BMCR 2015.01.41

Praefectus, procurator, praeses: genesi delle cariche presidiali equestri dell’Alto Impero Romano. SUSMA – Studi udinesi sul mondo antico, 8

, Praefectus, procurator, praeses: genesi delle cariche presidiali equestri dell'Alto Impero Romano. SUSMA - Studi udinesi sul mondo antico, 8. Firenze; Milano: Le Monnier Università; Mondadori Education, 2011. x, 426. ISBN 9788800740647. €29.00 (pb).

Table of Contents

The book under review here emerged from a doctoral thesis defended at the Udine University in 2006. Its aim is to describe the first appearance and further development of the system of the equestrian governors in the Early Roman Empire. The chronological limits are the emergence of the prefecture of Egypt and Severus Alexander’s death, which marks the beginning of the turbulent period of the military anarchy that brought many changes to the Roman provincial organization.

The book is divided into two parts: the first (chapters 1-4) discusses the different equestrian provincial governors: the praefecti of Egypt and Sardinia and the praefecti of the different military districts and the so called “praesidial” procuratores, the equestrian governors of some provinces; in the second part (chapter 5) Faoro presents prosopographic lists of the main equestrian provinces (Alpes – Atrectianae, Cottiae and Maritimae –, Raetia, Noricum, Dacia Porolissensis, Dacia Inferior, Mauretania Caesariensis, Mauretania Tingitana). At the end a bibliography and an index of members of the equestrian order are added.

In the first part, chapters are dedicated to Egypt and Sardinia, the first provinces governed by the members of the ordo equester. A subchapter deals with the province of Corsica, also ruled by equestrian governors.

The first and the most important position is that of praefectus Aegypti. Faoro offers a very useful overview of the discussions regarding the place of Egypt among the Roman provinces. He rejects the theories that took into consideration a private possession of the divi filius, between 30-27 BC, and of the emperor Augustus thereafter. Although the former Egyptian kingdom was made a province in special circumstances at the end of the Civil War between Octavianus and Marcus Antonius, the province of Egypt was listed by Cassius Dio among the provinces given to Augustus in 27 BC, without any specification (53, 12, 7).1 Nevertheless, its unique character is shown by the fact that it was the very first provincia Caesaris, even before the arrangements of January 27 BC. But Egypt did not become a model, but merely the exception among the imperial provinces, illustrating the transition period from the Republic to the Principate, when the divi filius sought a legal solution to keep the province for himself. For the rest of the Principate this province continued to be unique, as, for example, the only province where the legionary forces were commanded by the equestrians (who enjoyed an imperium ad similitudinem proconsulis, p. 27-29) and not by the senators.

A discussion is merited here of the special case of Q. Marcius Fronto Publicius Severus, on whom Hadrian bestowed only the title of praefectus Aegypti, when he made him governor of Dacia Superior in AD 118/119, where a legion was settled (SHA, Vita Hadriani, 7, 3: “… Hadrianus … Romam venit Dacia Turboni credita, titulo Aegyptiacae praefecturae, quo plus auctoritate haberet, ornato …”).2

In January 27 BC, the province Sardinia et Corsica was left to the Senate. This changed in 6 AD, when they were divided into two separate entities, a province (Sardinia) and a district (Corsica), under a praefectus (“praefectura distrettuale”), but subordinate to the prefect of Sardinia. Corsica became a separate province only during Nero’s reign, under a procurator (p. 80). For Sardinia the abundant evidence shows that the title of praefectus was preserved even after Claudius’ reign, when the equestrian governors started to be labelled as procuratores. The official name was, until the Severan period, procurator Augusti (et) praefectus provinciae Sardiniae. The first is the title given from Claudius’ time onwards to the equestrian governors, with the exception of the praefectus Aegypti, while the second was the official title of the governor of Sardinia (p. 69-70).

District prefectures were to be found in different corners of the Empire throughout the first century AD. They were situated mainly in the still hostile frontier areas, having an evident military character, like the Alpine regions, the Danubian sector, Hispania, Syria, the Mediterranean islands, Africa, Egypt (the entire list of the epigraphically attested prefectures is to be found in a table at p. 90-101 and 107). The occupants were mostly of lower rank, such as former military tribunes, primipili or even centurions of the legions, equestrian officers on their second or third militiae, thus at the very beginning of their official careers. The prefectures were not independent units; they were part of the larger provinces in the area (e. g. Iudaea was part of Syria and praefectura Moesiae et Treballiae part of Moesia – here it should be mentioned that C. Baebius Atticus, p. 279-281, no. 1, was prefect of the praefectura after he was primus pilus and not at the same time). Faoro draws our attention to the differences between the types of prefectures in the Western part and Eastern part of the Empire. While in the West, the prefectures encompassed mostly the new acquired lands and native civitates or the recently pacified areas (e.g., the Alpine regions, NW Hispania), in the East the prefectures appeared when the former client kingdoms were annexed by the Romans. Their territories were not simply added to the provinces, and the status could change, some of these prefectures being only temporary solutions (Iudaea and Commagene were given back to new dynasts). Needless to say, the system of the district prefectures, attested almost exclusively in the first century AD (an exception was the prefecture of Mt. Berenice, in the Egyptian Eastern desert) was only the first step towards the total integration of these areas into the Roman Empire.

Starting with Claudius all the equestrian governors were named procuratores Augusti. This change could be connected with the foundations of an important number of new provinces, all governed by procurators of the equestrian rank: Mauretania Caesariensis, Mauretania Tingitana, Raetia, Noricum, the three Alpine provinces and Thracia (which was also a former client kingdom, p. 221-222; it is not at all clear that the decision to make a province there had anything to do with the death of the king Rhoemetalces III, or was rather part of Claudius’ new policy). The number of the equestrian province rose from two in AD 37 (Egypt and Sardinia, both governed by prefects) to eleven in AD 68, which proves that Claudius had decided to make new equestrian provinces (p. 156). In the time of Augustus, the procurators had only financial duties in the sphere of fiscus Caesaris and patrimonium Caesaris. The new assignments from Claudius onwards were the public reflection of the consolidation of the Principate (p. 157-160).

Subchapters are dedicated to the legal powers of the procurators, which were regulated by the mandata issued by the Princeps (p. 165-183 – a special discussion is devoted to the ius gladii of the procurators as epigraphically attested, p. 172-176); and to the title of pro legato attached to some of procurators in specific conditions (p. 183-195).

The exact meaning of title pro legato, attached to the procurators, is still controversial, but it has generally been explained as the right conceded to a procurator to command legionary forces, or the right to command and conduct military expeditions beyond the limits of his province (p. 184). Faoro tries to challenge these widespread views. He emphasizes that the title appeared in the time of Augustus after the model of the legatus Augusti, not to describe a specific function, but as a military supplement to another commission ( tribunus militum (et) pro legato, praefectus fabrum (et) pro legato or praefectus (et) pro legato). He concludes that from the time of Claudius, all the procurators had the title of pro legato, which seems to have been the full title of a procurator during the Principate, i. e. procurator Augusti pro legato (p. 194-195). The paucity of attestations speaks nevertheless strongly against Faoro’s conclusions, despite his claim that it would have been superfluous to have the entire title rendered on the inscriptions. T. Flavius Priscus Gallonius Fronto Q. Marcius Turbo’ career ( procurator pro legato provinciae Mauretaniae Caesariensis and, above all, pro legato et praefectus provinciae Daciae inferioris) proves that the title was somehow connected with the military operations (p. 301-304. Faoro dismisses the evidence saying that the title is a simple engraving error on the inscription, p. 303). 4 In my opinion, the question remains open; the title must have meant something, and was not merely an “accurata formulazione della titolatora” or a “puntualizzazione della natura della carica” (p. 195).

The last chapter is a very useful prosopography, with commentary, of the equestrian governors of the three Alpine provinces, Raetia,3 Dacia Inferior, Dacia Porolissensis,5 Sardinia, Mauretania Caesariensis and Mauretania Tingitana. The prosopographies are preceded by short institutional histories of the provinces. Short presentations are also dedicated to Thracia ( Q. Vettidius Bassus is now also attested by a military diploma from AD 88;6 Ti. Claudius Sacerdos Iulianus was quite probably his successor), Epirus, Pontus and Hispania superior, in an introductory note, but only mentioning the attested procurators (p. 221-225). Only one observation: since many of the future equestrian governors began their careers as equestrian officers of the auxiliary units, one might have expected a better knowledge of their history and deployment.7

In this book, Faoro tries to provide a better understanding of the institution of the equestrian governors in the Roman Empire. He succeeds in presenting an convincing picture overall, although some of details remain open to question, due to the elliptic character of our epigraphic sources (e. g. the title of pro legato). He should also be praised for not simply accepting long established ideas; he has analysed once again all the available sources on a question, proposing sometime very different conclusions. One of the achievements of this book is the lists of the attested equestrian governors, which will be a good starting point of different future studies.


1. See also Dietmar Kienast, Augustus. Prinzeps und Monarch, Darmstadt, 2009 (the fourth edition), p. 86-87.

2. For his career see Ioan Piso, Fasti provinciae Daciae II. Die ritterliche Amtsträger, Bonn, 2013 (Antiquitas. Reihe 1. Abhandlungen zur alten Geschichte, Band 60), p. 67-109, with the special discussion on the passage at p. 93-99.

3. See also Davide Faoro, Neues zu den ritterlichen Fasten der Statthalter Raetiens, Bayerische Vorgeschichtsblätter 73, 2008, p. 1-25.

4. For an extensive discussion on his career see Piso (above n. 2), p. 151-159, no. 86.

5. For Dacia Porolissensis and Dacia inferior one should now also consult Piso (above n. 2), p. 111-172, with more details on the procurators’ careers. To the lists compiled by Faoro and Piso there is a new addition, Clodius Gallus (known until now only as Clo[- – -], RMD II 128), the attested governor of Dacia Porolissensis in 142, Werner Eck, Andreas Pangerl, Zwei neue Diplome für die Truppen von Dacia Superior und Dacia Porolissensis, Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 191, 2014, p. 271-276.

6. Werner Eck, Andreas Pangerl, Zwei Diplome für die Truppen der Provinz Thracia, darunter das früheste unter Kaiser Domitian, Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 188, 2014, p. 250-253, no. 1.

7. For the Danubian provinces the excessive use of the old book published by Walter Wagner, Die Dislokation der römischen Auxiliarformationen in den Provinzen Noricum, Pannonien, Moesien und Dakien von Augustus bis Gallienus, Berlin, 1938, is the cause of many shortcomings, too many to mention here.