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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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.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 ?
School prefects join head teacher Don O'Neill (centre) on the stairs at the front entrance of the light and airy school building and (left) the new hi-tech gym.
David went through a rigorous selection process to land the prestige of school prefect.
At my school, which combined both primary and secondary on the same campus, the senior school prefects came second only to the headmaster and his staff.
FLINT High School's newlyappointed team of prefects are relishing the year ahead.
"Apparently there was a 70-year-old Ford Prefect car in there which he had been working on for a while.
The post France's Mont Saint-Michel evacuated after man threatens police -- district prefect appeared first on Cyprus Mail .
Two ships, SCF Pioneer and Victoria Harbour sailed out to sea on Wednesday morning, while two more ships M.V Ocean Prefect and M.V Maersk Kinloss are expected to sail on same day in the afternoon.
The Vatican statement simply said the pope thanked Muller for his service at the conclusion of his five-year term as prefect, which began with his appointment by Pope Benedict XVI on July 2, 2012.
Neither did his house prefects fail when visiting lady friends showed a reluctance to leave, for the prefects knew when to interrupt with bogus calls to duty, unflattering but usually disguised by an eloquent excuse.
Although beaten a fair way that day, it was a promising introduction under a considerate ride from the half-brother to four winners (notably useful sprinter Hatta Fort) and it looks significant Ryan Moore has deserted the once-raced Holland Park, who appears to have more in the book, in favour of Prefect.
Prefects from Almondbury Community School were invited to read a selection of poems and reports written by local people during WW1 at a U3A history presentation.