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Magistrates

Roman government officials of the Republic and early Empire

The meaning of this word is somewhat different from its normal, modern meaning when it is applied to the study of Roman history. Today, when someone mentions a magistrate, he is usually referring to a judge. The word actually comes from the Latin MAGISTER, meaning a government official. Early Roman magistrates included the consuls, or two Roman heads of state who were supposed to govern in cooperation with the Senate. Other magistrates appointed by the Senate included praetors or judges; quaestors or financial officers, proconsuls or provincial governors who had once been consuls, and censors. Procurators were powerful administrative agents, usually sent by the emperor to represent his interests in the provinces. Their authority usually overlapped that of the provincial governor and friction between these two officers often developed.

The later Roman Empire had a vast array of magistrates, most of whom were appointed by the emperor and all of whom were in imperial service. They did not answer to the Senate any longer as the Senate had lost most of its power to the imperial government and its purpose was largely ceremonial. It had, in effect, become a government club for rich aristocrats.

To see some examples of later Roman magistrates and experience the pomp, pageantry, and rich opulence of the late Roman Empire’s government, see the topic on the Notitia Dignitatum, a beautifully illustrated encyclopedia of the rank held by the magistrates, their symbols of office, and geographic areas for which they were responsible.


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