Governors: Enriching Politics and Pockets

After serving as a Praetor or Consul, the magistrate was given a year in charge of a Roman Province. If serving after Praetorship, the governor was called Propraetor. Serving after consul, the individual was called a Proconsul.

The power, authority and responsibilities of the Propraetor and Proconsuls were same. What was the difference between a Propreator and Proconsul? The former were given relatively quieter provinces which were stable and did not seem likely to revolt. They’d have just a legion or maybe two, on top of local militia. The more stable provinces wouldn’t even have a legionary garrison. Proconsuls on the other hand were given frontier provinces. In these provinces, Rome had yet to ‘Romanize’ the province and there were enemies beyond the frontier and within. Such provinces had a permanent garrison of legions (several of them) in addition to the levies that the governor could impose. There was more chance of the governor winning glory for himself. Which governor wouldn’t want to invade other people’s territory, plunder them, gain prestige and get a triumph and political standing in Rome.

Triumphs were a great honor for any Roman general during the Republican Era.

Governors were responsible for the maintenance of Roman law and order in the province. Within their province, they had absolute power. They were in charge of law, order, finance and infrastructure development. They had to deal with any threats that arose, ensure taxation and were chief judges and magistrates. As Governors, these men had Imperium within their provinces and as long as they stayed 1 mile outside the city of Rome. If there was a need, they could levy militia and legions to counter the threat. Julius Caesar raised 4 legions himself on his authority as governor.

Another side job was establishing a political alliance with upcoming Quaestors and Military Tribunes who were assigned to the province and its legions. This could be a mutually beneficial alliance for future purposes. Governors and their junior magistrates had a patron-client relationship.

Unofficially speaking, Governorship was looked upon for potential enrichment (embezzlement), especially in the richer provinces of Hispania, Sicily, Northern Africa. With established trade, natural resources, a Governors could line their pockets nicely. This is useful to payback creditors for their political career advancement, or just become rich. This was in technical terms, against the law of Rome. However, was largely ignored unless the level of corruption exercised by the Governor was blatantly high. If it was at a very high level or some successful senator at Rome had a vendetta against you, After expiry of their term, Governors would return to Rome but as private citizens. Private citizen had no immunity and could be prosecuted (however, a rich man can bribe the jury).

Governors had imperium and were the top ranking magistrate within the province, they were escorted by 12 lictors, same as a consul in office. Tribunes of the Plebs could not do anything against Governors if they remained outside of the city.

Some notable governors of Rome were Cato the Elder and Julius Caesar.

This image is from the Roman Empire under Trajan. However, you can see the break up of the provinces to give you an idea of the number of governors. Governors were not in Egypt and Italy. In this map, provinces of Syria, Dacia, Britannia, The German and Gallic provinces were ones which had permanent legionary garrisons attached owing to the various threats.

Julius Caesar as a Propraetor was governor of the Northern Hispanic Provinces. He campaigned against the tribes that had yet to be subjugated and defeated them. His governorship achieved two objectives. First, the successful campaigning earned him a triumph in Rome (which would be foregone due to his political ambitions). A triumph during the Republican era was a great honour. Secondly, during his time at Governor, the wealth in the Spanish provinces from the silver mines allowed him to earn a lot of money, to repay his creditors.
While his Gallic Conquest would be a separate article or 2, he officially conducted his business as the Governor of Transalpine Gaul. The entire region was added to Transalpine Gaul (obviously divided later when formally annexed). Through those conquest, he earned an insane amount of money and use it to pay political bribes and send money to Rome. So much money inundating the city, the value of money fell by 33%. During his conquest, he earned his reputation as a bold and talented military leader. It would be a set up to the Civil War he would wage against Pompey.

Caesar had 2 stints as governors which were very successful.

At any rate, as soon as he reached Spain he set himself to work, and in a few days raised ten cohorts in addition to the twenty which were there before. Then he led his army against the Callaici   and Lusitani, overpowered them, and marched on as far as the outer sea, subduing their tribes which before were not obedient to Rome. After bringing the war to a successful close, he was equally happy in adjusting the problems of peace, by establishing concord between the cities, and particularly by healing the dissensions between debtors and creditors. For he ordained that the creditor should annually take two thirds of his debtor’s income, and that the owner of the property should use the rest, and so on until the debt was cancelled. In high repute for this administration he retired from the province; he had become wealthy himself, had enriched his soldiers from their campaigns, and had been saluted by them as Imperator.

-Plutarch, The Parallel Lives, Life of Julius Caesar.

Cato the Elder had a term in governor befitting of his lifestyle and beliefs. Given the province of Hispania Citerior (Along the Western Spanish coast), he led a frugal lifestyle as a governor. Frugal, having just one attendant, he would share the same meal as the legionaries. However, his ruthlessness and eager planning to subjugate the locals was equally noted. According to Cato himself, he burned and sacked more towns than he spent days in the province. He also set them up as lucrative provinces for future governors. For his success in Hispania, Cato was given a triumph as well. During his triumph, he bought in a lot of wealth to the Romans.
He also coined a famous phrase, “This war will support itself“.

Cato the Elder conquered and developed his province in Hispania, which was just recently conquered by the Romans.

Cato delayed there a few days, until he could find out where the forces of the enemy lay and what strength they possessed, and, not to be idle even in that time of waiting, he spent the whole period in drilling his troops. It happened to be the time of year when4 the Spaniards had the grain on their threshing floors; he therefore forbade the contractors to purchase any and sent them back to Rome, saying, “This war will support itself.”

After that Helvius came to the camp of Cato, and, because this region was now safe from the enemy, sent his guard back to Farther Spain and set out for Rome, and by reason of his victory entered the city in an ovation. He deposited in the treasury fourteen thousand seven hundred and thirty-two pounds of uncoined silver, seventeen thousand and twenty-three denarii stamped with the two-horse chariot, and one hundred and nineteen thousand four hundred and forty-nine silver coins of Osca

-Titus Livius (Livy), The History of Rome, Chapters 9 and 10, Book 34


Governors were more of a rewarding administrative position. While the Governors could line their pockets and impose the taxation on the province and maintain Roman law and order. It did help with proper Roman integration. Greece, Hispania, Northern Africa, Sicily, Sardinia, Macedonia were amongst the more peaceful and Romanised provinces. Gaul, Illyricum, Syria, Asia, Britannia were those that had strong degrees of Romanization but were troubled frequently, both internally and externally.

While most offices of the Cursus Honorum have now been completed, the next 3 posts will look at some special political offices of the Republic. These were the Censor, Dictator and the Tribune of the Plebs. The next article will be on the Censor, a position that had no official power but was a respected position to be held (not necessarily though).



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