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p960 Proconsul

Article by Leonhard Schmitz, Ph.D., F.R.S.E., Rector of the High School of Edinburgh
on pp960‑961 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

PROCONSUL is an officer who acts in the place of a consul without holding the office of the consul itself; though the proconsul was generally one who had held the office of consul, so that the proconsulship was a continuation, though a modified one, of the consulship. The first time that we meet with a consul, whose imperium was prolonged after the year of his consulship, is at the commencement of the second Samnite war, at the end of the consular year 327 B.C., when it was thought advisable to prolong the imperium (imperium prorogare) of Q. Publilius Philo, whose return to Rome would have been followed by the loss of most of the advantages that had been gained in his campaign (Liv. VIII.23, 26). The power of proconsul was conferred by a senatusconsultum and plebiscitum, and was nearly equal to that of a regular consul, for he had the imperium and jurisdictio, but it differed inasmuch as it did not extend over the city and its immediate vicinity (see Niebuhr, Hist. of Rome, III. p186, who infers it from Gaius, IV.104, 105), and was conferred without the auspicia by a mere decree of the senate and people, and not in the comitia for elections (Liv. IX.42, X.22, XXXII.28, XXIV.13). Hence whenever a proconsul led his army back to Rome for the purpose of holding a triumph, the imperium (in urbe) was especially granted to him by the people, which was, of course, not necessary when a consul triumphed during the year of his office. Livy (III.4), it is true, mentions men appointed with proconsular power at a much earlier period than the time of Publilius Philo; but there is this difference, that in this early instance the proconsular power is not a imperium prorogatum, but a fresh appointment as commander of the reserve, and Niebuhr (Hist. of Rome, II p123) justly remarks that Livy here probably applies the phraseology of a much later time to the commander of the reserve; and this is the more probable as Dionysius (IX.12) speaks of this ἀντιστρατηγός as having been appointed by the consuls. Nineteen years after the proconsulship of Publilius Philo, 308 B.C., Livy (IX.42) relates that the senate alone, and without a plebiscitum, prolonged the imperium of the consul Q. Fabius Maximus Rullianus; but it is manifest that here again Livy transfers a later institution to a time when it did not yet exist; for it was only by the lex Maenia (236 B.C.) that the Senate obtained the right to prolong the imperium.

When the number of Roman provinces had become great, it was customary for the consuls, who during the latter period of the republic spent the year of their consulship at Rome, to undertake at its close the conduct of a war in a province, or its peaceful administration (Cic. de Nat. Deor. II.3; Liv. XXXIII.25; Cic. ad Fam. VIII.5.13). There are some extraordinary cases on record in which a man obtained a province without having held the consulship before. The first case of this kind occurred in B.C. 211, when young P. Cornelius Scipio was created proconsul of Spain in the comitia centuriata (Liv. XXVI.18). During the last period of the republic such cases occurred more frequently (Plut. Aemil. Paul. 4; p961 ICic. de Leg. I.20). Respecting the powers and jurisdiction of the proconsuls in the provinces, see Provincia.

After the administration of the empire was newly regulated by Constantine, parts of certain dioceses were under the administration of proconsuls. Thus a part of the diocese of Asia, called Asia in a narrower sense, Achaia in the diocese of Macedonia, and the consular province in the diocese of Africa, were governed by proconsuls (Walter, Geschichte des Römischen Rechts, § 366, 2d. edit.).

For a much simpler summary, see this good page at Livius.Org.


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Page updated: 13 Feb 05