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praefectus praetorio

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Augustus first appointed praetorian prefects (see praefectus) to command the praetorians in 2 bc; there were usually two, of equestrian rank. He recognized the importance of the prefecture, since it controlled the only significant military force in Rome. Prefects were selected personally by the emperor more for reliability than any specialist expertise, and their status and power increased because they had the ear of the emperor, who tended to confide in them and delegate some of his increasing administrative burden. The prefect was the only official permitted to bear a sword in the emperor's presence. The personal influence gained by several prefects enhanced the role of the prefecture itself, e.g. Aelius Seianus, who also persuaded Tiberius to concentrate the guard in one camp in Rome and became sole prefect (there were further instances of this, e.g. Afranius Burrus, Ofonius Tigellinus). By ad 70, prefects were usually granted consular ornaments (see ornamenta), and the prefecture had become the most important equestrian post, the climax of a career which had often begun with the equestrian military offices or even a chief centurionate. Prefects were often to become involved in political intrigues, and many met violent deaths.

As regular members of the emperor's advisory council (consilium principis), they helped to formulate imperial policy; they also had significant military responsibilities, since one prefect usually travelled with the emperor on campaign, sometimes even commanding an army in the field. Gradually they also acquired judicial functions (perhaps arising from their police powers in Rome), and by the late 2nd cent. exercised independent jurisdiction in Italy; Septimius Severus confirmed their jurisdiction in Italy beyond the hundredth milestone from Rome (within was the responsibility of the city prefect; see praefectus urbi).

Subjects: Classical studies

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