Praetorian prefect

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Praetorian prefect (Latin: praefectus praetorio, Greek: ἔπαρχος/ὕπαρχος τῶν πραιτωρίων) was the title of a high office in the Roman Empire. Originating as the commander of the Praetorian Guard, the office gradually acquired extensive legal and administrative functions, with its holders becoming the Emperor's chief aides. Under Constantine I, the office was much reduced in power and transformed into a purely civilian administrative post, while under his successors, territorially-defined praetorian prefectures emerged as the highest-level administrative division of the Empire. The prefects again functioned as the chief ministers of the state, with many laws addressed to them by name. In this role, praetorian prefects continued to be appointed until the reign of Heraclius in the 7th century CE, when wide-ranging reforms reduced its power and converted it to a mere overseer of provincial administration. The last traces of the prefecture disappeared in the Byzantine Empire by the 840s.

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


Commander of the Praetorian Guard[edit]

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

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

Transformation to administrator[edit]

Further information: Praetorian prefecture
The insignia of the praetorian prefect of Illyricum, as depicted in the Notitia Dignitatum: the ivory inkwell and pen case (theca), the codicil of appointment to the office on a blue cloth-covered table, and the state carriage.[3]

In addition to his military functions, the praetorian prefect came to acquire jurisdiction over criminal affairs, which he exercised not as the delegate but as the representative of the emperor. It was decreed by Constantine 331 that from the sentence of the praetorian praefect there should be no appeal. A similar jurisdiction in civil cases was acquired by him not later than the time of Septimius Severus. Hence a knowledge of law became a qualification for the post, which under Marcus Aurelius and Commodus, but especially from the time of Severus, was held by the first jurists of the age, (e.g. Papinian, Ulpian, Paullus[disambiguation needed]) and John the Cappadocian, while the military qualification fell more and more into the background.

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

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

Germanic era[edit]

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

List of known prefects of the Praetorian Guard[edit]

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

Julio-Claudian dynasty (2 BC – AD 68)[edit]

PrefectTenureEmperor served
Publius Salvius Aper2 BC – ??Augustus
Quintus Ostorius Scapula2 BC – ??Augustus
Publius Varius Ligur[4] ?? – ??Augustus
Lucius Seius Strabo ?? – 15Augustus, Tiberius
Lucius Aelius Sejanus14 – 31Tiberius
Quintus Naevius Sutorius Macro31 – 38Tiberius, Caligula
Marcus Arrecinus Clemens38 – 41Caligula
Lucius Arruntius Stella[5]38 – 41Caligula
Rufrius Pollio41 – 43Claudius
Catonius Justus41 – 43Claudius
Rufrius Crispinus43 – 50Claudius
Lucius Lusius Geta47 – 50Claudius
Sextus Afranius Burrus50 – 62Claudius, Nero
Lucius Faenius Rufus62 – 65Nero
Gaius Ofonius Tigellinus62 – 68Nero
Gaius Nymphidius Sabinus65 – 68Nero

Year of the Four Emperors (AD 68 – 69)[edit]

PrefectTenureEmperor served
Cornelius Laco68 – 69Galba
Plotius Firmus69 – 69Otho
Licinius Proculus69 – 69Otho
Publius Sabinus69 – 69Vitellius
Alfenius Varus69 – 69Vitellius
Junius Priscus69 – 69Vitellius

Flavian dynasty (AD 69 – 96)[edit]

PrefectTenureEmperor served
Arrius Varus69 – 70Vespasian
Marcus Arrecinus Clemens[6]70 – 71Vespasian
Tiberius Julius Alexander[7]69 – ??Vespasian
Titus Flavius Vespasianus[8]71 – 79Vespasian
Lucius Julius Ursus[9]81 – 83Domitian
Cornelius Fuscus81 – 86Domitian
Lucius Laberius Maximus[9]83 – 84Domitian
Casperius Aelianus84 – 94Domitian
Titus Flavius Norbanus94 – 96Domitian
Titus Petronius Secundus94 – 96Domitian

Five Good Emperors to Didius Julianus (AD 96 – 193)[edit]

PrefectTenureEmperor served
Casperius Aelianus96 – 98Nerva
Sextus Attius Suburanus98 – 101Trajan
Tiberius Claudius Livianus101 – 112Trajan
Publius Acilius Attianus[10]112 – 119Trajan, Hadrian
Servius Sulpicius Similis112 – 119Trajan, Hadrian
Gaius Septicius Clarus119 – 121Hadrian
Quintus Marcius Turbo119 – ??Hadrian
Marcus Petronius Mamertinus139 – 143Hadrian, Antoninus Pius
Marcus Gavius Maximus136 – 156Hadrian, Antoninus Pius
Gaius Tattius Maximus156 – 159Antoninus Pius
Fabius Cornelius Repentinus159 – ??Antoninus Pius
Furius Victorinus160 – 168Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius
Macrinius Vindex ?? – ??Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Bassaeus Rufus168 – 177Marcus Aurelius
Publius Tarrutenius Paternusby 179 – 182?Marcus Aurelius, Commodus
Sextus Tigidius Perennis180 – 185Commodus
Niger185 – 185Commodus
Marcius Quartus185 – 185Commodus
Titus Longaeus Rufus185 – by 187Commodus
Publius Atilius Aebutianusc. 185 – c. 187Commodus
Marcus Aurelius Cleanderc. 187 – 189?Commodus
Lucius Julius Vehilius Gratus Julianus188 – c. 189Commodus
Regillusc. 189 – c. 189Commodus
Motilenusc. 190 – c. 190Commodus, Pertinax, Didius Julianus
Quintus Aemilius Laetus192 – 193Commodus, Pertinax, Didius Julianus
Titus Flavius Genialis193 – 193Didius Julianus
Tullius Crispinus193 – 193Didius Julianus

Severan dynasty (AD 193 – 235)[edit]

PrefectTenureEmperor served
Flavius Juvenalis193 – by 200Didius Julianus, Septimius Severus
Decimus Veturius Macrinus193 – by 200Didius Julianus, Septimius Severus
Gaius Fulvius Plautianus197? – 205Septimius Severus
Quintus Aemilius Saturninus200 – 200Septimius Severus
Marcus Aurelius Julianusc. 200/205Septimius Severus, Caracalla
Marcus Flavius Drusianusc. 204/204Septimius Severus, Caracalla
Aemilius Papinianus205 – 211Septimius Severus, Caracalla
Quintus Maecius Laetus205 – 215?Septimius Severus, Caracalla
Valerius Patruinus211? – 212Caracalla
Gnaeus Marcius Rustius Rufinusc. 212 – c. 217Caracalla
Marcus Oclatinius Adventus215? – 217Caracalla
Marcus Opellius Macrinus[11]212? – 217Caracalla
Ulpius Julianus217? – 218Macrinus
Julianus Nestor217? – 218Macrinus
Julius Basilianus218 – 218Elagabalus
Publius Valerius Comazon218 – 221Elagabalus
Antiochianus221 – 222Elagabalus
Flavianus222 – ??Alexander Severus
Geminius Chrestus222 – ??Alexander Severus
Gnaeus Domitius Annius Ulpianus222 – 228Alexander Severus
Lucius Domitius Honoratus223/226 – ??Alexander Severus
Marcus Aedinius Julianus223? – by 238Alexander Severus
Marcus Attius Cornelianusc. 230 – c. 230Alexander Severus
Julius Paulus228 – 235Alexander Severus

Crisis of the Third Century (AD 235 – 285)[edit]

PrefectTenureEmperor served
Vitalianus ?? – 238Maximinus Thrax
Annullinus ?? – 238Maximinus Thrax
Pinarius Valens238 – 238Pupienus; Balbinus
Domitiusby. 240 – ??Gordian III
Gaius Furius Sabinius Aquila Timesitheus241 – 243Gordian III
Gaius Julius Priscus242 – after 246Gordian III; Philip the Arab
Marcus Julius Philippus243 – 244Gordian III
Maecius Gordianus244 – 244Gordian III
Quintus Herennius Potens249? – 251Decius?
Successianusc. 257 – 260Valerian
Silvanus ?? – c. 260Gallienus
Callistus Ballista260 – 261Macrianus, Quietus
Lucius Petronius Taurus Volusianusc. 260 – c. 267Gallienus
Marcus Aurelius Heraclianusby 268 – ??Gallienus
Julius Placidianusc. 270 – c. 275Aurelian
Marcus Annius Florianus275? – 276Tacitus
Marcus Aurelius Carus ?? – 282Probus
Lucius Flavius Aper282? – 284Numerian
Marcus Aurelius Sabinus Julianusc. 283? – c. 284Carinus
Titus Claudius Aurelius Aristobulus284 – 285Carinus; Diocletian

Tetrarchy to Constantine I (AD 285 – 324)[edit]

PrefectTenureEmperor served
Afranius Hannibalianus285/297Diocletian
Julius Asclepiodotus285/297Diocletian; Constantius Chlorus
Constantius Chlorus ?? – ??Diocletian
Gaius Caeionius Rufius Volusianus ?? – ??Maxentius
Publius Cornelius Anullinus ?? – ??Maxentius
Ruricius Pompeianus ?? – 312Maxentius
Julius Julianus315 – 324Licinius
Junius Annius Bassus318 – 331Constantine I

See also[edit]

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


  1. ^ Lesley and Roy Adkins. Handbook to life in Ancient Rome.Oxford University Press, 1993. ISBN 0-19-512332-8. page 241
  2. ^ M. C. J. Miller. Abbreviations in Latin.Ares Publishers, inc., 1998. ISBN 0-89005-568-8. Pages xxcii and xcvi, sub vocibus.
  3. ^ Kelly, Christopher (2004). Ruling the later Roman Empire. Harvard University Press. p. 41. ISBN 978-0-674-01564-7. 
  4. ^ The existence of Varius Ligur is disputed, and is only inferred from a single passage by Cassius Dio, who identifies him as Valerius Ligur. Modern historians suggest that, if Valerius Ligur was a prefect at all, he may have been mistaken for a man named Varius Ligur, who seems to have been a more likely candidate for the office. See Bingham (1997), p42.
  5. ^ Wiseman, Timothy Peter (1991). Death of an Emperor: Flavius Josephus (Exeter Studies in History). Northwestern University Press. pp. 59, 62. ISBN 978-0-85989-356-5. 
  6. ^ Son of Marcus Arrecinus Clemens, who was Praetorian prefect under emperor Claudius
  7. ^ Whether Tiberius Julius Alexander held the office of Praetorian prefect is disputed, and rests on a fragment from a recovered papyrus scroll. If he did held the post, he may have done so during the Jewish wars under Titus, or during the 70s as his colleague in Rome. See Lendering, Jona. "Tiberius Julius Alexander". Retrieved 2007-09-06. 
  8. ^ Son of Vespasian, the later emperor Titus
  9. ^ a b Syme, 66
  10. ^ Syme, 67
  11. ^ The later emperor Macrinus.