Roman governor

Roman governor

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A Roman governor was an official either elected or appointed to be the chief administrator of Roman law
Roman law
Roman law is the legal system of ancient Rome, and the legal developments which occurred before the 7th century AD — when the Roman–Byzantine state adopted Greek as the language of government. The development of Roman law comprises more than a thousand years of jurisprudence — from the Twelve...

 throughout one or more of the many 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...

 constituting 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....

. A Roman governor is also known as a propraetor or proconsul.

The generic term in Roman legal language was Rector provinciae, regardless of the specific titles, which also reflect the province's intrinsic and strategic status, and corresponding differences in authority.

By the time of the early 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....

, there were two types of provinces — senatorial
Senatorial province
A senatorial province was a Roman province where the Roman Senate had the right to appoint the governor . These provinces were away from the Empire's borders and free from the likelihood of rebellion, and so had few if any legions stationed in them...

 and imperial
Imperial province
An imperial province was a Roman province where the Emperor had the sole right to appoint the governor . These provinces were often the strategically located border provinces....

 — and several types of governor would emerge. Only proconsuls and propraetors fell under the classification of promagistrate
Promagistrate
A promagistrate is a person who acts in and with the authority and capacity of a magistrate, but without holding a magisterial office. A legal innovation of the Roman Republic, the promagistracy was invented in order to provide Rome with governors of overseas territories instead of having to elect...

.

Duties of the governor


The governor of any Roman province had many tasks to carry out during his administration.

Firstly, he was responsible for taxation and financial management. Depending on the basis of his appointment, he was either 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...

's personal agent, or the Roman Senate
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...

’s financial agent, and had to supervise the local authorities, the private tax collectors, and levy taxes. A governor could mint coins and negotiate with wealthy institutions such as temples and private money-lenders that could advance money. The governor was also the province's chief accountant. He inspected the books of major cities and various operations as well as supervising large-scale building projects throughout the province.
He would also need to keep the peace between countries

Aside from these financial duties, the governor was the province's chief judge. The governor had the sole right to impose capital punishment
Capital punishment
Capital punishment, the death penalty, or execution is the sentence of death upon a person by the state as a punishment for an offence. Crimes that can result in a death penalty are known as capital crimes or capital offences. The term capital originates from the Latin capitalis, literally...

, and capital cases were normally tried before him. To appeal a governor's decision necessitated travelling to Rome and presenting one's case before either the Praetor Urbanus
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...

, or even the Emperor himself, an expensive, and thus rare, process. An appeal was unlikely to succeed anyway, as a governor wouldn’t generally take the chance of convicting someone contrary to the Emperor's wishes. The governor was also supposed to travel across his province to administer justice in the major towns where his attention was required.

Finally, and most importantly, he commanded the military forces within the province. In the more important provinces, this could consist of 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"...

, but elsewhere, there were only auxiliaries. As a part of his standing orders the governor had the authority to use his legions to stamp out organized criminal gangs or rebels in the area without need for the Emperor's or Senate's approval.

Every governor had at his disposal a diversity of advisors and staff, who were known as his comites
Comes
Comes , plural comites , is the Latin word for companion, either individually or as a member of a collective known as comitatus, especially the suite of a magnate, in some cases large and/or formal enough to have a specific name, such as a cohors amicorum. The word comes derives from com- "with" +...

 (Latin for "companions"); the number of these depended on the governor's social standing and rank. These comites would serve as the governor's executive council, with each supervising a different aspect of the province, and assisting the governor in decision making. In the provinces with a significant legionary presence, the governor's second-in-command was usually a quaestor
Quaestor
A Quaestor was a type of public official in the "Cursus honorum" system who supervised financial affairs. In the Roman Republic a quaestor was an elected official whereas, with the autocratic government of the Roman Empire, quaestors were simply appointed....

, a man elected in Rome and sent to the province to serve a mainly financial role, but who could command the military with the governor's approval. In other provinces, governors themselves appointed non-magistrate prefect
Prefect
Prefect is a magisterial title of varying definition....

s or procurator
Procurator (Roman)
A procurator was the title of various officials of the Roman Empire, posts mostly filled by equites . A procurator Augusti was the governor of the smaller imperial provinces...

s to govern a small part of the province and act as their second-in-command.

Republican governors


During the era of the Roman Republic
Roman Republic
The Roman Republic was the period of the ancient Roman civilization where the government operated as a republic. It began with the overthrow of the Roman monarchy, traditionally dated around 508 BC, and its replacement by a government headed by two consuls, elected annually by the citizens and...

, the council was in charge of appointing governors to Rome's provinces. This was done by appointing promagistrate
Promagistrate
A promagistrate is a person who acts in and with the authority and capacity of a magistrate, but without holding a magisterial office. A legal innovation of the Roman Republic, the promagistracy was invented in order to provide Rome with governors of overseas territories instead of having to elect...

s to serve, either by random casting of lots
Sortition
In politics, sortition is the selection of decision makers by lottery. The decision-makers are chosen as a random sample from a larger pool of candidates....

 or by senatus consultum (advice of the Senate); however, these appointments were not formally binding on a legal basis and could be nullified by Roman assemblies
Roman assemblies
The Legislative Assemblies of the Roman Republic were political institutions in the ancient Roman Republic. According to the contemporary historian Polybius, it was the people who had the final say regarding the election of magistrates, the enactment of new statutes, the carrying out of capital...

.

The governor's level of authority was determined by what type of imperium he sometimes possessed. Most provinces were governed by propraetors who had served an annual term in the praetor
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...

ship the year before. The provinces governed by propraetors were usually the most tranquil ones, where chances of revolt or invasion were small, but in some cases propraetors would be given command of more troubled provinces.

Provinces that lay on the empire's borders, thereby requiring a permanent military garrison, were governed by proconsul
Proconsul
A proconsul was a governor of a province in the Roman Republic appointed for one year by the senate. In modern usage, the title has been used for a person from one country ruling another country or bluntly interfering in another country's internal affairs.-Ancient Rome:In the Roman Republic, a...

s who had served a term as consul
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...

 (the highest rank of magistrate) the year before their governorship. They were given the authority to command provinces with actual Roman legions, rather than just using the militia.

These promagistrates held equality with other magistrates with the same level of imperium
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...

 and were attended by the same number of lictor
Lictor
The lictor was a member of a special class of Roman civil servant, with special tasks of attending and guarding magistrates of the Roman Republic and Empire who held imperium, the right and power to command; essentially, a bodyguard...

s. Generally speaking, they had autocratic power within their provinces'. A provincial governor almost possessed unlimited authority and often extorted vast amounts of money from the provincial population—but, though he retained immunity from prosecution as long as he held his imperium, once he left office he became vulnerable to prosecution for his actions during his term.

Imperial provinces


After Augustus established the principate
Principate
The Principate is the first period of the Roman Empire, extending from the beginning of the reign of Caesar Augustus to the Crisis of the Third Century, after which it was replaced with the Dominate. The Principate is characterized by a concerted effort on the part of the Emperors to preserve the...

, the Emperor himself was the direct governor of Rome's most important provinces (called imperial province
Imperial province
An imperial province was a Roman province where the Emperor had the sole right to appoint the governor . These provinces were often the strategically located border provinces....

s) and, even in the provinces he did not directly govern, was senior to other provincial governors through holding imperium maius
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...

, or supreme imperium. In imperial provinces, the Emperor would appoint legates
Legatus
A legatus was a general in the Roman army, equivalent to a modern general officer. Being of senatorial rank, his immediate superior was the dux, and he outranked all military tribunes...

 to govern in his name. The Emperor had sole say in the appointing of these legates, who were lower in rank than other provincial governors, as officially they were only representatives of the province's true governor, the Emperor.

The principate did not totally do away with the system of selecting proconsuls and propraetors. In provinces with one legion, a legate bearing praetorian imperium, thus being a propraetor, not only governed the province in the Emperor’s name, but also controlled the legion himself. However, in provinces with more than one legion, each legion was commanded by its own legate with praetorian imperium, while the province as a whole was commanded by a legate with consular imperium, who had general command over the entire army stationed there, as well as administering the province as a proconsul.

Appointment to these governorships was completely at the whim of the Emperor and could last anywhere from 1 to 5 years.

Senatorial provinces


While the Emperor had sole authority in provinces with legions, senatorial province
Senatorial province
A senatorial province was a Roman province where the Roman Senate had the right to appoint the governor . These provinces were away from the Empire's borders and free from the likelihood of rebellion, and so had few if any legions stationed in them...

s were provinces where the Senate
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...

 had the right to appoint governors. These provinces were away from the Empire's borders and free from the likelihood of rebellion, and so had few, if any, legions stationed in them (thus lessening the chance the Senate might try to seize power from the Emperor).

These senatorial provinces were under the direct control of a proconsular senator, with little need for intervention by the Emperor (although the Emperor had the power to appoint these governors if he wished). Most senatorial provinces, since they were not under the direct authority of the Emperor, did not grant the governor legions to command. There was one exception to this rule, the province of Africa
Africa Province
The Roman province of Africa was established after the Romans defeated Carthage in the Third Punic War. It roughly comprised the territory of present-day northern Tunisia, and the small Mediterranean coast of modern-day western Libya along the Syrtis Minor...

, where there was always at least a single legion to protect the province from Berber
Berber people
Berbers are the indigenous peoples of North Africa west of the Nile Valley. They are continuously distributed from the Atlantic to the Siwa oasis, in Egypt, and from the Mediterranean to the Niger River. Historically they spoke the Berber language or varieties of it, which together form a branch...

 tribes.

Augustus decreed that there would be at least ten senatorial provinces. Though all ten were "proconsular", only two of these provinces (Asia and Africa), were actually governed by senators with proconsular imperium, the remaining eight being governed by propraetors. The two proconsular governors served for one year, while the eight praetors served typically for up to 3 years. Each of these men had six lictors who served as bodyguards and also as a symbol of authority and a mark of their position.

Equestrian procurator


The Emperor also had under his control a number of smaller, but potentially difficult provinces that did not need an entire legion. These provinces were put under the control of governors of equestrian status. New conquests generally fell into this equestrian category but most were later changed in status to reflect the changing conditions of Roman's growing empire. Thus, a province would become upon conquest a procuratorial province until it was decided that it should become either an imperial or senatorial province and thus governed by either a propraetor or proconsul. Like the other imperial provinces, the equestrian governors could serve any length of time up to 5 years, or even longer.

Much like the senatorial province of Africa, the equestrian province of Aegyptus (Egypt) was an exception to the general rule of legions only being stationed in imperial provinces. Egypt was not a normal province like any other, it was considered the personal possession of the Emperor, and its governor, the praefectus aegypti, was considered the highest ranking equestrian post during the early empire. Later, the post would fall second to that of the praetorian command, but its position remained highly prestigious.

Though the practice of appointing equestrians to help manage provinces officially began with Augustus, governors from years before had appointed procurators to help them govern. However, it was not until the reign of Claudius
Claudius
Claudius , was Roman Emperor from 41 to 54. A member of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, he was the son of Drusus and Antonia Minor. He was born at Lugdunum in Gaul and was the first Roman Emperor to be born outside Italy...

 that these procurator
Procurator (Roman)
A procurator was the title of various officials of the Roman Empire, posts mostly filled by equites . A procurator Augusti was the governor of the smaller imperial provinces...

s received the powers of a governor. Though by definition the procurators were prefect
Prefect
Prefect is a magisterial title of varying definition....

s, a procuratorship was a more formal way of denoting a prefect’s authority to govern. It is important to note that procurators were not magistrates, so did not own imperium, and merely exercised the Emperor’s, or governor's, authority with his approval.

Late imperial governors


The provincial governors were the most important officials in the Roman administration for it was they who were responsible for tax collection, justice in the first instance and public order in the first instance. They received, from the Prefectures, the tax demands three times a year,which they circulated to the municipalities.

Under the Dominate
Dominate
The Dominate was the "despotic" latter phase of government in the ancient Roman Empire from the conclusion of the Third Century Crisis of 235–284 until the formal date of the collapse of the Western Empire in AD 476. It followed the period known as the Principate...

, i.e. the Late Roman Empire, the Roman 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...

 Diocletian
Diocletian
Diocletian |latinized]] upon his accession to Diocletian . c. 22 December 244  – 3 December 311), was a Roman Emperor from 284 to 305....

 began in 293AD reforms of the provincial administration that were completed under the Emperor Constantine the Great in 318. Diocletian set up 12 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....

 (later several were split; see under 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...

), originally two to four for each of the four co-emperors under the short-lived 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...

 (two senior Augusti, each above a Caesar), each governed by a Vicarius
Vicarius
Vicarius is a Latin word, meaning substitute or deputy. It is the root and origin of the English word "vicar" and cognate to the Persian word most familiar in the variant vizier....

 who substituted for or acted on behalf of the praetorian prefect. Each diocese comprised several Roman provinces, now rather known as eparchy
Eparchy
Eparchy is an anglicized Greek word , authentically Latinized as eparchia and loosely translating as 'rule over something,' like province, prefecture, or territory, to have the jurisdiction over, it has specific meanings both in politics, history and in the hierarchy of the Eastern Christian...

, each under the authority of a provincial governor (see above), of various ranks and carrying a series of titles, including republican relics such as Proconsul and novelties such as Corrector provinciae, Moderator Provinciae, Praeses provinciae Although the Vicarius's authority was supreme within his diocese, he was under the authoirty of Praetorian Prefect whose power he partook of (see below) or the Emperor himself.

Diocletian began and Constantine completely removed military command from the governors (and some related competences. In those provinces where soldiers were stationed, the dux
Dux
Dux is Latin for leader and later for Duke and its variant forms ....

 (Latin for leader) commanded border military units. Some duces commanded units in several provinces: they were watched by the diocesan vicars. Field units were commanded by a Comes (companion from which we get count) and later by supreme military commanders, the magistri militum (masters of the soldiers).

Emperor Constantine completed Diocletian's reforms and organized the Roman Empire into four pretorian prefectures late in his reign, actually the former territorial circumscriptions of the former four imperial tetrarchs to which each praetorian prefect had acted as chief of staff: the Prefecture of the Gauls, the Prefecture of Italy and Africa, the Prefecture of Illyricum, and the Prefecture of Oriens, with each administrated by an imperially appointed 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...

. The Prefect of each Prefecture was the highest civilian officer, being subordinate only to the Emperor(s) Prefects were the superiors of the vicars and governors. He was the chief appallate judge, head of the administration of the prefecture, chief finance officer and chief tax collector (the collection was actually done at municipal and village levels).
  • A list of the provinces within the dioceses and the dioceses within the prefectures can be found on the 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...

    s page.

Sources and references

  • 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...

     (authentic imperial chancery document, early Vth century)
  • Pauly-Wissowa
    Pauly-Wissowa
    The Realencyclopädie der Classischen Altertumswissenschaft, commonly called the Pauly–Wissowa or simply RE, is a German encyclopedia of classical scholarship. With its supplements it comprises over eighty volumes....


External links