Praetorian prefecture

Praetorian prefecture

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The praetorian prefecture ' onMouseout='HidePop("36083")' href="http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Greek_language">Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 variously named ) was the largest administrative division
Administrative division
An administrative division, subnational entity, or country subdivision is a portion of a country or other political division, established for the purpose of government. Administrative divisions are each granted a certain degree of autonomy, and are required to manage themselves through their own...

 of the late
Late Antiquity
Late Antiquity is a periodization used by historians to describe the time of transition from Classical Antiquity to the Middle Ages, in both mainland Europe and the Mediterranean world. Precise boundaries for the period are a matter of debate, but noted historian of the period Peter Brown proposed...

 Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

, above the mid-level dioceses
Roman diocese
A Roman or civil diocese was one of the administrative divisions of the later Roman Empire, starting with the Tetrarchy. It formed the intermediate level of government, grouping several provinces and being in turn subordinated to a praetorian prefecture....

 and the low-level provinces
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...

. Praetorian prefectures originated in the reign of Constantine I
Constantine I
Constantine the Great , also known as Constantine I or Saint Constantine, was Roman Emperor from 306 to 337. Well known for being the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity, Constantine and co-Emperor Licinius issued the Edict of Milan in 313, which proclaimed religious tolerance of all...

 (r. 306-337), reaching their more or less final form in the last third of the 4th century and surviving until the 7th century, when the reforms of Heraclius
Heraclius
Heraclius was Byzantine Emperor from 610 to 641.He was responsible for introducing Greek as the empire's official language. His rise to power began in 608, when he and his father, Heraclius the Elder, the exarch of Africa, successfully led a revolt against the unpopular usurper Phocas.Heraclius'...

 diminished the prefecture's power, and the Muslim conquests
Muslim conquests
Muslim conquests also referred to as the Islamic conquests or Arab conquests, began with the Islamic prophet Muhammad. He established a new unified polity in the Arabian Peninsula which under the subsequent Rashidun and Umayyad Caliphates saw a century of rapid expansion of Muslim power.They...

 forced the East Roman Empire to adopt the new Theme system. Elements of the prefecture's administrative apparatus however are documented to have survived in the Byzantine Empire
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

 until the first half of the 9th century.

History



The office of the praetorian prefect
Praetorian prefect
Praetorian prefect was the title of a high office in the Roman Empire. Originating as the commander of the Praetorian Guard, the office gradually acquired extensive legal and administrative functions, with its holders becoming the Emperor's chief aides...

 had a long history dating back to the origins of the Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

: initially, its two holders were the commanders of the Praetorian Guard
Praetorian Guard
The Praetorian Guard was a force of bodyguards used by Roman Emperors. The title was already used during the Roman Republic for the guards of Roman generals, at least since the rise to prominence of the Scipio family around 275 BC...

, but gradually, they became the emperor's chief aides, and amassed considerable administrative and judicial responsibilities. The exact process of transformation to the chief civilian administrator of a specific territorial circumscription is still unclear. A common misconception, based on Zosimus
Zosimus
Zosimus was a Byzantine historian, who lived in Constantinople during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Anastasius I . According to Photius, he was a comes, and held the office of "advocate" of the imperial treasury.- Historia Nova :...

, is that Constantine I
Constantine I
Constantine the Great , also known as Constantine I or Saint Constantine, was Roman Emperor from 306 to 337. Well known for being the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity, Constantine and co-Emperor Licinius issued the Edict of Milan in 313, which proclaimed religious tolerance of all...

 established the praetorian prefectures as definite territorial administrations as early as 318, or in 324, after his victory over Licinius
Licinius
Licinius I , was Roman Emperor from 308 to 324. Co-author of the Edict of Milan that granted official toleration to Christians in the Roman Empire, for the majority of his reign he was the rival of Constantine I...

.

During the Tetrarchy
Tetrarchy
The term Tetrarchy describes any system of government where power is divided among four individuals, but usually refers to the tetrarchy instituted by Roman Emperor Diocletian in 293, marking the end of the Crisis of the Third Century and the recovery of the Roman Empire...

, when the number of holders of the imperial office multiplied (two senior emperors, the Augusti
Augustus (honorific)
Augustus , Latin for "majestic," "the increaser," or "venerable", was an Ancient Roman title, which was first held by Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus , and subsequently came to be considered one of the titles of what are now known as the Roman Emperors...

, and two junior colleagues, the Caesares
Caesar (title)
Caesar is a title of imperial character. It derives from the cognomen of Julius Caesar, the Roman dictator...

), there is evidence for the existence of only two prefects at each time, presumably assigned to each of the Augusti. At that stage, the prefect's power was still immense. In the words of A.H.M. Jones
Arnold Hugh Martin Jones
Arnold Hugh Martin Jones — known as A.H.M. Jones — was a prominent 20th century British historian of classical antiquity, particularly of the later Roman Empire.-Biography:...

, he was "a kind of grand vizier
Grand Vizier
Grand Vizier, in Turkish Vezir-i Azam or Sadr-ı Azam , deriving from the Arabic word vizier , was the greatest minister of the Sultan, with absolute power of attorney and, in principle, dismissable only by the Sultan himself...

, the emperor's second in command, wielding a wide authority in almost every sphere of government, military and judicial, financial and general administration. He was the emperor’s chief of staff, adjutant-general, and quartermaster-general...". Following Diocletian
Diocletian
Diocletian |latinized]] upon his accession to Diocletian . c. 22 December 244  – 3 December 311), was a Roman Emperor from 284 to 305....

's abdication in 305, civil war erupted among the various co-emperors,during which time each of the contenders appointed his own prefect, a pattern carried on during the period where the Empire was shared between Licinius
Licinius
Licinius I , was Roman Emperor from 308 to 324. Co-author of the Edict of Milan that granted official toleration to Christians in the Roman Empire, for the majority of his reign he was the rival of Constantine I...

 and Constantine I
Constantine I
Constantine the Great , also known as Constantine I or Saint Constantine, was Roman Emperor from 306 to 337. Well known for being the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity, Constantine and co-Emperor Licinius issued the Edict of Milan in 313, which proclaimed religious tolerance of all...

.

Following Constantine's victory over Licinius and the unification of the Empire under his rule, the office was transformed. The prefect's military duties were removed by the creation of the purely military offices of the magister peditum and magister equitum ("Master of the Foot/Horse"), and the establishment of the magister officiorum
Magister officiorum
The magister officiorum was one of the most senior administrative officials in the late Roman Empire and the early centuries of the Byzantine Empire...

as the powerful head of the palatine bureaucracy and the civil service at large provided a counter-balance to the prefect's power. These reforms were the result of both the lack of officials suitable for the prefect's wide-ranging tasks, and of the desire to reduce the potential challenge to the emperor's authority posed by the over-mighty prefect. The office of the prefect was consequently converted into a purely civilian administrative one, albeit retaining the highest position in the imperial hierarchy, immediately below the emperor himself. Another important departure from Tetrarchic practice was the increase in the number of holders: no less than five prefects are attested for ca. 332. This development is likely related to Constantine's giving his four sons specific territories to administer, envisioning a partition of imperial authority among them following his death. In this, the origins of the later territorial prefectures may be detected.
After Constantine's death in 337, his three surviving sons partitioned the Empire between them. As each new Augustus had his own praetorian prefect, this division created the first of what would gradually become the permanent praetorian prefectures: the western prefecture of Gaul
Praetorian prefecture of Gaul
The praetorian prefecture of the Gauls was one of four large praetorian prefectures into which the Late Roman Empire was divided.- History :...

 (dioceses of Gaul
Diocese of Gaul
The Diocese of Gaul was a diocese of the later Roman Empire, under the praetorian prefecture of Gaul...

,Viennensis, Hispania and Britain), the central prefecture of Italy, Illyricum and Africa
Praetorian prefecture of Italy
The praetorian prefecture of Italy ) was one of four large Praetorian prefectures into which the Late Roman Empire was divided. It comprised the Italian peninsula, the Western Balkans, the Danubian provinces and parts of North Africa...

 (dioceses of Italy, Africa
Diocese of Africa
The Diocese of Africa was a diocese of the later Roman Empire, incorporating the provinces of North Africa, except Mauretania Tingitana. Its seat was at Carthage, and it was subordinate to the Praetorian prefecture of Italy....

, Pannonia
Diocese of Pannonia
The Diocese of Pannonia , from 379 known as the Diocese of Illyricum, was a diocese of the Late Roman Empire. The seat of the vicarius was Sirmium.-History:...

, Dacia
Diocese of Dacia
The Diocese of Dacia was a diocese of the later Roman Empire, in the area of modern Serbia and western Bulgaria. It was subordinate to the Praetorian prefecture of Illyricum...

 and Macedonia
Diocese of Macedonia
The Diocese of Macedonia was a diocese of the later Roman Empire, forming part of the praetorian prefecture of Illyricum. Its capital was Thessalonica....

) and the prefecture of the East
Praetorian prefecture of the East
The praetorian prefecture of the East or of Oriens was one of four large praetorian prefectures into which the Late Roman Empire was divided...

 (dioceses of Thrace
Diocese of Thrace
The Diocese of Thrace was a diocese of the later Roman Empire, incorporating the provinces of the eastern Balkan Peninsula The Diocese of Thrace was a diocese of the later Roman Empire, incorporating the provinces of the eastern Balkan Peninsula The Diocese of Thrace was a diocese of the later...

, Asia
Diocese of Asia
The Diocese of Asia was a diocese of the later Roman Empire, incorporating the provinces of western Asia Minor and the islands of the eastern Aegean Sea...

, Pontus
Diocese of Pontus
The Diocese of Pontus was a diocese of the later Roman Empire, incorporating the provinces of northern and northeastern Asia Minor up to the border with the Sassanid Empire in Armenia. The diocese was established after the reforms of Diocletian, and its vicarius, headquartered at Amaseia, was...

, Oriens
Diocese of the East
The Diocese of the East was a diocese of the later Roman Empire, incorporating the provinces of the western Middle East, between the Mediterranean Sea and Mesopotamia...

). Egypt was part of the diocese of Oriens until 367. With the creation of the separate prefecture of Illyricum
Praetorian prefecture of Illyricum
The praetorian prefecture of Illyricum was one of four praetorian prefectures into which the Late Roman Empire was divided.The administrative centre of the prefecture was Sirmium , and, after 379, Thessalonica...

 (dioceses of Pannonia
Diocese of Pannonia
The Diocese of Pannonia , from 379 known as the Diocese of Illyricum, was a diocese of the Late Roman Empire. The seat of the vicarius was Sirmium.-History:...

, Dacia
Diocese of Dacia
The Diocese of Dacia was a diocese of the later Roman Empire, in the area of modern Serbia and western Bulgaria. It was subordinate to the Praetorian prefecture of Illyricum...

 and Macedonia
Diocese of Macedonia
The Diocese of Macedonia was a diocese of the later Roman Empire, forming part of the praetorian prefecture of Illyricum. Its capital was Thessalonica....

) in 356–357, and despite the occasional abolition of the latter, the picture that appears in the early 5th-century Notitia dignitatum
Notitia Dignitatum
The Notitia Dignitatum is a unique document of the Roman imperial chanceries. One of the very few surviving documents of Roman government, it details the administrative organisation of the eastern and western empires, listing several thousand offices from the imperial court down to the provincial...

("list of dignities") was complete. The only major change was the removal of the diocese of Pannonia (renamed to "Diocese of Illyricum") from the prefecture of Illyricum and its incorporation into the prefecture of Italy in 379. The diocese of Italy was in practice divided into two: Of Italy in the north, and Suburbicarian in the south including Sicily, Corsica and Sardinia. There were no vicars appointed to the dioceses of Gaul and Dacia, because the praetorian prefects of Gaul and Illyricum were resident. When the prefect of Italy was in Milan,a vicar for Illyricum was appointed to reside in Sirmium; when the prefect resided in Sirmium, the post was lapsed, and a vicar was appointed to reside in Milan in place of the prefect.

In the course of the 5th century, the Western Empire was overrun by the invasions of Germanic tribes. However, the prefecture of Italy was retained by the new Ostrogothic Kingdom
Ostrogothic Kingdom
The Kingdom established by the Ostrogoths in Italy and neighbouring areas lasted from 493 to 553. In Italy the Ostrogoths replaced Odoacer, the de facto ruler of Italy who had deposed the last emperor of the Western Roman Empire in 476. The Gothic kingdom reached its zenith under the rule of its...

, which was still de jure
De jure
De jure is an expression that means "concerning law", as contrasted with de facto, which means "concerning fact".De jure = 'Legally', De facto = 'In fact'....

part of the Empire, and Ostrogothic king Theodoric the Great
Theodoric the Great
Theodoric the Great was king of the Ostrogoths , ruler of Italy , regent of the Visigoths , and a viceroy of the Eastern Roman Empire...

 even re-established the prefecture of Gaul in the small portion of Gaul he conquered in the 510s. After the reconquest of Northern Africa by the Eastern Empire during the Vandalic War
Vandalic War
The Vandalic War was a war fought in North Africa, in the areas of modern Tunisia and eastern Algeria, in 533-534, between the forces of the Eastern Roman Empire and the Vandal Kingdom of Carthage...

 of 533–534, the new provinces were grouped by emperor Justinian I
Justinian I
Justinian I ; , ; 483– 13 or 14 November 565), commonly known as Justinian the Great, was Byzantine Emperor from 527 to 565. During his reign, Justinian sought to revive the Empire's greatness and reconquer the lost western half of the classical Roman Empire.One of the most important figures of...

 into a new praetorian prefecture of Africa
Praetorian prefecture of Africa
The praetorian prefecture of Africa was a major administrative division of the Eastern Roman Empire, established after the reconquest of northwestern Africa from the Vandals in 533-534 by emperor Justinian I...

, which would later be transformed into the Exarchate of Africa
Exarchate of Africa
The Exarchate of Africa or of Carthage, after its capital, was the name of an administrative division of the Eastern Roman Empire encompassing its possessions on the Western Mediterranean, ruled by an exarch, or viceroy...

. The praetorian prefecture of Italy
Praetorian prefecture of Italy
The praetorian prefecture of Italy ) was one of four large Praetorian prefectures into which the Late Roman Empire was divided. It comprised the Italian peninsula, the Western Balkans, the Danubian provinces and parts of North Africa...

 was also re-established after the end of the Gothic War, before it too evolved into an exarchate
Exarchate of Ravenna
The Exarchate of Ravenna or of Italy was a centre of Byzantine power in Italy, from the end of the 6th century to 751, when the last exarch was put to death by the Lombards.-Introduction:...

. In the East, the prefectures would continue to function until the mid-7th century, when the loss of most eastern provinces to the Muslim conquest and of the Balkans to Slavic tribes led to the creation of the Theme system. In the meantime, however, reforms under Heraclius
Heraclius
Heraclius was Byzantine Emperor from 610 to 641.He was responsible for introducing Greek as the empire's official language. His rise to power began in 608, when he and his father, Heraclius the Elder, the exarch of Africa, successfully led a revolt against the unpopular usurper Phocas.Heraclius'...

 had stripped the prefect from a number of his subordinate financial bureaux, which were set up as independent departments under logothete
Logothete
Logothete was an administrative title originating in the eastern Roman Empire. In the middle and late Byzantine Empire, it rose to become a senior administrative title, equivalent to a minister or secretary of state...

s. The last time the prefect of the East is directly attested comes from a law of 629. According to some scholars however, traces of the system survived into the early 9th century: Ernst Stein demonstrated that some aspects of the Illyrian prefecture survived in the administration of Thessalonica, while John Haldon, based on sigillographic evidence and references in the Byzantine Taktika, has documented the survival of the earlier civilian provincial administration within the theme system, with the prefect in Constantinople possibly in a supervisory capability, until the 840s.

Authority and powers of the prefect



Originally, the praetorian prefects were drawn from the equestrian class
Equestrian (Roman)
The Roman equestrian order constituted the lower of the two aristocratic classes of ancient Rome, ranking below the patricians , a hereditary caste that monopolised political power during the regal era and during the early Republic . A member of the equestrian order was known as an eques...

. Constantine's reforms entailed the reservation of this office for members of the senatorial class, and its prestige and authority were raised to the highest level, so that contemporary writers refer to it as the "supreme office". The two senior prefects were those of the East and of Italy, residing in the courts of the two emperors and acting effectively as their first ministers, while the prefects of Illyricum and Gaul held a more junior position.

The prefects held wide-raging control over most aspects of the administrative machinery of their provinces, and only the magister officiorum
Magister officiorum
The magister officiorum was one of the most senior administrative officials in the late Roman Empire and the early centuries of the Byzantine Empire...

rivalled them in power. The prefects fulfilled the roles of supreme administrative and juridical official, already present from the time of Septimius Severus
Septimius Severus
Septimius Severus , also known as Severus, was Roman Emperor from 193 to 211. Severus was born in Leptis Magna in the province of Africa. As a young man he advanced through the customary succession of offices under the reigns of Marcus Aurelius and Commodus. Severus seized power after the death of...

, and that of chief financial official, responsible for the state budget
Budget
A budget is a financial plan and a list of all planned expenses and revenues. It is a plan for saving, borrowing and spending. A budget is an important concept in microeconomics, which uses a budget line to illustrate the trade-offs between two or more goods...

. In their capacity as judges, they had the right to pass judgment instead of the emperor (vice sacra), and, unlike lower governors, their decision could not be appealed.

Their departments were divided in two major categories: the schola excerptorum, which supervised administrative and judicial affairs, and the scriniarii, overseeing the financial sector.

Sources