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In Ancient Rome, a province (Latin: provincia, pl. provinciae) was the basic, and, until the Tetrarchy (293 AD), largest territorial and administrative unit of the empire's territorial possessions outside of Italy. The word province in modern English has its origins in the term used by the Romans.
Provinces were generally governed by politicians of senatorial rank, usually former consuls or former praetors. A later exception was the province of Egypt, incorporated by Augustus after the death of Cleopatra: it was ruled by a governor of equestrian rank only, perhaps as a discouragement to senatorial ambition. This exception was unique, but not contrary to Roman law, as Egypt was considered Augustus' personal property, following the tradition of earlier, Hellenistic kings.
The Latin word provincia originally meant any task or set of responsibilities assigned by the Senate to an individual who held imperium ("right of command"), which was often a military command within a specified theater of operations. Under the Roman Republic, the magistrates were elected to office for a period of one year, and those serving outside the city of Rome, such as consuls acting as generals on a military campaign, were assigned a particular provincia, the scope of authority within which they exercised their command.
The territory of a people who were defeated in war might be brought under various forms of treaty, in some cases entailing complete subjection (). The formal annexation of a territory created a "province" in the modern sense of an administrative unit geographically defined. Republican provinces were administered in one-year terms by the consuls and praetors who had held office the previous year and who were invested with imperium.
Rome started expanding beyond Italy during the First Punic War. The first permanent provinces to be annexed were Sicily (Sicilia) in 241 BC and Sardinia (Corsica et Sardinia) in 237 BC. Militarized expansionism kept increasing the number of these administrative provinces, until there were no longer enough qualified individuals to fill the posts. The terms of provincial governors often had to be extended for multiple years (prorogatio), and on occasion the Senate awarded imperium even to private citizens (privati), most notably Pompey the Great. Prorogation undermined the republican constitutional principle of annual elected magistracies, and the amassing of disproportionate wealth and military power by a few men through their provincial commands was a major factor in the transition from a republic to imperial autocracy.
List of Republican provinces
- 240 BC - Sicilia
- 227 BC - Corsica et Sardinia
- 203 BC - Gallia Cisalpina (Northern Italy)
- 197 BC - Hispania Citerior and Hispania Ulterior (Iberian peninsula)
- 167 BC - Illyricum
- 147 BC - Macedonia
- 146 BC - Africa (parts of Mediterranean Africa)
- 129 BC - Asia (parts of Anatolia and Asia Minor)
- 120 BC - Gallia Transalpina or more specifically Gallia Narbonensis (southern France)
- 78 BC - Cilicia (after 64 BC Cilicia et Cyprus)
- 74 BC - Bithynia, from 64 BC Bithynia et Pontus
- 74 BC - Creta et Cyrenaica
- 66 BC - Corduene
- 64 BC - Cilicia et Cyprus
- 64 BC - Syria
- 30 BC - Egypt
Imperial provinces during the Principate
In the so-called Augustan Settlement of 27 BC, which established the Roman Empire, the governance of the provinces was regulated. Octavian Caesar, having emerged from the Roman civil wars as the undisputed victor and master of the Roman state, officially laid down his powers, and in theory restored the authority of the Roman Senate. Octavian himself assumed the title "Augustus" and was given to govern, in addition to Egypt, the strategically important provinces of Gaul, Hispania and Syria (including Cilicia and Cyprus). Under Augustus, Roman provinces were classified as either public or imperial, meaning that their governors were appointed by either the Senate or by the emperor. Generally, the older provinces that existed under the Republic were public. Public provinces were, as before under the Republic, governed by a proconsul, who was chosen by lot among the ranks of senators who were ex-consuls or ex-praetors, depending on which province was assigned. The major imperial provinces were under a legatus Augusti pro praetore, also a senator of consular or praetorian rank. Egypt and some smaller provinces where no legions were based were ruled by a procurator (praefectus in Egypt), whom the emperor selected from non-senators of equestrian rank. The status of a province could change from time to time. In AD 68, of a total 36 provinces, 11 were public and 25 imperial. Of the latter, 15 were under legati and 10 under procuratores or praefecti.
During the Principate, the number and size of provinces also changed, either through conquest or through the division of existing provinces. The larger or more heavily garrisoned provinces (for example Syria and Moesia) were subdivided into smaller provinces to prevent any single governor from holding too much power.
List of provinces created during the Principate
- 27 BC – Achaea separated from Macedonia, public propraetorial province
- 27 BC – Hispania Tarraconensis (former Hispania Citerior)
- 25 BC – Galatia, imperial propraetorial province
- 22 BC – reorganization of Gaul following the conquests of Julius Caesar into Gallia Aquitania, Gallia Belgica, Gallia Lugdunensis, imperial propraetorial provinces
- 15 BC – Raetia, imperial procuratorial province
- c. 13 BC – Hispania Ulterior divided into Baetica and Lusitania (public propraetorial and imperial propraetorial respectively)
- 12 BC – Germania Magna, lost after 9 AD
- 6 AD – Judaea, imperial procuratorial province (renamed Syria Palaestina by Hadrian, and upgraded to proconsular province).
- 14 BC – Alpes Maritimae, imperial procuratorial province
- 18 – Cappadocia, imperial propraetorial (later proconsular) province
- c. 20–50 – Illyricum divided into Illyricum Superior (Dalmatia) and Illyricum Inferior (Pannonia), imperial proconsular provinces
- 40 – Mauretania Tingitana and Mauretania Caesariensis, imperial procuratorial provinces
- c. 40 – Noricum, imperial procuratorial province
- 43 – Britannia, imperial proconsular province
- 43 – Lycia et Pamphylia, imperial propraetorial province
- 46 – Thracia, imperial procuratorial province
- c. 47 – Alpes Poeninae, imperial procuratorial province
- 63 – Alpes Cottiae, imperial procuratorial province
- 67 – Epirus, imperial procuratorial province
- 72 – Commagene annexed to Syria
- c. 84 – Germania Superior and Germania Inferior, imperial proconsular provinces
- 85 – Moesia divided into Moesia Superior and Moesia Inferior, imperial proconsular provinces
- 105 – Arabia, imperial propraetorial province
- 107 – Dacia, imperial proconsular province (split into Dacia Superior and Dacia Inferior between 118 and 158)
- 107 – Pannonia divided into Pannonia Superior and Pannonia Inferior, imperial provinces (proconsular and propraetorial respectively)
- c. 115 – Armenia, Assyria and Mesopotamia, formed by Trajan, abandoned by Hadrian in 118
- 166 – Tres Daciae formed: Porolissensis, Apulensis and Malvensis, imperial procuratorial provinces
- 193 – Syria divided into Syria Coele and Syria Phoenicia, imperial provinces (proconsular and propraetorial respectively)
- 193 – Numidia separated from Africa proconsularis, imperial propraetorial province
- c. 197 – Mesopotamia, imperial praefectorial province
- 197 (formalized c. 212) – Britannia divided into Britannia Superior and Britannia Inferior, imperial provinces (proconsular and propraetorial respectively)
- 214 AD – Osroene
- Many of the above provinces were under Roman military control or under the rule of Roman clients for a long time before being officially constituted as civil provinces. Only the date of the official formation of the province is marked above, not the date of conquest.
Emperor Diocletian introduced a radical reform known as the Tetrarchy (284–305), with a western and an eastern Augustus or senior emperor, each seconded by a junior emperor (and designated successor) styled Caesar, and each of these four defending and administering a quarter of the Empire. In the 290s, Diocletian divided the Empire anew into almost a hundred provinces, including Italy. Their governors were hierarchically ranked, from the proconsuls of Africa proconsularis and Asia through those governed by consulares and correctores to the praesides. These last were the only ones recruited from the equestrian class. The provinces in turn were grouped into (originally twelve) dioceses, headed usually by a vicarius, who oversaw their affairs. Only the proconsuls and the urban prefect of Rome (and later Constantinople) were exempt from this, and were directly subordinated to the tetrarchs.
Although the Caesars were soon eliminated from the picture, the four administrative resorts were restored in 318 by Emperor Constantine I, in the form of praetorian prefectures, whose holders generally rotated frequently, as in the usual magistracies but without a colleague. Constantine also created a new capital, known after him as Constantinople, which was sometimes called 'New Rome' because it became the permanent seat of the government. In Italy itself, Rome had not been the imperial residence for some time and 286 Diocletian formally moved the seat of government to Mediolanum (modern Milan), while taking up residence himself in Nicomedia. During the 4th century, the administrative structure was modified several times, including repeated experiments with Eastern-Western co-emperors. Provinces and dioceses were split to form new ones, the praetorian prefecture of Illyricum was abolished and reformed. In the end, with the rise of Odoacer in 476 and the death of Julius Nepos in 480, administration of the effectively reduced Empire was permanently unified in Constantinople.
Detailed information on the arrangements during this period is contained in the Notitia Dignitatum (Record of Offices), a document dating from the early 5th century. Most data is drawn from this authentic imperial source, as the names of the areas governed and titles of the governors are given there. There are however debates about the source of some data recorded in the Notitia, and it seems clear that some of its own sources are earlier than others. It is interesting to compare this with the list of military territories under the duces, in charge of border garrisons on so-called limites, and the higher ranking Comites rei militaris, with more mobile forces, and the later, even higher magistri militum.
Justinian I made the next great changes in 534–536 by abolishing, in some provinces, the strict separation of civil and military authority that Diocletian had established. This process was continued on a larger scale with the creation of extraordinary Exarchates in the 580s and culminated with the adoption of the military theme system in the 640s, which replaced the older administrative arrangements entirely. Some scholars use the reorganization of the empire into themata in this period as one of the demarcations between the Dominate period and the Byzantine (or "Later Roman") period. (As a matter of scholarly convenience, the medieval phase of the Roman Empire is today conventionally referred to as Byzantine, after the original name of the city Constantine rebuilt into the new capital.)
Primary sources for lists of provinces
Early Roman Empire provinces
Late Roman Empire provinces
- Laterculus Veronensis (ca. 310)
- Notitia dignitatum (ca. 400-420)
- Laterculus Polemii Silvii (ca. 430)
- Synecdemus (ca. 520)
- Early Imperial Roman provinces, at livius.org
- Lintott, Andrew (1993). Imperium Romanum. London: Routledge.
- Mommsen, Theodor (1909). The Provinces of the Roman Empire. 2 vols. London: Ares Publishers.
- Scarre, Chris (1995). "The Eastern Provinces," The Penguin Historical Atlas of Ancient Rome. London: Penguin Books, 74–75.
- Westermann, Großer Atlas zur Weltgeschichte (German)
- Loewenstein, Karl (1973). The Governance of Rome. Springer. ISBN 90-247-1458-3.