Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

;

ence may restrain, while it secures, the authority of the monarch, would have been very inconsistent with the character and policy of Constantine; but had he seriously entertained such a design, it might have exceeded the measure of his power to ratify, by an arbitrary edict, an institution which must expect the sanction of time and of opinion. He revived, indeed, the title of patricians, but he revived it as a personal, not as an hereditary, distinction. They yielded only to the transient superiority of the annual consuls; but they enjoyed the pre-eminence over all the great officers of state, with the most familiar access to the person of the prince. This honourable rank was bestowed on them for life; and as they were usually favourites, and ministers who had grown old in the imperial court, the true etymology of the word was perverted by ignorance and flattery; and the patricians of Constantine were reverenced as the adopted fathers of the emperor and the republic.a

II. The fortunes of the prætorian prefects were

essentially different from those of the consuls and prefects.

patricians. The latter saw their ancient greatness evaporate in a vain title. The former, rising by degrees from the most humble condition, were invested with the civil and military administration of the Roman world. From the reign of Severus to that of Diocletian, the guards and the palace, the laws and the finances, the armies and the provinces, were intrusted to their superintending care; and, like the viziers of the east, they held with one hand the seal, and with the other the standard, of the empire. The ambition of the prefects, always formidable, and sometimes fatal, to the masters whom they served, was supported by the strength of the prætorian bands ; but after those haughty troops had been weakened by Diocletian, and finally suppressed by Constantine, the prefects, who survived their fall, were reduced without difficulty to the station of useful and obe

Zosimus, lib. 2. p. 118.; and Godefroy ad Cod. Theodos. lib. 6. tit. 6.

The præ

torian

dient ministers. When they were no longer responsible for the safety of the emperor's person, they resigned the jurisdiction which they had hitherto claimed and exercised over all the departments of the palace. They were deprived by Constantine of all military command, as soon as they had ceased to lead into the field, under their immediate orders, the flower of the Roman troops; and at length, by a singular revolution, the captains of the guard were transformed into the civil magistrates of the provinces. According to the plan of government instituted by Diocletian, the four princes had each their prætorian prefect; and, after the monarchy was once more united in the person of Constantine, he still continued to create the same number of four prefects, and intrusted to their care the same provinces which they already administered. 1. The prefect of the east stretched his ample jurisdiction into the three parts of the globe which were subject to the Romans, from the cataracts of the Nile to the banks of the Phasis, and from the mountains of Thrace to the frontiers of Persia : 2. The important provinces of Pannonia, Dacia, Macedonia, and Greece, once acknowledged the authority of the prefect of Illyricum: 3. The power of the prefect of Italy was not confined to the country from whence he derived his title; it extended over the additional territory of Rhætia as far as the banks of the Danube, over the dependant islands of the Mediterranean, and over that part of the continent of Africa which lies between the confines of Cyrene and those of Tingitania : 4. The prefect of the Gauls comprehended under that plural denomination the kindred provinces of Britain and Spain, and his authority was obeyed from the wall of Antoninus to the foot of mount Atlas.®

After the prætorian prefects had been dismissed from

e Zosimus, lib. 2. p. 109, 110. If we had not fortunately possessed this satisfactory account of the division of the power and provinces of the prætorian prefects, we should frequently have been perplexed amid the copious details of tho Code, and the circumstantial minuteness of the Notitia.

all military command, the civil functions which they were ordained to exercise over so many subject nations were adequate to the ambition and abilities of the most consummate ministers. To their wisdom was committed the supreme administration of justice and of the finances, the two objects, which, in a state of peace, comprehend almost all the respective duties of the sovereign and of the people; of the former, to protect the citizens who are obedient to the laws; of the latter, to contribute the share of their property which is required for the expenses of the state. The coin, the highways, the posts, the granaries, the manufactures, whatever could interest the public prosperity, was moderated by the authority of the prætorian prefects. As the immediate representatives of the imperial majesty, they were empowered to explain, to enforce, and on some occasions to modify, the general edicts by their discretionary proclamations. They watched over the conduct of the provincial governors, removed the negligent, and inflicted punishments on the guilty. From all the inferior jurisdictions, an appeal in every matter of importance, either civil or criminal, might be brought before the tribunal of the prefect; but his sentence was final and absolute; and the emperors themselves refused to admit any complaints against the judgment or the integrity of a magistrate whom they honoured with such unbounded confidence.' His appointments were suitable to his dignity ;and if avarice was his ruling passion, he enjoyed frequent opportunities of collecting a rich harvest of fees, of presents, and of perquisites. Though the emperors no longer dreaded the ambition of their prefects, they were atten

I See a law of Constantine himself. A præfectis autem prætorio provocare, non sinimus. Cod. Justinian, lib. 7. tit. 62. leg. 19. Charisius, a lawyer of the time of Constantine, (Heinec. Hist. Juris Romani, p. $49.) who admits this law as a fundamental principle of jurisprudence, compares the prætorian prefects to the masters of the horse of the ancient dictators. Pandect. lib. 1. tit. 11.

* When Justinian, in the exhausted condition of the empire, instituted a preto. rian prefect for Africa, he allowed him a salary of one hundred pounds of golel. Cod. Justinian, lib. 1. tit. 27. leg. 1.

The pre

fects of

tive to counterbalance the power of this great office by the uncertainty and shortness of its duration."

From their superior importance and dignity,

Rome and Constantinople were alone excepted Rome and Constan- from the jurisdiction of the prætorian prefects. tinople.

The immense size of the city, and the experience of the tardy, ineffectual operation of the laws, had furnished the policy of Augustus with a specious pretence for introducing a new magistrate, who alone could restrain a servile and turbulent populace by the strong arm of arbitrary power. Valerius Messalla was appointed the first prefect of Rome, that his reputation might countenance so invidious a measure: but at the end of a few days, that accomplished citizenk resigned his office, declaring, with a spirit worthy of the friend of Brutus, that he found himself incapable of exercising a power incompatible with public freedom. As the sense of liberty became less exquisite, the advantages of order were more clearly understood ; and the prefect, who seemed to have been designed as a terror only to slaves and vagrants, was permitted to extend his civil and criminal jurisdiction over the equestrian and noble families of Rome. The prætors, annually created as the judges of law and equity, could not long dispute the possession of the forum with a vigorous and permanent magistrate, who was usually

For this, and the other dignities of the empire, it may be sufficient to refer to the ample commentaries of Pancirolus and Godefroy, who have diligently collected and accurately digested in their proper order all their legal and bistorical materials. From those authors, Dr. Howell (History of the World, vol. 2. p. 24–77.) has deduced a very distinct abridgment of the state of the Roman empire.

Tacit. Annal. 6. 11. Euseb. in Chron. p. 155. Dion Cassius, in the oration of Mæcenas, (lib. 7. p. 675.) describes the prerogatives of the prefect of the city as they were established in his own time.

* The fame of Messalla bas been scarcely equal to his merit. In his earliest youth, he was recommended by Cicero to the friendship of Brutus. He followed the standard of the republic till it was broken in the fields of Philippi. He then accepted and deserved the favour of the most moderate of the conquerors; and uniformly asserted his freedom and dignity in the court of Augustus. The triumph of Messalla was justified by the conquest of Aquitain. As an orator, he disputed the palm of eloquence with Cicero himself

. Messalla cultivated every muse, and was the patron of every man of genius. He spent his evenings in philosophic conversation with Horace; assumed his place at table between Delia and Tibullus; and amused his leisure by encouraging the poetical talents of young Ovid.

Incivilem esse potestatem contestans, says the translator of Eusebius. Tacitus expresses the same idea in other words: quasi nescius exercendi.

admitted into the confidence of the prince. Their courts were deserted, their number, which had once fluctuated between twelve and eighteen," was gradually reduced to two or three, and their important functions were confined to the expensive obligation" of exhibiting games for the amusement of the people. After the office of the Roman consuls had been changed into a vain pageant, which was rarely displayed in the capital, the prefects assumed their vacant place in the senate, and were soon acknowledged as the ordinary presidents of that venerable assembly. They received appeals from the distance of one hundred miles; and it was allowed as a principle of jurisprudence, that all municipal authority was derived from them alone.o

In the discharge of his laborious employment, the governor of Rome was assisted by fifteen officers, some of whom had been originally his equals, or even his superiors. The principal departments were relative to the command of a numerous watch established as a safeguard against fires, robberies, and nocturnal disorders; the custody and distribution of the public allowance of corn and provisions; the care of the port, of the aqueducts, of the common sewers, and of the navigation and bed of the Tyber; the inspection of the markets, the theatres, and of the private as well as public works. Their vigilance ensured the three principal objects of a regular police, safety, plenty, and cleanliness; and as a proof of the attention of government to preserve the splendour and ornaments of the capital, a particular inspector was appointed for the statues; the guardian, as it were, of

m See Lipsius, Excursus D. ad 1 lib. Tacit. Annal. Heineccii Element. Juris Civilis secund. ordinem Pandect. tom. 1. p. 70. See likewise Spanheim de Usu Numismatum, tom. 4. dissertat. 10. p. 119. In the year 450, Narcian published a law, that ihree should be annually created prætors of Constantinople by the choice of the sepate, but with their own consent. Cod. Justinian, lib. 1. tit. 39. leg. 2.

• Quidquid igitur intra uibem admittitur, ad P. U. videtur pertinere ; sed et siquid intra centesimum milliarium. Ulpian in Pandect. lib. 1. tit. 13. n. 1. He proceeds to enumerate the varions offices of the prefect, wbo, in the Code of Justi. nian, (lib. 1. tit. 39. leg. 3.) is declared to precede and command all city magistrates, sine injuriâ ac detrimento honoris alieni.

« ForrigeFortsett »