one connected with his public concerns is a difference more of position and importance than of fact or law. It was found impossible, however, to confine the imperial agents to the limits of authority that Tiberius thus lays down. Disputes sprang up between them and the senatorial or other authorities, in the provinces; and it is given as an instance of Claudius's moderation that he requested all decisions to be confirmed that his procurator had awarded (Suet. Cl. 12). This points to the judicial authority that the procurators soon gained. As there was no convenient court of arbitration in the provinces that could decide on the rights of the procurator, he was, without being recognised as a proper court for the trial of private claims, empowered to settle disputes that might arise from the exercise of his financial duties (Cod. 1, 13, 1). His duties, as regards the emperor, were strictly limited and defined; he was altogether accountable to him for the use he makes of his finances or any portion of his property; he could not give, sell or transfer it, and his duties are defined as careful management of it (diligenter gerere) within the prescribed bounds (Dig. 1, 19, 2); but, while he keeps within these bounds, his acts have all the authority of those of the emperor himself (ib. 1, 19, 1).

There were several classes of procurators; most of them, however, being purely finance officers, may be classed under the head of procuratores fisci. The officer connected with the fiscus at Rome was originally a procurator, as well as the agent for collecting the Roman or Italian dues for the fiscus. A procrator summarum is found in an inscription of Nero's time (Henzen, 6525), who was a freedman; officials may also have been of this class, called procuratores rationum summarum, their position being that of keepers and auditors of the imperial accounts, although the latter title seems later to have had a restricted signification. They were originally, perhaps, the highest officers connected with the fiscus; later we find a praefectus of the fiscus, and, under Nerva, a praetor fiscalis. We find other names given to officials of this class who may be identified as procurators, such as rationalis summae rei (Cod. 3, 26, 7), dispensator or dispensator summarum (Suet. Vesp. 12; Henzen, 6396) and vilicus summarum (C. I. L. 5, n. 737). We find from a Greek inscription a procurator (ἐπίτροπος) appointed for the collection of Roman and Italian dues to the fiscus, such as the vicesima hereditatium (C. I. G. 2980).

It is difficult to determine the precise importance attaching to the various offices held by the procurators whose titles we know from inscriptions; and this is especially the case with the agents of the fiscus at Rome, the officers attached to it and their titles varying with each reconstruction of the imperial system of finance. It seems certain that from the time of Claudius the title a rationibus was reserved for the central director of the fiscus. After Hadrian it became regularly an equestrian post (Hirschfeld, Untersuch. i. p. 32), while the members of this central bureau, which was now completely organised, had a higher standing than their provincial colleagues. The title procurator rationum summarum, belonging to the second century A.D., undoubtedly denotes some high official connected with the fiscus. As it does not seem to be identical with the title a rationibus, it has been supposed to represent a subordinate director of the fiscus, perhaps established for the first time by Marcus Aurelius (Hirschfeld, l.c. p. 35). The title rationalis, which often in the earlier imperial times was used indiscriminately with procurator, and still had this wide sense in the third century A.D. (Dig. 1, 19, tit. “De officio procuratoris Caesaris vel rationalis” ), seems at some period within this century to have supplanted the title a rationibus as the designation of the chief officer of the fiscus (Hirschfeld, op. cit. p. 37; Liebenam, Beiträge zur Verwaltungsgesch. p. 32). [p. 2.498]

Another class of procurators were confined to the imperial provinces alone; they were the finance officers in these provinces, like the quaestors in the senatorial provinces. They were connected, therefore, with the branch of the imperial treasury in the province (fiscus provincialis), and managed the collection of taxes due to it as well as their disbursement. There was another treasury connected with the military station in such a province (fiscus castrensis), with a corresponding agent (procurator castrensis), who superintended the payments made to the soldiers in the district (Strabo iii. p.167) and military expenses in general: the title a copiis militaribus is found in inscriptions (Orelli, 2922, 3505): and an agent of the mint (procurator monetae) is found, in connexion apparently with the provincial fiscus (C. I. L. 2, n. 4206). Other provincial procurators are found for the collection of the imperial dues that were imposed on all the provinces alike. The vectigalia with which the provincial fiscus was supplied were collected by various means; some, such as the portoria, were in the hands of the publicani, others were directly collected: and amongst these were certain perquisites which belonged exclusively to the imperial exchequer, whether they were collected in an imperial or a senatorial province: such were lapsed legacies (bona caduca) and the property of condemned persons (bona damnatorum): others were the vicesimae manumissionum and hereditatium, after the latter had been extended to the provinces, and the centesima rerum venalium. These dues were all collected by the imperial procurators, and accordingly we find in inscriptions such titles as procurator a caducis (C. I. L. 3, n. 1622), and other procurators connected each with the collection of a separate kind of imperial revenue. Agents of this kind were by the nature of their functions not confined to the imperial provinces: and we find, in senatorial provinces, frequent evidence of dues that fell to the emperor, and of the presence of his agents as their collectors (Tac. Ann. 2.47, 3; 4.15, 3). These imperial revenues, that extended over the provinces generally, may be divided into three classes. Firstly, there were the dues mentioned above, the bona caduca and the like, that fell of right to the fiscus. Secondly, there were dues that went directly to pay for certain responsibilities (curae) undertaken by the emperor for Rome and all the provinces,--such was the annona or corn-supply for Rome; the supervision of this duty was at Rome delegated to a praefectus of the emperor: and, consequently, in the provinces, the business connected with its supply must have been in the hands of an imperial agent or procurator. Again, the military defences, and the expenses consequent on them, the cost of the transport of troops and the like, fell entirely on the imperial exchequer: and the revenues necessary for the defraying of such expenses were managed by procurators in the provinces, whether senatorial or imperial, that were directly benefited by such administration. Lastly, among the imperial dues that affected all the provinces alike, comes the patrimonium of the emperor. The mention of a procurator patrimonii or patrimonii privati is found in inscriptions (Orelli, 3180). They would have the management of the vast imperial estates in the provinces; and together with the procurator patrimonii we find a procurator rerum privatarum of the emperor. At first sight they appear identical, and originally they were so. The institution of the twofold procuratorship does not arise until the time of the Emperor Severus (Marquardt, Staatsverw. ii. p. 311). There had, in all probability, always been a distinction between the res privatae and the patrimonium; the former consisting mainly of legacies that had been left to the emperor. Hence the duties of the imperial procurators as regards inheritances (Dig. 1, 19, 2; Orelli, 2921,. “servus exactor haereditatum legatorum peculiorum” ); but in the early Empire this distinction between res privatae and patrimonium was not recognised by any formal division of the office of procurator, and in inscriptions (Orelli,. 3180) the two are found combined. There were several other unimportant posts recorded in inscriptions as being held by procurators, such as the posts of librarians, managers of spectacles and stores, of daily household expenses, and the like.

Besides the numerous procuratores fisci there was another class of procurators connected with the imperial administration of the provinces. These were the procuratores Caesaris pro legato, who were governors of outlying and comparatively unimportant districts, that were classed with the imperial provinces. Such a district was Cappadocia in the reign of Tiberius (Tac. Ann. 2.56; D. C. 57.17, 7), which was at first put under the government of an eques as procurator; and Judaea, which was similarly under the government of Pontius Pilate, its procurator pro legato. These procurators were more or less under the control of the nearest imperial legate (legatus pro praetore); Judaea, for instance, was attached to the larger province of Syria, and Pilate was deposed from office by Vitellius the governor of Syria (Jos. Antiq. Jud, 18.4, 2).

Other provinces that are known to have been placed at various times under imperial procurators are the Alps, Raetia, Noricum, Thrace, and Mauretania (Liebenam, l.c. p. 26).

The imperial procurators were continued in office for terms of indefinite length; and had fixed salaries from the treasury (D. C. 53.23, 1). The words trecenarius, ducenarius, and centenarius denote the value of these posts, according as the salary varied from one hundred to three hundred sestertia (Orelli, 946; Suet. Cl. 24). The salaries of the civil procurators at Rome were probably higher than those of the same grade in the provinces. Thus the procuratio rationis privatae was probably in Rome a trecenaria; in the provinces a ducenaria; in Italy, where it would be merely a branchoffice from Rome, a centenaria procuratio (Liebenam, l.c. p. 55). The grades of rank through which the various procurators passed, their position in the imperial organisation, and the status of the individuals chosen for these offices, cannot be expressed with any certainty. The scale of rank was often broken through by sudden and extraordinary promotions, which were made through the favour of the princeps or the personal fitness of the individual promoted. Thus we find in one instance a procurator a memoria promoted to a praefecture [p. 2.499]Script. Aug. Nigr. 7), A more regular promotion is that of Ti. Cl. Bibianus Tertullus, who rose from the procuratorship ab epistulis Graecis to that a rationibus, and was from this second post promoted to the praefectura vigilum (C. I. G. 3.6574); or that of Sex. Var. Marcellus, who rose through the successive grades of procurator aquarum and procurator Britanniae to the post of procurator a rationibus, and was then promoted to be vice-praefectus praetorio (Orelli, 946). The political influence of the procurators at various periods or the Empire, and the classes from which they were chosen, changed with the changing conditions of imperial government. The Empire began by being a strictly personal rule marked by undivided responsibility on the part of the princeps. At this time the procurators were naturally freedmen, acting as mere servants of the central head of the Roman state; and even after the change initiated by Vitellius, a return to this principle of selection might be made, as it was by the Emperor Domitian (Suet. Dom. 7). But with the development of the Empire, the political organisation itself began to replace in part the personal responsibility of the princeps; and we get the order of the equestrian aristocracy filling these posts. The definite political routine lessened the personal influence of these agents, which had been very great under a weak prince like Claudius, in the half-organised earlier Empire. In the later period of the Empire we find a new influence arising--that, namely, of the emperor's personal household. In the fourth and fifth centuries freedmen of the household, such as the chamberlain (cubicularius), had the power which in the time of Claudius was possessed by the freedmen filling the great fiscal offices (Friedländer, Sittengesch. i. p. 67).

(Mommsen, Staatsrecht, ii.2 pp. 836 ff., 934; Marquardt, Staatsverwaltung, v. p. 296 ff.; Hirschfeld, Untersuchungen auf dem Gebiete der römischen Verwaltungsgeschichte, i. p. 30 ff.; Liebenam, Beiträge zur Verwaltungsgeschichte des römischen Kaiserreichs, i. p. 52 ff.; Friedländer, Sittengeschichte, i. p. 59 ff.)


hide References (15 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (15):
    • Suetonius, Divus Claudius, 12
    • Suetonius, Divus Claudius, 24
    • Tacitus, Annales, 4.15
    • Tacitus, Annales, 2.3
    • Tacitus, Annales, 2.47
    • Tacitus, Annales, 2.56
    • Tacitus, Annales, 4.3
    • Tacitus, Annales, 4.6
    • Tacitus, Annales, 4.7
    • Tacitus, Historiae, 1.1
    • Tacitus, Historiae, 1.58
    • Cicero, On Oratory, 1.58
    • Suetonius, Domitianus, 7
    • Pliny the Younger, Epistulae, 3.19
    • Pliny the Younger, Epistulae, 3.2
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: