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Praetorian Prefect

The title of Praetorian Prefect was given to the commander of the imperial bodyguard (Praetorian Guard). The Praetorian Guard was formed by the emperor Augustus to help prevent assassins from reaching the emperor and murdering him as Brutus and his companions had murdered Julius Caesar. The praetorian prefect was sometimes able to concentrate much power in his hands. Some praetorian prefects were even more powerful than the emperors they served. Also, instead of protecting the emperor from assassination, many times the Praetorian Guard were the very ones to murder an emperor, especially during the political chaos of the Third Century. Septimius Severus disbanded the Praetorian Guard as unreliable and seditious rebels and put his own hand picked men in their place. Constantine finally disbanded the Guard for good, deeming it more a dangerous nuisance than imperial protection. In its place, he instituted the SCHOLAE PALATINAE, or palace guard. They were organized differently and better regulated than the Praetorian Guard.

The Title of Praetorian Prefect did not disappear, though. In the sweeping political changes started by Diocletian and largely completed by Constantine, the Praetorian Prefect became an entirely civilian government office and lost any military powers it once had. The Empire was divided into three large regions called prefectures, each one under a praetorian prefect. The praetorian prefects were thus the most powerful civilian government ministers.


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