Praetor: Roman magistrate, responsible for the administration of justice.

A Roman magistrate and two lictors carrying fasces
A Roman magistrate and two lictors carrying fasces

The word praetor indicates the man who 'goes before the others'. If this is taken literally, the title may be derived from the army; if we allow for a figure of speech, it may have been coined to describe a civil official. The word was certainly used to describe the first consuls.

After the reforms of the 360s, the title was used to describe a patrician magistrate who was responsible for the administration of justice. Later, plebeians were also allowed to be praetor. In 242, a second praetor was introduced, the praetor peregrinus, who was responsible for Italy. The first praetor, the praetor urbanus, stayed in Rome.

In 227, two additional praetors were introduced: they were responsible for the provinces of Sicily and Sardinia/Corsica. After the creation of provinces in Spain (Hispania Citerior and Ulterior) in 197, the number was raised to six, which was sufficient. When new territories were conquered, no new praetors were appointed. At that time, the office was occupied for two years.

The praetors were chosen by the Comitia centuriata, an assembly of the people in which the richest Romans were in the majority. After the Lex Villia annalis (180), a minimum age of 40 years was required. Not much later, a new task was given to the praetor urbanus: he was to be the chairman of the law court that judged corrupt governors. At the same time, the provincial praetors disappeared; instead, some financial tasks were added.

After Sulla, the number of praetors rose to 8 or 10, after Caesar it was 10 or 12. Under the empire, it fluctuated between 10 and 18. The minimum age was lowered to 30 and a new task had been added: the praetor had to pay for the Games.

A praetor had six bodyguards (lictores) and was allowed to wear a purple-bordered toga.

This page was created in 2002; last modified on 9 May 2019.