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IT is natural to think of Diocletian as the projector and of Constantine as the completer of a new system of government for the Roman Empire, which persisted with mere changes of detail until it was laid in ruins by the barbarians. But in reality the imperial institutions from the time of Augustus onwards had passed through a course of continuous development. Diocletian did but accelerate processes which had been in operation from the Empire's earliest days, and Constantine left much for his successors to accomplish. Still these two great organizers did so far change the world which they ruled as to be rightly styled the founders of a new type of monarchy. We will first sketch rapidly the most striking aspects of this altered world, and then consider them one by one somewhat more closely. But our survey must be in the main of a general character, and many details, especially when open to doubt, must be passed over. In particular, the minutiae of chronology, which in this region of history are especially difficult to determine, must often be disregarded.


The ideal of a balance of power between the Princeps and the Senate, which Augustus dangled before the eyes of his contemporaries, was never approached in practice. From the first the imperial constitution bore within it the seed of autocracy, and the plant was not of slow growth. The historian Tacitus was not far wrong when he described Augustus as having drawn to himself all the functions which in the Republic had belonged to magistrates and to laws.


The founder of the Empire had studied well the art of concealing his political art, but the pressure of his hand was felt in every corner of the administration. Each Princeps was as far above law as he chose to rise, so long as he did not strain the endurance of the Senate and people to the point of breaking. When that point was passed there was the poor consolation of refusing him his apotheosis, or of branding with infamy his memory. As the possibility of imperial interference was ever present in every section of the vast machine of government, all concerned in its working were anxious to secure themselves by obtaining an order from above. This anxiety is conspicuous in the letters written by Pliny to his master Trajan. Even those emperors who were most citizen-like (civiles as the phrase went) were carried away by the tide. Tacitus exhibits the Senate as eagerly pressing Tiberius to permit the enlargement of his powers—Tiberius who regarded every precept of Augustus as a law for himself. The so-called lex regia Vespasiani shows how constantly the admitted authority of the emperor advanced by the accumulation of precedents. Pliny gave Trajan credit for having reconciled the Empire with ‘liberty’; but ‘liberty’ had come to mean little more than orderly and benevolent administration, free from cruel caprice, with some external deference paid to the Senate. Developed custom made the rule of Marcus Aurelius greatly more despotic than that of Augustus. Even the emperors of the third century who, like Severus Alexander, made most of the Senate, could not turn back the current. It was long, however, before the subjects of the Empire realized that the ancient glory had departed. Down to the time of the Emperor Tacitus (275-276 AD) pretenders found their account in posing as senatorial champions, and rulers used the Senate's name as a convenient screen for their crimes.


But the natural outcome of the anarchy of the third century was the unveiled despotism of Diocletian. He was the last in a line of valiant soldiers sprung from Illyrian soil, who accomplished the rescue of Rome from the dissolution with which it had been threatened by forces without and by forces within. To him more than to Aurelian, on whom it was bestowed, belonged by right the title "restorer of the world." For three centuries the legions had been a standing menace to the very existence of Greco-Roman civilization. They made emperors and unmade them, and devoured the substance of the State, exacting continually lavish largess at the sword's point. One hope of Diocletian when, following in the steps of Aurelian, he hedged round the throne with pomp and majesty, was that a new awe might shield the civil power from the lawless soldiery. In place of an Augustus, loving to parade as a bourgeois leader of the people, there comes a kind of Sultan, with trappings such as the men of the West had been used to associate with the servile East, with the Persians and Parthians. The ruler of the Roman world wears the oriental diadem, the mere dread of which had brought Caesar to his end. He is approached as a living god with that adoration from which the souls of the Greeks revolted when they came into the presence of the Great King, though Alexander bent them to endure it. Eunuchs are among his greatest officers. Lawyers buttress his throne with an absolutist theory of the constitution which is universally accepted.


From Augustus to Diocletian the trend of the government towards centralization had been incessant. The new monarchy gave to the centralization an intensity and an elaboration unknown before. In the early days of conquest, whether within Italy or beyond its boundaries, the Roman power had attempted no unification of its dominions. As rulers, the Romans had shown themselves thorough opportunists. They tolerated great varieties of local privilege and partial liberty. Their government had followed, almost timidly, the line of least resistance, and had adapted itself to circumstance, to usage, and to prejudice in every part of the Empire. Even taxation had been elastic. Before the age of despotism, few matters had ever been regulated by one unvarying enactment for every province. To this great policy the Romans chiefly owed the rapidity of their successes and the security of their ascendancy.


The tendency towards unity was of course manifest from the first. But it sprang far less from the direct action of the central government than from the instinctive and unparalleled attraction which the Roman institutions possessed for the provincials, particularly in the West. In part by the extension of Roman and Italian rights to the provinces, in part by the gradual depression of Italy to the level of a province, and in part by interference designed to correct misgovernment, local differences were to a great extent effaced. Septimius Severus (145-211 AD) by stationing a legion in Italy removed one chief distinction between that favored land and the subject regions outside. Under his successor, Caracalla (211-217 AD), all communities within the Empire became alike Roman. By Diocletian and by Constantine, control from the centre was made systematic and organic. Yet absolute uniformity was not attained. In taxation, in legal administration, and in some other departments of government, local conditions still induced some toleration of diversities.


Centralization brought into existence with its growth a vast bureaucracy. The organization of the Imperial side of the administration, as opposed to the Senatorial, became more and more complex, while the importance of the Senate in the administrative machinery continually lessened. The expansion and organization of the executive engaged the attention of many emperors, particularly Claudius, Vespasian, Trajan, Hadrian, and Septimius Severus. When the chaos of the third century had been overcome, Diocletian and his successors were compelled to reconstruct the whole service of the Empire, and a great network of officials, bearing for the most part new titles and largely undertaking new functions, was spread over it.


Along with the development of absolutism and the extension of bureaucracy, and the unification of administration had gone certain tendencies which had cut deeply into the constitution of society at large. The boundaries between class and class tended more and more to become fixed and impassable. As the Empire decayed society stiffened, and some approximations were made to the oriental institution of caste. Augustus had tried to give a rigid organization to the circle from which senators were drawn, and had constituted it as an order of nobility passing down from father to son, only to be slowly recruited by imperial choice. Many duties owed to the State tended to become hereditary, and it was made difficult for men to rid themselves of the status which they acquired at birth. The exigencies of finance made membership of the local senates in the municipalities almost impossible to escape.


The frontier legions, partly by encouragement and partly by ordinance, were largely filled with sons of the camp. Several causes, the chief of which was the financial system, gave rise to a kind of serfdom (colonatus) which at first attached the cultivators of the soil, and as time went on, approximated to a condition of actual slavery. The provisioning of the great capitals, Rome and Constantinople, and the transportation of goods on public account, rendered occupations connected with them hereditary. And many inequalities between classes became pronounced. The criminal law placed the honestiores and the tenuiores in different categories.


The main features of the executive government as organized by Diocletian and his successors, must now be briefly described. For the first time the difference between the prevalently Latin West and the prevalently Greek East was clearly reflected in the scheme of administration. Diocletian ordained (286) that two Augusti with equal authority should share the supreme power, one making his residence in the Eastern, the other in the Western portion. The Empire was not formally divided between them; they were to work together for the benefit of the whole State. This association of Augusti was not exactly new; but it had I never been before formalized so completely.


The separation of West from East had been foreshadowed from the early days of the Empire. In the first century it had been found necessary to have a Greek Secretary of State as well as a Latin Secretary. The civilization of the two spheres, in spite of much interaction, remained markedly different. The municipal life of the Eastern regions in which Greek influence predominated was fixed in its characteristics before the Romans acquired their ascendancy, and the impression they made on it was not on the whole great. But they spread their own municipal institutions all over Western lands.


Although Diocletian’s arrangement of the two Augusti was overthrown by Constantine, the inherent incompatibility between the two sections of the Empire continued to assert itself, and the separation became permanent in fact if not in form on the death of Theodosius (379-395 AD).


The establishment of Constantinople as the capital rendered the ultimate severance inevitable. Another problem which Diocletian attacked was that of the succession to the throne. Each ‘Augustus’ was to have assigned to him (293) a ‘Caesar’ who would assist him in the task of government and succeed him on his retirement or death. The transference of power would thus be peaceful and the violent revolutions caused by the claims of the legions to nominate emperors would cease. But in the nature of things this device could not prosper. The Empire followed the course it had taken from the beginning. The dynastic principle strove time after time to establish itself, but dynasties were ever threatened with catastrophe, such as had ensued on the deaths of Nero, of Commodus, and of Severus Alexander. But new emperors frequently did homage to heredity by a process of posthumous and fictitious adoption, whereby they grafted themselves on to the line of their predecessors. Apparently even this phantom of legitimacy had some value for the effect it produced on the public mind.


The theory of government now became, as has been said, frankly autocratic. Even Aurelian, a man of simple and soldierly life, had thought well to take to himself officially the title of "lord and god" which private flattery had bestowed upon Domitian. The lawyers established a fiction that the Roman people had voluntarily resigned all authority into the hands of the monarch. The fable was as baseless and as serviceable as that of the "social compact," received in the eighteenth century. No person or class held any rights against the emperor. The revenues were his private property. All payments from the treasury were ‘sacred largesses’ conceded by the divine ruler. So far as the State was concerned, the distinction between the senatorial exchequer (aerarium) and the imperial exchequer (fiscus) disappeared. Certain revenues, as for instance those derived from the confiscated estates of unsuccessful pretenders, were labeled as the emperor's private property (res privata), and others as belonging to his "family estate" (patrimonium). But these designations were merely formal and administrative. The emperor was the sole ultimate source of all law and authority. The personnel by which he was immediately surrounded in his capital was of vast extent, and the palace was often a hotbed of intrigue. Even in the time of the Severi the ‘Caesareans’, as Dio Cassius names them, were numerous enough to imperil often the public peace. Another class of imperial servants, the workers at the mint, had, in the reign of Aurelian, raised an insurrection which led to a shedding of blood in Rome such as bad not been witnessed since the age of Sulla. The military basis of imperial power, partly concealed by the earlier emperors, stood fully revealed.


Septimius Severus had been the first to wear regularly in the capital the full insignia of military command, previously seen there only on days of triumph. Now every department of the public service was regarded as ‘militia’ and ‘camp’ (castra) is the official name for the court. All high officers, with the exception of the praefectus urbi, wore the military garb. It is needless to say that officials who were nominally the emperor's domestic servants easily gathered power into their own hands and often became the real rulers of the Empire. The line between domestic offices and those which were political and military was never strictly drawn. All higher functions whose exercise required close attention on the emperor's person were covered by the description dignitates palatinae.


Under the early emperors the great ministers of state were largely freedmen, whose status was rather that of court servants than of public administrators. The great departments of the imperial service were gradually freed from their close attachment to the emperor's person. The natural result was that direct personal influence over the ruler often passed into the hands of men whose duties were in name connected only with the daily life of the palace. From the third century onwards the Eastern custom of choosing eunuchs as the most trusted servants prevailed in the imperial household as in the private households of the wealthy. The greatest of these was the praepositus sacri cubiculi or Great Chamberlain. This officer often wielded the power which had been enjoyed by such men as Parthenius had been under Domitian. The office grew in importance, as measured by dignity and precedence, until in the time of Theodosius the Great it was one of four high offices which conferred on their holders membership of the Imperial Council (Consistorium), and a little later was made equal in honor to the other three. 


The ‘Palatine’ servants, high and low, formed a mighty host, which required a special department for their provisioning and another for their tendance in sickness. But exactly how many of them were under the immediate direction (sub dispositione) of the praepositus sacri cubiculi cannot be determined. Some duties fell to him which are hardly suggested by his title. He was in control of the emperor’s select and intimate bodyguard, which bore the name of silentiarii, thirty in number, with three decuriones for officers. Curiously, he superintended one division of the vast imperial domains, that considerable portion of them which lay within the province of Cappadocia. Dependent probably on the praepositus sacri cubiculi was the primicerius sacri cubiculi, who appears in the Notitia Dignitatum as possessing the quality of a proconsular. Whether the castrensis sacri palatii was independent or subordinate, cannot be determined. Under his rule were a host of pages and lower menials of many kinds, and he had to care for the fabric of the imperial palaces. Also he had charge of the private archives of the imperial family. 


The service of the officers described was rather personal to the emperor than public in character. We now turn to the civil and military administration as it was refashioned under the new monarchy.


The chaos of the period preceding Diocletian’s supremacy had finally effaced some of the leading features of the Augustan Principate which had become fainter and fainter as the Empire ran its course. The Senate lost the last remnant of real power. Such of its surviving privileges and dignities as might carry back the mind to the days of its glory were mere shadows without substance. All provinces had become imperial. All functionaries of every class owed obedience to the autocrat alone, and looked to him for their career. The old state-treasury, the aerarium, retained its name, but became in practice the municipal exchequer of Rome, which ceased to be the capital o the Empire and was merely the first of its municipalities. The army and the civil service alike were filled with officers whose titles and duties would have seemed strange to a Roman of the second century of the Empire.


The aspect of the provincial government, as ordered by the new monarchy, differed profoundly from that which it had worn in the age of the early Principate. To diminish the danger of military revolutions Diocletian carried to a conclusion a policy which had been adopted in part by his predecessors. The great military commands in the provinces which had often enabled their holders to destroy or to imperil dynasties or rulers were broken up; and the old provinces were severed into fragments. Spain, for example, now comprised six divisions, and Gaul fifteen. Within these fragments, still named provinces, the civil power and the military authority were, as a rule, not placed in the same hands. The divisions of the Empire now numbered about a hundred and twenty, as against forty-five which existed at the end of Trajan’s reign. Twelve of the new sections lay within the boundaries of Italy, and of the old contrast between Italy and the provinces of the Principate, few traces remained. Egypt, hitherto treated as a land apart, was brought within the new organization.


The titles of the civil administrators were various. Three, who ruled regions bearing the ancient provincial names of Asia, Africa, and Achaia were distinguished by the title of proconsul, which had once belonged to all administrators of senatorial provinces. About thirty-six were known as consulares. This designation ceased to indicate, as of old, the men who had passed the consulship: it was merely connected with the government of provinces. The consularis became technically a member of the Roman Senate, though he ranked below the ex-consul. So also with the provincial governors who bore the common title of praeses, and the rarer name of corrector. This last appellation belonged, in the fourth century, to the chiefs of two districts in Italy, Apulia, and Lucania, and of three outside. It denoted originally officers who began to be appointed in Trajan’s reign to reform the condition of municipalities. The precedence of the correctores among the governors seems to have placed them, in the West, after the consulares, in the East after the praesides. Sometimes the title of proconsul was for personal reasons bestowed on a governor whose province was ordinarily ruled by an officer of lower dignity. But such an arrangement was temporary. The old expressions legatus pro praetore or procurator, in its application to provincial rulers, went out of use. After the age of Constantine new and fanciful descriptions of the provincial governors, as of other officers, tended to spring into existence. A few frontier districts were treated (as was the case under the Principate) in an exceptional manner. Their chiefs were allowed to exercise civil as well as military functions and were naturally described by the ordinary, name for an army commander (dux).


The proconsuls possessed some privileges of their own. Two of them, the proconsul of Africa and the proconsul of Asia were alone among the provincial governors entitled to receive their orders from the emperor himself; and the Asian proconsul was distinguished by having under him two deputies, who directed a region known as Hellespontus and the Insulae or islands lying near the Asiatic coast. All other administrators communicated with the emperor through one or other of four great officers of state, the Praefecti Praetorio. Their title had been originally invented to designate the commander of the Praetorian Cohorts, whom Augustus called into existence. The control of these was usually vested in two men. Now and then three commanders were appointed. Some emperors, disregarding the danger to themselves, allowed a single officer to hold command. Men like Sejanus under Tiberius and Plautianus under Septimius Severus were practically vice-emperors. As time went on, the office gradually lost its military character. Sometimes one of the commanders was a soldier and the other a civilian. During the reign of Severus Alexander the great lawyer Ulpian was in sole charge, being the first senator who had been permitted to hold the post. The legal duties of the Praefect continued to grow in importance. When the Praetorian Cohorts brought destruction on themselves by their support of Maxentius against Constantine, the Praefectus Praetorio became a purely civil functionary. The four Praefecti were distinguished as Praefectus Praetorio, Galliarum, Italiae, Illyrici and Orientis respectively. The first administered not only the ancient Gaul, but also the Rhine frontier and Britain, Spain, Sardinia, Corsica and Sicily. The second in addition to Italy had under him Rhaetia, Noricum, Dalmatia, Pannonia, and some regions on the upper Danube, also most of Roman Africa; the third Dacia, Achaia, and districts near the lower Danube besides Illyricum, properly so called; the fourth all Asia Minor, in so far as it was not subjected to the proconsul of Asia, with Egypt and Thrace, and some lands by the mouth of the Danube. It will be seen that three out of the four had the direction of provinces lying on or near the Danube. Probably on their first institution and for some time afterwards all the Praefecti retained in their own hands the administration of some portions of the great territories committed to their charge. Later the Illyrian praefect alone had a district, a portion of Dacia, under his own immediate control. Apart from this exception, the Praefecti conducted their government through officials subordinated to them.


Each praefectal region was divided into great sections called dioceses. Each of these was formed by combination of a certain number of provinces; and each was comparable to the more important of the old provinces of the age of the Republic and early Principate. The word diocesis had passed through a long history before the time of Diocletian. The Romans found it existent in their Asiatic dominions, where it had been applied by earlier rulers to an administrative district, especially in relation to legal affairs. The Roman government extended the employment of the term both in the East and in the West and connected it with other sides of administration besides the legal. Diocletian marked out ten great divisions of the Empire to be designated by this title. The number of the divisions and their limits were somewhat altered by his successors. At the head of each Dioecesis was placed an officer who bore the name vicarius, excepting in the Eastern praefecture. Here the Vicarius was after a while replaced by a Comes Orientis, to whom the governor of Egypt was at first subject, though he acquired independent authority later. The treatment of Italy (in the new and extended sense) was peculiar. It constituted a single Dioecesis, but possessed two vicarii, one of whom had his seat at Milan, the other at Rome. This bisection of the Italian praefecture depended on differences in taxation, to which we must recur later. In the Dioecesis Asiana, and the Dioecesis Africae, the Vicarius was of course responsible not to the Praefectus, but to the proconsul.


Such were, in broad outline, the features which the civil administration of the Empire wore after Diocletian’s reforms. Some rough idea must be conveyed of the mode in which the scheme was applied to the practical work of government. It must be premised that now, as heretofore, there was no point in the vast and complex machinery of bureaucracy at which the direct interposition of the emperor might not be at any moment brought into play. There was therefore no mechanical subordination of officer to officer, such as would produce an unbroken official chain, passing down from the emperor to the lowest official. And even apart from imperial intervention we must not conceive of the different grades of functionaries as arranged in absolutely systematic subjection one grade to another. This would have interfered with one principal purpose of the new organization, which aimed at providing the emperor with information about the whole state of his dominions, through officers immediately in touch with him at the centre of the government.


The emperor could not afford to restrict himself to such reports as might reach him through a Praefectus Praetorio or a proconsul. Thus the Vicarii were never regarded as mere agents or deputies of the Praefecti, and the same may be said of other officials. All might be called on to leave the beaten track. The Praefecti Praetorio, though each had his allotted sphere, were still in some sense colleagues, and were required on occasion to take common action. One great aim of the new system wash to prevent administrators from accumulating influence by long continuance in the same post, or in any other way. Therefore functionaries were passed on rapidly from one position to another. Therefore, also, except in rare instances, no man was allowed to hold office in the province of his birth. All offices were now paid and the importance of many was discernible from the amount of the stipend received by the holder. As in earlier times, certain offices conferred on their incumbents what may be regarded as patents of nobility. The nobiliary status arising from office was not hereditary as in an earlier age; yet the halo of the title to some extent covered the official’s family. New appellations were invented to decorate the higher offices, whose tenants were graded as illustres, spectabiles, and clarissimi. To the last designation all senators were entitled. Other expressions as comes, patricius, were less closely bound up with office. The use of these titles spread gradually. Before the end of the first century vir clarissimus (v.c. on inscriptions) began to denote the senator. The employment of distinctive titles for high officers of equestrian rank, vir eminentissimus, vir perfectissimus, vir egregius, began with Hadrian, and developed in the time of Marcus Aurelius. The designation vir egregius fell out of use during or soon after Constantine’s reign. The tendency of the new organization was to detach many offices from their old connection with the equestrian body, whose importance in the State diminished and then rapidly died away. Many changes in the application of these titles to the different offices took place from time to time.


The Praefectus Praetorio was the most exalted civil officer in the new Empire. His duties were executive, legal, financial, of every description in fact excepting the military. His only service for the army lay in the supply of its material requirements in pay, food, and equipment. He became in the end one of the highest of the viri illustres. The Praefectus in whose district the emperor resided was for the time being of enhanced importance, and was denoted as Praefectus Praetorio praesens. The office had even before the time of Diocletian attracted to itself a good deal of criminal jurisdiction. The Praefectus was now not a judge of first instance, but heard appeals from the courts below, within his sphere of action, with the exception of the court of the Vicarius, from whom the appeal went straight to the emperor. On the other hand, after 331 there was in the ordinary way no appeal against a sentence passed by the Praefectus, who was held to sit as the alter ego of the emperor (vice sacra iudicans). No other official possessed this privilege. The whole administration of the regions committed to him was passed under review by the Praefectus. His supervision of the provincial governors was of the most general kind. Each was compelled to send in twice a year a report on the administration of his province, and particularly on his exercise of jurisdiction. In the selection of governors the Praefectus had a large share, and he exercised disciplinary power over them. Erring functionaries both military and civil could be suspended by him till the emperor's pleasure was known. He usually advised the emperor concerning appointments. His control of finance both on the side of receipts and on that of expenditure formed a most important part of his duties. All difficulties in the incidence of taxation and in the collection of the taxes came under his consideration, but no officer of the Empire, however highly placed, could diminish or increase taxation without the emperor's express sanction. The Praefectus was also responsible for the due transport of corn and other necessaries destined for the supply of Rome and Constantinople. Many other functions fell to his lot, among them the superintendence of the state Post (cursus publicus).


If we may adapt an ecclesiastical phrase which describes the Arch­deacon as the oculus Episcopi, we may say that the Vicarius was the oculus Praefecti. He gave a closer eye to details than was possible for his superior within his Dioecesis. At first he was perfectissimus, afterwards spectabilis. The tendency of the rulers after Constantine was to increase his importance at the expense of the Praefectus; rather however in the field of jurisdiction than in other fields. The Vicarius had but little disciplinary power over the rector provinciae. The governor could in a difficult case seek advice from the emperor without having recourse to either of his superior officers, though he was bound to inform the Vicarius, and the latter could on occasion go straight to the monarch. The court of the Vicarius, like that of the Praefectus, was an appeal court only. The provincial governor was judge of first instance in all civil and criminal matters, except in the cases of some privileged persons, and in those minor affairs which were left to the magistrates of the municipalities within the province. The small size of the province made it unnecessary that its ruler should travel about to administer justice, as in the earlier time. Causes were heard at the seat of government. Much of the time of the governor was occupied in seeing that imposts were duly collected and that no irregularities were practiced by subordinates. Responsibility for public order rested primarily with him.


The lower grades of civil servants in the provinces were to a very large extent in connection with and controlled by the great departments of the imperial service whose chief offices were in the capital. Early in the imperial period three great bureaux were established, whose presidents were named ab epistulis, a libellis, and a memoria. These phrases survived into the age of Constantine and after, but denoted the offices and not their chiefs, whose title was magister. The departments themselves were now described by the word scrinium, which had originally denoted a box or desk for containing papers. The word had therefore undergone a change of meaning similar to that which had passed over fiscus, whereby from a basket for holding coin, it came to mean the imperial exchequer. The demarcation of business allotted to the three great scrinia was not always the same. The magister memoriae gradually encroached on the functions of the other two heads of departments and became much the most influential of the three. A fourth scrinium, called the scrinium dispositionum, was added. Its magister (later called comes) was at first inferior to the other three, who belonged to the class of the spectabiles, but was afterwards placed on a level with them. All these magistri on being promoted became vicarii. All four were subject to an exalted personage known as magister officiorum, who was a vir illustris.


The department known as ab epistulis was early divided into two sections distinguished as ab epistulis Latinis and ab epistulis Graecis. It was originally the great Secretariat of the Empire. Here were managed all communications touching foreign affairs, and the general correspondence of the government, excepting in so far as it related to the legal and other multifarious petitions addressed to the emperor, appealing for his interference or his favor. These would come not only from officials, but also from private persons, and all fell within the functions of the office a libellis. This bureau absorbed into itself another which had been specially devoted to legal inquiries, and was called a cognitionibus. Hence the magister libellorum is described in the Digest by the fuller title magister scrinii libellorum et sacrarum cognitionum. The department had famous lawyers, like Papinian and Ulpian, connected with it, and it must often have sought the aid of specialists in other matters belonging to the public service, as revenue and finance: for many of the petitions addressed to the ruler sought relief from taxation.


The name of the department a memoria implies that its head was the keeper of the “emperor's memory”. It was therefore a Record Office, but it was much more. It assisted other offices in putting documents into their final shape, and not only recorded the documents but issued them. The accounts we have of the office make it clear that it took to itself much important business which originally was transacted by other departments. Thus the Notitia describes the magister memoriae as dictating and issuing adnotationes, that is to say brief pronouncements running in the emperor's name; also as giving answers to supplications (preces). Further he gave to the emperor’s letters, speeches, and general announcements their final form, and sent them forth. The magister libellorum and the magister epistularum must have become in fact, though not in form, his inferiors. From his office emanated diplomas of appointments, the permission to use the imperial post, and countless other official permits. The scrinium dispositionum kept in order all the emperor’s engagements, and made the innumerable arrangements necessary for his journeys, and took count of many matters with which he was in touch, being of such a nature as not to come definitely within the purview of other bureaux


All these scrinia were under the control of one of the greatest functionaries of the Empire, the magister officiorum. His importance grew over a long space of time from small beginnings. His functions encroached greatly on those of the Praefecti Praetorio, and their development is a measure of the jealousy entertained by the emperors for these great officers. The word officium indicates a group of public servants placed at the disposal of a state functionary. The magister officiorum is the general master of all such groups. Naturally he is vir illustris. He selected from the scrinia, in accordance with elaborate rules of service, the clerks who were required to carry out many sorts of business in the capital and in the provinces. His duties were of many different kinds, through which no connected thread of principle ran; they evidently reached their full compass by an agglomeration which followed lines of convenience merely. One of the most prominent occupations of the magister lay in his direction of what may be called the Secret Service of the Empire. He had under him the very important schola agentum in rebus, which was organized by Constantine or possibly by Diocletian, and replaced a body of men called frumentarii, drawn originally from the corps which had in charge the provisioning of the army. These had acted as secret agents of the government. They were the men by whose means Hadrian, as his biographer says, “wormed out all hidden things”. The vast extension of the Secret Service in the age of Constantine and later was a consequence of the huge increase in the number of officials, and of the suspicion which an autocratic ruler naturally entertains towards his subordinates: in part also of a genuine but ineffectual desire to check misgovernment. The term schola is closely connected with the army, and implies a service which is regarded as military in trend, like that of the other scholae palatinae. The duties assigned to this schola opened of course wide doors through which corruption entered, and it became one of the greatest scourges from which the subjects of the Empire suffered. All attempts to keep it in order failed. The number of the officers attached to it was generally enormous. Julian practically disbanded it, retaining only a few of its members; but it soon grew again to its former proportions. The officers belonging to the schola were arranged in five classes, with more or less mechanical promotion, such as generally prevailed through the imperial service. The members themselves seem to have had some voice in the selection of men for the highest and most responsible duties. The standing of the schola became continually more honorable; and members of it rose to provincial governorships and even to still higher positions. The agens in rebus was ubiquitous, but only some of the more momentous forms of his activity can be mentioned here.


An officer called princeps, drawn from the schola, was sent to every Vicarius and into every province, where he was the chief of the governor’s staff of assistants (officium). This officer had gone through a course of espionage in lower situations, and his relation to the magister officiorum made his proximity uncomfortable for his nominal superior. Indeed the princeps came to play the part of a sort of Maitre du Palais to the rector provinciae, who tended to become a merely nominal ruler. The princeps and the officium were quite capable of conducting the affairs of the province alone. Hence we hear of youths being corruptly placed in important governorships, and of these offices being purchased, as in the days of the Republic, only in a different manner. After this provincial service, the princeps usually became governor of a province himself.


At an earlier stage of his career, the agens in rebus would be despatched to a province to superintend the imperial Post-service there, and see that it was not in any way abused. This title was then praepositus cursus publici, or later curiosus. This service would enable him to play the part of a spy wherever he went. The burden of providing for the Post was one of the heaviest which the provincials had to bear, and those who contravened the regulations concerning it were often highly-placed officials. That the curiosi by their espionage could make themselves intolerable there is much evidence to show.


The agentes in rebus were also the general messengers of the government, and were continually dispatched on occasions great or small, to make announcements in every part of the emperor’s dominions. While performing this function they were often the collectors of special donations to the imperial exchequer, and made illegitimate gains of their own, owing to the fear which they inspired. A regulation which is recorded forbidding any agens in rebus from entering Rome without special permission, is eloquent testimony to the reputation which the schola in general had earned.


Among the other miscellaneous duties of the magister officiorum was the supervision of formal intercourse between the Empire and foreign communities and princes. Also the general superintendence of the imperial factories and arsenals which supplied the army with weapons. The corps of guards (scholae scutariorum et gentium) who replaced the destroyed Praetorians were under his command, so that he resembled the Praefectus Praetorio of the earlier empire. And connected with this was a responsibility for the safety for the frontiers (limites) and control over the military commanders there. Further the servants who attended to the court ceremonial (officium admissionis) were under his direction, as were some others who belonged to the emperor's state. His civil and criminal jurisdiction extended over the immense mass of public servants at the capital, with few exceptions, and his voice in selecting officials for service there was potent. In short, no officer had more constant and more confidential relations with the monarch than the magister officiorum. He was the most important executive officer at the centre of government.


The greatest judicial and legal officer was the quaestor sacri palatii. The early history of this officer is obscure and no acceptable explanation has been found for the use of the title quaestor in connection with it. The dignity of the Quaestor’s functions may be understood from descriptions given in literature. Symmachus calls him “the disposer of petitions and the constructer of laws”. The poet Claudian says that he “issued edicts to the world, and answers to suppliants” while Corippus describes him as “the Champion of justice, who under the emperor’s auspices controls legislation and legal principles” (iura). The Quaestor’s office, like many others, advanced in importance after its creation, which appears to have taken place not earlier than Constantine’s reign. In the latter part of the fourth century he took precedence even of the magister officiorum, and with one brief interruption, he maintained this rank. The requirements for the office were above all skill in the law and in the art of legal expression. On all legal questions, whether questions of change in law, or questions of its administration, the emperor gave his final decision by the voice of the Quaestor. No body of servants (official) was specially allotted to him, but the scrinia were at his service. Indeed he may be said to have been the intermediary between the scrinia and the emperor. His relations with the heads of the departments a libellis and a memoria, and particularly with the latter, must have been very close; but their work was preparatory and subordinate to his so far as legal matters were concerned. The instances in which the magister memoriae succeeded in acting independently of the Quaestor were exceptional. A share in the appointment to certain of the lesser military offices was also assigned to the Quaestor, who kept a record of the names of their holders, which was known as laterculum minus. In this duty he was assisted by a high official of the scrinium memoriae, whose title was laterculensis.


There was another body called tribuni et notarii, not attached to the scrinia, which was of considerable importance. The service of these functionaries was closely connected with the deliberations of the great Imperial Council, the Consistorium, which is to be described presently. They had to see that the proper officers carried out the decisions of the Council. Their business often brought them into close and confidential relation with the emperor himself. The officer at the head is primicerius (literally, one whose name is written first on a wax tablet). The title is given to many officers serving in other departments and indicates usually, but not always, high rank. This particular primicerius ranked even higher than the chiefs of the scrinia and the castrensis sacri palatii. According to the Notitia he has “cognizance of all dignities and administrative offices both military and civil”. He kept the great list known as laterculum maius, in which were comprised not only the actual tenants of the greater offices, but forms for their appointment, schedules of their duties, and even a catalogue of the different sections of the army and their stations, including the scholae which served as imperial guards.


The reorganization of Finance brought into existence a host of officials who either bore new names or old titles to which new duties had been assigned. The great and complex system of taxation initiated by Diocletian and carried further by his successors can here be only sketched in broad outline. Although, like all the institutions of the new monarchy, the scheme of taxation had its roots in the past, the new development in its completed form stands in such marked contrast to old conditions, that there is not much to be gained by detailed references to the earlier Empire. Before Diocletian's time the old aerarium Saturni had ceased to be of imperial importance, and the aerarium militare of Augustus had disappeared. The general census of Roman citizens, carried out at Rome, is not heard of after Vespasian's time. Of the ancient revenues of the State very many were swept away by Diocletian's reform, even the most productive of all, the five per cent tax on inherited property (vicesima hereditatum) by which Augustus had subjected Roman citizens in general to taxation. The separate provincial census, of which in Gaul, for example, we hear much during the early Empire, was rendered unnecessary. The great and powerful societates publicanorum had dwindled away, though publicani were still employed for some purposes. Direct collection of revenue had gradually taken the place of the system of farming. Where any traces of the old system remained, it was subject to strict official supervision. Before Diocletian the incidence of taxation on the different parts of the Empire had been most unequal. The reasons for this lay partly in the extraordinary variety of the conditions by which in times past the relation of different portions of the Empire to the central government had been fixed when they first came under its sway; partly in Republican or Imperial favor or disfavor as they afterwards affected the burdens to be endured in different places; partly by the evolutions of the municipalities of different types throughout the Roman dominions. Towns and districts which once had been immune from imposts or slightly taxed had become tributary and viceversa. The reforms instituted by Augustus and carried further by his successors did something towards securing uniformity, but many diversities continued to exist. Some of these were produced by the gift of immunitas which was bestowed on many civic communities scattered over the Empire. Without this gift even communities of Roman citizens were not exempt from the taxation which marked off the provinces from Italy.

In order to understand the purpose of Diocletian’s changes in the taxation of the Empire, it is necessary to consider the struggle which he and Constantine made to reform the imperial coinage. The difficult task of explaining with exactness the utter demoralization of the currency at the moment when Diocletian ascended the throne cannot be here attempted. Only a few outstanding features can be delineated. The political importance of sound currency has never been more conspicuously, shown than in the century which followed on the death of Commodus (180 AD). Augustus had given a stability to the Roman coinage which it had never before possessed. But he imposed no uniform system on the whole of his dominions. Gold (with one slight exception) he allowed none to mint but himself. But copper he left in the hands of the Senate. Silver he coined himself, while he permitted many local mints to strike pieces in that metal also as well as in copper. Subsequent history extinguished local diversities and brought about by gradual steps a general system which was not attained till the fourth century. Aurelian deprived the Senate of the power which Augustus had left it.


Although the imperial coins underwent a certain amount of depreciation between the time of Augustus and that of the Severi, it was not such as to throw out of gear the taxation and the commerce of the Empire. But with Caracalla a rapid decline set in, and by the time of Aurelian the disorganization had gone so far that practically gold and silver were demonetized, and copper became the standard medium of exchange. The principal coin that professed to be silver had come to contain no more than five per cent of that metal, and this proportion sank afterwards to two per cent. What a government gains by making its payments in corrupted coin is always far more than lost in the revenue which it receives. The debasement of the coinage means a lightening of taxation, and it is never possible to enhance the nominal amount receivable by the exchequer so as to keep pace with the depreciation. The effect of this in the Roman Empire was greater than it would have been at an earlier time, since there is reason to believe that much of the revenue formerly payable in kind had been transmuted into money. A measure of Aurelian had the effect of multiplying by eight such taxes as were to be paid in coin. As the chief (professing) silver coin had twenty years earlier contained eight times as much silver as it had then come to contain, he claimed that he was only exacting what was justly due, but his subjects naturally cried out against his tyranny. No greater proof of the disorganization of the whole financial system could be given than lies in the fact that the treasury issued sackloads (folles) of the Antoniani, first coined by Caracalla, which were intended to be silver, but were now all but base metal only. These folles passed from hand to hand unopened.


Diocletian’s attempts to remove these mischiefs were not altogether fortunate. He made experiment after experiment, aiming at that stability of the currency which had, on the whole, prevailed for two centuries after the reforms of Augustus, but never reaching it. Finally, discovering that the last change he had made led to general raising of prices, he issued the celebrated edict of 301 AD by which the charges for all commodities were fixed, the penalty for transgression being death.


Constantine was forced to handle afresh the tangled problem of the currency. The task was rendered especially difficult by the fresh debasement of coinage which was perpetrated by Maxentius while he was supreme in Italy. It may be said at once that the goal of Diocletian’s efforts was never reached by Constantine. He did indeed alter the weight of the gold piece, which now received the name of solidus, and it continued in circulation, practically unchanged, for centuries. But this gold piece was to all intents and purposes not a coin, for when payments were made in it, they were reckoned by weight. The solidus was in effect only a bit of bullion, the fineness of which was conveniently guaranteed by the imperial stamp. The same is true of Constantine's silver pieces. The only coins which could be paid and received by their number, without weighing, were those contained in the follis, of which mention was made above, and the word follis was now applied to the individual coins, as well as to the whole sack. It had proved to be impossible to restore the monetary system which had prevailed in the first and second centuries of the Empire. But the tide of innovation was at length stayed; and this in itself was no small boon.


The line taken by the reform of Diocletian in the scheme of taxation was partly marked out for him by the anarchy of the third century, which led to the great debasement of the coinage described above and to many oppressive exactions of an arbitrary character. The lowering of the currency had disorganized the whole revenue and expenditure of the government. Where dues were receivable or stipends payable of a fixed nominal amount, these had largely lost their value. A natural consequence was that payments both to be made and to be received were ordered by Diocletian to be reckoned in the produce of the soil, and not in coin. During the era of confusion a phrase, indictio, had come into use to denote a special requisition made upon the provincials over and above their stated dues. What Diocletian did was to make what had been irregular into a regular and general impost, subjecting all provincials to it alike, and abolishing the unequal tributes of different kinds which had been previously required. The result was an enormous leveling of taxation throughout the provinces. And to some extent the immunity of Italy itself was withdrawn. But the sum to be raised from year to year was not uniform. It depended on an announcement to which the word indictio was applied, issued by the emperor for each year. Hence the number of indictiones proclaimed by an emperor became a convenient means for denoting the years of his reign.


The assessment of communities and individuals was managed by an elaborate process. The newly arranged burdens fell on land. The territorium attached to every town was surveyed and the land classified according to its use for growing grain or producing oil or wine. A certain number of acres (iugera) of arable land was called a iugum. The number varied, partly according to the quality of the soil, which was roughly graded, partly according to the province in which it was situated. In the case of oil, the taxable unit was often arrived at by counting the number of olive trees; and this was sometimes the case with vines. The iugum was however supposed to be fixed in accordance with the limits of one man's labor, and therefore caput (person) and iugum, from the point of view of revenue, became convertible terms. But men and women and slaves and cattle were taxed separately, and in addition to the tax on the land. Each man or slave on a farm counted as one caput and each woman as half a caput. A certain number of cattle constituted also a iugum and thus there was no need to divide up the pasture lands as the arable lands were divided. Meadows were rated for the supply of fodder. The total requirements of the government were stated in the indictio, and every community had to contribute in accordance with the number of taxable units which the survey had disclosed. All the produce which the taxpayers handed over was stored in great government barns (horrea).


The system of collection, though decentralized, was bad. The decurions or senators of each town, or the ten chief men of each town (decemprimi) were responsible for handing over to the government all that was due. A revision took place every five years, and was generally carried through with much unfairness and oppression of the poorer landholders. Apparently a fresh survey was not made, but evidence taken by the town-officers in the town itself. From 312 onwards we find a fifteen-year indiction-period, which came to be largely used as a chronological instrument. It would seem that every fifteenth year a re-allotment of taxes was made which was based on actual survey. But evidence for this is scanty. An imperial revenue officer called censitor was restricted to the duty of receiving the dues from a community as a whole. Outside imperial officers were called in to assist in the collection of dues from recalcitrant taxpayers. This happened at first occasionally, then regularly. Naturally another door was thus opened to oppression, from which the rich would manage to escape more lightly than the poor. The special arrangement made by Diocletian for Italy will be explained later; also the exemptions accorded to privileged classes of individuals.


Along with the payment of government dues in kind went the payment of stipends in kind. A certain amount of corn, wine, meat, and other necessaries, grouped together, constituted a unit to which the name annona was applied, and salaries, military and civil, were largely calculated in annonae. Where allowance was made for horses, the amount granted for each was called capitum. When stability was in some degree secured for the currency, these annonae were again expressed in money, by a valuation called adaeratio. The government, to be on safety's side, of course exacted as a rule more produce from the soil than was needed for use, and the excess was turned into money, naturally at low prices.


In addition to the burdens on the land, many other imposts were levied. The maintenance of the Post Service along the main roads was most oppressive. In the towns every trade was taxed, the contribution bearing the name of lustralis collatio or chrysargyrum. The customs dues at the ports and transit dues at the frontier were maintained. Revenues were derived from government monopolies in mines, forests, salt factories, and other possessions. Some of the old Republican imposts, such as the tax on manumitted slaves, still survived. Persons of distinction were subject to special exactions. Imperial senators paid several dues, especially the so-called aurum oblaticium, which like many inevitable forms of taxation, professed in its name to be a free-will offering. Senators of municipal towns (decuriones) were weighted both by local and by imperial burdens. Every five years of his reign the emperor celebrated a festival, at which he dispensed large sums to the army and to civil functionaries. At the same time the decuriones of the municipalities had to pay an oppressive tax known as aurum coronarium, the beginnings of which go right back to the time of the Republic. As is shown below, certain trading corporations were hereditarily bound to assist in the provisioning of the two capitals; and some other miscellaneous services were similarly treated.


From the third century the officer who in each province looked after the imperial revenue, whose earlier title was procurator, began to be called rationalis. But under Diocletian’s system, each governor became the chief financial officer in his province. For each Diocesis there was appointed a rationalis summae rei, in which name summae rei refers to the complex of provinces forming the Diocesis. The great Imperial minister of finance at the centre bore the same name at first; summa res in his case indicated the whole Empire. But the title comes sacrarum largitionum came into use in the reign of Constantine. This officer advanced from the rank of perfectissimus to a high place among the illustres. The appellation comes came to be given to all the chief financial officers in the Dioceses of the East and to some of those in the West, while others continued to bear the name rationalis. Disputes between taxpayers and the lower government financial officers were doubtless decided in the last resort by the comes sacrarum largitionum. A number of treasury officials and officers of the mint were under his orders. In certain places (Rome, Milan, Lugdunum, London and others) sub-treasuries of the government were maintained. There were also factories for the supply to the Court of many fabrics; all these the comes had under his charge. And he was in touch with the administrators of all public income and expenditure throughout the Empire.


The emperor had revenues which he distinguished as personal to himself rather than public, although they doubtless were largely expended on imperial administration. These personal revenues were derived from two sources distinguished as res privata and patrimonium, and administered to some extent by different staffs. In theory the patrimonium consisted of property which might be regarded as belonging to the emperor apart from the crown, while the res privata attached to the crown itself. But these distinctions were of no great practical value. The imperial estates and possessions had come to be enormous, and covered large parts of knife—provinces. We have seen that the control of the imperial domains in one province, Cappadocia, was entrusted to the quaestor sacri cubiculi. The concentration of these immense estates in the hands of the ruler had an important effect upon the general evolution of society in the Empire. These properties had largely accrued by confiscation, mainly as a consequence of struggles for the supreme power. The head of the administration of the res privata, designated as comes rei privatae or rerum privatarum, had a whole army of subordinates scattered over the provinces, and the staff which managed the patrimonium under an officer usually called procurator patrimonii, though smaller, must have been considerable.


The new hierarchy of office was swollen in its dimensions also by the reorganization of the army, which placed a series of new dignitates militares beside the dignitates civiles. Diocletian completed the severance of military from civil duties, excepting in some frontier districts, where they were still combined. The regular title for a commanding officer is dux; and the army, like the Empire, was broken up into smaller sections than of old, and for the same reason, jealousy of the concentration of much power in private hands. The whole force of the army was considerably increased. The distinction between the legions and the auxilia was maintained. The senatorial legatos who had been the commander of the legion since Caesar’s day, was replaced by a praefectus of equestrian rank, and other changes were made in the legionary officers. To the older auxilia were added new detachments to which the same name was given, but filled chiefly with soldiers from beyond the bounds of the Empire, free Germans, Franks, and others. The barbarian chiefs who came into the service became very prominent, and more and more frequently as time went on rose to the highest commands in the whole army. Other barbarian forces were within the Empire, recruited from peoples who had been deliberately planted there to defend the frontiers, and owing no other duty to the government. The general term for these auxiliaries is laeti, but in the region of the Danube their designation was gentiles. They were commanded sometimes by men of their own race, sometimes by Roman praefecti. The tendency also to compose the cavalry of barbarians was conspicuous, and new designations for the different detachments came into use. The common title for the more regular corps was vexillationes; the frontier forces passed under the names of cunei, alae, or sometimes equites only.


The greatest military reform introduced by the new monarchy lay in the construction of a mobile army. The want of this had been early felt in the imperial period, when war on any frontier compelled the removal of defensive forces from other frontiers. The difficulty had been one of the causes which led Septimius Severus to station a legion at Alba near Rome, thus breaking with the tradition that Italy was not governed like the provinces. So long as the old Praetorian Cohorts existed, their military efficiency as a field force was not great, and they were destroyed in consequence of the rising of Maxentius. Diocletian created a regular field army, the title for which was comitatenses. The name indicates the practice under the new system, whereby the emperor himself took command in all important wars, and therefore these troops were his retinue (comitatus). The description comitatenses applied both to the foot-soldiers (legiones), and the cavalry (vexillationes). In the later fourth century a section of the comitatenses appear as palatini; and another body is named pseudo-comitatenses, probably detachments not forming a regular part of the field army, but united with it temporarily, and recruited from the frontier forces. The designation riparienses denotes the garrisons of the old standing camps on the outside of the Empire. These are distinct from the newer limitanei, who cultivated lands along the limites, and held them by a kind of military tenure. The castriciani and castellani seem to have held lands close to the castra and castella respectively, and did not differ essentially from the riparienses and limitanei. Their sons could not inherit the lands unless they entered the same service. The comitatenses were in higher honor than the soldiers stationed on the outmost edges of the Empire, and their quarters were usually in the inner regions. The whole strength of the army under Diocletian, Constantine, and their successors is difficult to calculate. The number of men in the legion seems to have steadily diminished and by the end of the fourth century to have sunk to two, or even one thousand. An estimate based on the Notitia gives 250,000 infantry and 110,000 cavalry on the frontiers, while the comitatenses comprise 150,000 foot and 46,000 horse. But the calculation is dubious, probably excessive. Generally speaking, the burden of army service fell chiefly on the lowest class. Though every subject of the Empire was in theory liable to service, the wealthier, when any levy took place, were not only allowed, but practically compelled, to find substitutes, lest the finances of the Empire should suffer.


In addition to the forces already mentioned, there grew up some corps which may be described as Imperial Guards. From the early Empire the practice of surrounding the emperor with an intimate bodyguard composed of barbarians, principally Germans, had prevailed. Augustus possessed such a force, which he disbanded after the disaster suffered by Varus in Germany, but it was reestablished by his successors down to Galba. A little later came the equites singulares, also mainly recruited from Germans, who had a special camp in the capital, and were an appendage to the Praetorians. Probably when Constantine abolished the Praetorians the equites singulares also disappeared. But before this happened, a new bodyguard had come into existence, bearing the name of the protectores divini lateris. It included Germans (often of princely origin), and Romans of several classes high and low. Diocletian added a new set of protectores, composed partly of infantry and partly of cavalry, which formed a sort of corps d’élite, and served for the training of officers. In it were found officers' sons, men of different ranks, promoted from the regular army, and young members of noble or wealthy families. The distinction between the two sets of protectores was not maintained, and the later title was domestici only. They served in close proximity to the emperor, who thus made personal acquaintance with men among them who were destined to hold commands, often important commands, in the regular army. The members of the body were raised far above the ordinary soldier by their personnel, their privileges, their pay, in some cases equal to that of civil officials of a high grade, by their equipment, and by the estimation in which they were held. The historian Ammianus Marcellinus served in their ranks. They were divided into sections called scholae.


Still another corps of Imperial Guards was created by Constantine, consisting of scholae palatinae, distinguished as scholae scutariorum, who were Romans, and scholae gentilium, who were barbarians. They were detached from the general army organization and were under the orders of the magister officiorum. Their history was not unlike that of the Praetorians; they became equally turbulent, and equally inefficient as soldiers.


With the new organization of the army, there sprang up new military offices of high importance, with new names. Constantine created two high officers as chief commanders of the mobile army, a magister equitum and a magister peditum. Their position resembled that of the Praefecti Praetorio of the early Empire in several respects. They were immediately dependent on the emperor, and also, from the nature of their commands, on one another. But circumstances in time changed their duties and their numbers. They had sometimes to take the field when the emperor was not present, and the division between the infantry command and the cavalry command thus broke down. Hence the titles magister equitum et peditum, and magister utriusque militiae, or magister militum simply. The jealousy which the emperors naturally entertained for all high officers caused considerable variations in the position and importance of these magistri. After the middle of the fourth century the necessary connection of the magistri with the emperor’s person had ceased, and the command of a magister generally embraced the Dioecesis, within which war occurred or threatened. Where the emperor was, there would be two magistri called praesentales, either distinguished as commanders of infantry and cavalry, or bearing the title of magistri utriusque militiae praesentales. But in the fifth century the emperor was generally in practice a military nonentity, and was in the hands of one magister who was not unfrequently the real ruler of the Empire. As was the case with all high officials the magistri exercised jurisdiction over those under their dispositio, not only in matters purely military, but in cases of crime and even to some extent in connection with civil proceedings. The lower commanders also possessed similar jurisdiction, but the details are not known. Appeal was to the emperor, who delegated the hearing as a rule to one or other of the highest civil functionaries.


No view of the great imperial hierarchy of officials would be complete which did not take account of the new title comes. Its application followed no regular rules. In the earlier Latin it was used somewhat loosely to designate men who accompanied a provincial governor, and were attached to his staff (cohors), especially such as held no definite office connected with administration, whether military or civil. Such unofficial members of the staff seem especially to have assisted the governor in legal matters, and in time they were paid, and were punishable under the laws against extortion in the provinces. In the early Empire the title comes begins to be applied in no very precise manner to persons attached to the service of the emperor or of members of the imperial family; but only slowly did it acquire an official significance. Inscriptions of the reign of Marcus Aurelius show a change; as many persons are assigned the title in this one reign as in all the preceding reigns put together. Probably at this time began the bestowal of the title on military as well as legal assistants of the emperor, and soon its possessors were chiefly military officers, who after serving with the emperor, took commands on the frontier. Then from the end of the reign of Severus Alexander to the early years of Constantine the description comes Augusti was abolished for human beings, but attached to divinities. Constantine restored it to its mundane employment, and used it as an honorific designation for officers of many kinds, who were not necessarily in the immediate neighborhood of an Augustus or Caesar, but were servants of the Augustus or Augusti and Caesars generally, that is to say might occupy any position in the whole imperial administration. Constantine seems to have despatched comites, not all of the same rank or importance, to provinces or parts of the Empire concerning which he wished to have confidential information. Later they appear in most districts, and the ordinary rulers are in some degree subject to them, and they hear appeals and complaints which otherwise would have been laid before the Praefecti Praetorio. The comites provinciarum afford a striking illustration of the manner in which offices were piled up upon offices, in the vain attempt to check corruption and misgovernment.


In the immediate neighborhood of the Court the name comes was attached to four high military officers; the magister equituni and magister peditum, and the commanders of the domestici equites and the domestici pedites. Also to four high civil officers, the High Treasurer (comes sacrarum largitionum) and the controller of the Privy Purse (comes rerum privatarum); also the quaestor sacri palatii and the magister officiorum. These high civil functionaries appear as comites consistoriani, being regular members of the Privy Council (consistorium). Before the end of Constantine’s reign the words connecting the comes with the emperor and the Caesars drop out, possibly because the imperial rulers were deemed to be too exalted for any form of companionship. A man is now not comes Augusti but comes merely or with words added to identify his duties, as for instance when the district is stated within which a military or civil officer acts, on whom the appellation has been bestowed. The former necessary connection of the comes with the Court having ceased, the name was vulgarized and connected with offices of many kinds, sometimes of a somewhat lowly nature. In many cases it was not associated with duties at all, but was merely titular. As a natural result, comites were classified in three orders of dignity (primi, secundi, tertii ordinis). Admission to the lowest rank was eagerly coveted and often purchased, because of the immunity from public burdens which the boon carried with it. Constantine also adapted the old phrase patricius to new uses. The earlier emperors, first by special authorization, later merely as emperors, had raised families to patrician rank, but the result was merely a slight increase in social dignity. From Constantine's time onwards, the dignity was rarely bestowed and then the patricii became a high and exclusive order of nobility. They had precedence next to the emperor, with the exception of the consuls actually in office. Their titles did not descend to their sons. The best known of the patricii are some of the great generals of barbarian origin, who were the last hopes of the crumbling Empire. The title lasted long; it was bestowed on Charles Martel, and was known later in the Byzantine Empire.


At the centre of the great many-storeyed edifice of the bureaucracy was the Consistorium or Most Honorable Privy Council. There was deep rooted in the Roman mind the idea that neither private citizen nor official should decide on important affairs without taking the advice of those best qualified to give it. This feeling gave rise to the great advising body for the magistrates, the Senate, to the jury who assisted in criminal affairs, to the bench of counselors, drawn from his staff, who gave aid to the provincial governor, and also to the loosely constituted gathering of friends whose opinion the pater familias demanded. To every one of these groups the word consilium was applicable. It was natural that the early emperors should have their consilium, the constitution of which gradually became more and more formal and regular. Hadrian gave a more important place than heretofore to the jurisconsults among his advisers. For a while a regular paid officer called consiliarius existed. In Diocletian's time the old name consilium was supplanted by consistorium. The old advisers of the magistrates sat on the bench with them and therefore sometimes bore the name adsessores. But it was impious to be seated in the presence of the new divinized rulers; and from the practice of standing (consistere) the Council derived its new name. From Constantine the Council received a more definite frame. As shown above, certain officers became comites consistoriani. But these officers were not always the same after Constantine's reign, and additional persons were from time to time called in for particular business. The Praefectus Praetorio praesens or in comitatu would usually attend. The Consistorium was both a Council of State for the discussion of knotty imperial questions, and also a High Court of Justice, though it is difficult to determine exactly what cases might be brought before it. Probably that depended on the emperor's will.


It is necessary that something should be said of the position which the two capitals, Rome and Constantinople, held in the new organization, and of the traces which still hung about Italy of its older historical privileges. The old Roman Senate was allowed a nominal existence, with a changed constitution and powers which were rather municipal than imperial. Of the old offices whose holders once filled the Senate, the Consulship, Praetorship, and Quaestorship survived, while the Tribunate and the Aedileship died out. Two consulares ordinarii were named by the emperor, who would sometimes listen to recommendations from the senators. The years continued to be denoted by the consular names, and, to add dignity to the office, the emperor or members of the imperial family would sometimes hold it. The tenure of the office was brief, and the consules suffecti during the year were selected by the Senate, with the emperor's approval. But to be consul suffectus was of little value, even from a personal point of view. A list of nominations for the Praetorship and Quaestorship was laid by the Praefectus urbi before the emperor for confirmation. Apart from these old offices, many of the new dignitates carried with them membership of the ordo senatorius. Ultimately all officials who were clarissimi, that is to say who possessed the lowest of the three noble titles, belonged to it. Thus it included not merely the highest functionaries, as the principal military officers, the civil governors, and the chiefs of bureaux, but many persons lower down in the hierarchy of office, for example all the comites. The whole body must have comprised some thousands. But a man might be a member of the ordo without being actually a senator. Only the higher functionaries and priests and the consulares described above, with possibly a few others, actually took part in the proceedings. The actual Senate and the ordo were distinguished by high-sounding titles in official documents, and emperors would occasionally send communications to the Senate about high matters, and make pretence of asking its advice, out of respect for its ancient prestige, but its business was for the most part comparatively petty, and chiefly confined to the immediate needs of the city. But every now and then it was convenient for the ruler to expose the Senate to the odium of making unpopular decisions, as in cases of high treason; and when pretenders rose, or changes of government took place, the favor of this ancient body still carried with it a certain value. Among the chief functions of the senators was the supervision of the supply of panis et circenses, provisions and amusements, for the capital. The games were chiefly paid for by the holders of the Consulship, Praetorship, and Quaestorship. The obligation resting on the Praetorship was the most serious, and therefore nomination to this magistracy took place many years in advance, that the money might be ready. Naturally these burdens became to a large extent compulsory; and so even women who had inherited from a senator had to supply money for such purposes. Rich men of course exceeded the minimum largely with a view to display. The old privilege still attached to Rome of receiving corn from Africa. Diocletian divided Italy into two districts, of which the northern (annonaria regio) paid tribute for support of the Court at Milan, while the southern (dioecesis Romae, or suburbicaria regio) supplied wine, cattle, and some other necessaries for the capital.


Senators as such and the senatorius ordo were subject to special taxation, as well as the ordinary taxation of the provinces (with exception perhaps of the aurum coronarium). The follis senatorius was a particular tax on senatorial lands, and even a landless senator had to pay something. The aurum oblaticium, already mentioned, was especially burdensome.


The most important officer connected with the Senate was the Praefectus urbi. His office had grown steadily in importance during the whole existence of the Empire. From the time of Constantine its holder was vir illustris. He was the only high official of the Empire who continued to wear the toga and not the military garb. He was at the head of the Senate and was the intermediary between that body and the emperor. The powers of his office were extraordinary. The members of the Senate resident in Rome were under his criminal jurisdiction. There was an appeal to him from all the lesser functionaries who dealt with legal matters in the first instance, not only in the capital, but in a district extending 100 miles in every direction. His control spread over every department of business. He was the chief guardian of public security and had the cohortes urbanae, as well as the praefectus vigilum under his command. The provisioning of the city was an important part of his duty, and the praefectus annonae acted under his orders. A whole army of officials, many of them bearing titles which would have been strange to the Republic and early Empire, assisted him in looking after the water-supply, controlling trade and the markets, and the traffic on the river, in maintaining the river banks, in taking account of the property of senators and in many other departments of affairs. It is difficult to say how far his position was affected by the presence in the city of a Corrector, and a Vicarius of the Praefectus Praetorio. The material welfare of Rome was at least abundantly cared for by the new monarchy. The city had already grown accustomed to the loss of dignity caused by the residence of the emperors in cities more convenient for the purposes of government. But the foundation of Constantinople must have been a heavy blow. The institutions of the old Rome were to a great extent copied in the new. There was a Senate subject to the same obligations as in Rome. Most of the magistracies were repeated. But until 359 no Praefectus urbi seems to have existed at Constantinople. Elaborate arrangements were made for placing the new city on a level with the old as regards tributes of corn, wine, and other necessaries from the provinces. The more frequent presence of the ruler gave to the new capital a brilliance which the old must have envied.


So far the machinery of the new government in its several parts has been described. We must now consider in outline what was its total effect upon the inhabitants of the Empire. The inability of the ruler to assure good government to his subjects was made conspicuous by the frequent creation of new offices, whose object was to curb the corruption of the old. The multiplication of the functionaries in close touch with the population rendered oppression more certain and less punishable than ever. Lactantius declares, with pardonable exaggeration, that the number of those who lived on the taxes was as great as the number who paid them. The evidence of official rapacity is abundant. The laws thundered against it in vain. Oftentimes it happened that illegitimate exactions were legalized in the empty hope of keeping them within bounds. Penalties expressed in laws were plain enough and numerous enough. For corruption in a province not only the governor but his whole officium were liable to make heavy recompense. And the comparative powerlessness of the governor is shown by the fact that the officium is more heavily mulcted than its head. But a down-trodden people rarely will or can bring legal proof against its oppressors. Nothing but extensive arbitrary dismissal and punishment of his servants by the emperor, without insistence on forms of law, would have met the evil. As it was, corruption reigned through the Empire with little check, and the illicit gains of the emperor’s servants added to the strain imposed by the heavy imperial taxation. Thus the benefit which the provincials had at first received by the substitution of Imperial for Republican government was more than swept away. Their absorption into the Roman polity on terms of equality with their conquerors, brought with it degradation and ruin.


During the fourth century that extraordinary development was completed whereby society was reorganized by a demarcation of classes so rigid that it became extremely difficult for any man to escape from that condition of life into which he was born. In the main, but not altogether, this result was brought about by the fiscal system. When the local Senates or their leaders were made responsible for producing to the government the quota of taxation imposed on their districts, it became necessary to prevent the members (decuriones or curiales) from escaping their obligations by passing into another path of life, and also to compel the sons to walk in their fathers' footsteps. But the maintenance of the local ordo was necessary also from the local as well as the imperial point of view. The magistracies involved compulsory as well as voluntary payments for local objects, and therefore those capable of filling them must be thrust into them by force if need were. Every kind of magistracy in every town of the Empire, and every official position in connection with any corporate body, whether priestly college or trade guild or religious guild, brought with it expenditure for the benefit of the community, and on this, in great part, the ordinary life of every town depended. The Theodosian Code shows that the absconding decurio was in the end treated as a runaway slave; five gold pieces were given to anyone who would haul him back to his duties.


In time the members also of all or nearly all professional corporations (collegia or corpora) were held to duties by the State, and the burden of them descended from father to son. The evolution by which these free unions for holding together in a social brotherhood all those who followed a particular occupation were turned into bodies with the stamp of caste upon them, is to be traced with difficulty in the extant inscriptions and the legal literature. Here as everywhere the fiscal system instituted by Diocletian was a powerful agent. A large part of the natural fruits of the earth passed into the hands of government, and a vast host of assistants was needed for transport and distribution. And the organization for maintaining the food-supply at Rome and Constantinople became more and more elaborate. For the annona alone many corporations had to give service, in most cases easily divined from their names, as navicularii, frumentarii, mercatores, olearii, suarii, pecuarii, pistores, boarii, porcinarii and numerous others. Similar bodies were connected with public works, with police functions, as the extinction of fires, with government operations of numerous kinds, in the mints, the mines, the factories for textiles and arms and so on. In the early Empire the service rendered to the State was not compulsory, and partly by rewards, such as immunity from taxation, partly by pay, the government was willingly served. But in time the burdens became intolerable. State officers ultimately controlled the minutest details connected with these corporations. And the tasks imposed did not entirely proceed from the imperial departments. The curiales of the towns could enforce assistance from the local collegia within their boundaries. And the tentacles of the great octopus of the central government were spread over the provinces. In the fourth and later centuries the restrictions on the freedom of these corporations were extraordinarily oppressive. Egress from inherited membership was inhibited by government except in rare instances. Ingress, as into the class of curiales, was, directly or indirectly, compulsory. The colleges differed greatly in dignity. In some, as in that of the navicularii, even senators might be concerned, and office-holders might obtain, among their rewards, the rank of Roman knight. On the other hand, the bakers (pistores) approached near the condition of slavery. Marriage, for instance, outside their own circle was forbidden, whereas, in other cases, it was only rendered difficult. Property which had once become subject to the duties required of a collegium could hardly be released. The end was that collegiati or corporati all over the Empire took any method they could find of escaping from their servitude, and the law's severest punishments could not check the movement. If we may believe some late writers, thousands of citizens found life in barbarian lands more tolerable than in the Roman Empire.


The status of other classes in the community also tended to become hereditary. This was the case with the officiales and the soldiers, though here compulsion was not so severe. But the tillers of the ground (coloni) were more hardly treated than any other class. It became impossible for them, without breach of the law, to tear themselves away from the soil of the locality within which they were born. The evolution of this peculiar form of serfdom, which existed for the purposes of the State, is difficult to trace. Many causes contributed to its growth and final establishment, as the extension of large private and especially of vast imperial domains, the imitation of the German half-free land-tenure when barbarians were settled as laeti or inquilini within the Empire, the influence of Egyptian and other Eastern land-customs, but above all the drastic changes in the imperial imposts which Diocletian introduced. The cultivator's principal end in life was to insure a contribution of natural products for the revenue. Hence it was a necessity to chain him to the ground, and in the law-books adscripticius is the commonest title for him. The details of the scheme of taxation, given above, show how it must have tended to diminish population, for every additional person, even a slave, increased the contribution which each holding must pay. The owners of the land were in the first instance responsible, but the burdens of course fell ultimately and in the main on the agricultural workers. The temporary loss of provinces to the invader, the failure of harvest in any part of the Empire, the economic effects of pestilence, and other accidents, all led to greater sacrifices on the part of those provinces which were not themselves affected. The exactions became heavier and heavier, the punishments for attempts to escape from duty more and more severe, and yet flight and disappearance of coloni took place on a large scale. By the end of the fourth century it was possible for lawyers to say of this unhappy class that they were almost in the condition of slaves, and a century or so later that the distinction between them and slaves no longer existed; that they were slaves of the land itself on which they were born.


In many other ways, under the new monarchy, the citizens of the Empire were treated with glaring inequality. The gradations of official station were almost as important in the general life of the Empire as they now are in China, and they were reflected in titular phrases, some of which have been given above. Etiquette became most complicated. Even the emperor was bound to exalted forms of address in his communications with his servants or with groups of persons within his Empire. ‘Your sublimity’, ‘Your magnificence’, ‘Your loftiness’, were common salutations for the greater officers. The ruler did not disdain to employ the title parens in addressing some of them. The innumerable new titles which the Empire had invented were highly valued and much paraded by their possessors, even the titles of offices in the municipalities. Great hardship must have been caused to the lower ranks of the taxpayers by the extensive relief from taxation which was accorded to hosts of men in the service of the government (nominal or real) as part payment for the duties which they performed or were supposed to perform. With these immunities, as with everything else in the Empire, there was much corrupt dealing. The criminal law became a great respecter of persons. Not only was the jurisdiction over the upper classes separated at many points from that over the lower, but the lower were subject to punishments from which the upper were free. Gradually the Empire drifted farther and farther away from the old Republican principle, that crimes as a rule are to be punished in the same way, whoever among the citizens commits them. A sharp distinction was drawn between the ‘more honorable’ (honestiores) and the ‘more humble’ (humiliores or plebeii). The former included the imperial ordo senatorius, the equites, the soldier-class generally and veterans, and the local senators (decuriones). The honestiores could not be executed without the emperor’s sanction, and if executed, were exempt from crucifixion (a form of punishment altogether abolished by the Christian emperors). They could not be sentenced to penal servitude in mines or elsewhere. Nor could they be tortured in the course of criminal proceedings, excepting for treason, magic, and forgery.

A general survey of Roman government in the fourth and late centuries undoubtedly leaves a strong impression of injustice, inequality and corruption leading fast to ruin. But some parts of the Empire did maintain a fair standard of prosperity even to the verge of the general collapse. The two greatest problems in history, how to account for the rise of Rome and how to account for her fall, never have been, perhaps never will be, thoroughly solved.