Praetor: Judicial Leaders

Now we get to the major offices with immense power and responsibility of the Roman Republic. Not many former Quaestors reached this post. The Praetor was a senatorial position for ‘experienced’ men. The legal age for standing for Praetorship was 39. There have been exceptions though (or bypassed) with regards to the age requirements. It was the 3rd office on the Cursus Honorum.
The Praetor had an important role in Roman politics. Now I know I said all the other offices were important, but from this office onward, the duties and powers increased a lot. There were 8 Praetors elected annually. The number would increase as the Roman Republic and Empire expanded in size. However, during the Republic (for which we are focusing), it peaked at 8.
In terms of power: The Praetor had immense authority, second to the consuls. However, while they had similar powers (though, outranked by Consuls), their primary responsibility was judicial in nature. They were the chief judges in various criminal and civil cases in Rome. Beyond that power, they were also able to enforce capital punishment. The Praetors were also legally empowered to command armies of Rome (though usually not at the size the consuls get, and only if there is a need for another commander to be appointed).

Curule Chairs were given to Praetors as well during their time in office.

The position had it’s perks. The curule chair was available for them whenever they sat in the senate. A Praetor got to wear the ‘Toga Praetexta’, which was a toga with a purple stripe. It was a symbol of authority. They were assigned 6 lictors when in Rome (that’s a lot of muscle to protect an individual). The best perk of the job? After serving in the office for a year, Praetors were given provinces to govern as a Propraetor (usually not a frontier province and you’d have maximum 2 legions). The governor could line their pockets and make a fortune, given the fact they had the final say in their provinces. Sicily was one of the provinces commonly given to Praetors.If both consuls were away from Rome, one of the Praetors would take over their duties for the interim period, including summoning of the senate and command of the garrison.

The Toga Praetexta was a sign of power and authority within the senate.

Praetors were given Imperium. It was the power and authority to act in the name of Rome, and whilst in office (and while being a propraetor) they were immune from legal prosecution.

While the powers were similar to the Consuls, and were given imperium, Praetors were required to do high level tasks, as decreed by the Senate. Consuls would and could propose new ideas and motions for tasks, but such freedom was not given to the Praetors.
There were two particular positions of Praetor which were considered most honorable. They were the Praetor Peregrinus and Praetor Urbanus.
The Praetor Peregrinus, or praetor qui inter peregrinos ius dicit, translated as “the praetor who administers justice among foreigners” was a post created during the last days of the First Punic War. This was the magistrate, who wielded imperium and would travel around Roman territory adjudicating cases involving non-Romans. During the Second Punic War, this magistrate was out of Rome often. This was understandable given the large Non-Roman allied base Hannibal had acquired in Italy (All of Italy had yet to be given Roman citizenship).
The Praetor Urbanus was the chief civil judge in Rome. After the consuls, he was the highest ranking magistrate within the city. Only the two consuls could veto his decision. When they were not in Rome, he took charge of the city. As such, he could not leave Rome for more than 10 days at once. Praetor Urbanus did have two other important duties to perform as well.

Brutus was a Praetor Urbanus in 45 BCE.

First, he was the superintendent of the Ludi Apollinares, or solemn games dedicated to Apollo. It has an interesting legend. The first time the Romans held the games, they were attacked by their enemies. As they rushed to take arms, a cloud of arrows and darts befell their enemies and they were victorious and returned to their games. These games were first held in 212 BCE, and helped allay the public’s fear of Hannibal.
The second major duty was to establish the Praetor’s Edict (Edictum praetoris). This was an annual declaration of the principles of the law laid down by the Praetor Urbanus. They were guidelines on the judicial process and decision reasoning that would be made during the year. Most of the times, it was a continuation of existing edicts, but the Preator had discretion to modify it. This was generally done in consultation with Roman jurists who had expertise in law.


Ludi Apollinares were held in honor of Apollo

Now, here are the some Praetors who we all know as famous Roman citizens. Remember, as Praetors, they were in the year just behind the Consuls. In senatorial debates, a Praetor would speak after the consul and ex-consuls.
Julius Caesar. Elected Praetor in 62BCE, had an interesting time in office. The way he handled some of the adversity, defying the senate and later handling of the situation for his political gain is intriguing..

On the first day of his praetorship he called upon Quintus Catulus to render an account owing to the people touching the restoration of the Capitol, proposing a bill for turning over the commission to another. But he withdrew the measure, since he could not cope with the united opposition of the aristocrats, seeing that they had at once dropped their attendance on the newly elected consuls and hastily gathered in throngs, resolved on an obstinate resistance.
Nevertheless, when Caecilius Metellus, tribune of the commons, brought forward some bills of a highly seditious nature in spite of the veto of his colleagues, Caesar abetted him and espoused his cause in the stubbornest fashion, until at last both were suspended from the exercise of their public functions by a decree of the senate. Yet in spite of this Caesar had the audacity to continue in office and to hold court; but when he learned that some were ready to stop him by force of arms, he dismissed his lictors, laid aside his robe of office, and slipped off privily to his house, intending to remain in retirement because of the state of the times. Indeed, when the populace on the following day flocked to him quite of their own accord, and with riotous demonstrations offered him their aid in recovering his position, he held them in check. Since this action of his was wholly unexpected, the senate, which had been hurriedly convoked to take action about that very gathering, publicly thanked him through its leading men; then summoning him to the House and lauding him in the strongest terms, they rescinded their former decree and restored him to his rank. – Suetonius and the twelve Caesars.

Marcus Junius Brutus the Younger, a former supporter of Caesar was made urban Praetor in 45BCE. This appointment was approved by the dictator himself. While at the time there was not much, it was around this time Brutus was courted by the Senate, and would ultimately join the conspiracy and play a leading role in Caesar’s assassination.
Other notable Romans, who were Praetors included Cato the Elder, Cicero, Quintus Hortensius among others. Not many Praetors took the field while in office (they would as propraetors but that is a different post), but they could have a large influence if they choose.

IMG_1608 Quintus Hortensius
Quintus Hortensius was a Praetor and prominent member of the aristocracy faction of Rome.

Praetor was a lucrative post for any politician to ascend to. After the term, a year as governor of a province could help them pay off their debts. It also established them as a leading senator, since their word was given more consideration. A good term as a Preator could set one up for election as Consul.
The next position is the final position on the Cursus Honorum. It is the ultimate position for any aspiring Roman Politican. The consul. The head of state and with it, immense power and responsibility. Consuls have literally shaped Rome to their will and bought about large scale changes.

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