Why Were No New Praetors Added Between 197-81 BC?

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Why Were No New Praetors Added Between 197-81 BC?

Postby Publius Nonius Severus on Wed Feb 21, 2007 5:30 pm

The Question

While doing research into the role and functions of praetors during the times of the republic, I continually found myself coming back to the question of why were no new praetors added between 197 – 81 BC during one of Rome’s greatest periods of expansion? Before proposing some theories, a little background information is needed.

(NB: there are often conflicting sources as to the exact dates of the events cited below, please excuse any obvious errors, but for the most part the dates should be fairly close to their actual occurrence and any errors inconsequential to the questions posed)

The first praetor was established in 366 BC in order to relieve the consuls of some of their judicial responsibilities (The position would later be called the Praetor Urbanus after the establishment of additional praetors). The second praetor was added in 246 BC in order to deal with legal cases involving one or more non-citizens (Praetor Peregrinus) and assumingly to allow for more than just the two consuls to command armies in the field. The first instance of the creation of a praetor to administer a province occurs in 241 BC for the newly formed province of Sicilia. The combined province of Sardinia & Corsica received a new praetor in 225 BC and Hispania Citerior & Hispania Ulterior each received a praetor in 197 BC.

By 197 BC there were four Roman Provinces (Sicilia, Sardinia/Corsica, Hispania Citerior, Hispania Ulterior) and six praetors. Hence, with the two Judicial Praetor positions and the four provincial praetor positions there would seem to be equilibrium. However, I have not yet taken into consideration the practice of consuls taking a province upon entering office. If each consul took a province, then that would leave two praetors without a role to fill. Perhaps they would serve as judges for the temporary courts (not permanized until Sulla in 81 BC (more on than later)). But, most likely finding a job form them was most likely not too difficult in that at least during the first half of the 2nd Century BC, the consuls were most likely busy in Greece, Asia, and Africa so there was plenty of work for everyone.

As wars in the East and in Africa progressed, additional provinces were added. Illricum in 167 BC, the combined Province of Macedonia & Achaea and the province of Africa in 146 BC (after the final victories over Macedon and Carthage). Asia was added in 129 BC, Gallia Transalpina in 121 BC, and Gallia Cisalpina in 81 BC). There were now 10 provinces but only six magistrates to govern them. Why were no new praetors added to govern these provinces as they were established as had been done with the first four? I have considered some possible answers below.

Possible Answers

As I noted above, two of these provinces (or before they were provinces areas of campaign) were allotted to the consuls of the current year and so it was not really until after 146BC that there were more provinces than consuls and praetors to fill them so this was a non-issue until then perhaps.

Perhaps it was perceived that prorogation of some of the praetors was simpler than creating new praetors to govern provinces. I am just not sure why this would be the case. Is there any evidence why adding new positions would have been undesirable? Was this a ploy of the Senate to keep stricter control of foreign affairs (that the Grachii tried to erode starting in 123 BC)? Was this just a further example of the lack of a system of government that was set-up for a city-state being properly adapted to running an empire?

Issues for Follow-Up

After Sulla formed permanent criminal courts in 81 BC and had six of the 8-10 of the courts presided over by praetors (the remainder were presided over by Aediles) he also completely changed the role of praetors and consuls (propraetors and proconsuls too!). His legislation intended for praetors and consuls to stay in Rome during their term of office and only then proceed to the provinces to govern as promagistrates. Was this a device in order to keep his new courts running or based on his perception that there was a need to better administer the provinces or both? Regardless, under this system we now have an equal number of jobs to be performed and praetors as well as a well-defined role for each praetor after his term of office.

I plan on following this up with a closer inspection of which provinces went to whom in the period of question using the ancient sources as a guide, but I would appreciate any insight that you may have on the lack of new praetors during this time.
Publius Nonius Severus
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Publius Nonius Severus
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