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(both: prē`fĕkt), in ancient Rome, various military and civil officers. Under the empire some prefects were very important. The Praetorian prefects (first appointed 2 B.C.) usually numbered two; they commanded the powerful PraetoriansPraetorians
, bodyguard of the ancient Roman emperors. Growing out of an early troop that served as bodyguard to the general commanding in Rome, they were formally organized in the time of Augustus.
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. From the 2d cent. A.D. they had juridical functions, and important legists (e.g., Papinian and Ulpian) held the post. The prefect of the city was at first a deputy for absent consuls; the office fell out of use but was revived by Julius Caesar. Under the empire this prefect had power over the summary court for the region within 100 mi (160 km) of Rome. The prefect of the watch had charge of the fire brigade set up by Augustus. Augustus also established a prefect of the grain supply. There were other officers called prefects, such as the Roman viceroy of Egypt and many other officials of Italian cities.


See L. L. Howe, The Praetorian Prefect from Commodus to Diocletian (1942).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(1) In ancient Rome, an official who was in charge of a prefecture. From the time of Augustus at the end of the first century B.C., prefects were appointed as governors, first of Egypt and later of other provinces. During the imperial period, the term prefect was applied to the chiefs of various administrative departments. In the republican period, prefects with exclusively juridical functions (praefecti iuri dicundo) assisted the praetors in judging lawsuits in the cities of Italy, and under the empire, in the provinces also.

(2) In France, an official in charge of a department as a representative of the central government. Prefects are appointed by the president of France and are considered the heads of all state institutions within the given department. A prefect exercises broad powers; in particular, he has the right to protest individual acts of the local bodies of self-government and to abrogate resolutions of the department council. In Paris the administrative authority is divided between two prefects—the prefect of the department of the Seine and the prefect of police.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. (in France, Italy, etc.) the chief administrative officer in a department
2. (in France, etc.) the head of a police force
3. Brit a schoolchild appointed to a position of limited power over his fellows
4. (in ancient Rome) any of several magistrates or military commanders
5. RC Church an official having jurisdiction over a missionary district that has no ordinary
6. RC Church one of two senior masters in a Jesuit school or college (the prefect of studies and the prefect of discipline or first prefect)
7. RC Church a cardinal in charge of a congregation of the Curia
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
Stethoconus praefectus (Hemiptera: Miridae): First North American records of an Old World predatory plant bug preying on avocado lace bug, Pseudascysta perseae (Hemiptera: Tingidae), in Florida.
(39) If a praefectus orae normally had naval forces, then the addition of classis Pontica is superfluous, unless a special distinction.
(15) Especially Nicomachus Flavianus Iunior (praefectus urbi Romae 393/94) was put forward several times (cf.
That seemed a fruitless exercise to me, but while I could in principle have overruled my fellow officer, the badge of a wise praefectus is knowing which battles to fight.
Cornelius Balbus did not have the kind of professional interest in De Finibus 5 that a specialist in the topic might feel for it (he was Caesar's praefectus fabrum), or the sort of literary career(33) that might have made him a good conduit for disseminating Cicero's works among other writers.
Prinz (1678): `Der geubsteste Sanger von jeder Stimme sol seine Partem selbst tragen / und das Stuck / welches der Praefectus andeutet / fein zeitlich aufschlagen.
So, for example, Milton would use Praefectus for `Admiral', rather than the neo-Latin Admirallus or the pseudo-Greek Archithalassus.
Dio, on the other hand, includes the competition between Trebellius and Dolabella;(77) an account of senatorial edicts;(78) Antony's swing between the two tribunes; the use of troops;(79) the lack of success of any of his measures, including installing his uncle Lucius Caesar as praefectus urbi.(80) Plutarch notes the significant fact that Asinius Pollio was also involved in the affair, though on the side of conservatism.(81) Appian appears to have used Asinius at this point, for not only is criticism of Antony and the serious nature of the riots suppressed, but so is Pollio's part in the proceedings.
155 Before Agrippa and Claudius Caesar, the highest Roman official of equestrian descent in Judea, as in Egypt, had the title 'praefectus'.