What Was A Prefect In Ancient Rome

A prefect in Ancient Rome was an important figure in the Roman Republic, responsible for maintaining law and order through the enforcement of state policy. This position granted the prefect a certain degree of autonomy and authority, though he was subject to the Senate’s approval in order to appoint him. Prefects were expected to be both politicians and soldiers, capable of managing their own resources, leading their own troops, and keeping the peace.The office of prefect was common in the Roman Empire, but it wasn’t always a permanent post. Sometimes a prefect might be assigned to a specific area for a short time, or he would be appointed for a particular purpose, such as restoring order after a rebellion or a civil war. In general, though, the prefect was responsible for maintaining law and order in a particular area.

In order to properly understand the role of the prefect in ancient Rome, it is important to understand the context in which he operated. Rome was a complex and often chaotic place. It was divided into two parts, the Patrician and Plebeian classes, each with its own laws and customs. The Prefects were appointed by the Senate to maintain order, though they were often subject to bribery and corruption. Additionally, the Senate could call in a prefect when it believed his services were needed. Furthermore, the prefects could be appointed for a specific task – for instance, to quell an uprising or to manage a famine.

The prefects played an important role in Roman life, as they were the main responsible for maintaining the law and preventing crime. Historians believe that the prefects wielded significant power, as they could call upon troops from the military and impose fines or other punishments upon those who violated the law. Prefects had a range of duties, from ensuring that public facilities were maintained to implementing policy decrees from the Senate. For example, in 91 BC, the Senate decreed that all brothels should be closed down, and a prefect was tasked with enforcing this law.

In order to properly serve their role, prefects needed to be honest and of high moral standing. Despite this requirement, however, historians believe that some prefects were involved in corruption and bribery, taking advantage of their position and influence. Furthermore, a prefect was only considered to be in charge of his particular province or city, and had no authority to create law. As a result, a prefect could not focus on widespread issues or tackle large-scale problems, such as famine and poverty.

Impact on Political Power

The role of prefects in ancient Rome had a profound impact on political power. As the official responsible for upholding the law and ensuring public order, a prefect was in charge of the local economy, judiciary, and infrastructure. Prefects held a significant amount of power, as they had the authority to raise taxes, recruit troops, and establish markets. By doing so, the prefects could both reward and punish those in their jurisdiction, allowing them to increase their own power. Consequently, prefects often sought to portay themselves as powerful figures, and this gave them influence over the politics of the region.

Furthermore, the prefect was in charge of managing the military troops in his province. As a result, a prefect could potentially call on the military when it suited his own political agenda. This meant that a prefect could potentially sway public opinion in his own favor, and manipulate the people in his jurisdiction. This also allowed prefects to extend their own influence and gain more authority.

The influence of the prefects was not just limited to their political power. Prefects often had access to wealth and resources, which enabled them to buy the loyalty of their subordinates. Additionally, prefects could appoint members of their own families or friends to positions of authority, allowing them to further increase their own power and influence. This ultimately gave prefects the ability to shape the politics of the Roman Republic.


The role of the prefect in Ancient Rome has left a lasting legacy. The position of prefect granted its holder a unique level of influence and power, which allowed him to shape the politics of the Roman Republic. The prefects were also influential in the military, as they were in charge of managing the troops in their province. This enabled them to further increase their own power and influence.

Furthermore, the prefects were responsible for ensuring public order and for implementing the policy decrees from the Senate. This enabled them to have a major impact on the everyday lives of citizens, both in the cities and in rural areas. As a result, the legacy of the prefects in Ancient Rome has endured to this day, and the position still exists in modern times.

Differences in Ancient and Modern Prefects

Despite the influence of the prefects in Ancient Rome, there are stark differences between the Ancient Roman prefects and those of the modern era. Modern-day prefects do not have the same level of autonomy that their ancient equivalents enjoyed, as they are largely subject to the authority of higher officials. Additionally, modern prefects do not typically rely on military forces, instead providing support and protection to their citizens through more peaceful means.

Moreover, modern-day prefects are mainly focused on ensuring public order and providing social services. They do not typically have the authority to make laws, nor do they have the power to exercise punitive measures. Furthermore, modern prefects are strictly bound by the rule of law, and cannot use their position to advance their own interests. As a result, the power and influence of modern prefects is much lower than that of their ancient counterparts.


The prefects in Ancient Rome were powerful figures, responsible for enforcing the law, raising taxes, and managing the military. As a result, they had a great deal of influence over the politics of the Roman Republic. Furthermore, prefects had the authority to appoint family members and friends to positions of power, allowing them to increase their own power and influence. Though the role of prefects in ancient Rome has left a lasting legacy, modern-day prefects do not have the same level of power and influence that their ancient counterparts enjoyed.

Moshe Rideout is a professional writer and historian whose work focuses on the history of Ancient Rome. Moshe is passionate about understanding the complexity of the Roman Empire, from its architecture to its literature, political systems to social structures. He has a Bachelor's degree in classic studies from Rutgers University and is currently pursuing a PhD in classical archaeology at UMass Amherst. When he isn't researching or writing, he enjoys exploring ruins around Europe, drawing inspiration from his travels.

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