Government and Administration in Roman Britain


Jobs in Administration

Legatus Augusti Pro-Praetore - The Governor

Legatus Juridicus - Gave legal advice to the Governor

Procurator Augusti Britanniae - The Procurator, in charge of the economy

Commentarienses - Dealt with legal matters

Cornicularii - Adjuncts

Speculatores - Responsible for condemned prisoners and official couriers

Beneficiarii - Responsible for roads, supplies, and posting stations

Startores - Possibly responsible for the supply of transport

Freedmen - Slaves and clerks who did paperwork

Cohors amicorum - The Governor's unofficial group of private friends who acted as advisors

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The Governor

The Legatus Augusti Pro-Praetore (the Governor) was in charge of the province of Britain as a whole. He was usually from the senatorial order, and his skills and abilities reflected the needs of the province at the time.

Suetonius Paulinus and Agricola were appointed for their military skill, whereas the appointments of Turpilianus and Maximus after the Boudiccan Rebellion were aimed more at regeneration.

There would have been a large permanent staff to help carry out policy, first based in Colchester, and later, in London.

The Governor had lots of responsibilities, including campaigning, romanising the local nobility, and building roads.

He was also involved with justice, overseeing the final court of appeal for peregrini (non Roman citizens), and adjudicating appeals of native law.

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The Procurator and Legatus Juridicus

The Procurator was usually from the equestrian order, making him socially inferior to the Governor. The equestrian order was open to Roman citizens of means and reputation, but not necessarily good birth. After tours of duty as an army officer (militiae equestres), a good career could be open to them.

However, the Procurator was answerable to the Emperor, meaning that the Governor technically had no control over him.

The Procurator often acted as a valuable corrective to the Governor, like Classicianus did to Suetonius Paulinus.

We know the names of ten Procurators, but we know nothing about their staff.

Procurators in other provinces had a number of junior Procurators to oversee mines, imperial estates, and taxes, so this was likely the case in Roman Britain too.

The Legatus Juridicus gave legal advice to the Governor and, unlike the Governor, was legally trained.

Bassus and Priscus were both prominent jurists in the Flavian period.

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Taxes and Client Kingdoms

Taxes were straightforward, with the most important tax being the annona (corn tax), which was used to feed the garrison.

Tributum soli was a land tax exacted from occupiers of provincial soil.

Tributum capitis was a tax on other forms of property and on custom duties.

The province needed a system of local government to replace the pre-invasion tribal system. The military had jurisdiction of frontier areas, but in more stable areas the native population were brought into administation of the area.

In the early part of Roman rule in Britain, client kingdoms were established. The most successful of these was Cogidubnus of the Regnenses, whose capital was Chichester.

Cartimandua of the Brigantes was successful for a while but this broke down due to internal conflict with her husband.

Boudicca of the Iceni shows how the experiment with client kingdoms failed due to Roman heavy-handedness.

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Romans liked local autonomy, and six years after the invasion they made Camulodunum (Colchester) fortress a colonia, a town where only Roman citizens could live.

Camulodunum was a model town made to show the natives how it was done, and was important in local government. It was an urban settlement of veteran soldiers and their families.

Camulodunum controlled a great deal of territorium (land), which had been allotted to the soldiers on their retirement. Two more coloniae had appeared by the end of the century - Glevum Nervensis (Gloucester), and Lindum (Lincoln).

Converting Roman fortresses into civil settlements was an attempt to inspire awe in the native population, who had never seen anything like this before.

Eboracum (York) and Londinium (London) were upgraded to coloniae at about the same time as each other in 3rd century AD, and their administration was similar to that in Rome.

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Government of Colonies

Coloniae adopted the Ordo, a form of Senate usually numbering one hundred members, known as decurions, who were originally elected to office.

Duoviri Juridicundo oversaw the meetings of the Ordo, local justice and local festival admin.

Duoviri Quinquennalles had to replace the Ordo members every five years and revise property lists, assisted by two Aediles (in charge of public buildings, drains, etc), and two quaestores in charge of finance.

Seviri Augustales were reponsible in the coloniae for financing the imperial cult.

Municipia were of lower status than coloniae as they were pre-Roman settlements. Verulamium (St Albans) is the only of these known to have been in Britain.

Municipia had similar attitudes to coloniae towards administration and land, but all residents of municipia were not necessarily full Roman citizens, whereas this was a requirement of coloniae.

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Civitates Peregrinae were urban centres which were wholly non-citizen, converted from small tribal areas, and which carried out their own administration autonomously, under the Governor's eye. They paid taxes and administered the rural territory around them.

Each had a civitas capital, recognised by a double-barrelled name, such as Ratae Corieltauvorum (Leicester), which indicates it was under the administration of the Corieltauvi tribe.

Inside the civitas, local administration reflected the coloniae, except the Quaestores and Seviri Augustales didn't exist.

A decurion's role was an honour in the early period of the province, but the costs of having to fund local amenities (a cost imposed entirely upon the decurions) became a burden later on, meaning that the post eventually stopped being an elected honour and became an inherited chore.

Vici were the smallest administrative units within the province, usually ad hoc settlements which sprung up nearby and because of a military garrison or mining corporation.

The Roman word vic has survived in the form Wick/Wich in place names such as Gatwick, Norwich and Ipswich.

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Civitates 2

Pagi were rural areas of administration, and sub-divisions of the civitas.

The civitas also sent local delegates to the Provincial Council to criticise or praise Governors. The Provincial Council could raise matters in Rome through patrons or air matters affecting the whole province.

The main costly function of the Provincial Council seems to have been maintaining the province's imperial cult.

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Changes over time

Due to administrative weakness, Britain became a place for usurpers trying to take power such as Clodius Albinus in 193-7, and Carausius in 278-96. Each time after these rebellions, Britain was divided into smaller and less powerful units.

In 197 AD, Britain was divided into Britannia Inferior and Britannia Superior. Britannia Superior was more important as it had two legions and the consular government, compared to Britannia Inferior (northern Britain), which had just one legion.

In 296 Britain was split into Britannia Prima and Britannia Maxima Caesariensis, and Britannia Inferior was split into Britannia Secunda and Britannia Flavia Caesariensis.

Britain was now a diocese with a vicar and each section had a Praeses. The civil and military authority split eventually with the Duke of the provinces taking military controls and praesides and vicars responsible for civil life.

Diocletian complicated finances by introducing a count of the sacred largesses, the population as a whole (res summa), and imperial estates (res private) were taxed by his representatives in Britain - the Rationalis Summarum Britanniarum and Rationalis Rei Privatae per Britannias.

Administration became more oppressive as decurions now had to collect taxes.

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