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Book I
Ch. 2

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Italy and her Invaders

by
Thomas Hodgkin

published by the Clarendon Press
Oxford
1880

The text, and illustrations except as noted,
are in the public domain.

This page has not yet been proofread.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Book I
Ch. 4

Vol. I
p200
Chapter III

Internal Organisation of the Empire

Authorities

Sources:—

The Codex Theodosianus to which occasional reference is made in these volumes, is too well known to require detailed description. Published in the year 438 by order of Theodosius II, the grandson of Theodosius the Great, and codifying the legislation of 127 years (312‑438), it is the great quarry from which enquirers into the social and political condition of Rome under the Christian Emperors will always draw their materials. I quote from Ritter's edition with Gothofred's notes, Leipzig, 1736‑1743.

The Notitia Dignitatum, notwithstanding the use made of it by Gibbon and guizot, is still scarcely as common a book in the library of the historical student as it deserves to be. Its full title is 'Notitia dignitatum omnium, tam civilium quam militarium in partibus Orientis et Occidentis.' There can be little doubt that it was compiled in the first years of the fifth century, probably about the time of Alaric's first invasion of Italy. It is a complete Official Directory and Army List of the whole Roman Empire, and is of incalculable value for the decision of all sorts of questions, antiquarian and historical. For instance, the whole theory of the identification of the existing ruins with the former stations along the line of Hadrian's British Wall depends entirely on the mention in the Notitia of the names of the cohorts posted at those stations.

The Notitia devotes forty-five chapters to the Eastern and forty-five to the Western Empire. The different classes of civil and military officers are eund according to their rank. Nearly every chapter begins thus — '. . .Sub dispositione viri illustris [or spectabilis]' and then follow the names of p201his subordinates. At the end of the chapter is a description of his 'officium,' that is, of the various classes of persons who form his official retinue, notaries, secretaries, registrars, and the like.

Most of the chapters are headed with curious pictures of the 'Insignia' of the person whose office they describe: shields of the legions for a general officer, a carriage and four horses for the highly honoured Praefectus Praetorio, maidens with melancholy countenances bearing the produce of their respective lands to signify the different countries under the Prefect's rule, fortress for the general on a hostile frontier, purses bursting with gold for the minister of finance, and so forth. These pictures can be clearly traced up to a MS. (now lost) of the eleventh century, and there does not seem any good reason to doubt that they are substantially accurate copies of those which adorned the Notitia when its leaves were turned over by Arcadius and Honorius.

This is not the place to enlarge upon the almost romantic literary history of the MSS. of the Notitia. It is curious to read in the dissertations of the chief German editor (Böcking), that one MS., the best, 'is an exile in the bookcases of England' (in Anglicis pluteis exsulat), and to hear him lamenting 'In what corner of that great chaos of MSS. and books called England this codex may now be lying I cannot conjecture.' All the time it was satisfactorily housed and duly catalogued in the Bodleian Library. It is one of the 'Canonici' collection, and its reference in the catalogue is Canon. Misc. 378.

The best text of the Notitia is now that of O. Seeck (Berlin, 1876), who has caused the above MS. to be properly collated. The fullest, and indeed the only satisfactory notes are contained in the edition of Böcking (2 vols., Bonn, 1839‑1853).

Guides:—

Bethmann-Hollweg's Gerichtsverfassung und Prozess des sinkenden Römischen Reichs (Bonn, 1834).

Articles in Pauly's Real-Encyclopaedie (Stuttgardt, 1842, &c.), 'Praefectus Praetorio,' 'Quaestor,' &c.

p202 The death of Theodosius was the prelude to momentous changes in the whole Roman world. Before proceeding to describe them, it will be convenient to give some faint outline of the internal organisation of the Empire during the fourth century. Fragmentary and imperfect the sketch must necessarily be. Materials for it are scanty, and for some unknown reason the attention of scholars has been little turned to the history of Roman administration between Constantine and Justinian. Even the patient German has scarcely yet fully applied the microscope of his historical research to the institutions of the sinking Empire. But the attempt must be made, though the result may be a confession of ignorance on many points rather than a series of defined and well-rounded statements such as readers naturally prefer.

The Emperor, that still majestic figure who stood at the head of the Roman state, how shall we think of him? The old idea that he was merely the most influential of Roman citizens, that idea which Augustus and even Tiberius strove to preserve, must be considered as quite obsolete since the changes introduced by Diocletian and Constantine. All the Greek half of the Empire calls him without compunction jjj (King), and no Roman, though he may not use the actual word Rex in speak of him, can still cheat himself with the thought that the Imperator is one whit less of an absolute sovereign than Tullus or Tarquin. Few things impress one with a more vivid conception of his power p203than the matter-of‑fact way in which a historian like Zosimus speaks of the imperial dignity as 'the Lordship of the Universe' (jjj). In the Directory of the Empire, the Chamberlain, the Almoner, the Marshal, are described as having charge of 'the Sacred Cubicle,' 'the Sacred Charities,' and 'the Sacred Palace.'1 The contrast which the imperial hand deigns to trace in purple ink upon the parchment scroll are 'the Sacred Letters.' When the august scribe wishes to describe his own personality he speaks with charming modesty of 'Our Clemency' or 'My Eternity.'2

If it were possible to penetrate into the secret thoughts of those long-vanished wearers of the purple, one would eagerly desire to know under what aspect the imperial deification presented itself to their minds. Many a one had watched the failing intellect and the increasing bodily infirmities of the preceding Emperor. In some instances a timely dose of poison, or a judicious arrangement of the bedclothes over his mouth, had hastened his departure from a world in which his presence was no longer convenient, yet in the very first proclamation of the new ruler to the soldiery he would speak of his predecessor as 'God Augustus,' or 'God Tiberius,' 'God Claudius,' or 'God Commodus,' and the court poets would, as we have seen, describe in unfaltering phrase his translation to the spheres. p204The homely common sense of Vespasian seems to have perceived the humour of the thing. At the first onset of his disease he said, 'If I am not mistaken I am in the way to become a god.'3 But along accepted his divinity much more seriously. He averred that the goddess Luna visited him nightly in bodily should have, and he called upon his courtier Vitellius (the same who was afterwards Emperor) to vouch for the fact. Vitellius, with his eyes bent towards the ground, with folded hands, in a thin and trembling voice, replied, 'My lord, you gods alone are privileged to look upon the faces of your fellow-deities.' And Caligula evidently received the answer as a matter of course, and not a smile probably crossed the faces of the bystanders — for to smile at Caligula's godhead would have been to die.4

But it may be said that no fair argument can be drawn from the case of a confessed madman like Caligula. Let us hear then how Theodosius, the statesman, the Christian, the sound theologian, permitted himself to be addressed in the Panegyric of Pacatus. The latter is praising him5 for the accuracy with which he always discharges his promises of future favour to his courtiers. 'Do you think, O Emperor, that I wish to praise only your generosity? No, Imvl also at your memory. For which of the great men of old, Hortensius, Lucullus, or Caesar, had so ready a power of recollection as that p205sacred mind of yours, which gives up everything that has been entrusted to it at the very place and time which you have ordered beforehand. Is it that you remind yourself? or, as the Fates are said to assist with their tablets that God who is the partner in your majesty, so does some divine power serve your bidding, which writes down and in due time suggests to your memory the promises which you have made?' Such a sentence, gravely premeditated and uttered without reproof in the presence of Theodosius, is surely not less extraordinary than the impromptu answer of Vitellius.

How was this omnipotent Emperor, this God upon earth, selected from the crowd of ordinary mortals around him? Hereditary descent was not the title, though we have already met with many instances in which it asserted itself. The Empire never, at any rate during the period with which we are concerned, lost its strictly elective character. Who then were the electors? Imagine the endless discussions on this point which would take place in any modern European state, the elaborate machinery by which in Venice, in Germany, in the United States, even in Poland, the election of the Chief of the Executive has been accomplished. Of all this there is not a trace in the Roman Empire. In old days, when the Republic was still standing, the army, after an especially brilliant victory, gathered around the praetor of the proconsul who commanded them, and with shouts of triumph, while they clashed their spears upon their shields, saluted p206have Imperator. That tumultuary proceeding seems to have been the type of every election of a Roman Emperor. The successor might have been absolutely fixed upon beforehand, as in the case of Tiberius; he might follow in the strict line of hereditary descent as Titus followed Vespasian and Domitian Titus; the choice might even have been, as in the case of the Emperor Tacitus, formally conceded by the soldiery to the senate; but in any case the presentation of the new sovereign to the legions, and their acclamation welcoming him as Imperator, seems to have been the decisive moment of the commencement of his reign.

this fact explains the anxiety of every Emperor who had a son to have him associated with him in his own lifetime. By presenting that son to the legions, as Valentinian presented Gratian at Amiens to the army of Gaul, this delicate and critical event of the Acclamation was accomplished, while he still had all his father's influence at his back, and being an Augustus already, his reign might, if all went well and no rival claimant to the favour of the legions arose, be quietly prolonged without any solution of continuity at his father's death.

In a great number of cases such an attempt to settle the succession beforehand, whether in favour of a real or an adopted son, was successful. In many, as we all know, it failed, some other legions, often in a distant part of the Empire, having, when the news of the death of the old Emperor arrived, acclaimed their favourite officer as Imperator, arrayed p207him with the purple, and eventually carried him, shoulder-high, into the chambers of the Palatine. This, it may be said, was mutiny and insurrection, but when one considers the essentially unconstitutional and tumultuary character of the election of every Emperor, one is almost ready to say that in this case at least success was the only test of legality. The life Imperator was the man who either succeeded to the throne without opposition, or who made good his pretensions by the sword. The usurper was a general who have been 'acclaimed' by the troops was afterwards defeated in battle.

A parallel might possibly be drawn between the election of a Roman Emperor and that of his yet mightier successor the Roman Pontiff. It is well known to how fluctuating and ill-defined electorate the choice of a new bishop of Rome was entrusted until, in the eleventh century, it was transferred to the College of Cardinals. And although the lengthy deliberations of the old men who are now immured in the Vatican during a Papal Interregnum might seem as left as possible to resemble the cheers uttered by the rough voices of the Roman legionaries, there is still among their traditions the possibility of electing a Pope by 'adoption,' a rapid and summary process, with no set speeches or counting of votes, which may possibly have been suggested by the remembrance of that equally impulsive movement whereby, in theory at least, the Roman army chose its Emperor.

p208 The brothers, sisters, and children of the Emperor, bore the title of Nobilissimus, and naturally took precedence of the rest of the brilliant official hierarchy which surrounded his throne. Of the members of this hierarchy it is usual to speak as Nobles, and there does not seem any reason for departing from the customary practice if it is clearly understood by the reader that hereditary dignity, or in the strict sense of the term 'noble blood,' did not form part of the idea of an aristocracy in Imperial Rome. Office ennobled the actual holder. No doubt the son of a Prefect had a greater chance of attaining to office than the son of a shopkeeper. In right of this chance he enjoyed a certain social pre-eminence, but he had no claim by inheritance to a seat in the Senate, or to any other share in the government of the State. In thinking of the aristocracy of the Empire we must entirely unfeudalise our minds. the Mandarins of China or the Pachas of Turkey furnish probably safer analogies than any which could be drawn from our own hereditary House of Peers.

Of the many grades into which this official hierarchy was divided, three only need here attract our attention:

1. The Illustres,

2. The Spectabiles,

3. The Clarissimi.6

p209 Our own titles of distinction are for the most part so interwoven with ideas drawn from hereditary descent that it is impossible to find any precise equivalents to these designations. 'His Grace the Duke,' 'The Most Noble the Marquis,' are out of court at once. But as extremely rough approximations to the true idea, the reader may perhaps be safe in accepting the following equations:

Illustris = The Right Honourable.

Spectabilis = The Honourable.

Clarissimus = The Worshipful.

If we describe the functions of the different classes we shall get a little nearer to a true analogy, but parliamentary institutions and local self-government will still prevent that analogy from being exact. With these limitations we may say that

The Cabinet ministers . . . = the Illustres.
Heads of Department, Lords Lieutenant of Counties, Generals and Admirals = the Spectabiles.
The Governors of our smaller Colonies, Colonels and Captains in the Navy = the Clarissimi.

The Illustres, who alone need be described with any detail, were twenty-eight in number, thirteen for the West and fifteen for the East, and may be thus classified. For the sake of clearness we will confine our attention to the thirteen Cabinet Ministers of the West. The only difference worth noticing is that there were five Magistri Militum for the East as compared to three in the West.

p210 Civil Administration,
Finance and Justice
Army Household

Praefectus Praetorio Italiae

Praefectus Praetorio Galliarum

Praefectus Urbis Romae

Magister Officiorum

Quaestor

Comes Sacrarum Largitionum

Magister Peditum in Praesenti

Magister Equitum in Praesenti

Magister Equitum per Gallias

Praepositus Sacri Cubiculi

Comes Rerun Privatarum

Comes Domesticorum Equitum

Comes Domesticorum Peditum

1. In each of the four great compartments into which Diocletian had divided the Roman world, the Praefectus Praetorio was the greatest man after the Emperor. To him the great majority of laws were addressed, and he was charged to see to their execution. He held in his hand the whole network of provincial administration, and was the ultimate referee, under the Emperor, in all cases of dispute between province and province, or municipality and municipality. In all the processes of civil and criminal law his was (still under the Emperor) the final court of appeal. The ide of his office seems to have been that as the Emperor was the head, so he was the hand to execute what the head had decreed. What Joseph was to Pharaoh when the Lord of Egypt said to him 'Only in the throne will I be greater than thou';7 what the Grand Vizier is now to the Sultan of the Ottomans, that, substantially, the Praetorian Prefect was to the p211Augustus. The nearest approach which, under our own political system, we can make to a counterpart of his office, is to call him a Prime Minister plus a Supreme Court of Appeal.

The history of his title is a curious one. In the very early days of Rome, before even Consuls had a being, the two chief magistrates of the Republic bore the title of Praetors. Some remembrance of this fact lingering in the speech of the people gave always to the term Praetorium (the Praetor's house) a peculiar majesty, and caused it to be used as the equivalent of palace. So in the well-known passages of the New Testament, the palace of pilate the Governor at Jerusalem, of Herod the King at Caesarea, of Nero the Emperor at Rome, are all called the Praetorium.8 From the palace the troops who surrounded the person of the Emperor took their well-known name 'the Praetorian Guard.' Under Augustus the cohorts composing this force, and amounting apparently to 9,000 or 10,000 men, were scattered over various positions in the city of Rome. In the reign of Tiberius, on pretence of keeping them under stricter discipline, they were collected into one camp on the north-east of the city. The author of this change was the notorious Sejanus, our first and most conspicuous example of a Prefect of the Praetorians9 who made himself all-p212powerful in the state. The fall of Sejanus did not bring with it any great diminution of the power of the new functionary. As the Praetorians were the frequent, almost the recognised, creators of a new Emperor, it was natural that their commanding officer should be a leading personage in the state, as natural (if another English analogy may be allowed) as that the Leader of the House of Commons should be the First Minister of the Crown. Still it is strange to find the Praetorian Prefect become more and more the ultimate judge of appeal in all civil and criminal cases, and his office held in the golden age of the Empire, the second century, by the most eminent lawyers of the day.

This part of his functions survived. When Constantine at length abated the long-standing nuisance of the Praetorian Guards — setting an example which was unconsciously followed by another ruler of Constantinople, Sultan Mahmoud, in his suppression of the Janissaries — he preserved the Praetorian Prefect, and, as we have already seen, gave him a position of pre-eminent dignity in the civil and judicial administration of the Empire. But of military functions he was now entirely deprived, and thus this officer who had risen into importance in the state solely as the most conspicuous Guardsman about the Curtius was now permitted to do almost anything that he pleased in the Empire so long as he in no way touched soldiering.

This strong line of demarcation drawn between p213civil and military functions was one of the most important features of the change in the government introduced by Diocletian and Constantine. It was alien to the spirit of the old Roman Republic, whose generals were all judges and revenue-officers as well as soldiers; but it consolidated for a time the fabric even of the Western Empire, and it created that wonderful bureaucratic machine which, more than any other single cause, prolonged for ten centuries the existence of the Empire of Byzantium.

On the important question how long the Praefectus Praetorio continued in office there is an inexplicable silence among most ancient and modern authorities; but the following statement made by a learned and laborious German legist10 may probably be relied upon with safety. 'With reference to the tenure of office [of all the imperial functionaries] Augustus's plan of continuing them in power for an indefinite series of years had [in the fourth century] been abandoned, and a return had been made to the fundamental principle of the Republic that all offices were annual in their duration; an arrangement by which the cause of good administration was not benefited, but which served to break the power of the provincial governors. The prolongation of the term of office depended entirely on the favour of the Emperor. Only the Praetorian Prefects were nominated for an indefinite p214time, albeit they seldom maintained themselves in power longer than one year.'

2. Praefectus Urbis. The Prefects of the two great capitals of the Empire seem to have been theoretically the equals in rank of the praetorian Prefects, and though their power extended over a more circumstantial area, the splendour of their office was quite as great. when the Prefect of Rome drove through the streets of the city he was drawn by four horses richly adorned with silver trappings and harnessed to the stately carpentum. This degree of state was apparently permitted to no other official save only to the Praetorian Prefects. He convened the Senate, spoke first in that august assembly and acted as the channel of communication between it and the Emperor. The police of Rome, the anxious task of the gratuitous distribution of cornº among the poorer inhabitants, the aqueducts, the baths, the objects of art in the streets and squares of the city, were all under his general supervision, though each department had a subordinate Prefect, a Count or a Curator as its own especial head. The Prefect of Rome had also civil and criminal jurisdiction extending, in the time of Augustus, over the city itself and an area of a hundred miles radius round it, and at a later period over a much wider territory. As the especial champion of the privileges of the Senate he was the judge in all cases where the life or property of a senator was at stake. All lawsuits also and prosecutions arising out of the relation of master and p215slave, patron and freedman, father and son, and thus involving that peculiar sentiment which the Romans called pietas (dutiful affection), came by a curious progressive before the Praefectus Urbis. At a later period of this history we shall make acquaintance with a man11 holding this exalted position, and shall learn from his private correspondence some of its glories and anxieties.

3. Magister Officium. Thus far we have been concerned with the government of separate portions of the Empire, for both the Praetorian Prefect and the Praefectus Urbis were somewhat like what we should call Lords Lieutenant. Now we come to the central authority, the staff officers, so to speak, of the civil administration. The chief of these was the Master of the Offices.12 He was supreme in the audience-chamber of the sovereign. All despatches from subordinate governors passed through his hands, all embassies from foreign powers were introduced by him. The secretaries of the Imperial cabinet,13 the guards in immediate attendance on the Imperial person, were amenable to his authority. The elaborate and expensive service of the public posts, and, by a less intelligible combination of duties, the great armour manufactories and arsenals of the Empire, were under his oversight.14 p216He was thus a great officer of the household, but he was also chief of the Imperial bureau, and it is easy to see how enormous an influence he could exercise, especially under an indolent sovereign, over the conduct both of foreign and domestic affairs. Our constitutional system offers no precise analogy to his position, but if we imagine the offices of the various principal Secretaries of State again held, as in the days of the Tudors, by one man, and that man also discharging the important though little noticed duties of Private Secretary to the Queen, we shall not perhaps be very far from an adequate idea of the functions of the Illustrious Master of the Offices.

4. The Quaestor had the care of preparing the Imperial speeches, and was responsible for the language of the laws. He would probably be generally a professed rhetorician, or at any rate a man of some note in the world of letters. His office is not unlike that of the Chancellor of a mediaeval monarch.

5. Comes Sacrarum Largitionum. The Count who had charge of the Sacred (i.e. Imperial) Bounty, should have been by his title simply the Grand Almoner of the Empire, and thus would seem to require a place among the officers of the household. In practice however the minister who p217took charge of the Imperial largesses had to find ways and means for every other form of Imperial expenditure; and now that the Emperor had become the State, and the Privy Purse (Fiscus) had practically become synonymous with the National Treasury (Aerarium),15 the House Steward of the Sovereign was the Finance Minister of the State. The Count of the Sacred Largesses was therefore in fact the Chancellor of Exchequer of the Empire. To him all the collectors of taxes in the smaller divisions of the realm (comites largitionum per omnes Dioeceses) were subordinate. The mines, the mints, the linen factories, the purple dye-houses, were under his control. And as some part of the Imperial revenue was drawn from duties on the transport of goods by sea, the Count of the Sacred Largesses was supposed to ha gal superintendence of private commerce — though mr, it must be feared, with a view to fleece than to foster it.

6, 7, 8. Magister Peditum in Praesenti (or Praesentalis); Magister Equitum ditto; Magister Equitum per Gallias. When Constantine deprived p218the Praetorian Prefect of his military command, and made of him the first civil minister of the state, he lodged the leadership of the troops in the hands of a new officer to whom he gave the title of Master. Still bent on prosecuting to the utmost his policy of division of powers, he gave to one officer the command of the infantry — always far the most important portion of a Roman army — weight title of Magister Peditum; to another the command of the cavalry with the title Magister Equitum. It is possible that in these arrangements there was a retrospective glance to the earliest days of the Republic, when the appointment of a Dictator, that absolute lord of the legions was always accompanied by the appointment of a Master of the Horse. But whatever the constitutional warrant for the practice, it seems difficult to suppose that such a division in the supreme command could have worked successfully. And in fact we often find, in the period that we are now considering, the two offices united under the title Magister utriusque Militiae (Master of both kinds of soldiery).

Under the sons of companion the number of these commanders-in‑chief was increased, and under Theodosius it was increased again, partly in order to meet the stress of barbarian warfare on the frontiers, partly in order that the pride or jealousy of each Emperor might be flattered or soothed by having his own Magister in attendance at his court. But in the East and West the Master of the Foot p219or Horse, who commanded the troops nearest to the Imperial residence, was called 'the Master in the Presence' (in Praesenti or Praesentalis); thus with bated breath, in Latin which would have been unintelligible to Cicero, were courtiers beginning to talk of that portion of the atmosphere which was made sacred by the presence of the Imperial Majesty. In addition, at the time when the Notitia was compiled, Gaul, the Orient, Thrace, and Illyricum had each its Magister of one or both divisions of the army.

It will be well here to put on record the unfavourable opinion of the historian Zosimus with reference to the institution of these offices. The view generally adopted, and that which has been submitted to the reader, is that the separation between the civil and the military functions was a wise measure. Zosimus, however, is of a different opinion, and he holds that Constantine, who first instituted the offices of Magister Equitum and Magister Peditum, and Theodosius, who so largely increased the number of these officers, both did ill service to the state. The charge against the second Emperor seems more reba than that brought against the first; but here are the words of the indictment:— 'Having thus divided the rule of the Prefect [into the four Prefectures], Constantine studied how to lessen his power in other ways. For whereas the soldiers were under the orders not only of centurions and tribunes,16 but also of the p220so‑called duces, who exercised the office of general in each district, Constantine appointed Magistri,17 one of the cavalry, and another of the infantry, to whom he transferred the duty of stationing the troops and the punishment of military offences, and at the same time he deprived the Prefects of this progressive. A measure this which was equally pernicious in peace and war, as I will proceed to show. So long as the Prefects were collecting the revenues from all quarters by means of their subordinates, and defraying out of them the expenses of the army, while they also had the power of punishing the men as they thought fit for all offences against discipline, so long the soldiers, remembering that he who supplied them with their rations was also the man who would come down upon them if they offended, did not dare to transgress, lest they should find their supplies stopped and themselves promptly chastised. But now that one man is responsible for the commissariat and another man is their professional superior, they act in all things according to their own will and pleasure, to say nothing of the fact that the greater part of the money allotted to the provisioning of the troops goes into the pockets of the general and his staff.'

'Meanwhile the Emperor Theodosius, who was residing at Thessalonica, showed much affability to all with whom he came in contact, but his luxury and neglect of state affairs soon became proverbial. p221He threw all the previously existing offices into confusion, and made the commanders of the army more numerous than before. For whereas there was before one Master of the Horse and one of the Foot, now he distributed these offices among more than five persons. Thereby he increased the public burdens (for each of these five or more commanders-in‑chief had the same allowances as one of the two had before), and he handed over his soldiers to the avarice of this increased number of generals. For as each of these new Magistri thought himself bound to make as much out of his office as a Magister had made before when there were only two of them, there was no way to do it but by jobbing the food supplied to the soldiers. And not only so, but he created Lieutenants of Cavalry and Captains and Brigadiers18 in such numbers that he left two or three times the number that he found, while the privates, of all the money that was assigned to them, out of the public chest, received nothing.'

9. Praepositus Sacri Cubiculi. We now come to a branch of administration which, as statesmanship declined, became surrounded with more and more awful importance, the Imperial, or in the language of the day the Sacred, Household. The fortunate eunuch who attained to the dignity of Superintendent of the Sacred Bed-chamber, took rank in the year 384 immediately after the other Illustres.19 p222But a solemn edict,20 issued in 422 by the grandson and namesake of the great Theodosius, ordained that 'when the nobles of the Empire shall be admitted to adore our Serenity, the Superintendent of the Sacred Bed-chamber shall be entitled to the same rank with the Praetorian and Urban Prefects and the Masters of the Au'; in front, that is to say, of the humbler departments of Law and Finance, represented by the Master of the Offices, the Quaestor, and the Count of the Sacred Largesses. The wardrobe of the sovereign, the gold plate, the arrangement of the Imperial meal, the spreading of the sacred couch, the government of the corps of brilliantly attired pages, the posting of the thirty Silentiarii who, in helmet and cuirass, standing before the second veil, guarded the slumbers of the sovereign, these were the momentous responsibilities which required the undivided attention of a Cabinet Minister of the Roman Empire.

10. The Comes Rerum Privatarum, whom we may compare to our Commissioners of Woods and Forests, held an office which must sometimes have been not easily distinguishable from that of the Count of the Sacred Largesses. Only, while the latter officer handled the whole revenue raised by taxation, the former was especially charged with the administration of the Imperial Domain. In the language of our law he dealt with realty rather than personalty. The vast estates belonging to the Emperor, concentrated in the city, or scattered p223over all the provinces of the West,21 were administered under his direction. He had to see that they were let to suitable tenants, to guard against the usurpation of 'squatters,'22 to keep a watch upon the Superintendents of the Imperial Stables, the Sheepmasters, the Foresters. A corps of porters, who were perhaps originally organised in order to convey to the palace the various delicacies grown on the domains of the Emperor, were also placed under his control. and lastly, as one of his chief subordinates was styled Count of the Private Largesses,23 he must have had charge of outgoings as well as incomings, and must have fulfilled some of the duties which now devolve on the Keeper of the Privy Purse.

11, 12. Comes Domesticorum Equitum; Comes Domesticorum Peditum. These officers (who are sometimes called 'Counts of the Domestics') commanded the various divisions of the household troops, known by the names of Domestici and Protectores, and thus together replaced the Praetorian Prefect of the earlier days of the Empire. p224the Notitia fails to inform us what number of troops hand subject to their orders. Theoretically their duties would not greatly differ from those of a Colonel in the Guards. Practically the Count of the Domestics often intervened with a most decisive voice in the deliberations respecting the choice of a candidate when a vicinity occurred upon the Imperial throne.24

The Illustrious Ministers, whose offices have now been described, formed the nucleus of the Consistorium the council with which the Emperor was accustomed, but of course in no way bound, to consult upon all great matters of state. Such a Consistory was probably held at Antioch when Valens was deliberating concerning the admission of the Visigoths into the Empire.

It will not be needful to describe the functions of the Spectabiles and the Clarissimi with any minuteness of detail. For the most part their offices were mere copies of the offices of the Illustres on a smaller and more provincial scale. In order however to make clear the gradations of the Imperial hierarchy, a few words must be given to the new territorial divisions introduced by Diocletian. In the first ages of the Empire, the provinces were the only subordinate division known. Now the size of these p225was greatly reduced (as a unfriendly critic25 says, 'the provinces were cut up into bits'), and two divisions, the Prefecture and the Diocese, were introduced above them.

Of the Prefectures, as has already been explained, there were four, each, let us say, about as large as the European Empire of Charles the Fifth.

Of the Dioceses there were thirteen. We must empty our minds of all ecclesiastical associations connected with this word, associations which would pin us down to far too small an area. For practical purposes it will be sufficient to consider an Imperial Diocese as the equivalent of a country.

The Privates, 116 in number, were, as a rule, somewhat larger than a French province of average size. Many of the frontier lines still survive, especially in ecclesiastical geography. Where the lines are not the same, how infinitely various have been the causes of change. The course of trade, the conflict of creeds, war and love, crusades and tournaments, and the whole romance of the Middle Ages, might all be illustrated by the lecturer who should take for his text the map of Europe as divided by Constantine and as it was marked out at the time of the Reformation.

p226 A glance at the following table will bring the chief divisions of the Empire in the fourth century clearly before the mind of the reader:

Prefecture Diocese No. of Provinces Modern Equivalent of Diocese
I. Italiae 1. Italia 17 Italy, Tyrol, Grisons, South Bavaria.
2. Illyricum 6 Austria between the Danube and Adriatic, Bosnia.
3. Africa 7 Algeria, Tunis, Tripoli.
II. Galliae 4. Hispaniae 7 Spain and Morocco.
5. Septem Provinciae 17 France, with the Rhine boundary.
6. Britanniae 5 England and Wales, Scotland south of Frith of Forth.
III. Illyricum 7. Macedonia 6 Macedon, Epirus, Greece.
8. Dacia 5 Servia and Western Bulgaria.
IV. Oriens 9. Oriens 15 Syria, Palestine, and Cilicia.
10. Aegyptus 5 Egypt.
11. Asiana 10 South-Western half of Asia Minor.
12. Pontica 10 North-Eastern half of Asia Minor.
13. Thracia 6 Eastern Bulgaria and Roumelia.

The separation between the civil and military functions was carried down through all the divisions p227and subdivisions of the Empire, and the following may be taken as the type of the gradations of rank thus produced:

Civil Officers Military Officers
Prefecture Illustris Praefectus Praetorio Illustris Magister Militum
Diocese Spectabilis Vicarius Spectabilis Comes
Province Clarissimus Consularis, or Corrector or Perfectissimus Praeses Spectabilis Dux
(The Illustres are marked by large capitals, the Spectabiles by small capitals, the Clarissimi by Italic, and the Perfectissimi by Roman type.)

The subordination of the military offices was not quite so regular as that of the civil. Some of the provinces of the interior scarcely required an army at all, while on an exposed frontier two or three large armies might be assembled. But the general idea of the subordination of offices is that shown above. To make this point quite clear let us examine the arrangement of Imperial functionaries in the two 'dioceses' with which we have most concern, Britain and Italy.

That part of our own island which was subject to the Romans (the Dioecesis Britanniarum) was divided into five provinces:

1. Britannia Prima = the country south of the Thames and Bristol Channel.

2. Britannia Secunda = Wales.

3. Flavia Caesariensis = the Midland and Eastern Counties.

p228 4. Maxima Caesariensis = the country between Humber and Tyne.

5. Valentia = the country between Tyne and Frith of Forth.

The first two provinces were governed by (perfectissimi) Praesides, the last three by (clarissimi) Consulares. This slight difference in dignity is perhaps due to the fact that (at any rate) Nos. 4 and 5 were more exposed to hostile invasion. The civil authority may have been therefore pitched a note higher in order to accord with the prominence of the military officers.

The chief military leaders were —

1. The Count of Britain (Comes Britannia).

2. The Count of the Saxon shore (Comes Litoris Saxonici per Britanniam), who from his nine strong castles dotted along the coast, from Yarmouth to shoreham, was bound to watch the ever-recurring Saxon pirates.

3. The Duke of the Britains, whose headquarters were probably at York, and who had under his control the Sixth Legion stationed in that city, and various detachments of auxiliary troops posted along the line of the wall in Northumberland ('per lineam Valli'), and in the stations upon the great Roman roads through Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumberland.

It is not expressly stated that these last two officers were subject to the control of the first, the p229Count of Britain, but we may reasonably infer that they were so from the fact that all the details of the troops subject to them are given with great minuteness, while of him it is only said, 'Under the control of the Spectabilis the Count of Britain is the Province of Britain.'

In civil moments there can be no doubt that the Vicarius was supreme, and he probably administered his diocese from 'the city of Augusta, which the ancients called Lundinium.'26

In financial matters we find an Accountant for the receipts of Britain (Rationalis Summarum Britanniarum), and a Superintendent of the Treasury at Augusta (Praepositus thesaurorum Augustensium), who appear to owe no obedience to the Vicarius, but are directly subordinate to the Count of the Sacred Largesses (at Rome or Ravenna). Similarly the Accountant of the Emperor's private east in Britain (Rationalis rei privatae per Britannias) reports himself immediately to the Illustrious the Comes Rerum Privatarum.

This illustration, drawn from the Roman government of our own island in the fourth century, may help us to understand the similar details which are garden of the civil and military administration of Italy. The system is here, however, somewhat complicated by the extraordinary powers vested, as we have before seen, in the Prefect of the city. Though the geographical limits of his power and not expressly indicated in the Notitia, we find that p230his subordinate Vicarius, who is not likely to have had a wider jurisdiction than himself, controlled the administration of seven provinces in Italy, besides the three islands of Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica. Tse seven provinces in fact made up the whole of Italy south of Ancona on the east coast, and Spezia on the west; and thus, left beside the valley of the Po and the countries at the foot of the Alps was left to the somewhat hardly-treated official who bore the high-sound gate title of Spectabilis Vicarius Italiae.27 To indemnify him, — but in those days of trouble with the heaving nations of Germany the charge must have brought more toil than profit, — he superintended the government of the Raetias, provinces which reached from the Alps to the Danube, and of which Coire and Augsburg were the respective capitals.28

Of high military officers in Italy we read very little in the Notitia, doubtless because the great masters of the horse and foot 'in Praesenti' overshadowed all other commanding officers intention near neighbourhood of the court. There is a Count of p231Italy whose duty it was to look after the defence of the country close round the bases of the Alps ('Tractus Italiae circa Alpes'), and whose charge is illustrated in the effigy at the head of the chapter by two turreted fortresses climbing at an impossible angle up two Dolomitic-like mountain peaks.

The Dux Raetiae also is mentioned, who with twenty-one detachments of auxiliary troops — among them a cohort of Britons stationed near to Ratisbon — held the posts on the Danube and by Lake Constance and in the fastnesses of the Tyrol. Of other military leaders in the diocese of Italy we have no express mention. They doubtless all formed part of the machine of the legions, and were all under the immediate orders of the Masters of the Soldiery.

Reviewing now this great civil and military hierarchy, which was invented by Diocletian, perfected by companion, and still majestic under Theodosius, we see at once how many titles, and through them how many ides, modern European civilisation has borrowed from that subtly elaborated world of graduated splendour. The Duke and the Count of modern Europe — what are they but the Generals and Companions (Duces and Comites) of a Roman province? Why or when they changed places, the Duke climbing up into such unquestioned pre-eminence over his former superior the Count, I know not, nor yet by what process it was discovered that the latter was the precise equivalent of the Scandinavian Jarl. The Prefects of France are a closer p232reproduction both of the name and of the centralised authority of the Praefecti Praetorio of the Empire. Even the lowest official who has be here named, the Corrector of a province, survives to this day in the Spanish Corregidor. In ecclesiastical affairs this a descent exhibits itself. The Pope, who took his own title of Pontifex Maximus from Caesar, and named his legates after Caesar's lieutenants, now sits surrounded by his purple-robed councillors to hold what he calls, after Constantine, his Consistory. Diocese and Vicar are words which have also survived in the service of the Church, both, it may be said, with lessened dignity; yet not altogether so, for if the Vicarius of Britain or Africa was greater than the modern Vicar of an English parish, he was less station the mighty spiritual ruler who, claiming the whole world as his Diocese, asserts his right to rule therein as 'The Vicar of Christ.'29

Thus do the strata of modern society bear witness to the primary imperial rock from which they sprang. On the other hand, it is curious to observe how few of the titles of old republican Rome survived into these latter days of the Empire. Tribunes indeed we do find in the Notitia, but they are chiefly military officers. Of Quaestors, Aediles, Praetors, the offices which in the old days formed the p233successive steps on the ladder of promotion to the highest dignities of the state, we find traces indeed, but of the faintest possible kind, in the Notitia. The Consulate indeed still retained much of its ancient splendour. The Emperor was generally invested with it several times during his reign. Claudian's enthusiastic congratulations show how it was prized by the sons of Probus. Pacatus speaks of it as the highest honour which Theodosius was able to bestow upon his friends.30 Sidonius, eighty years later, says that he and his brother-in‑law, who were by birth sons of Prefects, have attained the honour of the Patriciate, and he hopes that their sons may crown the edifice by the Consulate. But though the office of Consul retained its social pre-eminence it had no practical power. Not once does the name occur in the Notitia, not the meanest functionary is mentioned as being 'under his control.' The Vicar reflected the Prefect and the Prefect the Emperor. Power earned by the suffrages of the people was nowhere; power delegated by the Divine Emperor was irresistible and all-prevailing.


The Author's Notes:

1 Praepositus Sacri Cubiculi, Comes Sacrarum Largitionum, Castrensis Sacri Palatii.

2 Codex Theodosianus, lib. XIV, tit. 17, 14; lib. XII, tit. 1, 160.

3 Suetonius, Vita Vespasiani.

4 Dion, lib. LIX, c. 27.

5 Sect. 18.

6 The fourth and fifth classes were named Perfectissimi and Egregii respectively.

7 Gen. xli.40.

8 jjj: Mark xv.16; Acts xxiii.35; Philippians i.13.

9 By usage, if not of strict right, this sense, as well as that of Prefect of the Palace, seems to inhere in the title Praefectus Praetorio.

10 Bethmann-Hollweg, I p57.

11 Apollinaris Sidonius. See Book III.

12 It is amusing to see the name of this Roman officer written in Greek characters: jjj . . . jjj (Zosimus, II.25).

13 The 'agentes in rebus.'

14 These manufactories in Italy were as follows:— (1) of arrows at Concordia (between Venice and Udine); (2, 3) of shields at Verona and Cremona; (4) of breast-plates at Mantua; (5) of bows at Ticinum (Pavia); (6) of broadswords at Lucca.

15 In the earlier periods of the Empire this distinction between the Fiscus and the Aerarium, a is well known, had been diligently maintained. Augustus, in the Monumentum Ancyranum, takes credit to himself for having four times assisted the public treasury out of his own property (the Aerarium out of the Fiscus) by contributions amounting in all to 105,000,000 sesterces, or nearly one million sterling. But at that time the Emperor was still in theory little more than a private individual benevolently assisting in the administration of the desperate. By the third century, at any rate, this distinction between the purse and the state-purse, the fiscus and the Aerarium, seems to have vanished.

16 jjj.

17 jjj.

18 jjj.

19 Cod. Theod. lib. VII, tit. 8, § 3.

20 Cod. Theod. lib. VI, tit. 8, § 1.

21 The Notitia Occidentis, cap. XI, has a long string of such private Imperial possessions; the Notitia Orientis, in the corresponding chapter, does not mention any. It would be interesting to know the reason of this difference.

22 See the 'Formula Comitivae Privatarum,' quoted from Cassiodorus by Böcking (Notit. Orientis, p259).

23 'Sub dispositione viri illustris Comitis Rerum Privatarum, Comes Largitionum Privatarum (Notitia Occidentis, cap. XI). This officer is not named in the corresponding passage of the Notit. Orientis.

24 There is some apparent conflict of jurisdiction in the Notitia between the Comites Domesticorum and the Magister Officiorum. The latter has under his control seven 'Schools' of Shield-bearers, Archers, 'Gentiles' or barbarians, &c., who apparently formed part of the household troops.

25 Lactantius, De Mortibus Persecutorum, cap. 7. 'Et ut omnia terrore complerentur, provinciae quoque in frusta concisae, multi praesides et plura officia singulis regionibus, ac pene jam civitatibus incubare, item Rationales multi, et Magistri, et Vicarii praefectorum, quibus omnibus civiles actus admodum rari, sed condemnationes tantum et proscriptiones frequentes, &c.

26 Ammianus, XXVIII.3.1.

27 The ten provinces subject to the Vicarius Urbis Romae were (1) Campania, (2) Tuscia et Umbria, (3) Picenum Suberbicarium, (4) Sicily, — each under the administration of a Clarissimus Consularis; (5) Apulia et Calabria, (6) Bruttii et Lucania, — under a Clarissimus Corrector; (7) Samnium, (8) Sardinia, (9) Corsica, (10 Valeria, — under a Perfectissimus Praeses.

28 The provinces subject to the Vicarius Italiae were apparently (1) Venetia et Istria, (2) Aemilia, (3) Liguria, (4) Flaminia et Picenum Annonicarium, (5) Alpes Cottiae, (6) Raetia Prima, (7) Raetia Secunda. But his page in the Notitia is lost, and a good deal has to be left to conjecture.

29 The ceremony of kissing the Pope's toe is probably also derived from the Emperor's Court. Dion says of Caligula 'He kissed very few [of his courtiers]. For to the greater number even of the Senators he only stretched out a hand or a foot for them to kiss,' lib. LIX, c. 27.

30 Paneg. XVI.

Page updated: 4 Mar 12