Roman Empire under Augustus (31 BC – AD 14). Yellow: 31 BC. dark green 31–19 BC, light green 19–9 BC, pale green 9 BC–AD 6. mauve: client states
Roman Empire under Augustus (31 BC – AD 14). Yellow: 31 BC. dark green 31–19 BC, light green 19–9 BC, pale green 9 BC–AD 6. mauve: client states
The Roman empire under Hadrian (125) showing the provinces as then organised
The Roman empire under Hadrian (125) showing the provinces as then organised

The Roman provinces (Latin: provincia, pl. provinciae) were the administrative regions of Ancient Rome outside Roman Italy that were controlled by the Romans under the Roman Republic and later the Roman Empire. Each province was ruled by a Roman appointed as governor.[1]

For centuries it was the largest administrative unit of the foreign possessions of ancient Rome.[1] With the administrative reform initiated by Diocletian, it became a third level administrative subdivision of the Roman Empire, or rather a subdivision of the imperial dioceses (in turn subdivisions of the imperial prefectures).[1]


The English word province comes from the Latin word provincia.[1] In early Republican times, the term was used as a common designation for any task or set of responsibilities assigned by the Roman Senate to an individual who held imperium (right of command), which was often a military command within a specified theatre of operations. In time, the term became the main designation for a territorial jurisdiction in newly acquired regions of the Roman Republic.[2][3]

The Latin term provincia had an equivalent in eastern, Greek-speaking parts of the Greco-Roman world. In the Greek language, province was called eparchy (Greek: ἐπαρχίᾱ, eparchia). That term was used both colloquially and officially, in Roman legal acts that were issued in the Greek language. In the same time, provincial governor was called eparch (Greek: ἔπαρχος, eparchos).[4]


A province was the basic and, until the Tetrarchy (from AD 293), the largest territorial and administrative unit of the empire's territorial possessions outside Roman Italy.

Provinces were generally governed by politicians of senatorial rank, usually former consuls or former praetors.[1] A later exception was the province of Egypt, which was incorporated by Augustus after the death of Cleopatra and was ruled by a governor of only equestrian rank, perhaps as a discouragement to senatorial ambition.[1] That exception was unique but not contrary to Roman law, as Egypt was considered Augustus's personal property, following the tradition of the kings of the earlier Hellenistic period.[1]

Republican provinces

Under the Roman Republic, the magistrates were elected to office for a period of one year, and those serving outside the city of Rome, such as consuls acting as generals on a military campaign, were assigned a particular provincia, the scope of authority within which they exercised their command.

The territory of a people who were defeated in war might be brought under various forms of treaty, in some cases entailing complete subjection (deditio). The formal annexation of a territory created a province, in the modern sense of an administrative unit that is geographically defined. Republican-period provinces were administered in one-year terms by the consuls and praetors who had held office the previous year and were invested with imperium.[5]

Rome started expanding beyond Italy during the First Punic War. The first permanent provinces to be annexed were Sicily in 241 BC and Sardinia and Corsica in 237 BC. Militarized expansionism kept increasing the number of these administrative provinces until there were no longer enough qualified individuals to fill the posts. [6][7]

The terms of provincial governors often had to be extended for multiple years (prorogatio), and on occasion, the Senate awarded imperium even to private citizens (privati), most notably Pompey the Great.[8][9] Prorogation undermined the republican constitutional principle of annually-elected magistracies and the amassing of disproportionate wealth and military power by a few men through their provincial commands was a major factor in the transition from a republic to an imperial autocracy.[10][11][8][12]

List of republican provinces

Cisalpine Gaul (in northern Italy) was occupied by Rome in the 220s BC and became considered geographically and de facto part of Roman Italy,[13] but remained politically and de jure separated. It was legally merged into the administrative unit of Roman Italy in 42 BC by the triumvir Augustus as a ratification of Caesar's unpublished acts (Acta Caesaris).[14][15][16][17][18]

Imperial provinces during the Principate

The Roman Empire at its greatest extent, under Trajan (117); imperial provinces are shaded green, senatorial provinces are shaded pink, and client states are shaded gray
The Roman Empire at its greatest extent, under Trajan (117); imperial provinces are shaded green, senatorial provinces are shaded pink, and client states are shaded gray

In the so-called Augustan Settlement of 27 BC, which established the Roman Empire, the governance of the provinces was regulated. Octavian himself assumed the title "Augustus" and was given to govern, in addition to Egypt, the strategically-important provinces of Gaul, Hispania and Syria (including Cilicia and Cyprus).[19]

Under Augustus, Roman provinces were classified as either public or imperial, depending on whether power was exercised by the Senate or the emperor. Generally, the older provinces that had existed under the Republic were public. Public provinces were, as they had been under the Republic, governed by a proconsul, who was chosen by lot among the ranks of senators who were ex-consuls or ex-praetors, depending on the province that was assigned.[1]

The major imperial provinces were under a legatus Augusti pro praetore, also a senator of consular or praetorian rank.[1] Egypt and some smaller provinces in which no legions were based were ruled by a procurator (praefectus in Egypt), whom the emperor selected from non-senators of equestrian rank.[1]

During the Principate, the number and size of provinces also changed, through conquest or the division of existing provinces.[1] The larger or most heavily garrisoned provinces (for example Syria and Moesia) were subdivided into smaller provinces to prevent one governor from holding too much power.[1]

List of provinces created during the Principate

Under Augustus

Under Tiberius

Under Claudius

Under Nero

Under Vespasian

Under Domitian

Under Trajan

Under Septimius Severus

Under Caracalla

Under Aurelian

Many of the above provinces were under Roman military control or under the rule of Roman clients for a long time before being officially constituted as civil provinces. Only the date of the official formation of the province is marked above, not the date of conquest.

Later Roman Empire

See also: List of Late Roman provinces

The new territorial division of tetrarchic system, promoted by Diocletian (300 ca.).
The new territorial division of tetrarchic system, promoted by Diocletian (300 ca.).

Emperor Diocletian introduced a radical reform known as the tetrarchy (284–305), with a western and an eastern senior emperor styled Augustus, each seconded by a junior emperor (and designated successor) styled caesar.[1] Each of these four defended and administered a quarter of the empire. In the 290s, Diocletian divided the empire anew into almost a hundred provinces, including Roman Italy.[1] Their governors were hierarchically ranked, from the proconsuls of Africa Proconsularis and Asia through those governed by consulares and correctores to the praesides. The provinces in turn were grouped into (originally twelve) dioceses, headed usually by a vicarius, who oversaw their affairs. Only the proconsuls and the urban prefect of Rome (and later Constantinople) were exempt from this, and were directly subordinated to the tetrarchs.[1]

Although the Caesars were soon eliminated from the picture, the four administrative resorts were restored in 318 by Emperor Constantine I, in the form of praetorian prefectures, whose holders generally rotated frequently, as in the usual magistracies but without a colleague.[1] Constantine also created a new capital, named after him as Constantinople, which was sometimes called 'New Rome' because it became the permanent seat of the government.[1] In Italy itself, Rome had not been the imperial residence for some time and 286 Diocletian formally moved the seat of government to Mediolanum (modern Milan), while taking up residence himself in Nicomedia.[1] During the 4th century, the administrative structure was modified several times, including repeated experiments with Eastern-Western co-emperors.[20]

Detailed information on the arrangements during this period is contained in the Notitia Dignitatum (Record of Offices), a document dating from the early 5th century. Most data is drawn from this authentic imperial source, as the names of the areas governed and titles of the governors are given there. There are however debates about the source of some data recorded in the Notitia, and it seems clear that some of its own sources are earlier than others. Some scholars compare this with the list of military territories under the duces, in charge of border garrisons on so-called limites, and the higher ranking Comites rei militaris, with more mobile forces, and the later, even higher magistri militum.[21]

Justinian I made the next great changes in 534–536 by abolishing, in some provinces, the strict separation of civil and military authority that Diocletian had established.[1]This process was continued on a larger scale with the creation of extraordinary Exarchates in the 580s and culminated with the adoption of the military theme system in the 640s, which replaced the older administrative arrangements entirely.[1] Some scholars use the reorganization of the empire into themata in this period as one of the demarcations between the Dominate and the Byzantine (or the Later Roman) period.

Primary sources for lists of provinces

Early Roman Empire provinces

Late Roman Empire provinces

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t "Le province romane" (in Italian). Retrieved 20 November 2021.
  2. ^ Richardson, John (2011). "Fines provinciae". Frontiers in the Roman World. Proceedings of the Ninth Workshop of the International Network Impact of Empire (Durhan, 16–19 April 2009). Brill. p. 2ff.
  3. ^ "The Administration of the Empire". The Cambridge Ancient History. Cambridge University Press. 9: 564–565, 580. 1994.
  4. ^ Mason 1974, p. 81, 84-86, 138-139.
  5. ^ Ando, Clifford (2010). "The Administration of the Provinces". A Companion to the Roman Empire. Blackwell Publishers. p. 179.
  6. ^ Lintott, Andrew (1999). The Constitution of the Roman Republic. Oxford University Press. p. 113ff.
  7. ^ Brennan, T. Corey (2000). The Praetorship in the Roman Republic. Oxford University Press. pp. 626–627.
  8. ^ a b Lintott, Andrew. The Constitution of the Roman Republic. p. 114.
  9. ^ Brennan, T. Corey. The Praetorship in the Roman Republic. p. 636.
  10. ^ Nicolet, Claude (1991) [1988]. Space, Geography, and Politics in the Early Roman Empire. University of Michigan Press. pp. 1, 15. ISBN 9780472100965.
  11. ^ Hekster, Olivier; Kaizer, Ted. Frontiers in the Roman World. p. 8.
  12. ^ Eder, W. (1993). "The Augustan Principate as Binding Link". Between Republic and Empire. University of California Press. p. 98.
  13. ^ Carlà-Uhink, Filippo (25 September 2017). The "Birth" of Italy: The Institutionalization of Italy as a Region, 3rd–1st Century BCE. ISBN 978-3-11-054478-7.
  14. ^ Williams, J. H. C. (22 May 2020). Beyond the Rubicon: Romans and Gauls in Republican Italy - J. H. C. Williams - Google Books. ISBN 9780198153009. Archived from the original on 22 May 2020.
  15. ^ Long, George (1866). Decline of the Roman republic: Volume 2. London.
  16. ^ Cassius, Dio. Historia Romana. Vol. 41. 36.
  17. ^ Laffi, Umberto (1992). "La provincia della Gallia Cisalpina". Athenaeum (in Italian) (80): 5–23.
  18. ^ Aurigemma, Salvatore. "Gallia Cisalpina". (in Italian). Enciclopedia Italiana. Retrieved 14 October 2014.
  19. ^ "AUGUSTO, Gaio Giulio Cesare Ottaviano" (in Italian). Retrieved 20 November 2021.
  20. ^ Nuovo Atlante Storico De Agostini, 1997, pp.40-41. (In Italian)
  21. ^ "Note sull'«anzianità di servizio» nel lessico della legislazione imperiale romana" (in Italian). Retrieved 20 November 2021.

Works cited