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A legatus was a general in the Roman army
Roman army
The Roman army is the generic term for the terrestrial armed forces deployed by the kingdom of Rome , the Roman Republic , the Roman Empire and its successor, the Byzantine empire...

, equivalent to a modern general officer. Being of senatorial
Roman Senate
The Senate of the Roman Republic was a political institution in the ancient Roman Republic, however, it was not an elected body, but one whose members were appointed by the consuls, and later by the censors. After a magistrate served his term in office, it usually was followed with automatic...

 rank, his immediate superior was the dux
Dux is Latin for leader and later for Duke and its variant forms ....

, and he outranked all military tribune
Military tribune
A military tribune was an officer of the Roman army who ranked below the legate and above the centurion...

s. In order to command an army independently of the dux or provincial governor, legates were required to be of praetor
Praetor was a title granted by the government of Ancient Rome to men acting in one of two official capacities: the commander of an army, usually in the field, or the named commander before mustering the army; and an elected magistratus assigned varied duties...

ian rank or higher; a legate could be invested with propraetorian imperium
Imperium is a Latin word which, in a broad sense, translates roughly as 'power to command'. In ancient Rome, different kinds of power or authority were distinguished by different terms. Imperium, referred to the sovereignty of the state over the individual...

(legatus propraetore) in his own right. Legates received large shares of the army's booty at the end of a campaign, which made the position a lucrative one, so it could often attract even distinguished consuls (e.g., the consul Lucius Julius Caesar
Lucius Julius Caesar IV
Lucius Julius Caesar IV was the son of the consul of 90 BC, Lucius Julius Caesar III. He was the father of another Lucius Julius Caesar, the brother of Julia Antonia, and the uncle of the Brothers Antonii, Marcus, Gaius, and Lucius...

 volunteered late in the Gallic Wars
Gallic Wars
The Gallic Wars were a series of military campaigns waged by the Roman proconsul Julius Caesar against several Gallic tribes. They lasted from 58 BC to 51 BC. The Gallic Wars culminated in the decisive Battle of Alesia in 52 BC, in which a complete Roman victory resulted in the expansion of the...

 as a legate under his first cousin once removed, Gaius Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general and statesman and a distinguished writer of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the gradual transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire....


The men who filled the office of legate were drawn from among the senatorial class of Rome
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

. There were two main positions; the legatus legionis
Legatus legionis
Legatus legionis was a title awarded to legion commanders in Ancient Rome.-History:By the time of the Roman Republic, the term legatus delegated authority...

was an ex-praetor
Praetor was a title granted by the government of Ancient Rome to men acting in one of two official capacities: the commander of an army, usually in the field, or the named commander before mustering the army; and an elected magistratus assigned varied duties...

 given command of one of Rome's elite legions
Roman legion
A Roman legion normally indicates the basic ancient Roman army unit recruited specifically from Roman citizens. The organization of legions varied greatly over time but they were typically composed of perhaps 5,000 soldiers, divided into maniples and later into "cohorts"...

, while the legatus propraetor was an ex-consul
Consul was the highest elected office of the Roman Republic and an appointive office under the Empire. The title was also used in other city states and also revived in modern states, notably in the First French Republic...

, who was given the governorship
Roman governor
A Roman governor was an official either elected or appointed to be the chief administrator of Roman law throughout one or more of the many provinces constituting the Roman Empire...

 of a Roman province
Roman province
In Ancient Rome, a province was the basic, and, until the Tetrarchy , largest territorial and administrative unit of the empire's territorial possessions outside of Italy...

 with the magisterial powers of a praetor, which in some cases gave him command of four or more legions.

This rank was also the overall legionary commander. This post was generally appointed by the emperor
Roman Emperor
The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman State during the imperial period . The Romans had no single term for the office although at any given time, a given title was associated with the emperor...

. The person chosen for this rank was a former tribune
Tribune was a title shared by elected officials in the Roman Republic. Tribunes had the power to convene the Plebeian Council and to act as its president, which also gave them the right to propose legislation before it. They were sacrosanct, in the sense that any assault on their person was...

 and held command for 3 or 4 years, although he could serve for a much longer period. In a province with only one legion, the legatus was also the provincial governor, but in provinces with multiple legions, each legion had a legatus and the provincial governor (who was separate from the legions) had overall command.

Diplomatic legatus

Legatus was also a term for an ambassador of the Roman Republic who was appointed by the senate for a mission (legatio) to a foreign nation, as well as for ambassadors who came to Rome from other countries. This is the sense of the word that survives in the phrase Papal legate
Papal legate
A papal legate – from the Latin, authentic Roman title Legatus – is a personal representative of the pope to foreign nations, or to some part of the Catholic Church. He is empowered on matters of Catholic Faith and for the settlement of ecclesiastical matters....