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In Ancient Rome, a province (Latin, provincia, pl. provinciae) was the basic, and, until the Tetrarchy (c. 296), largest territorial and administrative unit of the empire's territorial possessions outside of Italy. The word province in modern English has its origins in the term used by the Romans.
Provinces were generally governed by politicians of senatorial rank, usually former consuls or former praetors. A later exception was the province of Egypt, incorporated by Augustus after the death of Cleopatra: it was ruled by a governor of equestrian rank only, perhaps as a discouragement to senatorial ambition. This exception was unique, but not contrary to Roman law, as Egypt was considered Augustus' personal property, following the tradition of earlier, Hellenistic kings.
The Latin word provincia originally meant any task or set of responsibilities assigned by the Senate to an individual who held imperium ("right of command"), which was often a military command within a specified theater of operations. Under the Roman Republic, the magistrates were elected to office for a period of one year, and those serving outside the city of Rome, such as consuls acting as generals on a military campaign, were assigned a particular provincia, the scope of authority within which they exercised their command.
The territory of a people who were defeated in war might be brought under various forms of treaty, in some cases entailing complete subjection (deditio). The formal annexation of a territory created a "province" in the modern sense of an administrative unit geographically defined. Republican provinces were administered in one-year terms by the consuls and praetors who had held office the previous year and who were invested with imperium.
Rome started expanding beyond Italy during the First Punic War. The first permanent provinces to be annexed were Sicily (Sicilia) in 241 BC and Sardinia (Corsica et Sardinia) in 237 BC. Militarized expansionism kept increasing the number of these administrative provinces, until there were no longer enough qualified individuals to fill the posts. The terms of provincial governors often had to be extended for multiple years (prorogatio), and on occasion the Senate awarded imperium even to private citizens (privati), most notably Pompey the Great. Prorogation undermined the republican constitutional principle of annual elected magistracies, and the amassing of disproportionate wealth and military power by a few men through their provincial commands was a major factor in the transition from republic to imperial autocracy.
In the so-called Augustan Settlement of 27 BC, which established the Roman Empire, the governance of the provinces was regulated. Octavian Caesar, having emerged from the Roman civil wars as the undisputed victor and master of the Roman state, officially laid down his powers, and in theory restored the authority of the Roman Senate. Octavian himself assumed the title "Augustus" and was given to govern, in addition to Egypt, the strategically important provinces of Gaul, Hispania and Syria (including Cilicia and Cyprus). Under Augustus, Roman provinces were classified as either senatorial or imperial, meaning that their governors were appointed by either the Senate or by the emperor. Generally, the older provinces that existed under the Republic were senatorial. Senatorial provinces were, as before under the Republic, governed by a proconsul, who was chosen by lot among the ranks of senators who were ex-consuls or ex-praetors, depending on which province was assigned. The major imperial provinces were under a legatus Augusti pro praetore, also a senator of consular or praetorian rank. Egypt and some smaller provinces where no legions were based were ruled by a procurator (praefectus in Egypt), whom the emperor selected from non-senators of equestrian rank. The status of a province could change from time to time. In AD 68, of a total 36 provinces, 11 were senatorial and 25 imperial. Of the latter, 15 were under legati and 10 under procuratores or praefecti.
During the Principate, the number and size of provinces also changed, either through conquest or through the division of existing provinces. The larger or more heavily garrisoned provinces (for example Syria and Moesia) were subdivided into smaller provinces to prevent any single governor from holding too much power.
Emperor Diocletian introduced a radical reform known as the Tetrarchy (284–305), with a western and an eastern Augustus or senior emperor, each seconded by a junior emperor (and designated successor) styled Caesar, and each of these four defending and administering a quarter of the Empire. In the 290s, Diocletian divided the Empire anew into almost a hundred provinces, including Italy. Their governors were hierarchically ranked, from the proconsuls of Africa proconsularis and Asia through those governed by consulares and correctores to the praesides. These last were the only ones recruited from the equestrian class. The provinces in turn were grouped into (originally twelve) dioceses, headed usually by a vicarius, who oversaw their affairs. Only the proconsuls and the urban prefect of Rome (and later Constantinople) were exempt from this, and were directly subordinated to the tetrarchs.
Although the Caesars were soon eliminated from the picture, the four administrative resorts were restored in 318 by Emperor Constantine I, in the form of praetorian prefectures, whose holders generally rotated frequently, as in the usual magistracies but without a colleague. Constantine also created a new capital, Nova Roma, known after him as Constantinople, which became the permanent seat of the government. In Italy itself, Rome had not been the imperial residence for sometime and 286 Diocletian formally moved the seat of government to Mediolanum (modern Milan), while taking up residence himself in Nicomedia. During the 4th century, the administrative structure was modified several times, including repeated experiments with Eastern-Western co-emperors. Provinces and dioceses were split to form new ones, the praetorian prefecture of Illyricum was abolished and reformed. In the end, with the rise of Odoacer in 476 and the death of Julius Nepos in 480, administration of the effectively reduced Empire was permanently unified in Constantinople.
Detailed information on the arrangements during this period is contained in the Notitia Dignitatum (Record of Offices), a document dating from the early 5th century. Most data is drawn from this authentic imperial source, as the names of the areas governed and titles of the governors are given there. There are however debates about the source of some data recorded in the Notitia, and it seems clear that some of its own sources are earlier than others. It is interesting to compare this with the list of military territories under the duces, in charge of border garrisons on so-called limites, and the higher ranking Comites rei militaris, with more mobile forces, and the later, even higher magistri militum.
Justinian I made the next great changes in 534–536 by abolishing, in some provinces, the strict separation of civil and military authority that Diocletian had established. This process was continued on a larger scale with the creation of extraordinary Exarchates in the 580s and culminated with the adoption of the military theme system in the 640s, which replaced the older administrative arrangements entirely. Some scholars use the reorganization of the empire into thema in this period as one of the demarcations between the Dominate period and the Byzantine (or "Later Roman") period. (As a matter of scholarly convenience, the medieval phase of the Roman Empire is today conventionally referred to as Byzantine, after the original name of the city Constantine rebuilt into the new capital.)
In Latin, Gallia was also sometimes used as a general term for all Celtic peoples and their territories, such as all Brythons, including Germanic and Iberian provinces that also had a population with a Celtic culture. The plural, Galliae in Latin, indicates that all of these are meant, not just Caesar's Gaul (several modern countries).
Galliae covered about half of the Gallic provinces of the early empire:
Viennensis was named after the city of Vienna (now Vienne), and entirely in present-day France, roughly south of the Loire. It was originally part of Caesar's newly conquered province of Transalpine Gaul, but a separate diocese from the start. The map shows Burdigala (now Bordeaux) as the diocesan capital.
In the fifth century, Viennensis was replaced by a diocese of Septem Provinciae ('7 Provinces') with similar boundaries.
Britanniae was again a plural
Originally there was a single diocese of Italia, but it was eventually split into a northern section and a southern section. The division of Italy into regions had already been established by Aurelian.
Suburbicaria indicates proximity to Rome, the Urbs (capital city). It included the islands, not considered actually Italian in Antiquity (hence they were provinces while the peninsular regions still had a superior status), given their different ethnic stock (e.g. Sicily was named after the Siculi) and history of piracy.
Annonaria refers to a reliance on the area for the provisioning of Rome. It encompassed northern Italy and Raetia.
Africa included the central part of Roman North Africa:
The Prefecture of Illyricum was named after the former province of Illyricum. It originally included two dioceses, the Diocese of Pannoniae and the Diocese of Moesiae. Constantine I later split the Diocese of Moesiae into two dioceses: the Diocese of Macedonia and the Diocese of Dacia.
Pannonia was one of the two dioceses in the eastern quarters of the Tetrarchy not belonging to the cultural Greek half of the empire (the other was Dacia); It was transferred to the western empire when Theodosius I fixed the final split of the two empires in 395.
The Dacians had lived in the Transylvania area, annexed to the Empire by Trajan. However, during the invasions of the third century Dacia was largely abandoned. Some inhabitants evacuated from the abandoned province settled on the south side of the Danube. They renamed their new homeland Dacia to diminish the impact that abandoning the original Dacia had on the Empire's prestige. The diocese was transferred to the western empire in 384 by Theodosius I, probably in partial compensation to the empress Justina for his recognition of the usurpation of Magnus Maximus in Britannia, Gaul and Hispania.
The Diocese of Macedonia was transferred to the western empire in 384 by Theodosius I, probably in partial compensation to the empress Justina for his recognition of the usurpation of Magnus Maximus in Britannia, Gaul and Hispania.
As the rich home territory of the eastern emperor, the Oriens ("East") prefecture would persist as the core of the Byzantine Empire long after the fall of Rome. Its praetorian prefect would be the last to survive, but his office was transformed into an essentially internal minister.
Thrace was the eastern-most corner of the Balkans (the only part outside the Illyricum prefecture) and the European hinterland of Constantinople.
Asia (or Asia Minor) in Antiquity stood for Anatolia. This diocese (the name means 'the Asian ones') centred on the earlier Roman province of Asia, and only covered the rich western part of the peninsula, mainly near the Aegean Sea.
Pontus is Latinized from Greek Pontos: the name of a Hellenistic kingdom derived from Pontos (Euxinos), i.e. the (Black) Sea, earlier used for a major Hellenistic kingdom.
It mainly contains parts of Asia minor near those coasts (as well as the mountainous centre), but also includes the north of very variable border with Rome's enemy Parthia/Persia.
The Eastern diocese shares its geographic name with the prefecture, even after it lost its rich part, Egypt, becoming a separate diocese; but militarily crucial on the Persian (Sassanid) border and unruly desert tribes.
Further it contained the southeastern coast of Asia Minor and the close island of Cyprus
This diocese, comprising north eastern Africa—mainly Egypt, the rich granary and traditional personal domain of the emperors—was the only diocese that was not under a vicarius, but whose head retained the unique title of Praefectus Augustalis. It was created by a split of the diocese of Oriens.
All but one, the civilian governors were of the modest rank of Praeses provinciae.
Apart from modern Egypt, Aegyptus also comprised the former province of Cyrenaica, being the east of modern Libya (an ancient name for the whole African continent as well). Cyrenaica was split into two provinces, each under a praeses:
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