Means ‘put in charge’ and describes a great variety of men set in authority—officers in the army and navy, major imperial officials, judicial officers delegated by the praetor and deputies for local magistrates.
Before the Social War each wing (āla) of allied cavalry had six praefectī, three of whom were Roman officers. In Caesar's time cavalry continued to be commanded by praefecti. Under the Principate units of allied troops (auxilia), both wings of cavalry and cohorts of infantry, were commanded by equestrian praefecti. The administrative post of legionary camp commandant, praefectus castrōrum, was from Claudius' reign onwards regularly held by an ex‐centurion who had reached the rank of primus pilus (see primipilus) but was unlikely to gain further promotion. Praefecti also held extraordinary appointments.
Some of the major appointments were also military: praefecti commanded the praetorian guard (see praefectus praetorio), the vigiles and the imperial fleets of Ravenna and Misenum (see navies), while the urban cohorts were under the praefectus urbī (‘city prefect’). In the early Principate some governors of (mainly minor) imperial provinces were called praefecti (this was the correct title of Pontius Pilate (Pontius Pilatus) in Judaea and this remained the title of the equestrian governor of Egypt. The legions in Egypt were commanded by equestrian praefecti instead of the normal senatorial legati.
Subjects: Classical Studies.