Friday, August 4, 2017


Alejandro Díaz Fernández​, Provincia et Imperium : El mando provincial en la República Romana (227-44 a.C.) Serie Historia y geografía, 301​. Sevilla: Editorial Universidad de Sevilla, 2015. Pp. 653. ISBN 9788447217830. €26.00.

Reviewed by John Richardson, University of Edinburgh (

Version at BMCR home site

The nature and development of the provinces which went to make up the overseas empire of Rome by the end of the Republic have long been a matter of interest and controversy among historians, not least over the past two decades, though much of the discussion has focussed on specific areas or a general description the processes involved. In this substantial book Alejandro Díaz Fernández has undertaken the monumental task of examining in detail not only each of the prouinciae to which Rome consistently sent magistrates and promagistrates but also the names and titles of all those mentioned in literary, epigraphic and numismatic sources of those who were sent. This is a remarkable achievement, and his conclusions are interesting and important.

The book is divided into three sections. In the first Diaz Fernández asks the fundamental question: what was a prouincia, and, more particularly, what did the word mean in the Republican period? He notes that, though in later Latin it had a territorial and administrative significance, the earliest literary evidence, from the comedies of Plautus and Terence, shows that there it meant a task or a function, and was associated with imperium, and argues that in the Republican period, although it could be used to refer to an area of land, these were not two distinct meanings. Focussing on 'permanent' prouinciae (that is, those in which Roman magistrates and promagistrates were present on a continuing basis), he points out that in such areas as Spain and Macedonia the decision to initiate such continuity did not involve the establishment of what later would be regarded as provincial institutions such as administration, jurisdiction and taxation, which developed later and only gradually. The imperium-holders had considerable freedom of action, and though the increasing numbers of such permanent placements led inevitably to the establishment of general rules on the behaviour of those who undertook them, such as the Lex Porcia, referred to in the lex de prouinciis praetoriis 1, even then the regulation that they should not leave their prouincia could be overruled either by a decree of the senate or for reasons of state, an exemption that was often used or abused. Those to whom prouinciae were given were almost always holders of imperium, praetors and consuls (quaestors and legati were only used in exceptional circumstances) and were not administrators: despite the modern habit of referring to 'provincial governors', there was no such word in Latin of the Republican period, the word praeses only appearing in this sense in the first century AD. Their titles, as consuls, praetors, proconsuls or propraetors, always related to the imperium they held (and some, as in case of the Spanish prouinciae, bore the title imperator). Those sent to the permanent prouinciae were usually praetors, and after the end of their magistracies were given prorogued imperium, either propraetorian or proconsular, the latter appearing more frequently in some prouinciae, such as Asia, Hispania Citerior and Ulterior, than in others, for reasons which Diaz Fernández admits are unclear. From Sulla's time onwards proconsuls become distinctly more frequent, but on the basis of the literary sources and of recent epigraphic evidence he suggests that was not a universal norm. What also became more frequent at that point, on account of the increase of permanent prouinciae, was the prorogation of the imperium of praetors who had presided over courts in Rome to enable them to take overseas posts.

In the second chapter, Diaz Fernández explores the history of the prouinciae to which Rome sent such men. The first two cases were the islands of Sicily and Sardinia, which became in 227 BC the prouinciae of two newly created praetors, following, in the case of Sicily, the end of the First Punic War in 241 and, in the case of Sardinia, a period through the 230s in which several consuls had been involved in fighting there and in Corsica. The reason for these new praetorships was, Diaz Fernández argues, not to provide administration but to maintain Rome's dominion over the islands. A similar pattern occurred in Spain, where after the expulsion of the Carthaginians during the Hannibalic War and seven years in which Roman troops there were commanded by non-magistrates, who were given imperium, the Romans elected two more praetors who were to hold the prouinciae of Hispania Citerior and Ulterior.

Thereafter new praetorships were not created, despite the increase in the number of permanent prouinciae until Sulla's addition of two more over one hundred years later. Although the basic reason for deciding to send praetors to prouinciae on a permanent basis remained, in Diaz Fernández' formulation, the defence and maintenance of Rome's supremacy, the occasions that prompted the actual decisions were varied. Sometimes this followed a major military victory, but in three cases (Asia, Bithynia and Cyrene) it was the consequence of a royal testamentary disposition. Moreover there seems to have been no standard process for initiating the change from occasional to permanent prouinciae. It has been suggested that it was necessary to have a senatorial commission to determine local constitutional and administrative arrangements, but this does not fit the evidence about the activities of such commissions, which seem rather to act as advisory bodies assisting commanders in settling peace terms after a war. Again, it used to be believed that such permanent prouinciae each had a formal lex prouinciae, but these were by no means universal and those that are known appear to be edicts from holders of the prouincia on matters relating to local jurisdiction, taxation or municipal organisation than laws passed by the Roman people. Only two leges p.R. on the setting up of prouinciae are known, the lex de prouinciis praetoriis in the case of Cilicia, and Publius Clodius' law of 58 BC, enabling Cato to go as quaestor with praetorian imperium to take over the island of Cyprus from Ptolemy; but, as Diaz Fernández points out, there is nothing to indicate that these were permanent prouinciae rather than single allocations.

Having outlined in some detail the variety of ways in which permanent prouinciae came about and the absence of any constitutional framework in Rome by which this process occurred, Diaz Fernández proceeds to examine the historical events which led to each one of the dozen provinces that were regularly assigned to magistrates and promagistrates by the end of the Republic. As elsewhere in this book, the evidence is presented with great care and with especial attention to what the ancient sources and the epigraphic and numismatic evidence actually tell us about this process. Indeed my only criticism of this section is that occasionally he gives more significance to late Roman and Greek writers than perhaps they are worth; but the picture that emerges amply justifies the outline he has presented in his overall account. From the creation in 227 BC of the two praetorships and the prouinciae of Sicily and Sardinia which they held, down to the wars of Pompey in the east and of Caesar in Gaul in the 60s and 50s BC, the overwhelming impression is not of a coherent policy of imperial expansion or of the establishment of administrative governance but of the variety of tasks that the holders of these prouinciae were presented with and of the historical and political contexts in which they came about. The final section of this survey which deals with the uncertainties about the nature of the various prouinciae which bore the name of Gallia prior to Caesar's campaigns in a way provides a suitable capstone for the whole variegated edifice.

The third section of his work is the longest, comprising 290 pages, is made up of a listing of the names, dates and titles of all the holders of prouinciae that became permanent from the end of the First Punic War down to the death of Caesar, along with the evidence from the various sources (given verbatim) and a note of modern scholarly writings on each. This immense piece of assemblage not only provides access to the material which underlies his arguments but will also be of great value to those who want to explore the history of Rome's spread of its power through the middle and late Republic and the prosopography of those individuals involved in it. There follows the shortest section, a mere 15 pages, in which he summarises his conclusions. These are that throughout the Republican period the word prouincia never lost its original meaning of 'task' or 'mission', and he notes that Livy, in listing the prouinciae assigned annually to newly elected praetors makes no distinction between those holding juridical post in Rome and those sent to other tasks, whether, permanent prouinciae or other responsibilities. A prouincia was always a prouincia; and so far as those that were repeatedly assigned annually, the task assigned was not essentially administrative but related, in various ways, to the maintenance of Rome's supremacy, eventually throughout the Mediterranean region. He has made an excellent case and presented it with exemplary care.

The book includes a good bibliography, accurately presented. The only item of which I noted absence on reading through was David Braund's article on royal wills.2


1.   RS 12, Cnidos col. III, ll. 10-15.
2.   David Braund, 'Royal Wills and Rome'. Papers of the British School at Rome, vol. 51, 1983, pp. 16–57.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like an impressive work of scholarship; but I think it is worth asking: should large lists, such as that which comprises the third section, be being published in paper format anymore? This is data which is much more usefully presented in the form of an online database and that has been true for over a decade now.