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The Praetorian Guard (Latin: Praetoriani) 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. The Guard was dissolved by Emperor Constantine I in the 4th century.
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The term Praetorian derived from the tent of the commanding general or praetor of a Roman army in the field—the praetorium. They were an elite recruitment of Roman citizens and Latins. The emperors also often employed a small separate unit of bodyguards, distinct from and, in a degree, as a counterbalance to the Praetorian Guard. It was a habit of many Roman generals to choose from the ranks a private force of soldiers to act as guards of the tent or the person. They consisted of both infantry and cavalry. In time, this cohort came to be known as the cohors praetoria, and various notable figures possessed one, including Julius Caesar, Mark Antony and Augustus (Octavian). As Caesar discovered with the Legio X Equestris, a powerful unit more dangerous than its fellow legions was desirable in the field. When Augustus became the first ruler of the Roman Empire in 27 BC, he decided such a formation was useful not only on the battlefield but in politics also. Thus, from the ranks of the legions throughout the provinces, Augustus recruited the Praetorian Guard.
Original form of the Guard 
The group that was formed initially differed greatly from the later Guard, which came to be a vital force in the power politics of Rome. While Augustus understood the need to have a protector in the maelstrom of Rome, he was careful to uphold the Republican veneer of his regime. Thus he allowed only nine cohorts to be formed, originally of 500, then increased to 1,000 men each, and only three were kept on duty at any given time in the capital. A small number of detached cavalry units (turmae, sing. turma) of 30 men each were also organized. While they patrolled inconspicuously in the palace and major buildings, the others were stationed in the towns surrounding Rome; no threats were possible from these individual cohorts. This system was not radically changed with the appointment by Augustus in 2 BC of two Praetorian prefects, Quintus Ostorius Scapula and Publius Salvius Aper, although organization and command were enhanced.
Through the machinations of their ambitious prefect, Lucius Aelius Sejanus, the Guard was brought from the Italian barracks into Rome itself. In 23, Sejanus convinced Tiberius to have the Castra Praetoria (the fort of the Praetorians) built just outside of Rome. One of these cohorts held the daily guard at the imperial palace switching roles in between patrols (most of the guard in the imperial palace had shifted roles from morning till evening). Henceforth the entire Guard was at the disposal of the emperors, but the rulers were now equally at the mercy of the Praetorians. The reality of this was seen in 31 when Tiberius was forced to rely upon his own cohors praetoria against partisans of Sejanus. Although the Praetorian Guard proved faithful to the aging Tiberius, their potential political power had been made clear.
Participation in wars 
While campaigning, the Praetorians were the equal of any formation in the Roman Army. On the death of Augustus in 14 A.D., his successor, Tiberius, was faced with mutinies among both the Rhine and Pannonian legions. According to Tacitus, the Pannonian forces were dealt with by Tiberius' son Drusus, accompanied by two Praetorian cohorts, the Praetorian cavalry and some of the German bodyguard. The German mutiny was put down by Tiberius' stepson Germanicus, his intended heir, who then led the legions and detachments of the Guard in an invasion of Germany over the next two years. The Guard saw much action in 69, fighting well for Otho at the first battle of Bedriacum. Under Domitian and Trajan, the guard took part in wars from Dacia to Mesopotamia, while with Marcus Aurelius, years were spent on the Danubian frontier. Throughout the 3rd century, the Praetorians assisted the emperors in various campaigns.
Political role 
Following the death of Sejanus, who was sacrificed for the Donativum (imperial gift) promised by Tiberius, the Guards began to play an increasingly ambitious and bloody game in the Empire. With the right amount of money, or at will, they assassinated emperors, bullied their own prefects, or turned on the people of Rome. In 41 Caligula was killed by conspirators from the senatorial class and from the Guard, along with his wife and daughter. The Praetorians placed his uncle Claudius on the throne, daring the Senate to oppose their decision.
During 69, the Year of the Four Emperors, after the emperor Galba failed to provide a donative for the Praetorians, they transferred their allegiance to Otho and assassinated the emperor. Otho acquiesced in the Praetorians' demands and granted them the right to appoint their own prefects, ensuring their loyalty. After defeating Otho, Vitellius disbanded the guard and established a new one sixteen cohorts strong. Vespasian relied in the war against Vitellius upon the disgruntled cohorts the emperor had dismissed, and reduced the number of cohorts back to nine upon becoming emperor himself. As a further safeguard, he appointed his son, Titus as Praetorian Prefect.
While the Guard had the power to make or break emperors, it had no role in government administration, unlike the personnel of the palace, the Senate, and the bureaucracy. Often after an outrageous act of violence, revenge by the new ruler was forthcoming. In 193, Didius Julianus purchased the Empire from the Guard for a vast sum, when the Guard auctioned it off after killing Pertinax. Later that year Septimius Severus marched into Rome, disbanded the Praetorians and started a new formation from his own Pannonian Legions. Unruly mobs in Rome fought often with the Praetorians in Maximinus Thrax's reign in vicious street battles.
In 271, Aurelian sailed east to destroy the power of Palmyra, Syria, with a force of legionary detachments, Praetorian cohorts, and other cavalry units. The Palmyrenes were easily defeated. This led to the orthodox view that Diocletian and his colleagues evolved the sacer comitatus (the field escort of the emperors), which included field units that utilized a selection process and command structure modeled after the old Praetorian cohorts, but was not of uniform composition and was much larger than a Praetorian cohort.
Guard's twilight years 
In 284, Diocletian reduced the status of the Praetorians; they were no longer to be part of palace life, as Diocletian lived in Nicomedia, some 60 miles (100 km) from Byzantium in Asia Minor. Two new corps, the Ioviani and Herculiani (named after the gods Jove, or Jupiter, and Hercules, associated with the senior and junior emperor), replaced the Praetorians as the personal protectors of the emperors, a practice that remained intact with the tetrarchy. By the time Diocletian retired on May 1, 305, their Castra Praetoria seems to have housed only a minor garrison of Rome.
The final act of the Praetorians in imperial history started in 306, when Maxentius, son of the retired emperor Maximian, was passed over as a successor: the troops took matters into their own hands and elevated him to the position of emperor in Italy on October 28. Caesar Flavius Valerius Severus, following the orders of Galerius, attempted to disband the Guard but only managed to lead the rest of them in revolting and joining Maxentius. When Constantine the Great, launching an invasion of Italy in 312, forced a final confrontation at the Milvian Bridge, the Praetorian cohorts made up most of Maxentius' army. Later in Rome, the victorious Constantine definitively disbanded the Praetorian Guard. The soldiers were sent out to various corners of the Empire, and the Castra Praetoria was demolished. For over 300 years they had served, and the destruction of their fortress was a grand gesture, inaugurating a new age of imperial history and ending that of the Praetorians.
Although its name has become synonymous with intrigue, conspiracy, disloyalty and assassination, it should be argued that for the first two centuries of its existence the Praetorian Guard was generally a positive force within the Roman state. During this time it mostly removed (or allowed the removal of) cruel, weak, and unpopular emperors while supporting just, strong, and popular ones. By protecting these leaders, thereby extending their reigns, and also by keeping the disorders of the Roman mobs and the intrigues of the Senate in line, the Guard helped to give the empire a much-needed source of stability that contributed to the period known as the Pax Romana.
It was not until after the reign of Marcus Aurelius, when this era is considered to have ended, that the Guard began to deteriorate into the murderous force of ruthless mercenaries for which it has now become infamous. However, in this regard it was not alone; under the Severan dynasty, and afterwards during the Crisis of the Third Century the legions, the Senate, and the Imperial administration along with the rest of the Roman state began to fall into decline and decay as well.
Relationships between emperors and their Guard 
|Emperor||Year||Relationship with the Guard|
|Augustus||27 BC–AD 14||Created the Praetorian Guard, commanded their complete loyalty.|
|Tiberius||14–37||Made Sejanus the sole Guard prefect (as opposed to having the usual two) allowed him to concentrate the guard in a single camp. Tiberius later had him executed and replaced with Macro.|
|Gaius Caligula||37–41||Accession smoothed by popularity with Macro, the Praetorian Prefect he later had executed. Murdered by the Guard.|
|Claudius||41–54||Proclaimed emperor by the Guard and defended by them when in difficulty (e.g., Messalina and Gaius Silius' attempted coup). Began the process of formalised accession donatives on a large scale and his coinage reflects the fact with coin captioned imper.recep i.e. "position of emperor received from" with a picture of the Praetorian camp on.|
|Nero||54–68||Eventually deserted by the Guard|
|Galba||68–69||Murdered by the Guard whose accession donative, promised on his behalf by Tigellinus and Otho, he refused to pay.|
|Otho||69||Elevated by the Guard who fought ferociously for him at Cremona before he committed suicide.|
|Vitellius||69||Deposed by the Guard then executed.|
|Vespasian||69–79||Reduced the size of the Guard after victory in 69|
|Titus||79–81||Served as Praetorian prefect, then as emperor.|
|Domitian||81–96||His election was supported by the Guard who remained fiercely loyal to him, especially as he increased the army's pay. Killed by influential palace freedmen.|
|Nerva||96–98||Forced by a rebelling guard to adopt Marcus Ulpius Traianus as his successor.|
|Trajan||98–117||Had the Guard officers who led the rebellion against Nerva executed upon his succession.|
|Hadrian||117–138||Founded the Frumentarii.|
|Marcus Aurelius||161–180||Commanded the Guard in his war against the Germanian Tribes.|
|Commodus||180–192||Retained the loyalty of the Guard.|
|Pertinax||193||Assassinated by the Guard.|
|Didius Julianus||193||Scandalously 'purchased' the Empire from the Guard and was soon deserted by them.|
|Septimius Severus||193–211||Disbanded the Guard and created a new one from the Danubian Legions.|
|Caracalla||211–217||Murdered in a plot by the Praetorian Prefect Macrinus.|
|Elagabalus||218–222||Murdered in the Castra Praetoria by the Guard.|
|Alexander Severus||222–235||Elevated by the Guard.|
|Balbinus||238||Murdered by the Guard.|
|Pupienus||238||Murdered by the Guard.|
|Gordian III||238–244||Proclaimed emperor by the Guard but killed by his Prefect, Philip the Arab.|
|Philip the Arab||244–249|
|Publius Licinius Valerianus||253–260|
|Aurelian||270–275||The Praetorians accompanied Aurelian on an expedition against Palmyra. Subsequently he was murdered by the Guard|
|Marcus Claudius Tacitus||275–276|
|Marcus Aurelius Probus||276–282||Murdered by Praetorian troops after a revolt.|
|Diocletian||284–305||Dismantled the political power of the Praetorians through sweeping reforms of the Imperial system. Reported to have reduced the size of the Guard.|
|Maximian||286–305, 307–308||Praetorians accompanied Maximian to Africa in 297.|
|Flavius Valerius Severus||306–307|
|Maxentius||306–312||Last emperor to command the guard.|
|Constantine I||306–337||Disbanded the Guard and destroyed the Castra Praetoria.|
Organization and conditions of service 
Although the Praetorians resembled in some respects a Legion, they were unlike any of the regular Legions of the Roman Empire. Their nine cohorts (one less than a legion) were larger, the pay and benefits were better, and its military abilities were reliable. They also received gifts of money called Donativum from the emperors. As conceived by Augustus, the Praetorian cohorts totaled around 9,000 men, recruited from the legions of the regular army or drawn from the most deserving youths in Etruria, Umbria, and Latium (three provinces in central Italy). Over time the pool of recruits expanded to Macedonia, Hispania Baetica, Hispania Tarraconensis, Lusitania and Illyricum. Vitellius formed a new Guard out of the Germanic legions, while Septimius Severus did the same with the Pannonian legions. He also chose replacements for the units' ranks from throughout the Roman Empire.
Around the time of Augustus (c. 5) each cohort of the Praetorians numbered 1,000 men, increasing to 1,500 men at some time. As with the normal legions, the body of troops actually ready for service was much smaller. Tacitus reports that the number of cohorts was increased to twelve from nine in 47. In 69 it was briefly increased to sixteen cohorts by Vitellius, but Vespasian quickly reduced it again to nine. Finally in 101 their number was increased once more to ten, resulting in a force of 10,000 troops, whose status was at least elite.
The training of guardsmen was more intense than in the legions because of the amount of free time available, when a cohort was not posted or traveling with the emperor. The Guard followed the same lines as those elsewhere. Equipment and armour were also much the same with one notable exception — specially decorated breastplates, excellent for parades and state functions. Insignia of the "Moon and Stars" and the "Scorpion" were particularly associated with the Praetorians. Thus, each guardsman possessed two suits of armor, one for Roman duty and one for the field.
The Praetorians received substantially higher pay than other Roman soldiers in any of the legions, on a system known as sesquiplex stipendum, or by pay-and-a-half. So if the legionaries received 250 denarii, the guards received 375 per annum. Domitian and Septimius Severus increased the stipendum (payment) to 1,500 denarii per year, distributed in January, May and September.
On special occasions they received special donativum from the emperor.
Upon retiring, a soldier of the Praetorians was granted 20,000 sesterces (5,000 denarii) which constituted more than 13 annual salaries. Furthermore, a gift of land and a diploma reading "to the warrior who bravely and faithfully completed his service" were granted. Many chose to enter the Evocati, while others reenlisted in the hopes of gaining further promotion and other possible high positions in the Roman state.
Imperial Horseguard 
From its beginnings, the guard usually included a small cavalry detachment, the equites singulares Augusti, to escort the emperors to important state functions and on military campaigns. It was composed chiefly of selected, highly trusted provincials, who wore their native dress and carried their own weapons. Trajan expanded this force, opening it up to citizens and made it a permanent part of the Praetorian establishment. Its size was that of an ala milliaria or about 720 horsemen in 24 turmae (squadrons). It was commanded by a tribunus militum and so was, in effect, a 10th Praetorian cohort. Later, Septimius Severus (ruled 197-211) would expand its size to 2,000 men.
Rank and file 
|Ranks of the Praetorian Guard, in ascending order|
|Milites||Regular soldiers of the guard.|
|Immunes||Guardsmen with secondary specialist roles that exempted them from other less than desired duties. After five years these soldiers were allowed to serve in the Equites singulares (cavalry branch).|
|Evocati Augusti||After 16 years of service guardsmen could retire with a sizeable cash payment. Guardsmen who chose to stay in service after the 16 year period were called Evocati and gained privileges.|
|Centuriones||Praetorian Centurions commanded centuries of guardsmen while the most senior centurions commanded entire cohorts.|
|Tribuni||These officers acted as staff officers and as deputies to the Praetorian Prefects.|
|Praefectus||The highest rank in the Praetorian Guard, head of the Praetorian Guard.|
See the article Praetorian prefect, which also lists the incumbents of the post of Praefectus praetorio and covers the essentially civilian second life of the office, since ca 300, as administrator of the territorial circumscriptions known as praetorian prefectures).
In popular culture 
In Modern English, the phrase "praetorian guard(s)" designates an exclusive, unconditionally loyal group personally attached to powerful people, especially leaders such as Napoleon I's Imperial Guard, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini's Battalion M, Adolf Hitler's 1st SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler troops, Romania's former communist leader Ceauşescu's Securitate, and, in current times, Khamenei's IRGC in Iran (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps). However, the term is also used in unarmed, even private contexts: for example, a corporate officer or politician may have a small group of associates or followers whom a journalist may describe as a "praetorian guard." Such use is often pejorative, meant to indicate that the followers are fanatics or extremists and/or that the leader is tyrannical or paranoid. Praetorianism is used to mean the advocacy or practice of military dictatorship. John Stockwell, a former member of the CIA, used the title The Praetorian Guard for his book about the negative aspects of US foreign policy.
The Praetorian Guard's red festoon helmet is used in the official unit insignia of the U.S. Air Force Presidential Honor Guard.
The Praetorian Guard features in the 2000 film Gladiator and the TV-film Age of Treason (Columbia 1993). The Guard's soldiers appear as infantry units in Civilization IV, Rome: Total War, Travian and in the video game with title being part of it Praetorians.
The Praetorians are a regiment of the Imperial Guard in the tabletop game Warhammer 40,000 (although these are themed after 19th century British Empire soldiers; it is more likely the influence for the name comes from Pretoria, an important city in colonial South Africa). There are also Necron squads called 'Triarch Praetorians', which consist of elite warriors that are able to fly.
In the film The Net, the 'cyber-terrorists' who use the internet to destroy the protagonist's life, at the bidding of a millionaire computer entrepreneur are called 'Praetorians'.
In the Game "Fallout: New Vegas" One of the factions "Caesars Legion" uses a Praetorian guard that are hand picked. They are invited to the guard when they have served long enough and killed enough of Caesar's enemies to become Centurions. The select few invited must pick out a current member whom they believe is the weakest and challenge them to an unarmed fight to the Death. If the invitee wins they take over the loser's position.
In the 2012 video game Hitman: Absolution, praetorians are nicknames for the bodyguards employed by Agency boss Benjamin Travis.
See also 
- Julius Caesar and after him, Octavian Augustus had included a unit of Basques as closest personal bodyguards as initiated by Sertorius. Later, Tiberius and Caligula would rely on Germans.
- Bingham, pp. 118–122.
- Suetonius, Nero 47.1–2; Dio 63.26.2b.
- Bingham, p. 122 and n. 13.
- Bingham, pp. 121–122.
- "Roman Economy - Prices in Ancient Rome". Ancientcoins.bis. Retrieved 2007-06-13.
- "U.S. Air Force Honor Guard". U.S. Air Force Honor Guard.
- Bingham, Sandra J. (1999) . The praetorian guard in the political and social life of Julio-Claudian Rome (PDF). Ottawa: National Library of Canada. ISBN 0-612-27106-4. Retrieved 2007-05-23.