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Praetorian prefect

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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.[citation needed]

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.[4]

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 were 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]

Post-imperial era


With the fall of the western part of the Empire into the hands of warlords, these, in order to have support in their new domains, recognized the supremacy of the emperor of the eastern part, reuniting at least de iure the Empire under him, the prefectures were maintained as a way of delimiting the new viceroyalties:

  • First Flavius Odoacer and later Flavius Theodoricus were granted the prefecture of Italy;
  • Louis I was recognized as the prefect of Gaul (which served him as a pretext to seize the Visigoths' territories in Gaul);
  • the Visigoths were recognized for their dominion over the prefecture of Hispania;
  • and the Vandals theirs over Africa.

This recognition would be maintained until the rise of Justinian I, who ended the Ostrogothic and Vandal domains, but continued to recognize the Franks (as they were both Catholics) and the Visigoths (due to the lack of strength to continue the Recuperatio Imperii, but managing to establish a pro-Byzantine king, Athanagild, and the conquest of Spania).

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)

Prefect Tenure Emperor 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
Prefect Tenure Emperor 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)

Prefect Tenure Emperor 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
Prefect Tenure Emperor 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 112 – 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)

Prefect Tenure Emperor 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
Prefect Tenure Emperor 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)

Prefect Tenure Emperor served
Afranius Hannibalianus 286/292 Diocletian
Asclepiades 303 (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. ^ a b c  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Praefect". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 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, 2017), 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. 35.
  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. ^ a b 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