Praetorian prefect

Last updated

The praetorian prefect (Latin : praefectus praetorio, Greek : ἔπαρχος/ὕπαρχος τῶν πραιτωρίων) was 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. Under Constantine I, the office was much reduced in power and transformed into a purely civilian administrative post, while under his successors, territorially-defined praetorian prefectures emerged as the highest-level administrative division of the Empire. The prefects again functioned as the chief ministers of the state, with many laws addressed to them by name. In this role, praetorian prefects continued to be appointed by the Eastern Roman Empire (and the Ostrogothic Kingdom) until the reign of Heraclius in the 7th century AD, when wide-ranging reforms reduced their power and converted them to mere overseers of provincial administration. The last traces of the prefecture disappeared in the Byzantine Empire by the 840s.


The term praefectus praetorio was often abbreviated in inscriptions as "PR PR" or "PPO". [1] [2]


Commander of the Praetorian Guard

Under the empire the praetorians or imperial guards were commanded by one, two, or even three praefects (praefecti praetorio), who were chosen by the emperor from among the equites and held office at his pleasure. From the time of Alexander Severus the post was open to senators also, and if an equestrian was appointed he was at the same time raised to the senate. Down to the time of Constantine, who deprived the office of its military character, the prefecture of the guards was regularly held by tried soldiers, often by men who had fought their way up from the ranks. In course of time the command seems to have been enlarged so as to include all the troops in Italy except the corps commanded by the city praefect (cohortes urbanae). [3]

The special position of the praetorians made them a power in their own right in the Roman state, and their prefect, the praefectus praetorio, soon became one of the more powerful men in this society. The emperors tried to flatter and control the praetorians, but they staged many coups d'état and contributed to a rapid rate of turnover in the imperial succession. The praetorians thus came to destabilize the Roman state, contrary to their purpose. The praetorian prefect became a major administrative figure in the later empire, when the post combined in one individual the duties of an imperial chief of staff with direct command over the guard also. Diocletian greatly reduced the power of these prefects as part of his sweeping reform of the empire's administrative and military structures.

Transformation to administrator

The insignia of the praetorian prefect of Illyricum, as depicted in the Notitia Dignitatum: the ivory inkwell and pen case (theca), the codicil of appointment to the office on a blue cloth-covered table, and the state carriage. Notitia dignitatum - insignia praefecti praetorio per illyricum.jpg
The insignia of the praetorian prefect of Illyricum, as depicted in the Notitia Dignitatum: the ivory inkwell and pen case (theca), the codicil of appointment to the office on a blue cloth-covered table, and the state carriage.

In addition to his military functions, the praetorian prefect came to acquire jurisdiction over criminal affairs, which he exercised not as the delegate but as the representative of the emperor. By the time of Diocletian he had become a kind of grand-vizier as the emperor's vice-regent and 'prime minister.' Constantine removed active military command in 312. The prefect remained as chief quarter-master general responsible for the logistical supply of the army. The prefect was the chief financial officer whose office drew up the global imperial budget. His office drew up the state liturgical obligations laid on the richer inhabitants of the Empire. He ceased to be head of administration which had to be shared with the master of the offices attached to the palace. Constantine in 331 confirmed that from the sentence of the praetorian praefect there should be no appeal. A similar jurisdiction in civil cases was acquired by him not later than the time of Septimius Severus. Hence a knowledge of law became a qualification for the post, which under Marcus Aurelius and Commodus, but especially from the time of Severus, was held by the first jurists of the age, (e.g. Papinian, Ulpian, Paulus) and, under Justinianus, John the Cappadocian, while the military qualification fell more and more into the background. [3]

The tetrarchy reform of Diocletian (c. 296) multiplied the office: there was a praetorian prefect as chief of staff (military and administrative)—rather than commander of the guard—for each of the two Augusti, but not for the two Caesars. Each praetorian prefect oversaw one of the four quarters created by Diocletian, which became regional praetorian prefectures for the young sons of Constantine ca 330 A.D. From 395 there two imperial courts, at Rome (later Ravenna) and Constantinople, but the four prefectures remained as the highest level of administrative division, in charge of several dioceses (groups of Roman provinces), each of which was headed by a Vicarius.

Under Constantine I, the institution of the magister militum deprived the praetorian prefecture altogether of its military character but left it the highest civil office of the empire. [3]

Germanic era

The office was among the many maintained after the Western Roman Empire had succumbed to the Germanic invasion in Italy, notably at the royal court of the Ostrogothic king Theoderic the Great, who as a nominal subject of Constantinople retained the Roman-era administration intact.

List of known prefects of the Praetorian Guard

The following is a list of all known prefects of the Praetorian Guard, from the establishment of the post in 2 BC by Augustus until the abolishment of the Guard in 314. [5] The list is presumed to be incomplete due to the lack of sources documenting the exact number of persons who held the post, what their names were and what the length of their tenure was. Likewise, the Praetorians were sometimes commanded by a single prefect, as was the case with for example Sejanus or Burrus, but more often the emperor appointed two commanders, who shared joint leadership. Overlapping terms on the list indicate dual command.

Julio-Claudian dynasty (2 BC AD 68)

PrefectTenureEmperor served
Publius Salvius Aper 2 BC  ?? Augustus
Quintus Ostorius Scapula 2 BC  ?? Augustus
Publius Varius Ligur [6]  ?? Augustus
Lucius Seius Strabo  ?? 15 Augustus, Tiberius
Lucius Aelius Sejanus 14 31 Tiberius
Quintus Naevius Sutorius Macro 31 38 Tiberius, Caligula
Marcus Arrecinus Clemens 38 41 Caligula
Lucius Arruntius Stella [7] 38 41 Caligula
Rufrius Pollio 41 44 Claudius
Catonius Justus 41 43 Claudius
Rufrius Crispinus 43 51 Claudius
Lucius Lusius Geta 44 51 Claudius
Sextus Afranius Burrus 51 62 Claudius, Nero
Lucius Faenius Rufus 62 65 Nero
Gaius Ofonius Tigellinus 62 68 Nero
Gaius Nymphidius Sabinus 65 68 Nero

Year of the Four Emperors (AD 68 69)

PrefectTenureEmperor served
Cornelius Laco 68 69 Galba
Plotius Firmus 69 Otho
Licinius Proculus 69 Otho
Publius Sabinus 69 Vitellius
Alfenius Varus 69 Vitellius
Junius Priscus 69 Vitellius

Flavian dynasty (AD 69 96)

PrefectTenureEmperor served
Arrius Varus 69 70 Vespasian
Marcus Arrecinus Clemens [8] 70 71 Vespasian
Tiberius Julius Alexander [9] (?)69  ?? Vespasian
Titus Flavius Vespasianus [10] 71 79 Vespasian
Lucius Julius Ursus [11] 81 83 Domitian
Cornelius Fuscus 81 87 Domitian
Lucius Laberius Maximus [11] 83 84 Domitian
Casperius Aelianus 84 94 Domitian
Titus Flavius Norbanus 94 96 Domitian
Titus Petronius Secundus 94 97 Domitian

Five Good Emperors to Didius Julianus (AD 96 193)

PrefectTenureEmperor served
Casperius Aelianus 96 98 Nerva
Sextus Attius Suburanus 98 101 Trajan
Tiberius Claudius Livianus 101 117? Trajan
Publius Acilius Attianus [12] 117 120 Trajan, Hadrian
Servius Sulpicius Similis 121 123 Trajan, Hadrian
Gaius Septicius Clarus 120 123 Hadrian
Quintus Marcius Turbo 120 137 Hadrian
Marcus Petronius Mamertinus 138 143 Hadrian, Antoninus Pius
Marcus Gavius Maximus 138 158 Hadrian, Antoninus Pius
Gaius Tattius Maximus 158 160 Antoninus Pius
Sextus Cornelius Repentinus 160 166/7 Antoninus Pius
Titus Furius Victorinus 159 168 Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius
Titus Flavius Constans c. 168 Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Macrinius Vindex 168 172 Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Bassaeus Rufus 168 177 Marcus Aurelius
Publius Tarrutenius Paternus by 179 182 Marcus Aurelius, Commodus
Sextus Tigidius Perennis 180 185 Commodus
Pescennius Niger c. 185 Commodus
Marcius Quartus 185 Commodus
Titus Longaeus Rufus 185 187 Commodus
Publius Atilius Aebutianus 185 187 Commodus
Marcus Aurelius Cleander 187 189 Commodus
Lucius Julius Vehilius Gratus Julianus 188 189 Commodus
Regillus 189 Commodus
Motilenus 190 Commodus, Pertinax, Didius Julianus
Quintus Aemilius Laetus 192 193 Commodus, Pertinax, Didius Julianus
Titus Flavius Genialis 193 Didius Julianus
Tullius Crispinus 193 Didius Julianus

Severan dynasty (AD 193 235)

PrefectTenureEmperor served
Flavius Juvenalis 193 197? Didius Julianus, Septimius Severus
Decimus Veturius Macrinus 193 197? Didius Julianus, Septimius Severus
Gaius Fulvius Plautianus 197 205 Septimius Severus
Quintus Aemilius Saturninus 200 Septimius Severus
Marcus Aurelius Julianus c. 200/205 Septimius Severus, Caracalla
Marcus Flavius Drusianus c. 204/204 Septimius Severus, Caracalla
Aemilius Papinianus 205 211 Septimius Severus, Caracalla
Quintus Maecius Laetus 205 215? Septimius Severus, Caracalla
Valerius Patruinus 211? 212 Caracalla
Gnaeus Marcius Rustius Rufinus 212 217 Caracalla
Marcus Oclatinius Adventus 215 217 Caracalla
Marcus Opellius Macrinus [13] 214 217 Caracalla
Ulpius Julianus 217 218 Macrinus
Julianus Nestor 217 218 Macrinus
Julius Basilianus 218 Elagabalus
Publius Valerius Comazon 218 221 Elagabalus
Flavius Antiochianus 221 222 Elagabalus
Flavianus 222  ?? Alexander Severus
Geminius Chrestus 222  ?? Alexander Severus
Gnaeus Domitius Annius Ulpianus 222 223/228 Alexander Severus
Lucius Domitius Honoratus 223  ?? Alexander Severus
Marcus Aedinius Julianus 223  ?? Alexander Severus
Marcus Attius Cornelianus c. 230 Alexander Severus
Julius Paulus 228 235 Alexander Severus

Crisis of the Third Century (AD 235 285)

PrefectTenureEmperor served
Vitalianus 238 Maximinus Thrax
Annullinus  ?? 238 Maximinus Thrax
Pinarius Valens 238 Pupienus; Balbinus
Domitius before 240  ?? Gordian III
Gaius Furius Sabinius Aquila Timesitheus 241 244 Gordian III
Gaius Julius Priscus 242 246 Gordian III; Philip the Arab
Philip the Arab 243 244 Gordian III
Maecius Gordianus 244 Gordian III
Quintus Herennius Potens 249 251 Decius?
Successianus 254 255/260 Valerian
Silvanus  ?? c. 260 Gallienus
Lucius Petronius Taurus Volusianus [14] c. 260 Gallienus
Callistus Ballista 260 261 Macrianus, Quietus
Marcus Aurelius Heraclianus 268 Gallienus
Julius Placidianus c. 270 Aurelian
Marcus Annius Florianus 275 276 Tacitus
Marcus Aurelius Carus 276 282 Probus
Lucius Flavius Aper 284 Numerian
Marcus Aurelius Sabinus Julianus c. 283? c. 284 Carinus
Titus Claudius Aurelius Aristobulus 285 Carinus; Diocletian

Tetrarchy to Constantine I (AD 285 324)

PrefectTenureEmperor served
Afranius Hannibalianus 286/292 Diocletian
Asclepiades303(at Antioch)
Pomponius Januarianus 285/286 Maxentius
Julius Asclepiodotus 290 296 Diocletian; Constantius Chlorus
Constantius Chlorus  ??  ?? Diocletian
Manlius Rusticianus 306 310 Maxentius
Gaius Ceionius Rufius Volusianus 309 310 Maxentius
Ruricius Pompeianus  ?? 312 Maxentius
Tatius Andronicus 310 Galerius
Pompeius Probus 310 314 Licinius
Petronius Annianus 315 317 Constantine I
Julius Julianus 315 324 Licinius
Junius Annius Bassus 318 331 Constantine I

See also

For praetorian prefects after the reformation of the office by emperor Constantine I, see:

A further prefecture was established by emperor Justinian I in the 6th century:


  1. Lesley and Roy Adkins. Handbook to life in Ancient Rome. Oxford University Press, 1993. ISBN   0-19-512332-8. page 241
  2. M. C. J. Miller. Abbreviations in Latin.Ares Publishers, inc., 1998. ISBN   0-89005-568-8. Pages xxcii and xcvi, sub vocibus.
  3. 1 2 3 Wikisource-logo.svg One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Praefect". Encyclopædia Britannica . 22 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 241–242.
  4. Kelly, Christopher (2004). Ruling the later Roman Empire. Harvard University Press. p. 41. ISBN   978-0-674-01564-7.
  5. Dates from 2 BC to AD 260 based on Guy de la Bédoyère, Praetorian (New Haven: Yale Press, 2917), pp. 280-282
  6. The existence of Varius Ligur is disputed, and is only inferred from a single passage by Cassius Dio, who identifies him as Valerius Ligur. Modern historians suggest that, if Valerius Ligur was a prefect at all, he may have been mistaken for a man named Varius Ligur, who seems to have been a more likely candidate for the office. See Bingham (1997), p. 42.
  7. Wiseman, Timothy Peter (1991). Death of an Emperor: Flavius Josephus (Exeter Studies in History). Northwestern University Press. pp. 59, 62. ISBN   978-0-85989-356-5.
  8. Son of Marcus Arrecinus Clemens, who was Praetorian prefect under emperor Claudius
  9. Whether Tiberius Julius Alexander held the office of Praetorian prefect is disputed, and rests on a fragment from a recovered papyrus scroll. If he did held the post, he may have done so during the Jewish wars under Titus, or during the 70s as his colleague in Rome. See Lendering, Jona. "Tiberius Julius Alexander" . Retrieved 2020-04-24.
  10. Son of Vespasian, the later emperor Titus
  11. 1 2 Syme (1980), 66
  12. Syme (1980), 67
  13. The later emperor Macrinus.
  14. The names and dates for the years 260-285 are based on A.H.M. Jones, et alia, Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire, Volume I (AD 260-395) (Cambridge: University Press, 1971), p. 1047

Related Research Articles

Tetrarchy Period of Roman history when power was divided among four rulers

The Tetrarchy was the system instituted by Roman Emperor Diocletian in 293 to govern the ancient Roman Empire by dividing it between two senior emperors, the augusti, and their juniors and designated successors, the caesares. This marked the end of the Crisis of the Third Century.

Didius Julianus Roman emperor in 193

Marcus Didius Julianus was Roman emperor for nine weeks from March to June 193, during the Year of the Five Emperors.

Prefect Magisterial title

Prefect is a magisterial title of varying definition, but essentially refers to the leader of an administrative area.

Praetorian Guard Imperial Roman unit who guarded the emperors

The Praetorian Guard was a unit of the Imperial Roman army that served as personal bodyguards and intelligence agents for the Roman emperors. During the Roman Republic, the Praetorian Guard were an escort for high-rank political officials and were bodyguards for the senior officers of the Roman legions. In the year 27 BC, after Rome's transition from republic to empire, the first Emperor of Rome, Caesar Augustus, designated the Praetorians as his personal security escort. For three centuries, the guards of the Roman emperor also were known for their palace intrigues, by which influence upon imperial politics the Praetorians could overthrow an emperor, and then proclaim his successor as the new Caesar of Rome. In AD 312, Constantine the Great disbanded the cohortes praetoriae and destroyed their barracks at the Castra Praetoria.

Pupienus Roman emperor in 238

Marcus Clodius Pupienus Maximus was Roman emperor with Balbinus for three months in 238, during the Year of the Six Emperors. The sources for this period are scant, and thus knowledge of the emperor is limited. In most contemporary texts he is referred to by his cognomen "Maximus" rather than by his second nomen Pupienus.

Dominate "despotic" phase of government in the ancient Roman Empire

The Dominate is the name sometimes given to the "despotic" later phase of imperial government, following the earlier period known as the "Principate", in the ancient Roman Empire. This phase is more often called the Tetrarchy at least until 313 when the empire was reunited.

Roman governor Position

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

The praetorian prefecture was the largest administrative division of the late Roman Empire, above the mid-level dioceses and the low-level provinces. Praetorian prefectures originated in the reign of Constantine I, 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 diminished the prefecture's power, and the Muslim conquests 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 until the first half of the 9th century.

<i>Praefectus urbi</i> Magistrate of Rome

The praefectus urbanus, also called praefectus urbi or urban prefect in English, was prefect of the city of Rome, and later also of Constantinople. The office originated under the Roman kings, continued during the Republic and Empire, and held high importance in late Antiquity. The office survived the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, and the last urban prefect of Rome, named Iohannes, is attested in 599. In the East, in Constantinople, the office survived until the 13th century.

The magister officiorum was one of the most senior administrative officials in the Later Roman Empire and the early centuries of the Byzantine Empire. In Byzantium, the office was eventually transformed into a senior honorary rank, simply called magistros (μάγιστρος), until it disappeared in the 12th century.

Roman diocese administrative subdivision of the Roman Empire

In the Late Roman Empire, usually dated 284 AD to 602 AD, the regional governance district known as the Roman or civil diocese was made up of a grouping of provinces headed by vicars, who were the substitutes or representatives of praetorian prefects. There were initially twelve dioceses, rising to fourteen by the end of the 4th century.

Dalmatia (Roman province) Roman province

Dalmatia was a Roman province. Its name is derived from the name of an Illyrian tribe called the Dalmatae, which lived in the central area of the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea. It encompassed the northern part of present-day Albania, much of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo and Serbia, thus covering an area significantly larger than the current Croatian region of Dalmatia. Originally this region was called Illyria or Illyricum.

Marcus Aurelius Cleander, commonly known as Cleander, was a Roman freedman who gained extraordinary power as chamberlain and favourite of the emperor Commodus, rising to command the Praetorian Guard and bringing the principal offices of the Roman state into disrepute by selling them to the highest bidder. His career is narrated by Dio Cassius, Herodian and the Historia Augusta.

Lucius Petronius Taurus Volusianus was a Roman citizen, apparently of equestrian origins, whose career in the Imperial Service in the mid-Third Century AD carried him from a relatively modest station in life to the highest public offices and senatorial status in a very few years. He may have secured his first appointments before the Licinian Dynasty - - acceded to the Empire in 253 AD, but it was in the course of their reign that his upward progress achieved an almost unprecedented momentum and the second factor seems to have been a consequence of the first. The nature of his relationship to the Licinii is uncertain, but it seems likely that a common origin in the Etruscan region of central Italy at least predisposed Gallienus in his favour and he seems to have been that emperor's most trusted servant and adviser during the period of his sole reign - 260(?)-268 AD.

The palatini were elite units of the Late Roman army mostly attached to the comitatus praesentales, or imperial escort armies. In the elaborate hierarchy of troop-grades, the palatini ranked below the scholares, but above the comitatenses and the limitanei.

Constitution of the Late Roman Empire Unwritten set of guidelines and principles passed down mainly through precedent

The constitution of the late Roman Empire was an unwritten set of guidelines and principles passed down, mainly through precedent, which defined the manner in which the late Roman Empire was governed. As a matter of historical convention, the late Roman Empire emerged from the Roman Principate, with the accession of Diocletian in AD 284, his reign marking the beginning of the Tetrarchy. The constitution of the Dominate outrightly recognized monarchy as the true source of power, and thus ended the facade of dyarchy, in which emperor and Senate governed the empire together.

History of the Roman Empire Occurrences and people in the Roman Empire

The history of the Roman Empire covers the history of ancient Rome from the fall of the Roman Republic in 27 BC until the abdication of Romulus Augustulus in AD 476 in the West, and the Fall of Constantinople in the East in AD 1453. Ancient Rome became a territorial empire while still a republic, but was then ruled by Roman emperors beginning with Augustus, becoming the Roman Empire following the death of the last republican dictator, the first emperor's adoptive father Julius Caesar.

Equites singulares Augusti

The equites singulares Augusti were the cavalry arm of the Praetorian Guard during the Principate period of imperial Rome. Based in Rome, they escorted the Roman emperor whenever he left the City on a campaign or on tours of the provinces. The Equites Singulares Augusti were a highly trained unit dedicated to protecting the emperor. Men who served in the Equites Singulares Augusti held a Roman public status as an "Equites".

Gaius Annius Anullinus was a Roman senator who was appointed consul in AD 295.

Lucius Julius Vehilius Gratus Julianus Roman general and praetorian prefect (died 190)

Lucius Julius Vehilius Gratus Julianus was a soldier and an eques who held a number of military and civilian appointments during the reigns of Marcus Aurelius and his son Commodus. Julianus received honors two separate times for his military service.