The word diocese (Latin: dioecēsis, from the Greek: διοίκησις, "administration") means 'administration,' 'management,' 'assize district,' 'management district.' It can also refer to the collection of taxes or to the territory per se.
The earliest use of "diocese" as an administrative unit is in the Greek-speaking East. Three districts, Cibyra, Apamea, and Synnada, were added to the Province of Cilicia in the time of Cicero, who mentioned the fact in his epistles. In the 3rd century A.D. the word was applied to temporary districts within proconsular provinces. These 'dioceses' were assigned to officials called 'correctores' whom the proconsuls brought with them (CAH XII, p. 161). However, these particular subdivisions of provinces are not to be considered the antecedents of the later 'vicariate' dioceses which were conglomerations of provinces governed by agentes vices praefectorum praetorio, 'representatives of' or 'stand-ins' for praetorian prefects who spoke for the emperor as his representatives, vices sacra iudicantes. The most common title is the abbreviated 'vicarius' (or by other circumlocutions) - avpp is the official title and norm on epigraphs.
On occasion proconsular provinces subject to administrative reforms were governed by praetors of the next lowest senatorial rank, i.e. by substitutes for the regular appointees. At other times governors (who had judicial, military and administrative authority) from the equestrian order with extraordinary functions began to be sent to some provinces (CAH ibid). On others procurators (financial officials) of the equestrian order also substituted for the regular equestrian governor, the praeses, as vice praesidis. The use of ad hoc substitutes, 'vicarii' became common for civilian and military commands post-260 when the Empire's unity was threatened by internal unrest, tribal invasions and wars (the breakaway Gallic Empire, 260–274, the Palmyrene regime of Odaenathus and Zenobia and her father based in Syria from 267 to 272, frequent usurpations, revolts in some provinces, the breakaway regime in Britain from 286–296, several wars with Persia, and frequent giant tribal raids into Gaul, northern Italy, the Balkans and Asia Minor during the decades 250s–280s). The diocesan vicar is the permanent expression of a temporary substitute of the praetorian prefects.
The 'vicariate' or 'civil dioceses' were made up of regional groupings of from 4 to 20 provinces. In turn, they were included within territorial praetorian prefectures created post-325 (the date is much discussed). The dioceses initially numbered 12 (a 13th was added by 327 when Moesia was divided into Dacia and Macedonia and Egypt was detached from Oriens in 370 or 380).
Their appearance marks a major new way of governing the empire, regionally (viewed by some historians as foreshadowing the European nation-state). They were not, however, the first regional supra-provincial dioceses: this honor belongs to the 'fiscal' dioceses which preceded the 'vicariates' by 10-25 years and of which they are the model. Dioceses were governed by vicars except in those occupied by prefects seen in a law of 386 - "...those who on behalf of the prefects govern dioceses entrusted to them," CTh. 6, 26, 4).
The 'general consensus' date for the creation of dioceses has been the year 297 during the First Tetrarchy of 293–305 (for a list of scholars' choices for the dates, Wiewiorowski, The Judiciary of Diocesan Vicars in the Later Roman Empire, English Edition, 2016, p. 92 note 23). The date was chosen by Mommsen (1817–1903) the great German Classicist. The source for the 'traditional' date is Lactantius' reference to "vicarii praefectorum" who are mentioned together with the regional comptrollers of the Treasury, rationales, and managers of the Crown Estates, magistri, as a triad who were working in tandem to further Diocletian's greed to raise revenue for his vast expenditures during the First Tetrarchy, 293-305 (De Mortibus Persecutorum, 7, 4 a work dated to 314/315). It has been argued that these 'vicarii prafectorum' were diocesan vicars within defined territories as they appear in the Verona List dated to June 314: this date is the terminus ante quem. Others argue that the "vicarii praefectorum" were ad hoc, extraordinary vice-prefects on special assignments without formal districts and not the permanent vicars of regional districts on the grounds that no district is mentioned with any of those known pre-313/14, such as vicar of vice-prefect of Africa or of the Spains. Others have argued the co-existence of the two types for the period prior to 313/14. A number of scholars date creation post-305 to 312 (a time of civil wars among contenders for the throne).
Various motives have been suggested for the creation of dioceses governed by vicars in 298: to supervise the division of provinces begun slowly from the early 290s to introduce the new tax assessment and collection system (which may have begun in 287 and involved a series of censuses every 5 years which took 15 years to complete and which gave the empire a budget in the modern sense for the first time); provide 'relief' officers to overburdened prefects (there were only 2); and process and vet state business for the palatine level; if for the years 313/14 control of regions and demarcation of the zones between Constantine and Licinius co-emperors until 324 has been suggested (Zuckerman, op. cit. pp. 636-637). The year 313/4 has been proposed. In any case it is not known which one or if Lactantius was thinking of both, although as court orator to Diocletian from about 295–303 and tutor in Trier to Constantine's son Crispus from 309, he was certainly in a position to know. The Verona List of vicars and dioceses of June 314 provides the latest date for the creation of the twelve vicariate dioceses. If vicars existed before 313 they had military command as did prefects and some governors who still had commands.
The model for the 'fiscal' dioceses of the Treasury (Res Summa/Summarum from 318–19 the Sacrae Largitiones) is the pre-existing Egyptian financial district (which at the time it was created included in 286 Cyrenaica and Crete, the latter was detached in 294). This district also 'housed' the regional and provincial officials of the Crown Estates (Res Privata) under a manager, (magister) subordinate to the comptroller. Until the late 320s or perhaps as late as 337 the SL comptrollers had provincial-level procuratores (Roland Delmaire, Les largesses sacrees et res privata, 1989 is the standard work; also A.H.M Jones, LRE, pp. 411-437 for the SL and RP). Their disappearance left the comptrollers without field managers who duties of SL tax collection were shifted to the governors and vicars. The comptrollers are not seen to intervene in tax collection except on rare occasions when his office lent a hand to the governors and vicars, without the comptrollers having the principal responsibility for SL tax collection (special SL taxes paid by senators, the gleba and follis, were collected by a set of officials called censuales until the end of the 4th century). They could fine the other two officials for lax performance of duties re the SL. They gradually lost importance to SL agents, the palatini, sent annually from central command to verify the accounts of the governors' efforts. These agents were forbidden to have direct access to the provincials - they had to work through the governors (Delmaire, op. cit. p. 204-205, 245). Until the end of the 4th century the comptrollers remained a critical link between governors and the palatine-level counts of the SL, as agents of surveillance (Delmaire, p. 204 ibid); and with the vicars. From circa 330 the word 'diocese' pertains only to the 'vicariate:' The word ceases to be generic and became particular to a specific administrative unit. The three sets of officials worked together, the vicar having superior authority being the senior of the three as ringmaster but not as sole arbiter: the SL and RP were independent ministries whose policies were set at the very top of the administrative pyramid by the senior officials and emperors, however, the prefectures could not interfere with their normal routines. Cooperation among the three regional chiefs was expected.
On the other hand the RP kept provincial managers, procurators. The ministry had vast network of local estate managers who collected rent and tax, and were responsible for enforcing the law, the actores rei privatae. Most of the RP was actually let out to private individuals who paid rent and regular tax. RP lands were exempted from supplemental levies and liturgies. By some estimates these estates comprised 16% of the taxed lands in the Empire not all of which of course were cultivated. The existence and relationship of the regional fiscal managers to the diocesan vicars is essential for understanding the history of the intermediate tier of imperial governance. The three sets of officials worked together, the vicar having superior authority being the senior of the three as ringmaster but not as sole arbiter: the SL and RP were independent ministries whose policies were set at the very top of the administrative pyramid by the senior officials and emperors, however, the prefectures could not interfere with their normal routines. Cooperation among the three regional chiefs was expected.
The vice-prefects first appear during the Severan Dynasty, 193–235, to command in Rome for absent praetorian prefects (normally two but from 318 never less than three). Beginning in the late 290s a few of them are seen outside the capital on special assignments. Although very little is known about them or their activities (only 9 are known between 298-312) vice-prefects appear to be 'trouble-shooters' tasked with putting right the affairs of a region after a rebellion, military campaign, supervising the division of provinces or heading up the persecution of Christians. Diocesan vicars retained the role of 'trouble-shooter' even after they were institutionalized and 'domesticated'. They have been characterized as relief officials for overburdened prefects (K. L. Noetlichs, 'Zur Entshehung der Diozesen als Mittelinstanz des spatromischen Verwaltungssystems,' Historia 31, 1982 p. 75 quoting the French historian Cuq). The ad hoc type of vice-prefect was fazed out in the 320s with the use of comites provinciarum started by Constantine in 316. About 20 served in 5 regions and a province (Spain, Africa, Macedonia, Asia, Oriens and Achaea) and unlike vicars their terms at times lasted for two years or more. The last was count of the Spains in 340.
The creation of permanent diocesan vicars 'outsourced' the power of the praetorian prefects to whom they were subordinate - in 328 Constantine in a law addressed to the prefect Aemilianus in Italy refers to "your vicars" (11, 16, 4). However, this authority was seen as a 'shared portion' of the prefect's as if it were independent in it's own right and not derived (referring to prefects "...technically independent of their jurisdiction, the vicars became in practice their subordinate administrative agents," William G. Sinnigen, 'The Vicarius Urbis Romae and the Urban Prefecture,' Historia, vol 8, No. 1 1959 p. 98; "the degree of subordination of these officials to the Praetorian Prefects, at least in some judicial matters is also uncertain" (Kelly op. cit. p. 185; cf. CTh. 11, 30, 9 = CJ 7, 62,16 (321); CJ 1, 54, 6, 2; CTh. 1, 15, 7 (377); Cledonius, “Tu autem vicarius dixeris et tua privigelia non reliquia, quando propria est jurisdictio quae a principe datur. Habes enim cum praefectis aliquam portionem,” 6, 15; Pallu de Lessert op. cit. p. 10 cites the Theodosian Code and Cassiodorus. He states the authority of the vicars derives from the emperor’s supreme judicial power and not from the prefects,”La vicaire jouit en ces matieres d’une competence proper; il n’est pas un delegue du prefet du pretoire;” “representatives with equal rights” (Noetlichs, op. cit. p. 74). The authority was superior (i.e. their decisions could be appealed), not final as was the emperor's and prefect's (from 365 a litigant could file a 'supplicatio' with the emperor from the prefect's decision). The power of prefects over vicars was not total: they could not overturn a vicar's verdict, appoint or dismiss him. The vicar's authority may best be compared to the proconsuls' in three small provinces -Africa, Asia and Achaea - whose role within a province is exactly same as the vicars' was over a group of provinces; indeed the proconsuls of Africa and Asia substituted for absent vicars form time to time. In regard to governors the permanent presence of vicars further diminished their already somewhat reduced prestige as a result of their numbers having been doubled from 47 in 284 to 100+ in 305 (or 313/14). Unfortunately for them reduced prestige did not mean lessened responsibility or work load (Danielle, Slootjes, The Governor and His Subjects in the Later Roman Empire, 2006; J-M Carrie et D. Feissel, Les gouverneurs dans l'antiquite tardive,' Antiquite Tardive, 2002)
The vicars' main task was to control and coordinate the activity of governors as judges, administrators and heads of finance. Their main role, however, in the early years was as appeal judges with general administrative oversight. They also had first instance ordinary jurisdiction (like governors and some other officials in the administrative courts). They were overseers of the regular courts, keepers of the global diocesan budget set by the prefects for the prefecture and the SL and RP, and guarantors of liturgical assignments (determined by the prefects issued by the governors to the liturgists) and quarter-masters general of the armies. The importance of vicars' financial oversight early- on can be found in law CTh. 1, 12, 1 of 319 concerning the monitoring of the financial reports of governors, comptrollers and the prefect of the Annona who were on the 'front-line' of tax collection supervision. Although addressed to the proconsul of Africa, the law is pertinent to vicars since the posts were functionally interchangeable.
Prior to 325 the vicars were not in sole control of diocesan finances. Pride of place had to be shared with the SL regional comptrollers who were ubiquitous and involved in almost every aspect of imperial finance (Delmaire, R. op. op. cit. 197, 204, 245). Constantine first removed them from involvement with the regular land taxes which made up 80% of the imperial budget. They were also removed from involvement with the operation of the State Post. Sometime between 327-329 the vicars (prefects, proconsuls and comites) were given appellate jurisdiction over the SL and RP fiscal debt (CTh. 11, 30, 28- the law is dated 359 but refers to a ruling of Constantine). Debt owed the prefecture was of course already under their jurisdiction. The ruling was a continuation of Constantine's rationalization of the palatine ministries' and prefects' competencies in the mid- to late 320s. The ruling had a ricochet effect the vicars who became more clearly senior to rationales in fiscal matters (Franks, op. cit, p. 991). Not only had the changes centralized tax debt appeal in the prefecture but it also made vicars more evidently heads of diocesan finances in practice. Previously SL and RP fiscal debt cases were handled in the first instance and on appeal by the respective administrative courts of the two ministries at the provincial, regional and palatine levels (Jones, op. cit. p. 485-487). The shift of appellate jurisdiction to the higher courts of the prefecture brought the financial affairs of the three ministries together at the end of the process - the collection of debt on appeal - and the starting point, the prefect's budget composition for all three ministries without compromising the immediate authority of the two fiscal departments who retained first instance jurisdiction, i.e. immediate legal control. This arrangement lasted until 385 when appeal jurisdiction was restored to the counts of the SL and RP who until this time acted in an advisory capacity in the prefectural courts and the emperors. From this time post-330 the word 'diocese' pertains only to the 'vicariate.' The word ceases to be generic and becomes particular to a specific administrative unit (Delmaire op. cit. p. 171; Wiewiorowski, op. cit. p. 55, note 71 quoting CTh. 2, 26, 1 of 330).
From 330 the comptrollers are seen to intervene in tax collection except on rare occasions to give strong support to the activities of the governors and vicars but without having the principal responsibility (special SL taxes paid by senators, the gleba and follis, were collected by a set of officials called censuales until the end of the 4th century). They gradually lost importance to SL agents, the palatini, sent annually from central command to verify the accounts of the governors' efforts. These agents were forbidden to have direct access to the provincials - they had to work through the governors (Delmaire, op. cit. p. 204-205, 245). Nevertheless until the end of the 4th century the comptrollers remained a critical link between governors and the palatine-level counts of the SL, as agents of surveillance (Delmaire, p. 204 ibid); they collected and distributed the SL taxes, operated the mints, levied fines, and judged SL fiscal case first instance. They were responsible for transporting, storing and distributing the gold taxes collected for their department. They were able to keep importance and influence during the 4th century inspite of restrictions and demotion since they (and the RP) provided the emperors with the most valuable and coveted part of their income, gold and silver.
The vicars' competencies were for the most part fixed in the years 325–330 (by 337 according to Jacek Wiewiorowksi, The Judiciary of Diocesan Vicars in the Later Roman Empire, 2016, pp. 62-73). Their leading role was given expression by the Constantinian Dynasty (lasted until 363) "which"..."favored a regionally-based centralism," R. Malcolm Errington, Roman Imperial Policy form Julian to Theodosius, 2006, pp. 261-265). From 337, therefore, the vicars were in their 'salad days' in the 4th century with some carry over into the next (L. Edward Alexander Franks, Review of Wiewiorowski, Byzantinische Zeitschrift, 2016, Band 109, Heft 2, 992).
The vast amount of the actual administrative work was done by unpaid liturgists and village heads (both taxpayers - a conflict of interest!) under the immediate supervision of governors. The salaried imperial bureaucracy in the 4th century, 30-40,000, three or four times larger than previously, was incredibly small by modern standards. It was mostly based in 125 provincial, diocesan see cities and in the capital(s) and, therefore, out of sight for most of the time to the vast majority of the Empire's inhabitants - statutory size of the governor's and vicar's staffs were 100 and 300 respectively. Appointment of paid imperial officials at the local level to directly govern would have required a huge expansion beyond the capacity of the ancient state to fund. The complement of the diocesan, SL, and PR staffs mimicked the administrative set-up at the palatine top level in miniature but was less complex with fewer departments: these office conglomerates located in almost all the same cities were information magnets and processing centers for the higher level and monitors of provincial and local administration.
From the early 340s the appointment of an agens in rebus (Agent of State Affairs), a senior staffer of a Master of the Offices (head(s) of State Security, Administration Oversight, Communications, Inspector of the State Post from the early 304s, and Foreign Affairs) as diocesan heads of offices (but not as members of these) bound the diocese also to the MO - nothing came in or went out of the office without his purview and signature. This 'outsider' post opened up a direct alternative channel of reporting to the palace and possible strengthened the vicar's control over the administration. Often a resident governor and general were resident in the diocesan see city and in others were situated imperial armories and mills.
The death of Constantine in 337 brings to a close the period of major administrative changes that began with Diocletian. These innovations fixed the Roman Empire's basic governance structures for two centuries; and were the products of pre-285 structures, innovations and competencies being mixed, remolded and adapted over a period of 50 years. (A.H.M. Jones, LRE, 1964, p. 207-208 for pace of commutation; pp. 401-410 'Centralisation' and the rise of the prefects; for and overview of administrative developments, The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Constantine, Ed. Noel Lenski, 'Law and Society,' Christopher Kelly, p. 184-204, The Cambridge Ancient History, XIII, The Late Empire A.D. 337-425, 'Emperors, government and bureaucracy,' pp. 138-184, Christopher Kelly; and Peter Heather, 'Senators and senates,' 'Institutional change,' p. 188-189, David S. Potter, The Roman Empire at Bay, 180-395, 1994, pp. 367-372)
The fates of the fourteen dioceses varied and was dependent on internal administrative changes and external factors such as occupation by tribal invaders. The decline has been attributed to incremental administrative centralization by praetorian prefects especially from the 380s as seen in the gradual take-over of the Treasury and Crown Estates ministries by the prefects and the palace chamberlains respectively; a reversion to more two-tier governance prefects to governors in financial administration including the placement of prefectural tax officials with governors; more direct judicial appeals from governors to prefects; the general commutation of taxes in the 5th century from kind to gold which made collection and delivery, if not computation, much easier thereby lessening the importance of the intermediate tier; and abandonment or loss of dioceses to invaders. By 450 the Spains, Africa, and Pannonia were lost to invaders, the diocese of Britain having been abandoned in 410. The two Gallic dioceses were still in some degree of operation south of line from Cologne to Boulogne served by one vicar under the close control of the prefect of the Gauls in Arles. The diocese of Italy had had two vicars: the vicar in Milan (of Italy) who was discontinued and the vicar in Rome who continued to function fully as did those of Oriens and Egypt. These three with important duties connected to defense and provisioning the imperial capitals maintained importance in spite of the changes which diminished the other (Wiewiorowski, op. cit. p. 301). Thrace, Dacia, Macedonia, Pontus and Asia were slipping into redundancy. The last, Egypt, was abolished in 539 (for the rise of dioceses 340-410 and first indications of vicariate decline post as exemplified by the situation in Asia, Denis Feissel, 'Vicaires et proconsuls d'asie du iv au v siècle, Antiquite Tardive 6, 1998, pp. 103-104; the rise of the prefecture in the last decades of the 4th century that contributed to the decline of the Treasury and the Crown Estates after a 60-year struggle, Roland Delmaire, Les Largesses sacrees et res private, 1989 vols I & II, pp. 703-714). The consensus is that events in the 5th century had a very negative impact on the intermediate level governance which was effective in the 4th: it is mentioned much less post-440. Despite its manifest failings it was instrumental in keeping the vast empire together and a professional army supplied.
The scholarly world has debated the degree to which dioceses were successful, and if so, why and whether their rise and decline was inevitable because of some 'design' flaw such as a lack of sufficient authority to perform what was expected of them ('design flaw' in Wiewiorowski, for the thesis of imperial and highest officials' loss of confidence in the judiciary of the vicars in the very last years of the 4th century with the result that vicariate was a mere embellishment after the first few decades of the 5th, pp. 292-293, 299 for a review of first and appeal authority of vicars., ibid, pp. 91-93; for a different assessment of Constantine's expedited appellate system John Noel Dillon, The Justice of Constantine, Law, Communication and Control, 2012; Franks, op. cit. p. 991 suggests the increase in the importance of the fiscal role post-325 and the various procedural and regulatory means of control available to vicars over the administration counterbalanced any defects on the judicial side so - vicars were in their 'salad days' into the early decades of the 5th century); inability to control governors and territories too large to manage, Noetlichs, 'Zur Entstehung der Diocese als Mittelinstanz des Spatantiken Verwaltungssystem,' Historia 31: 70-81, 1982). Some fell prey to invasion and occupation in the West which saw the entire supra-provincial level administrative structure of the Roman State disappear except in Italy post-476 where it lasted virtually intact until the Byzantine invasion of 535. Were dioceses incapable of responding effectively to challenges in the 5th century or were they gradually bypassed because circumstances in governance had changed except in the dioceses of Egypt, Oriens and vicar of Rome who ruled the southern part of the former diocese of Italy (Wiewiorowski, op.cit. pp. 298-303. Care must be taken that the issue of diocesan decline in the 5th century not be used to anachronistically prejudge their efficacy in the 4th, Franks ibid).
- 1 Civil dioceses
- 2 Fiscal dioceses
- 3 Prefects and vicars
- 4 Dioceses
- 5 Vicars
- 6 The Decline of the dioceses
- 7 Introduction of the term in ecclesiastical usage
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Sources
The history of the 'vicariate' diocese is part of the administrative developments that took place from 285 to 330 A.D. They are the products of an awareness on the part of the government that stronger measures were needed to counteract the centrifugal forces that had almost torn the Empire apart in the years 260-275 (the Gallic Empire and the breakaway state of Zenobia in the East); and in Britain, 286-296.
Diocletian took a number of measure to strengthen the empire. He established mints near heavy concentrations of troops. He divided the 47 provinces beginning with the division of Italy in the early 290. By the end of his reign in 305 there were 100 or just over. Smaller provinces were more effective and easier to govern. They were given more financial duties in addition to the judicial and administrative responsibilities they already had . Military commands were gradually removed from them. The emperor ended arbitrary army requisitions (plundering) which had become almost the norm during the years of crises, 250-280 by instituting a separate tax (the Annona Militaris). He revised tax system which gave the empire a regular budget in the modern sense. Due to debasement of the coinage 80% or more of tax came to be collected in kind (a common practice previously but not so prevalent when services could be paid in good gold and silver coinage). Even so, in-kind taxes were from time converted to payment in gold especially if it involved payment of arrears - it was simply easier to do and did not involve expensive land transport charges. Likewise soldiers' in kind pay was converted to gold payments.
The collection and distribution of taxes in kind required enormous effort. Liturgists, richer private citizens, had to be pressed into service to carry out this out. He changed the relationship of the imperial government to municipalities in tax matters. During the Principate the government had issued demands which the cities allocated as they wished. From his reign the government issued and allocated the demands; and tried to police the whole process at every level for each taxable community to hold it to its collective responsibility. He took military supply and logistics away from the military and gave it to the civilian administration in order to get a strangle hold on the army. It is claimed this caused log jams since supply was placed in the control of reluctant liturgists and contracting services directly with local populations. He tried to recreate a stable coinage; rebuild the army after years of campaigns (estimated strength of which varied from 389,704 + 45,562 in the fleets under Diocletian, according to John Lydus, a 6th-century bureaucrat of the prefecture of the East and 645,000 in Agathias). He began much needed infrastructure repairs after years of neglect; tried to centralize the administration of justice with the governors ( by banning the use of governor appointed judges, iudices pedanei to take cases in their place - with little effect; there were municipal courts which handled minor civil and criminal cases); began the separation of civil administration from military command from governors (which Constantine completed in 312 at which time prefects were stripped of active command); made liturgies obligatory (free services provided the state and cities by private citizens either monetarily or in labor and supplies); and furthered 'professionalization' of the bureaucracy with salaried men of free birth.
The much greater part of state revenue by far was derived from taxes agriculture production, rural property, products, persons (head tax) and animals -these were the sole preserve of the prefects from 325. The prefects drew up, the vicars guaranteed and governors assigned (CTh. 11, 16, 4, 328 and passim) the performance of munera/leitourgia and munera sordida which in effect were a form of taxation on the richer members of society and the lesser who provided labor and skills. There were two types of liturgies: financial charges, munera patrimonialia, and the personal munera personalia. The latter was “the exercise of a responsibility and sometimes physical work” such as corvees, road work, construction, burning lime, bread-making, and others, munera corporalia called sordida from the late third century. Other liturgical obligations included the repair of roads and bridges and other facilities, extra provision of supplies and animals for the army, timber and transport of food stuffs to the capitals cost of which was reimbursed (Jones. op. cit. p. 410). There were equivalent municipal liturgies (ibid. pp. 725. 732, 749; CAH XII, pp. 365-366). Public works, opera publica were paid for by rich, sometimes with central government help or under its direction: city walls, public buildings, baths, fiscal buildings, aqueducts, auditoriums, dye works, camps, churches, workshops, prisons, storehouses, martyries, palaces, colonnades, lighthouses, bridges, harbors, porticoes, Senate houses, circus, amphitheaters, gubernatorial residences, stables, temples and towers (Clyde Pharr, The Theodosian Code, 1948, p. 592) These were paid for in the Early Empire by the state, cities and private individuals. In the Later Empire private largess for public projects practically ceases. The state (or the emperors) during the Later Empire actively distributed funds for new buildings and repairs of older structures from the revenues of crown properties
Diocletian created 'fiscal' dioceses early in his reign - not surprising considering that fiscal concerns along with defense were uppermost in imperial concerns. Previously smaller temporary districts, dioceses, had been carved from large provinces: the fiscal and the vicariate dioceses are the opposite, a larger administrative unit made up of a conglomeration of provinces. The erection of sets of regional fiscal officials for the palatine chiefs of the Sacrae Largitiones and Res Privata prefigures the same for the prefects and marks decisive steps towards governance of the Empire regionally. The 'fiscal dioceses' of the Treasury were headed by senior comptrollers (rationales in Latin) who reported to the Treasury, the Res Summa (from 318 titled the Sacrae Largitiones).
The Treasury raised revenue from many types of taxes paid in specie: the aurum coronarium, supposedly a voluntary contribution by cities on the accession of an emperor, on the 5th anniversary of the accession and the celebration of an Triumph; an equivalent tax from the senators called the aurum oblaticium (oblatio senatoria)- these two taxes seem to have been timed to the quinquennial donative to the troops. Two taxes (to procure more gold revenue) were instituted by Constantine the collatio glebalis or folles, a property tax on senators and the collatio lustralis tax paid in gold by business men and women. The latter tax was levied on assets (it was abolished by Majorian, 457-461 in the West and by Anastasius, 491-518 in the East; and the aurum tironicum, a commutation of the recruit tax, usually in the amount of 25 or 30 solidi per man to pay for barbarian mercenaries; horses and mules for the army were requisitioned; revenue from fees, rents, leases, surcharges, licensing fees, sales tax, transit dues (the quadragisima Galliarium at 2 ½ percent), tolls such as harbor dues and city gate tax (appropriated to the treasury by Constantine), excise tax paid by merchants, customs and import taxes, taxes on mines and quarries, fines of various sorts; tax on the means of production, mortgages, interest payments, and prostitution. The State resorted to the practice of demanding gold and/or silver from individuals at a price fixed by the government in order to get at private hordes. The Treasury paid cash stipendia to officials and soldiers and the accession donatives of the latter. It produced, collected and distributed clothing to the court, military and civil service. The Treasury operated the state armories, mints and leased mines to private contractors; funded and maintained imperial palaces and other facilities.
The fiscal 'diocese' was not an invention of Diocletian but rather the already extant fiscal jurisdiction of the Dioketes of the Res Summa in Egypt, Cyrenaica and Crete. There is list of the earliest . In 286 this official appears with a new title, katholikos. His duties were the same. There are references to two more early in the 290s. Even though the record is incomplete for all regions the early period, it is assumed they were empire-wide under Diocletian. A subordinate manager (magister) of the Crown Estates, the Res Privata, assisted him (during the 350s they were elevated to the same rank as the comptrollers). Both officials are attested to in Egypt in 298 (two Sacrae Largitiones procurators assisted the comptroller). Both officials are attested to in Egypt in 298 (two Sacrae Largitiones procurators assisted the comptroller). The 'fiscal' diocese 'housed' the Crown Estates region (the Res Privata), though the jurisdictional lines within it were not the same for both. Both reported to respective palatine superiors who were attached to the emperor's personal entourage and responded to the requests of the governors through whom the prefects transmitted their orders pertaining to financial matters. The magistri were junior to the comptrollers until the 350s. However, they remained closely connected as they provided the bulk of the emperors' income in gold and silver. In the West half the revenue of the Res Privata was directed to the Sacrae Largitiones which was still in charge of both departments into the 5th century. The two fiscal ministries in many respects were two sides of the same coin as they operated in tandem. For example, the Sacrae Largitiones in the West supervised the Res Privata and received some of its income, and officials from one department sometimes performed duties for the other.
The Res Privata, the Crown Estates, supplied income to the emperors from rent and taxes on leased or managed imperial lands which until 366 could be paid in kind or in gold or silver: afterwards only in the latter. Diocletian confiscated city lands, revenues and endowments to the RP in trust. Subsequent emperors returned some portion of the income and management of it for maintenance of the civic, public fabric. The RP operated clothing mills and dye works. In the West half the Res Privata income went to the Sacrae Largitiones. Prior to 366 Res Privata rent and taxes could be paid in kind or in gold and silver; afterwards in specie only. The discontinuation of in kind payments may have come about as the consequence of imperial financial duress occasioned by the extravagances of Julian, the cost of his ruinous Persian War and the massive need for gold and silver to pay two accession donatives of Jovian in 363 and Valentinian I and Valens in 364 to 600,000 soldiers (83,334 pounds each year, a sum equal to 25% of imperial revenue estimated 300,000 pounds of gold per annum) who embarked measures to restore financial health including revenue drives.
The two fiscal departments were under the direct control of the emperors and supplied them with the greater part of the gold and silver revenue until the very late 4th or early 5th centuries. The income and revenue were spent within the diocese as needed or directed to the emperors. The heads of the Sacrae Largitiones and Res Privata which were held accountable for the collection and distribution of the revenue due their ministries whether their agents collected or not. Most of the emperors' income in gold and silver came from the Sacrae Largitiones and Res Privata before the commutation of the prefects' in kind land taxes (75% of total tax) got underway more rapidly very late in the 4th in the early 5th centuries, a trend which eventually contributed to making redundant the Palatine and regional fiscal departments and the dioceses. The income from the Res Privata was at the emperor's discretion and munificence: personal gifts, civic donations, palace expenses. It was used regularly to supplement the regular budget of the prefects.
The duties and functions of the two regional officials and the vicars converged and overlapped at some points operationally. These provided mutual checks on each other in a system that was constructed to "ensure that senior office holders might police the actions of their colleagues." The three regional officials made up a triad of senior regional officials in an intermediate tier. They had the same rank as equestrian perfectissimi but the vicar had superior authority (his post was raised to senatorial status in 326 - those of the Sacrae Largitiones had to wait; the Sacrae Largitiones Katholikos for 10 years in Egypt and the others till the 360s to the end of the century). The evolution and fates of all three regional officials are intertwined to converge in decline from the mid-fifth century as the prefects and palace administration gained more direct control over the Sacrae Largitiones and Res Privata respectively and the prefects bypassed the vicars in favor of greater direct contact with ().
Before 325 the regional rationales under their own superiors with the emperor(s) were ubiquitous and involved in almost every aspect of tax collection, it seems, except for the Annona Militaris which was solely under the prefects as quarter-masters general of the army. Constantine changed this. He confined the Sacrae Largitiones and its regional rationales to oversight of money tax collections in precious metals at a time when the gold coinage, the solidus (fixed at 72 to the pound by Constantine in 309), was contributing to the stabilization of imperial finances. He split the treasury into three parts, each prefect, Sacrae Largitiones and Res Privata having his own (the accounts were always separate pre- and -post division). He transferred appeal jurisdiction over Sacrae Largitiones and Res Privata fiscal debt cases between 327 and 329 to the prefects and vicars (the governors already pronounced sentences of confiscated property for assimilation to the Res Privata). He abolished the remaining provincial Sacrae Largitiones procurators of the comptrollers which left the Sacrae Largitiones without a field force to supervise collection its own taxes. The lack of provincial-level Sacrae Largitiones staff was made up by transferring their role to the governors under the control of the prefects and vicars and monitoring by the comptrollers. The rationales continued to have numerous minor agents to look after their affairs in many cities: these were the imperial officials called the largitionales civitatum or urbium singularium (in Italy and Gaul there were also had regional largitionales). The comptrollers' collection duties largely devolved upon the governors who already had responsibility for the prefects' tax revenues. The rationales remained responsible for the actual collection performed by others, and personally for distribution to the designated Sacrae Largitiones provincial, diocesan or palatine treasuries. Their staffs, transport service (the bastaga) and guards transported specie. They conducted first instance trials for debt, and directed the special agents of the Sacrae Largitiones who were sent annually from central command to stimulate the governors' tax collection efforts for the Sacrae Largitiones. The comptrollers watched the vicars and governors and themselves were watched by the vicars. They plus the Res Privata managers were conveniently located almost everywhere in the diocesan see cities. In one case, diocese of Africa, the diocese managed the Sacrae Largitiones accounts, a clear case of encroachment during a period, the 370s to 382 when governors were supervising the collection of Res Privata rents - which led to massive arrears, a very poor policy decisions since they didn't have the staff to do it. One year later the first reference appears of 'diocese' to denote a region governed by a vicar, reserved thereafter exclusively vicariate dioceses.
Constantine's reforms on the other hand had left the Res Privata intact, possibly because it already had a vast network of provincial and local managers to accomplish the tasks set for it (not without complaints of corruption which may have been one reason for most of the Res Privata to be let to private individuals for secure rent/tax income and less managerial headaches). Until the 360s it managed the collection of income. From then on the governors were assigned to supervise the collection from time to time. The government's policy swung back and forth between gubernatorial and Res Privata supervision. By the end of the century it lay with the governors in the West and jointly in the East. Towards the end of the 4th and beginning of the 5th centuries vicars are occasionally seen involved in direct supervision of Res Privata rents and the regular tax on Res Privata land which was owed the prefecture. Eventually the Res Privata fell under the power of the Palace senior chamberlain.
After the reforms the two fiscal ministries and the regional districts remained independent: the prefects and their agents could not interfere with their normal routine operations unless given permission or instructed to do so. The prefects possessed brakes on the two fiscal departments: they could not independently issue instructions, orders, time tables, dispatch deputies or initiate actions of any kind involving provincials without the prior approval of themselves or the emperor. The prefects set policy and tax rates for the Sacrae Largitiones and Res Privata with imperial approval. Sacrae Largitiones and Res Privata staff were forbidden from interacting with the provincial tax payers – they were present themselves with their instruction and work through the governors who in turn could not interfere with their work unless they transgressed. The administrative triangulations at every level and check-and-balances are typical of the system which used a scatter-gun approach of group accountability and culpability (backed up by threats of fines for whole departments) to maintain control of an out-of-sight and distant bureaucracy. The prohibition to stay away from the Sacrae Largitiones and Res Privata applied even more strictly to the Master(s) of the Offices, Ministers of Internal Security, were forbidden from having anything to do with the Sacrae Largitiones and Res Privata. From the 340s they were 'represented' permanently by their agents who were appointed as heads of the office in the prefectures, dioceses and two of three proconsular provinces; and by field inspectors of the public post who were stationed in diocesan and provincial see cities and other towns such as ports. These several administrative arrangements set up a series of overlapping triangulations by which independent departments of State cold be 'clamped' together by shared duties at discrete junctures.
Until the 360s the Res Privata with its vast local agents and staff was able to collect its own rents and taxes. Perhaps because of the duress in imperial finances in the mid-360s governors were assigned supervision of the collection of Res Privata rents (lands paid rent and regular tax referred to as 'rent'). The result was massive arrears in the 370s and int the early 380s. Preoccupied with financial matters the government's policy swung back and forth from gubernatorial supervision or not. By the end of the century it lay with the governors in the West and jointly in the East. This is important in respect to vicars because they are seen occasionally to be more directly involved in this matter at the behest of prefects who were trying to assume control over the Res Privata as they had been given in respect to fiscal debt matters of the Sacrae Largitiones by Constantine who gave them appeal jurisdiction. The prefects succeeded in taking over the Sacrae Largitiones in the mid-fifth century but the Res Privata was more successful in fending them off; however, it fell gradually under the power of the palace senior chamberlain in the East.. Nonetheless it was the prefects who called the shots when it came to setting rates; and supervising collections which the RP (and the SL) tried to resist.
Prefects and vicars
The praetorian prefects were the superiors of the diocesan vicars. In fact, in 328 Constantine refers to them as "your vicars," addressed to Aemilianus, pretorian prefect in Italy (CTh. 11, 16, 4).
The praetorian prefect by the reign of Diocletian had evolved from being a commander of the Imperial Guard to being vice-regent, "a kind of grand vizier" (Jones, op. cit. p. 371). The post had acquired important judicial, financial and administrative authority over the entire administration. Diocletian did not address the problem of task overload as a result. This was left to Constantine in the year 325 after the defeat of Licinius in late 324. He kept the 'canonical' number of prefects at two even during the Tetrarchy: the Caesars had to do without. Constantine I broke with precedent by appointing Bassus in 318 as the third prefect for his son Crispus who had been put in charge of Britain and Gaul in 317. The number increased to four by 331, if not earlier. A fifth for Africa existed in the years 335–337. After the emperor's death in 337 the number reverted to three, one for each of his three son successors. Numbers varied from three to four until four as the 'canonical' number was fixed in 395 for Gaul, Italy, Illyricum and the East: These four existed from 342/43 to 361, from 375 to 379 and from 388 to 391.
Constantine beginning in 312 tentatively for the next decade made innovations in the palatine administration. He stripped prefects of active military command (vicars did not have military command if created post-312). He and Licinius founded the high-ranking imperial notaries, the private corps of secretaries (and imperial emissaries) at the time the tribune of the guards was made head of the imperial secretariats (the scrinia) between 313 and 315. He placed the corps of imperial couriers the agentes in rebus under the MO. He changed the Res Summa to Sacrae Largitiones by 319 (Kelly, op. cit. pp. 188-190 for these changes; cf. David D. Potter, The Roman Empire at Bay, pp. 71-172)
From 325 rearranged the competencies of the palatine administration in earnest with a set of changes that also affected the lower levels. He divided the Treasury into three one each for the SL, the RP and the prefects (dating Delmaire, op. cit. p. 703). Previously the accounts though kept separate were administered by the SL for all (Jones. op. cit. p 411). Prefects were given sole control over the regular land tax: the SL was removed from further involvement in this aspect of finance. The collection of SL taxes was assigned to the governors oversight of whom in this matter was shared between the vicars and comptrollers (Delmaire, op. cit. p. 163, 199, 204-205, 243-24). Importantly the emperor transferred appeals of SL and RP debt to the courts of the prefecture sometime between 327–329 (CTh. 11, 30, 28- the law is dated 359 but refers to a ruling of Constantine). Debt owed the prefecture was of course already under their jurisdiction. The shift of appellate jurisdiction to the higher courts of the prefecture brought the financial affairs of the three ministries together at one point at the end of the process - the collection of debt on appeal - as a complement to the prefecture's composition of the annual budget for all three at the starting point without compromising the immediate authority of the two fiscal departments who retained first instance jurisdiction. This arrangement lasted until 385 when appeal jurisdiction was restored to the counts of the SL and RP who until this time acted in an advisory capacity in the prefectural courts. He removed the SL removed from involvement with the state post, the cursus publicus (the service was a privately operated empire-wide transport system of ways stations, rest stops and draught animals funded and maintained by obligations laid on private persons which could be used by government agents and departments - and private citizens with influence- the inspection and use of which, however, was from the early 340s placed under the Masters of the Offices). The prefects lost any control they had had over the Treasury, Crown Estates, the imperial secretariats, the state security apparatus, the palace administration, the imperial guard the heads of the SL (and later the RP) and the MO were made comites. The Master of the Offices became the second-most important officer of State. Vicars and the prefect of the Annona of Rome were made governors.
The prefects continued to administer army payments in kind, weapon supply, and the funding and building of military installations (military unit commanding officers were restricted to distribution, Southern, op. cit. 270 which they had to account for after joint auditing with the provincial - and sometimes, diocesan - staffs, Jones, op. cit. p. 405). They funded the operation and repair of the public post, the construction and repair of roads, harbors and state granaries; the operation and supply of State armories and the supply of State mills operated by the SL and RP (The armories and mills numbered 47 in the West; in the east 22, incomplete list; armories in the East came under the control of the MO by 390). Towards the end of the reign Constantine placed the army under the control of two senior military officers, the master of the infantry and the master of the cavalry (variously dated from 325-335). The vicars unexpectedly led minor military campaigns against Isaurian brigands in Isauria on the mid-350s, Asia in 363 (when the vicar was slain in an ambush) and led an army operating against the Sueves in northwest Spain in 418 at the same time the Visigoths were decimating the Vandals and Alans. The count of the Orient at the end of the 4th century commanded the fleet in Seleucia. the port for Antioch.
After the completion of major reforms in the years 325–329 the prefects remained (after the "fragmentation of the praetorian prefects vast area of responsibility, the foreshadowing of regional prefectures, and promotion of high-ranking military and civil offices" Kelly, op. cit. p. 191) as chief finance officers, chief justices, quarter-master generals of the army, and, by reason of being vice-regents, heads of government or 'prime ministers': in their own spheres the vicars mirrored this rearrangement as deputies or substitute prefects, but a step down in authority and with less discretionary power. The prefects remained in overall charge of the budgets (composed by region ("the prefect was responsible for the tax demands within his prefecture, all orders for payment issued form him, but the product of the collection went to different treasuries," Delmaire, op. cit. p. 243).
Post-329 prefects (also vicars, governors and urban prefect(s) and proconsuls) had appellate jurisdiction in civil, criminal and debt cases over the prefecture, SL, and RP; and selective jurisdiction over senators who until 317 were completely under the jurisdiction of the urban prefect of Tome. Their verdicts could not be appealed (although from 365 injured parties were allowed a supplicatio to the emperor, CJ, 1, 19, 5). The prefecture had jurisdiction over soldiers in criminal and civil suits - criminal cases of soldier defendants were transferred to the courts martial in 355 and civil in 413 (Jones, op. cit. pp. 487-489). The prefects vicars and governors did not have disciplinary control over staff of other ministries, over soldiers or the master(s) of the offices provincial state post inspectors. Constantius II in 359 threatened to place them under the prefects if they could not be controlled (Jones, p. 389). In 317 Constantine transferred jurisdiction over senators accused of criminal offense to the courts of the governors from the urban prefect of Rome; in 364 civil cases in which senators were plaintiffs were also transferred to governors. In 376 a final reassignment was made: criminal cases of senators resident within 100 mile distance from Rome were transferred back to the urban prefect and a panel of five senators; civil suits involving senators went to the urban prefect of Rome in the suburbicarian portion of the Diocese of Italy which included the large islands with an option that cases could be sent to the praetorian prefect in Milan (Jones, op. cit. pp. 490-491). In all other regions the prefectures controlled cases criminal and civil cases involving senators either as plaintiffs or defendants. The legislation of 376 marks the last major upgrade to affect the vicars' role judicially. It is also one sign of further centralization of the administration under praetorian prefects: another during this decade was the experiment of having governors supervise the collection of RP rents which set off a 'turf' war with the SL and RP that lasted off-and-on for 75 years (Franks, op. cit. pp. 992). One can see that changes were periodic. However, post-330 the most important competencies of and among the several ministries were more or less fixed for the rest of the 4th century. Despite this and without major formal changes the prefectures and the masters of the offices began to encroach on other ministries.
The exact nature and purpose of the early territorial prefectures of Constantine has been much discussed. The 'general consensus' seems to be that they may not have been 'territorial' as claimed by the 5th century historian Zosimus as clearly seen as such in the late 4th century Notitia Dignitatum which gives a detailed listing of the administrative organization of the empire with some missing pieces (Kelly, op. cit. p. 186). They may not have been 'fully administrative' either. The early prefectures may reflect more Constantine's dynastic hopes than administrative interests, an aspect which appears in the 340s under Constans and Constantius I; and more evidently so from the 360s (Joachim Migl, Die Ordnung der Amter, Pratorianer und Vikariat in der Regionsverwaltung des Romishcen Reiches von Konstantin bis zur Valentiischen Dynastie, 1994; for the view that they correspond to Constantine's dynastic ambitions, Timothy Barnes, Constantine, Dynasty, Religion and Power in the Later Roman Empire, 2011, for the thesis the prefectures reflect emperors' dynastic concerns less than administration and administrative growth in the 340s, pp. 292-298; Malcom Errington, Roman Imperial Policy from Julian to Theodosius, 2006, pp. 261-262 dates the rise of prefectures post-364 stating "the Constantinan Dynasty, favored, on the one hand, a regionally-based centralism, and on the other, the gradual separation of the regions," pp. 262-263; P. Porena, Le origini della prefettura del pretorio tardoantica, 2003, believes the prefectures came into full territorial and administrative effect between 325 and 330). The slow evolution of the prefectures which appears to be the result of further gradual centralization from the 360s worked in favor of the dioceses as the primary governance districts until the end of the 4th and possibly the early 5th. In the absence of the emperor who alone had palatine heads of the SL, RP, the MO, praetorian prefects who governed dioceses directly (most typically of Gaul in Trier) had to rely on diocesan-level equivalent to these officials. This replicates the arrangement in dioceses governed by vicars except the former exercised supreme power and the latter, superior.
The death of Constantine in 337 brings to a close the period of major administrative changes that began with Diocletian. These innovations fixed the Roman Empire's basic governance structures for two centuries; and were the products of pre-285 structures, innovations and competencies being mixed, remolded and adapted over a period 50 years (A.H.M. Jones, LRE, 1964, p. 207-208 for pace of commutation; pp. 401-410 'Centralisation' and the rise of the prefects; for and overview of administrative developments, The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Constantine, Ed. Noel Lenski, 'Law and Society,' Christopher Kelly, p. 184-204, The Cambridge Ancient History, XIII, The Late Empire A.D. 337-425, 'Emperors, government and bureaucracy,' pp. 138-184, Christopher Kelly; and Peter Heather, 'Senators and senates,' 'Institutional change,' p. 188-189, David S. Potter, The Roman Empire at Bay, 180-395, 1994, pp. 367-372). Constantine's reforms also began a century-long off-and-on struggle between the heads of the SL and RP and the prefects who wanted to assert more control over the former, a battle won for the most part by the latter after 430.
The vicariate dioceses came into existence sometime between 297 and 313/14.
Various motives have been suggested for the creation of vicars in dioceses: to assist in Diocletian's division of provinces begun in the early 290s and to facilitate the introduction of the new tax assessment and collection system which may have begun in 287 and involved a series of censuses every 5 years, Egypt excepted until 297, which took 15 years to complete and which gave the empire a budget in the modern sense for the first time); provide 'relief officcials' to overburdened prefects (there were only 2); process and vet state business for the palatine level, thereby increasing administrative efficiency and reduce turn around time due to slow communications.; secure control of regions by placing officials with "supreme power" in each of them for 313/14, (Zuckermann, op. cit. pp. 627, 636); counteract the centrifugal tendencies resulting from doubling the number of provinces (D. Bowder, The Age of Constantine, 1978, p. 37); so that the prefects could delegate much of the detailed work (financial) to the 12 vicars with their attached financial departments (Stephen Williams, Diocletian and the Roman Recovery, 1982, p. 110); supervise governors so they would have more time to supervise the cities (Pat Southern, The Roman Empire from Severus to Constantine, 2001 p. 164-165); provide 'relief' officers to overburdened prefects (there were only 2); process and vet state business for the palatine level, thereby increasing administrative efficiency and reduce turn around time due to slow communications. Underlying all of these is control; "control was the order of the day," (Southern, op. cit. 165). Fiscal stability may have been at the top of list of concerns: the Empire could not be administered or defended without sufficient revenue in the budget (the value of liturgical contributions not included) which went to the army by some estimates from a low of 40% to a high of 70% (Richard Duncan-Jones, Money and Government in the Roman Empire, 1994 pp. 33-46; Kenneth W. Harl, Coinage in the Roman Economy, 1996, pp. 212-228; Garnsey, Peter & Whittiker, C.R., CAH XIII, p. 316, "The whole bureaucratic machinery seems to have been intended to maximize efficiencies to ensure that the revenues from private and state land were collected and channel in accordance with government policies; The impression given in the legal codes is that the interests of the state were primarily fiscal," ibid). Conditions had changed: the empire could not be governed from the city of Rome post-284:the center was wherever the emperor(s) was residing for however a short or long period of time usually somewhere along the northern and eastern borders.
The dioceses initially numbered twelve for 100+ provinces (120 in the Notitia), each headed by a vicarius i. e. a deputy to a Praefectus praetorio ("Praetorian Prefect"). The Italian diocese had two vicars, one in Rome for the region south of the capital and for the islands, and one normally stationed in Milan for northern Italy and the Alpine regions south of the Danube as far as Vienna (Vindabona) and the Istria peninsula (when the prefect moved to the diocese of Pannonia, the vicar went to Milan: which neatly illustrates the relationship and reason for vicars, Jones, op. cit. p. 373). In 321 or by 327 the diocese of Moesia was divided into Dacia and Macedonia. In 370 or 380 Egypt was detached from the diocese of the Oriens (Cilicia, Cyprus, Syria, and Palestine) to be a diocese for reasons of establish more direct fiscal accountability with the capital and secure the food supply of Constantinople with a rapidly growing population. The large size of the dioceses preclude the idea that these could have directly administered rather than control the overall administration of regions(" diocese were less geographical administrative entities than administrative conglomerates which a new authority should supervise governors and coordinate over all regional activities," (B. Palme, 'Die Officia der Statthalter in der spatantike,' Antiquite Tardive 7, 1999, pp. 97-98; "...grouped them into large circumscriptions,: Jones, p. 373) with their small staffs. For the most part administration, judicial matters, and tax collection were left to the governors and a vast number of minor and mid-rank officials at the local level in the 2,000 city states with their surrounding territories. The largest diocese by number of provinces, not area, was the Diocese of the East, which included 20 provinces when Egypt was part of it, while the smallest, the Diocese of Britain, comprised only 4 provinces (Reviews of these developments can be found in the Age of Constantine, Ed. Noel Lenski, Bureaucracy and Government, Christopher Kelly, ibid; Kelly, Ruling the Later Roman Empire, 2004, on "the organizing principles of irregularity," pp. 208-209 i.e. overlapping; David. S Potter, The Empire at Bay, 180-395, pp.367–377; Cambridge Ancient History, volume XII, pp.170–183). the typical staff complement was 300, and 600 in Oriens. The range of diocesan activity reflects the narrow concerns and capacity of the ancient state – absent are the large-scale social programs of the modern Western industrial states – it was directed towards matters of justice, revenue collection and all other business of government (Kelly op. cit. p. 145;'The impression conveyed in the legal codes is that the interests of the state were primarily fiscal"..."In general, the concerns of the government were narrow," Peter Garnsey and C.R. Whittaker, CAH XIII, p. 316). Above all defense of the empire was the primary concern, and fiscal the means to provide it.
The statutory complement of the diocesan office was 300 (600 in Oriens; and 200 in Asia probably a scribal error) dived into the senior judicial branch and the financial branches. The head of the office and the senior heads of staff, the senior assistants and other permanent career staff would have provided the expertise, continuity, stability and institutional memory for the proper conduct of business. These were very small offices in numbers to conduct administrative oversight of large regions with from 2–12 million inhabitants: the primary duty was oversight and regulation of the imperial administrative apparatus and the collection and analysis of data pertinent to this endeavor for use within the diocese or for the highest echelon. The smallness has to be put into context: the diocese's task was to control the imperial administration, the superstructure of the Roman State, not actually do the vast work of administration which was done at the municipal level by several thousand cities and towns. The main tasks of the imperial administration were to provide for defense, finances (collect revenue for operating the State) and provide for justice. Social services such as they existed were a local matter supplemented by imperial largesse.
Critically for understanding the importance of dioceses into the 5th century is that the prefects' annual budgets were diocesan-bases budgets ("The dioceses were the great fiscal districts of the Empire. They also hosted the financial offices of the fiscus and of the res privata the rationales summmarum and the magistri (later called rationales) rei privatae,' CAH XII, p. 181, quoting Delmaire, p. 181, 'The Emperor and his new Administration,' Elio LoCascio). The financial branch of the prefecture was organized by diocese subdivided into provinces (the structure of the prefecture Oriens is the only one fully known, but is thought they all were organized similarly if not exactly). Financial correspondence was handled by the curae epistularum for each diocese with their corresponding official in the diocese (the usurpation of this function by the tractatores, accountants of the provincial branches in the East, late in the 5th century is indicative of diocesan decline).
The diocesan staffs did much of the detailed financial preparation work for the prefects (Stephen Williams, Diocletian and the Roman Recovery, 1985, p.110) as in judicial matters. They were involved with tax delinquencies all sorts; tax evasion, fraud, financial reports; illegal transfer of exemption from liturgical obligations and supplemental tax demands to private property by claiming these were leased Crown estates which had exempt status; tax remissions, revisions, reassessments, and reallocations; the auditing of provincial tax returns; and reviewing the integrity of army roster and requisition returns (initially done by the governors and army accountants (Franks op. cit. p. 991). The vicariani, diocesan staff, were supposed to act as collectors of arrears (compulsories) only. They were forbidden participation in tax collection which was a local responsibility (there were repetitive imperial denunciations of imperial staff from the prefecture and the SL interjecting themselves in tax collection and practicing extortion, Jones, op. cit. pp. 459-60). The African diocesan office kept copies of the RP tax returns and delinquencies (CTh. 11, 28 13, 422). That year the vicar and the proconsul was ordered to forward copies of these to the SL and RP offices in Ravenna regarding a massive proposed remission of arrears on imperial property in Byzacena and the proconsular province. Most financial matters would not have required litigation: executive orders, investigations and administrative decision would have sufficed since one of the primary duties of vicars was to enforce imperial orders, regulations, protocols and procedures. General tax remissions were rare from the 360s to the early 5th century due to imperial financial duress – there is evidence though spotty that some dioceses were more directly engaged in collecting current and back taxes owed the prefectures and directly supervising governors than monitoring, auditing and investigating these matters – in Codex Theodosianus, Egypt, 1, 14, 1 395, Africa, 15, 14 (395) and 17 (400), the Seven Provinces of southern Gaul 15, 15 (400); and of the RP in the diocese of the Orient 1, 13, 1 (394).
Although there is no way to know in fact the ratio of judicial to fiscal business - litigation was expensive in the imperial courts - which probably varied from region to region the more than 250 or so references in the Codex Theodosianus and Novels 313 to 472 A.D. to vicars and their staffs (many often couched in documents addressed to other officials) between years 313–472 suggest a plurality on judicial issues (Wiewiorowski analyzes the judicial in detail pp. 109-235 and lists 70 laws deal with "more or less important criminal and civil cases, lawsuits related to tax obligations, or issues concerning religion"..."criminal law 9, family law and affairs 9, protection of property 6, and inheritance 5," op. cit. pp. 206-214, 294-95 4 laws he examines deal with tax matters; Franks identifies 47 "on a broad spectrum of fiscal matters" of which 32 suggest major vicariate roles in a wide range of budgetary and fiscal policy oversight, liturgies, tax collection supervision (8), and 2 in direct intervention (replacement of governors' supervision), op. cit. p. 1991; the remainder deal with imperial staff, guilds, municipalities, building construction and repairs and a miscellany of other government concerns). The increased number of entries referring to vicariate involvement in financial matters dates from the 360s on though the greater oversight role dates from the 320s and may be attributed to duress in imperial finances - selection of laws by the compilers is lopsided, "bountiful but deceptive, because of the illusion of comprehensiveness it projects" (Lenski, op. cit. p. 267).
The location of SL and RP offices in almost everyone of the diocesan see cities (except in Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily and one of the Pannonian provinces), the presence of the Master of the Offices' appointee as head of diocesan office (he MO was Minister of State Security, Administration and Communications), sometimes a general and a governor facilitated the conduct of regional state business. The conglomeration of offices made the vicars' task of exercising control of the administration easier, as "ringmaster, but not as sole arbiter" (Franks, p. 991). The diocesan see cities were, therefore, in the essential aspects mini-simulacra of the top layer of the administration minus the palace staff. They were focal points of information gathering and processing as regional command centers. They 'clamped' together the major parts of the administration at that level. They were the expression of the Constantinian Dynasty's "regionally-based centralism" (R. Malcolm Errington, Roman Imperial Policy from Julian to Thodosius, pp. 261-262).
Vicars of dioceses originated from the post of ad hoc deputy commander of the Praetorian Guard, agens vices praefectorum praetorio of the Praetorian Guard when the prefects were absent from Rome. However, the fiscal diocese or even the older larger proconsulate provinces of the Principate may have been the models (though the latter were not 'regional' to the extent that diocese were). The deputies first appear during the Severan Dynasty, 193–235. Beginning in the late 290s other vice-prefects appear performing duties outside the capital (while others continued to command the remaining Guard units in Rome): one was stationed in Tingis (Tangiers) in 298 to order the affairs of the province after a revolt was suppressed by the emperor Maximian, another was in Numidia and Tripolitania in 303 Africa ordering affairs there, one in 298 in Egypt with Diocletian after the suppression of a revolt there, and another in Asia Minor in 303 to head up the persecution of Christians. Four more are known before 312, two of whom were in Egypt and Asia Minor. They are little more than names or a title. Although not much is known about them or their activities, vice-prefects appear to have been 'trouble-shooters' or commissioners to put the affairs of a region right, a role that the diocesan vicars perhaps brought with them and retained even after they were 'domesticated' by being institutionalized as the heads of the main governance district until the end of the 4th century or early 5th.
The ad hoc type of vice-prefect was fazed out in the 320s (but the title remained the official one as seen from the epigraphic evidence -'vicarius' is a convenient abbreviation among many, 'vicaria praefectura' being one). They were gradually replaced by companions of provinces, comites provinciarum, a class of personal commissioners Constantine created in 316 to carry out various specific tasks or reforms in the provinces especially in the years 324–337 (Jacek Wiewiorowski, op. cit. p. 72) when he was sole emperor trying to strengthen his grip on the regions he had gained after the defeat of Licinius: the area Thrace and eastwards that became the Prefecture of the East. Some 20 are recorded in six of thirteen dioceses (Moesia was divided into Dacia and Macedonia by 327): Spain, Africa, Macedonia, Asia, Oriens and the province of Achaea. The consensus now among scholars is that comites replaced rather than served alongside diocesan vicars. The last known was a Count of the Spains in 340. The title, comes, for reasons unknown, became standard for the vicar of the Orient. From then on the regular vicars governed dioceses without 'rivals' (cf. for an overview, Wiewiorowski, op. cit. English Edition, 2016, pp. 52–74; A. H. M. Jones, LRE pp. 104–105; Clemence, Dupont, Constantin et Les Dioceses,' Studi in Onore de. G. Donatuti, vol. 3, 1973, pp. 309–336).
After the 'demise' of the comites the emperors resorted to sending fairly high-ranking palatine-level staff of the Prefecture, Treasury, Crown Estates to look into affairs in the provinces, standing practise. More use was made of the Masters' of the Offices agents, the agentes in rebus (men of state business). They acquired a sinister reputation under Constantius II, 337-361 as spies (Jones, LRE, pp. 128, 449-452, 457, 586). The Masters stationed with the emperors in the palaces were titular commanders of the Imperial Guard and heads of the imperial secretariats, the scrinia. The word 'officia' in their title refers to offices of the prefecture, not of the scrinia. The Masters had no control over the SL and the RP (Giardina, Andrea, Aspetti della burocrazia nel basso imperio, 1977, pp. 54-68). These ministries reported directly to the emperor or to the prefects.
The creation of permanent vicars whenever it happened between 297 and 313/14 'outsourced' the prefects' authority, however it was superior (i.e. appealable, not final), to permanent on-the-spot representatives of the emperor in defined territories, rather than to ad hoc temporary appointees in 'spheres' of control, in effect creating a set of mini-prefects(M.F. Hendy, Economy and State in Late Rome and Early Byzantium, 1989, pp. 373-379). Supreme power was reserved by the emperors for themselves and their prefects. Without some degrees of delegation no administration could function or meet the goals set for it such as "collection of the taxes, allocation of resources, and the administration of justice,"..." and "comparatively much less productive tasks internal surveillance, crosschecking, and supervision, p. 190). The interventionist policies of Diocletian, policies that reached right down to the municipal level; and the creation of a highly complex and cumbersome tax system eventually required the control of an intermediate tier of administration, first begun with the fiscal dioceses in conformity with what appears to have been the most important concern of the government: revenue without which nothing could be achieved. The vicars were the only civilian official to have superior authority within a diocese absent a praetorian prefect or emperor (or the prefect of Rome whose extraordinary jurisdiction included all Italy and the Islands until 357 with the vicar of Italy and the vicar in Rome, Jones, op. cit. p. 481-482). In respect to their charactization as mini-prefects vicars "...seem to have deputized for the praetorian prefects in all their manifold functions," Jones op. cit. p. 47) and "duplicated" the work of prefects (Wieworowski, op. cit. p. 301). However, care must be taken to differentiate the two officials in practice. To state that vicars duplicated the prefect's competencies is not quite correct since the vicars did not carry out the same set of judicial and financial duties in the same way as the prefects since they labored under tighter restrictions on their discretionary powers and possessed superior, not supreme authority. Most importantly they were not policy-makers or originators of law.
Even though the vicar's competencies were not finally determined until the end of Constantine's reign, the emperor from the beginning clearly showed his preference by communicating directly with the vicars in Africa during the Donatist Controversies of the second decade of the 4th century and by his use of intermediate-level officials to carry out his wishes especially after becoming sole emperor in 324. His sons continued his preference for a diocesan-centered administrative policy.
Broadly-speaking vicars were charged with exercising overall administrative control over the diocese. Their main task was to control and coordinate the activities of provincial governors They were overseers of the regular courts, keepers of the global diocesan budget set by the prefects for the prefecture and the SL and RP, and guarantors of liturgical assignments (determined by the prefects issued by the governors to the liturgists) and quarter-masters general of the armies. Although without military command taken away in 312 the governors and prefects continued to have jurisdiction over soldiers in criminal and civil cases (in 355 trials of defendant soldiers was transferred to the courts martial; and the same in civil suits officially in 413). The removal of jurisdiction in 355 is the only loss of jurisdiction for vicars until the heads of the SL and RP were allowed in 385 to receive appeals of fiscal debt owed their departments, a power they had lost sometime between 327–329 to the prefects and vicars.
Their appearance diminished further the already somewhat reduced prestige of governors after their number was doubled from 47 in 284 to 100+ and military command was removed from those which still had it to make them solely civilian officials, a process which begins very slowly in the late 3rd century and seems to have been completed by Constantine shortly after he stripped prefects of any residual military command late in 312 (J.C. Mann, 'Duces and Comites in the Fourth Century,' in D.D. Johnston (ed.) The Saxon Shore (C.B.A Research Report 18) 1977, 11-15). Another important task of vicars was to monitor the SL and RP over which they had extraordinary jurisdiction in fiscal debt cases from between 327-329 CTh. 11, 30, 28 of 359 which refers to a ruling of Constantine which can be surmised to have been made 30 years previously: the vicars (and governors) also had jurisdiction over SL and RP staffs in criminal and civil suits, over RP tenants in major criminal cases and the assimilation of confiscated property to the RP which had to receive the approval of a governor (Jones, op. cit. p. 481-482).
Vicars were not part of the imperial bureaucracy which was termed 'militia inermis' – 'unarmed military service' (those who were enrolled as stipendiaries in a fictional legion, Adiutrix I). Their post was a dignitas, an honor, bestowed on private citizens. Governors and vicars usually served one year terms. These appointments are often regarded by the ancient sources as revolving-door magistracies handed out to persons of higher social rank without experience in governing which suggests that the men appointed were basically unfit. Ancient authors loved to point the finger at bumbling magistrates. There are reports of legal advisors apprising ignorant governors of the law. No such report exists for vicars. However, it would be mistaken to believe that the higher levels of the imperial bureaucracy was composed entirely of amateur incompetents. Analysis of 330+ entries in the Prosopography of the Roman Empire (those with sufficient information) reveals that most men had had several years experience – not necessarily sequential without breaks – in a variety of junior posts as legal counsels (assessores), some had experience on the financial side which was 'not fashionable' and less favored than the judicial/administrative but tended to be more of actual career to the holders, and one or more governorships before appointment as vicar. The 'careers' of most ended with the vicariate - a significant minority, however, went on to serve in the highest palatine offices whether as proconsuls, urban or as praetorian prefects, counts of the two fiscal ministries or as master of he offices (the holders of these latter three offices typically served two or more years limiting the number of candidates for these posts).
Vicars were handicapped in the beginning by having been 'dropped' into a pre-existing web of a somewhat porous "administrative system that was not rationally planned and lacked and clearly-defined hierarchy of offices" (Jones, op. cit. 377; cf. Kelly Ruling the Later Roman Empire, pp. 186-231, "...blurred spectrum of responsibilities;" "...waste of time caused by duplication, cross-checking, the transfer of personnel, the short tenure of posts, the uncertainties of appointment and advancement, and the arbitrary division of tasks..." p. 229; T. F. Carney, Bureaucracy in Traditional Society: Roman-Byzantine Bureaucracies viewed from Within, 1971). Constantine tried to disentangle the web of overlapping and unclear lines of authority by making departmental competencies more defined in the years 325–331 but the system was never more than partially rationalized and remained a patchwork (Jones, op. cit. p. 377). Constantine's re-alignments placed the vicars more clearly at the apex of the diocesan administration.
When created the vicars were of the same rank, the equestrian grade perfectissimus, as their regional counterparts of the SL and RP and most governors. In 326 vicars were raised to the senatorial rank of clarissimus (Pallu de Lessert, Vicaires et Comdtes D'Afrique: De Diocletien A L'Invasion Vandale, 1892, pp. 74-74 believes elevation to senatorial rank occurred around 320, “Je crois avoir montre, dans l’introduction, contrairement a l’opinion commune, que cette mesure parait remontier a l’annee 320 environ;” Delmaire, op. cit. p. 39 “depuis” from CIL 1407 and at the latest CTh. 8, 10 2; the prefect of the Annona of Rome was given senatorial rank in the same year; and it has been argued that the palatine chiefs of the SL, RP and the MO were all made comites, imperial companions, as part of an administrative consolidation and competencies specialization program at the palatine level which strengthened the institution of central administration (Kelly, Age of Constantine, pp. 190-191). These measures were taken Constantine was in Italy after his defeat of Licinius in Bithynia in November 324 and the decision to found a city named after himself the following year. In 372 vicars were elevated a step higher to spectabilis where they remained when Valentinian I sorted out all higher officials into three classes within which there rankings by precedence. From the 306s the regional SL and RP comptrollers (and palace officials) were being elevated to senatorial status as grade-inflation picked up speed. Further elevation of senators is a sign that their influence had peaked as central headquarter officials surpassed began to surpass them in rank at the end of the 4th and in the early 5th centuries as centralization picked speed. Nonetheless the vicars remained the senior ranking civilian officials with highest authority in the dioceses until their demise.
Judicial Powers and Restrictions on the Authority of Vicars
The vicars' main role in the beginning years was as appeal judges, i.e. with extraordinary jurisdiction. They also had first instance ordinary jurisdiction (like governors and some other officials in the administrative courts). They were expected to use first instance jurisdiction with restraint: importance of the case, value of the case, intimidation by a powerful party, irregularity, corruption of due process. The emperors expected governors to take cases and not pawn them off of the appeal judges (which they often did anyway).There are some appeals they could accept: of confessed criminal, as a tactic to postpone payment of fiscal debt, and on a preliminary issue (Jones. op. cit. p. 482). Most appeal cases went to the vicars' courts, emperor's intention during the 4th century and well into the fifth century (Jones p. 481-83; Wiewiorowksi, The Judiciary of Diocesan Vicars in the Later Roman Empire, 2016 p. 41; for an argument that the competencies were not sorted out until the mid-4th century, Joachim Migl Die Ordnung der Amter, Pratorianer und Vikariat in Der Regionalverwaltung des Romischen Reiches von Konstantin bis zur Valentinischen Dynastie, 1994, pp. 64-65, 67; Seston, Diocletian et la tetrarchie, 1946, pp. 339; on the uncertainty of the vicars' degree of subordination in judicial matters to prefects, Christopher Kelly, The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Constantine, Ed. Noel Lenski, 'Law and Society,' Christopher Kelly, p. 185).
In 331 Constantine confirmed the routing of appeals (CTh. 11, 30, 16). The emperor confirmed he would receive appeals from the intermediate judges. Only the four prefects besides himself were given authority to render a final verdict on his behalf "vice sacra.' The routing of appeals was not on a strict vertical ladder. It was forked as a Y. An appeal went from governor to vicar or to urban prefect to emperor or from governor to prefect should a vicar refuse the case whoever was nearest and had jurisdiction (CTh. 1, 16, 6 and 7, 331). A case from a governor of Britain would go to the vicar, and if denied, would go to the prefect in Trier (to whom appeals were sent from the diocese of Gaul which e governed directly). The ruling remained, at least on the books, the standard procedure for two centuries (Jones, op. cit. 485-486). It was modified for first time in 365 when appeals of a prefect's verdict was allowed to the emperor (which rather nullified a purpose of Constantine's ruling which was to prevent so many cases coming to him). The law of 331 "...established a three-tier system for those who wished to appeal the sentences of judges vice sacra with the exception of the praetorian prefects" (who spoke for the emperor in his place)..."...whether to appeal directly to the emperor on the basis of his and his judge's statements and the records of the case, or proceed personally to the nearest highest instance" (John Noel Dillon, The Justice of Constantine, 2012 p. 248-258; Wiewiorowski op. cit. for a detailed analysis of the laws and other documents on the judicial role of vicars passim and p. 293 for his thesis that the vicars' poorly defined judicial authority was fatal to their success). Vicars were expected to use their authority settles cases if possible and to prevent lesser and trivial suits from reaching the emperor and prefects who "were occupied with administrative and financial work and the consistory had little time for judicial work" (Jones, op. cit. 496). They also had first instance authority which allowed them to intervene in the lower courts to correct irregularities, take a case of great value, or of an important person, and to prevent intimidation of a powerful person of a governor (CTh. 1, 15, 1, 325). First instance was to be used sparingly and for cause as the emperors and prefects wanted the provincial courts to close cases as much as possible. Litigants, however, to get a more definitive verdicts more immediately and to lessen the expense of the appeal process or a more favorable judge, tried to have vicars take their cases from the provincial courts per saltim thereby circumventing the regular appeal process, "to bypass the rules" (Jones, op. cit. pp. 293). It seems that governors pressed as they were by administrative duties in particular with "raising the revenue" were only too happy to pass a case to a vicar and "scamped their judicial duties" (Jones, pp. 495-496). The vicars could deny an appeal but only at peril to themselves. If they did the litigants could go to the prefect directly, and if they won their case vicars could be fined for 'passing the buck,' 11, 30, 16. Judges 'passed the buck,' claiming they could not hear a case because of illness or the press of public business (Jones, p. 1211, note 59). The sending of cases to the top level 'for advice' appears to have been quite a common practice.
Although invested with authority to judge in the emperor's place (vice sacra iudicans) the vicars' was superior not supreme: they could not render final verdicts. The restriction was a stumbling-block to vicars but was probably seen as a security measure: supreme power was harbored by the emperors for themselves and for the prefects who were their vice-regents. Vicars, subordinate to the prefects from their creation, in the early decades may have had more autonomy (William G. Sinnigen, 'The Vicarius Urbis Romae and the Urban Prefecture,' Historia, vol 8, No. 1 1959 p. 98, "technically independent"; "the degree of subordination of these officials to the Praetorian Prefects, at least in some judicial matters is also uncertain" (Kelly op. cit. p. 185). Were they deputies of or substitutes for prefects and representatives of the emperors? The sources speak to both and the constitutional situation may have changed at times.
The ability to exercise superior authority depended on the restrictions placed on it and to whom it was applied. Uncertainties in law and procedure complicated matters. Numerous restrictions on their discretionary authority handicapped the vicars but it was intentional – supreme power to make final decisions was not going to be extended to distant officials, and it was carefully rationed. To have been given supreme authority would have given distant officials too much power, would have put a chokehold on much-needed information from reaching the emperor and senior ministers inviting loss of central control, in particular in regions – Britain, Gaul, Africa, Egypt and Oriens – where there had been breakaway regimes and serious rebellions between the years 260–274 and again in 286–296 (Britain) and Egypt 297–298. Theirs was to execute, not to act independently except in some emergency situations such as civil disturbances or where the law clearly allowed them to respond on their own by taking the initiative. Restriction of authority existed in part to protect the provincials arbitrary rule, rapaciousness, to stabilize operations and resist pressures from powerful local persons seeking personal advantages. Although their duties on paper seem to duplicate those of prefects, this is misleading since emperors and prefects made policy which vicars did not. Although the prefects labored under the some of the same restrictions they had the ear of the emperor as his vice-regents. Even so, it was not until the end of the 4th century that they were allowed to grant tax remissions and issue tax supplemental demands contingent upon final imperial approval at the end of the 4th century.
Vicars could not change regulations, orders, procedures or make changes in fiscal matters – the many types processed by the diocesan staffs mentioned above – were very much restricted. Vicars could not change or order a census, issue annual tax demands, set or change tax rates and assessments, reallocate taxes, modify the imperial budget, issue orders for supplemental tax demands, grant tax remission and rebates or change orders for liturgical obligations without imperial approval except in emergencies and even then these were usually denied (Jones op. cit. p. 404). No supplemental tax demands could be levied by governors and other departmental officials on their own authority. These had to be transmitted by governors and vicars to prefects, 11, 16, 7, (356). In spite of the limitations, vicars were able to exercise control over the diocesan administration by issuing executive orders or administrative decisions (Franks p. 991) and by insisting that procedures, orders, instruction, methods and regulations be followed stemming from their disciplinary power. They could even fine governors and their staffs for lax performance (and the counts of the SL and RP could fine them and governors for lax performance). Lack of sufficient discretionary authority and slow communications hampered effective responses to emergencies and leave officials confused as to what they could do. Vicars were not policy makers. They were more akin to very senior managers of policies made higher up.
Their ability to control the administration of the diocese was also complicated by the fact that governors and any other official could communicate directly with the prefects and emperor(s) even though they preferred that the routine business be collected and processed in the diocesan see cities; and that official reports, queries and legal cases be vetted by diocesan staff (policy also in regard to the SL and RP). Chaos or at the least, confusion, and working at cross-purposes was always present in this 'open communications' policy (Pat Southern, The Roman Empire from Severus to Constantine, 2001, 165). Also the vicar's control over governors though direct was not absolute (they could not appoint or dismiss them, but could investigate them and fine them); they had a very limited but focused power over the SL and RP sufficient to monitor them. From 327–329 to 385 vicars had appeal jurisdiction in fiscal debt cases of the SL and RP (CTh. 11, 30, 28, Franks, op. cit. p. 990). Vicars also exercised jurisdiction over the staffs of the two fiscal ministries in civil and criminal cases, and over tenants of the RP in major criminal cases until in 385 (the same year they lost control over SL staff in civil suits).
The Vicars' Financial Role
The vicars' financial role was clarified and they were given additional financial duties as a result of Constantine's reform of the palatine-level ministries in the years 325–329. The financial overlapped with the judicial and administrative since all three roles were given one official. The vicars' main financial goals were the promotion of diocesan fiscal integrity and the successful collection of taxes: the government during the 4th century seems to have been short of cash, i.e. sufficient gold and silver to meet needs; and shortfalls of in kind taxes were frequent due to the nature of the product. Consequently, the vicars' financial role was very important if one step further removed from the sources that governors. The vicars were monitors, coordinators and regulators of a highly complex and cumbersome tax collection and distribution system devised by Diocletian; keepers of the diocesan budget; guarantors of liturgical assignments composed and issued by governors according to instructions from the prefecture, CTH, 11, 14, 4, 328; and administrative watchdogs of military logistics and administration. They were 'fiscal cops' not only over the prefecture but of the two fiscal offices. An important example of their oversight and auditing duties can be seen in Constantine's instructions to the proconsul of Africa in 319 (CTh. 1 12. 2) - vicars and proconsuls were virtually identical in authority and at times a proconsul substituted for or governed dioceses (Africa and Asia) - that he investigate the financial reports of governors, comptrollers and the prefect of the Annona, who were responsible for the collections, for fraud. Emperor Valentinian in 366 (CTh. 11, 1,13) ordered the vicar of Africa to head a commission of inquiry concerning back taxes on lands in the Africa owned by absent landowners resident in Rome, an investigation that involved local managers of the estates (procurators) and the appearance of the registrars of the prefects of the City and the Annona of Africa as part of the investiation and that the reports be delivered to the prefect and to as an additional precaution the imperial secretariats of the master of the offices; and that the sum collected be handed over to the diocese. Of note Valentinian ordered that the collected arrears as a result of the investigation be sent to the vicar in keeping with what appears to be a main function of vicar: auditing provincial returns and collecting arrears.
Vicars were the civilian deputy quartermaster-generals of the army. They had an important role in war preparation and the provisioning of troops in transit across provincial boundaries. Troops in transit were accompanied by provincial or diocesan staff and State Security officers of the Master of the Offices to make sure that orders were followed and civilians were not disturbed.
The vicars of Africa and Oriens (Egypt after it was detached and made a diocese in 370 or 380) had some oversight duties in regard to the supply of foodstuffs to Rome and Constantinople, though the prefects of Annona there had direct responsibility for the management. The vicar of the suburbicarian region and islands of the diocese of Italy was responsible for the 5-month winter months pork supply to the poor - many of his duties appear to be interchangeable and parallel to the urban prefect's in many ways, Sinnigen, op. cit. 100-109). The urban prefect of Rome and the prefect of the Annona subordinate to him from 331 were responsible for the reception, storage and transport of food stuffs to the capital. They had some oversight responsibilities in regard to the maintenance of the State Post, though the first instance duty belonged to the governors as is the case in so many other administrative activities: vicars were supposed to 'hold the reigns' not doing or interfering in others' work at the lower levels.
The Diocesan Heads of Office
Possibly in the early 340s a decision was made to appoint senior agentes in rebus, State Investigators (the 'men of affairs'), as heads, principes, in the prefectural, diocesan and two of three proconsular offices (Morosi, Rpberto, 'Il princeps officii e la scola agentum in rebus,' Humanitas, 31/32, 1979/80, pp. 23-70). These appointees gave the MO a measure of control over the prefects (Jones, p. ci. t 128) and the vicars. Their appointment came after 20 or more years as they approached retirement. These officials were couriers. They had acquired a sinister reputation as spies and 'commissars' to carry out 'delicate missions,' due to the activities of a few who were sent to ferret out traitors by Constantius II, but it would be more accurate to say they were courier/bureaucrats with a wide knowledge of the imperial administration having been seconded to work in the various other ministries from time to time as curiosi they inspected the public post; as praepositi cursus publici they assisted the provincial governors; archivists (chartularii) in the schola notariorum (the emperor’s personal secretarial staff) and seconded to the imperial secretariats. An agens would have acquired considerable knowledge of the central and provincial administration and the workings of the law, enough at least to be considered for appointment as 1) princeps of the prefectural or diocesan staff or upon retirement 2) as a municipal judge or even 3) governor upon retirement or 4) promoted to the notarii (Gianfranco Purpura, 'I curiosi e la schola agentum in rebus,' Annali del Seminario Giuridico della universita di Palermo, 34, 1973, pp. 165-273).
The corps of agentes were under the direct command of the master(s) of the offices, a kind of Minister of the Interior for State Security, Administration, Communications and Foreign affairs in modern parlance. The 4th-century orator Libanius describes the masters as "the emperor's eyes" in a speech from the year 362. The post had originally been fairly minor - a tribune commander of the imperial guard and head of minor palace offices who was made head of the imperial secretariats, the scrinia (to distinguish them from the officia of all other departments of State) very early in the reign and to whom was given the title master: his post would become the second most powerful after the prefect. The MO had 1,270 agents in the East at one point: no figure is given for the West but may have been as large. Each emperor had his own master of the offices who watchdogged the rest of the administrative apparatus, in the case of the prefecture directly by the aforementioned 'plants' and agents stationed in the provinces or on assignment. Forbidden from having anything to do with the SL and RP (Giardina, op. cit. p. 64) the Masters were nonetheless able to get a pulse on the affairs of these two departments through the office heads in the prefecture, their agents as State Post inspectors stationed with the governors and at main import border crossings by being ex-officio members of the imperial consistory. The appointment as inspectors-general of the Post may have coincided with the appointments of the office heads from among the agentes in rebus.
The main task of these outsider heads of office, principes, was to scrutinize and vet business coming in and going out the officium. Nothing could be sent out with their countersignature for which they received a tidy fee (CTh. 6, 27, 4 (387). In 399 it was decreed that no court order for the execution of urgent matters could be fulfilled without the annotation of the princeps (6, 27, 6 399). These 'plants' from the master of the offices were not members of the diocesan staff. They had the privilege of bringing their own assistants with them during the one-year term of service. They wrote confidential reports to their bosses which the prefects did not see and to insure that an independent source of information flowed from the diocese to the master of the offices and the palace based on the principle of control and counter-control - double reporting. At the end of their one year of service they returned to the palace before retirement. The appontees could be a great help to vicars who were not professional bureaucrats with their wealth of experience in different parts of the empire and sections of the administration..
The Decline of the dioceses
The conversion of most of the prefectures' taxes from in-kind collection to payment gold (commutation, adaeratio) began very slowly under Constantine I and his successors. It picked up speed with the conversion of RP rents to gold in 366 and within the prefecture towards the end of the century. It would be a major factor in the decline of the dioceses. It was resorted to in certain circumstances (if it were more convenient to buy supplies locally rather than having to collect and transport these from a distance and proximity to military units). The process of commutation to gold was completed mostly in the West by 425 and in the East by the last decades of the century (though collection in kind never ceased and was resorted to as needed in the form of requisitions). The placement of permanent provincial-level tax collection officials directly under the prefects from the mid-5th century (instead of relying on officials sent on annual or ad hoc visitations from central headquarters) made the vicars' services and dioceses increasingly redundant. Also the greater use of direct appeal and the regulations that cases under a certain value threshold be dealt with by the vicars' courts while the most important cases be sent to the highest echelon marginalized their courts though the vicars' watchdog fiscal role continued for the rest of the 5th century in the East as seen in CJ 10, 13, 4 (468) which instructs them to make sure that the revenues of the SL were not reallocated to the prefecture by the governors and the prefects' agents.
Constantine and his sons' administrative policy was diocesan-centered ("... regionally-based centralism"). This policy was slowly abandoned post-363 in favor of greater central control as the empire tried to deal with serious financial challenges and invasions along the Rhine and Danube from the mid-360s and for decades after. The vicars continued to play a very important role post-363 since they were enlisted in the imperial efforts to meet the challenges post-363 specifically in bringing in more revenue by more policing the activities of the intra-diocesan administration. Indeed, the sum total of source material in the Theodosian Code published in the year 438 suggests the compilers of it thought dioceses were still running on 7 if not 8 cylinders. Belief in the value of dioceses persisted even in crises or because of them.
The chronology of diocesan rise and decline is very slow, can be tracked and is the same for all dioceses: upward trajectory until the early fifth century followed by a plateau and then decline post 440. The decline was not uniform across the board - there is some indication that the vicars of Asia and Rome were losing influence. Pontus, Macedonia, Thrace and Dacia may have decline do their proximity to Constantinople the see of the emperor, a praetorian and an urban prefect; the remaining Western dioceses were to suffer the catastrophe of discontinuance (Italy), abandonment (Britain) and occupation by tribes (part of Gaul, Spain and Pannonia). The Vicar of the Seven Provinces in South Gaul (who also managed the Diocese of Gaul) worked effectively with the praetorian prefect (located from Trier to Arles in 407) to maintain control as much as possible and wherever it existed until the very end of Roman rule in 475. The diocese of the Spains may have even been re-established around 418 after the Visigoth's decimation of the tribal invaders; and may have exercised control over the peninsula except the far northwest (occupied by the Sueves) until 438 after the Vandals' departure for Africa in 429. If so it would provide evidence for the authorities' continuing positive attitude to having a presence with superior authority in the regions. The dioceses from 450 slipped into steeper decline and redundancy, as did their regional counterparts of the SL and RP, as a result of a reversion to direct prefectural-provincial rule and the commutation of taxes. The diocesan courts were bypassed more and more; their financial responsibilities atrophied. The vicar in Rome continued to perform important functions for the city, southern Italy and the Islands on behalf of the prefect in Ravenna during the post-imperial period under Odoacer, 476–493, and the Ostrogothic Kingdom 493–536. Theodosius, vice-regent of Italy for the emperors in Constantinople even restored a praetorian prefect for the rump prefecture of Gaul and provided him a vicar, Gemellus, who undertook two commissions involving taxation, one concerning the army and two on judicial cases. The vicars of Oriens, Egypt and Rome which continued to function at a higher level because of the important duties given them: the remaining two Balkan dioceses of Dacia and Macedonia and the Anatolian dioceses of Pontus and Asia slipped into a state of morbidity. The dominance and proximity of Constantinople, the seat of the emperor, prefect and urban prefect and changes in taxation collection methods, judicial procedures, and governance made the Balkan and Asian dioceses redundant.
Regarding dioceses as functionally ineffectual and corrupted the Emperor Justinian I abolished the remaining ones in the East (Thrace disappeared early in the reign of Anastasius I 491-519). Asia, Pontus, Dacia and Macedonia were abolished in 535 and Egypt in 539 (the southern part of this diocese was from 468 governed by a dux with civil authority, a reversal of the principle established by Diocletian and completed by Constantine I that civil and military spheres be strictly separated. Justinian installed a praetorian prefect and not a vicar (the prefects and a vicar were restored for Italy). In 545 and 548 he restored the dioceses of Pontus and Asia and small Oriens. The new-stule vicars there were given vastly increased powers over all other civilian and military officials. The remnants of the intermediate tier finally withered away in the early 7th century. A truncated Eastern Roman Empire from 637 A.D. had no need for it - direct central control through provinces and the development of the military Theme system was the order of the day.
The diocesan see cities for over 125 years had been centers of regional administrative control and oversight. They were major players in governance: they were hubs and foci where major components of the top echelon replicated at the intermediate level came together regionally. They were major destination points for the processing and transmission of information to the palatine level from governors, the regional and provincial agents of the Treasury and Crown Estates, and municipalities: given the slowness of communications having masses of information prepared beforehand saved time. They were the 'base-camp' for 500–1000 staff of the vicar, comptrollers, managers of the RP (from the 350s comptrollers), a governor, agents of the masters of the offices, and in many diocesan see cities locales the headquarters of a general. Changed conditions in the 5th century – the drift towards a two rather than three-tier imperial administration, commutation of taxes, and direct appeals – resulted in dioceses taking the back rather than the driver's seat which they had had during the 4th century.
From the beginning the Romans ran their empire 'on the cheap.' Officials were few: unpaid locals - the city councils and influential rich people who chosen annually to supervise the tax collections and fulfill liturgical duties - did their work for them. In this way they could avoid having to create a vast permanent salaried civil service to govern. The 4th century saw an improvement in the imperial bureaucracy - it was more professional, free-born, salaried and pensioned and underwent a great expansion from 10,000 to 30–40,000 from the end of the 3rd to the 4th century (35–40% of the civil servants staffed the palatine and diocesan levels in 15 cities). The imperial bureaucracy was concentrated in 125 provincial and diocesan see cities and, therefore, was a distant presence to most inhabitants of the empire. In addition to the changes Anastasius' (491-518) placement of imperial tax officials in cities (491-518) further damaged the already weakened post of vicar.
Unlike repeated imperial attacks on governors, the staff of the SL and RP and the lower rungs of the imperial bureaucracy, men who served as vicars come in for little criticism until Justinian in the Novels which abolished them presents the reasons as inability to perform their financial functions and patronage. Which is not to say that there were no bad vicars, but rather the office does not appear to come in for criticism nor the diocese itself whose value must be based on a range of evidence the sum of which suggests that it was valued until the middle of the 5th century, some dioceses than others.
It has been said the history of Roman is the history of a State. The dioceses were extensions of the central power Roman emperors. As regions lost in the 5th century in the West provincial and municipal administration under new Germanic rulers continued more or less as before in most areas: however, the imperial supra-structure that in a very real was the Roman State was gone. The bureaucracy despite all its "manifest failings" played a vital part in holding the empire together, and went down fighting against the invaders by trying to keep the State going.
Introduction of the term in ecclesiastical usage
The ecclesiastical diocesan system was formally organized in the early 4th century. The leadership of the Churches utilized the Roman terminology and methods to describe ecclesiastical administrative units and the hierarchy. Oddly the diocese came to refer to the province or the diocesan see with surrounding territory and not to the regional unit which became the archdiocese in the West or metropolitan in the East. As the Western Empire disappeared in the 5th and 6th centuries more political power often came to be vested in the spiritual offices of the bishops in each region and was a natural consequence of the collapse of the supra-provincial administrative structures of the Roman State. The senatorial aristocracy, deprived of the many imperial civil offices which it regarded as its birthright disappeared as the Empire declined and became smaller. They, especially in the provinces, continued in many places to serve as local authority to complement the authority wielded by the Church; or they became bishops themselves. The remnants of this aristocratic meritocracy of service to the State died out in the 7th century or were absorbed into the warrior leader class who served 'barbarian' kings - this new type of aristocrat became the 'ancestors' of the European nobility. The effort to put Europe back together became largely the effort of few enlightened rulers and bishops upon whom the mantel of Empire in spite of its manifest faults had fallen: beginning in the 6th century the Catholic Church organized by dioceses, and the only wholly literate part of society left, led the counter-attack beginning to preserve and advance what was good from the Roman legacy. However, the administrative collapse of the Roman state went hand in hand with an economic one so that the standard of living reckoned by some scholars equal to Europe's in 1700 - was halved in the West between 400 and 600 A.D., a period of massive dislocations and catastrophes (and not just a 'period of transition'). Except for the Levant and the region around Constantinople it was an economic mess that took centuries to recover from in spite of academic efforts in some quarters to smooth over the catastrophe.
The Eastern Empire maintained a civilian administration which had as its ally the ecclesiastical: the two linked together for the fundamental doctrine of Caesaropapism of State Church of the Roman Empire. A millennium later as the Ottoman Empire conquered the Eastern Roman Empire (see Christianity and Judaism in the Ottoman Empire) the eastern bishops assumed political roles over their respective religious populations in place of Roman civil structure as had survived was stripped away. In modern times, many an ancient diocese, though later divided among several dioceses, has preserved the boundaries of a long-vanished Roman administrative division.
- Diocese, the ecclesiastical territory originally corresponding to a civil diocese
- Exarch, equivalent for vicarius, in Ancient Greek terminology
- Marcus Tullius Cicero, EB, 1911.
- Constantin Zuckermann, "Sur la Liste de Verone...", Travaux et Memoires 14 Melanges Gilbert Dagron, 2002, pp. 618–637
- Cam Grey, Constructing Communities in the Late Roman Countryside, 2011 pp. 185, 189, 195-196
- R. Mitthof, Annona Militaris: Die Heresvorsorgung im spatantiken Aegypten, 2001, pp. 276-287; the classic work is, D. van Berchem, L'anonne militaire, Memoires de la Societe Nationale des Antiquaires de France, X, 117-20
- CAH XII, p. 123
- For a review of Diocletian's measures, CAH XII, The Crisis of Empire 193-337; Roger Rees, Diocletian and the Tetrarchy, 2004; Alan Watson, Aurelian and the Third Century, 999; David Potter, The Roman Empire at Bay, 180-395, 2004; Pat Southern, The Roman Empire from Severus to Constantine from Severus to Constantine.
- C. E. King, The Sacrae Largitiones: Revenues, Expenditure and the Production of Coin, BAR International Seris, 1980, pp. 141-173
- Crete was detached in 294 and joined to Achaia
- Delmaire, R. Les largesses sacrees et res private, Parte I, 1989, pp. 171, 181-182
- CAH XII, Alan K. Bowman, 'Egypt from Septimius Severus to the Death of Constantine', p. 320
- Delmaire, op. cit. p. 181
- Delmaire, pp. 183–185; pp. 171–204 on the regional-level fiscal officials
- more specifically the lands leased were the Res Privata; those under direct imperial management were called the patrimonium
- A.H. M. Jones, LRE, Vol. II, 1964 pp. 1414–1416; P.S. Barnwell, Emperors, Prefects and Kings, The Roman West, 395-565, 1992, p. 31
- Delmaire, op. ci. pp.
- Hugh Elton, Warfare in Roman Europe AD 350-425, 1996, pp. 118-125
- Noel Lenski, Failure of Empire, Valens and the Roman State in the Fourth Century, 2002, pp. 264-307
- Jones, op. cit. pp. 445, 460-462
- Jones, p. 412
- Christopher Kelly 'Law and Society,' Noel Lenski (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Constantine, p. 191; 184–192 for a general description of administration changes in the years 284–337
- P.S. Barnwell, Emperors, Prefects and Kings, The Roman West, pp. 703-714; Jones, Later Roman History, pp. 279-283
- Delmaire, op. cit. p. 197. 204, 245
- CTh. 11, 30, 28 of 359 refers to an earlier lost law; 14 of 327 and 18 of 329
- Delmaire, op. cit. pp. 208-209, 213
- Delmaire, pp. 204-205
- CTh. 1, 15, 7 378
- Delmaire p, 171; Wiewieorowski, op. cit. p. 55, note 71 quoting CTh. 2, 26, 1 of 330
- Jones, op. cit. p. 413, Delmaire, op. cit. pp. 703-14
- Jones. op. cit. p. 414
- Delmaire, op. cit. pp. 710-714
- Delmaire, op. cit. pp. 64-65, 68
- A. Giardina, Aspetti della burocrzia nel basso imperio, 1977 pp. 59-60
- Delmaire, op. cit. pp. 713-714
- R. Delmaire, Les largesses sacrees et res privata, L'aerarium imperial et son administration du IV au VI siècle, 1989, pp.703–714; M.F. Hendy, Studies in the Byzantine Monetary Economy, 300-1450 A.D. 1985
- Franks, op. cit. p. 992
- "vicars and governors were ultimately responsible for the good functioning of the tax machine," Gilles Bransbourg, 'Fiscalite imperial et finances municipals au iv siècle,' Antiquite Tardive 6, 2008, pp. 255-296; Gaudemet p. 197-205 suggested the fiscal were the "main object of activities of diocesan vicars," 'Les constitutions au vicaire Dracontius,' Melanges d'histoire ancienne offerts a W. Seston from Wiewioroski, op. cit. p 174
- Franks, op. cit. p. 991
- . Orders given by Urban Prefect but carried out by the prefect of the Annona's staff. The Urban Prefect's staff were twice warned off from meddling with the prefect of the Annona's execution of his duties, Geoffrey Rickman, The Corn Supply of Ancient Rome, 980, pp. 199-201
- Andrea Giardina, op. cit. pp. 58-64
- A. Piganiol, L'Empire chretien (325-395), 1947, p. 321
- B. Palme, 'Die Officia der Statthalter in der spatantike,' Antiquite Tardive 7, 1999, pp. 108
- W. G. Sinnigen, Three Administrative Changes attributed to Constantius II, AJP, 83, 1962, pp.369–383
- R.M. Errington, Roman Imperial Policy from Julian to Theodosius, pp. 261-262
- Wiewiorowski, op. cit. pp. 288-301 sees signs of judicial decline in the 360s with more pronounced tilt at the very end of the 4th century; Franks op. cit. passim sees the first signs of decline at the end of the century due to centralization with a transition plateau to 425, slight decline picking up post-450; Sinnigen, op. cit. pp. 108-109; Jones op. cit. 280-283 for the post-450 decline but who offers only a few general remarks about vicars
- Wiewiorowski, op. cit. p. 74
- M. Kulikowski, 'The Career of the 'comes Hispaniarum' Asterius, Phoenix 53, pp. 123-141
- S. Barnwell, Emperor, Prefects & Kings, The Roman West 395-565, 1992 p. 69
- Franks, op. cit. p. 992
- Jones op. cit. pp. 280-283
- P. S. Barnwell, pp. 163-164, p. 223 notes. 62-66
- Wiewiorowski, pp. 299-301
- Jones op. cit. pp. 280-292; Wiewiorowski, op. cit. pp. 299–301; Delmaire, op. cit, pp. 703-714; Franks, p. 992
- For discussions of vicars' judicial powers, Jacek Wiewiorowski, The Judiciary of Diocesan Vicars in the Later Roman Empire, 2016; John Noel Dillon, The Justice of Constantine, 2016; in general, Christopher Kelly, Ruling the Later Roman Empire, 2004 pp.208–214; A.H.M. Jones, later Roman Empire, 1964, pp. 450–462 (financial), 481–486 (judicial), decline of dioceses pp. 280–283; P.S. Barnwell, Emperor, Prefects & Kings, The Roman West, 395-565 for administrative history of the period; for an assessment which stresses the importance of the diocesan fiscal responsibilities, Franks, op. cit. pp. 989-992 and Wiewiorowski, op. cit. pp. 17, 39, 55, 83, 89, 174-175 no 2 whose study mentions, p. 55, but does not include an examination of the relationship between vicars, the SL and RP
- Roger S. Bagnall, Egypt in Late Antiquity, 1993, p. 62 on Diocletian's municipalization of Egypt's lower administration; and quoting Bowman, 'The Town Councils of Roman Egypt' Cam.Stud.Pap. 1, who says this "policy of amateurism was a failure, in the sense that it combined ineffectiveness and oppression"
- A.H.M. Jones, LRE p. 606
- Meyendorff 1989.
- Ostrogorsky, George (1956). History of the Byzantine State. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
- Meyendorff, John (1989). Imperial unity and Christian divisions: The Church 450-680 A.D. The Church in history. 2. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.