(‘the watch’). Ancient cities made various arrangements for maintaining security at night; bands of night‐watchmen were more often aimed at the prevention of sedition than the protection of property from theft, but fire, accidental or deliberate, was always the main preoccupation. Order in republican Rome was the responsibility of junior magistrates called tresviri capitales (see vigintisexviri), who were replaced at night by a team of five men with duties ‘this side of Tiber’, because future senators could not be expected to be on duty at unsocial hours.
The political importance of fire‐protection at Rome had been recognized by Licinius Crassus and was exploited by Egnatius Rufus. Augustus gave the aediles a force of 600 slaves to deal wi th the problem after a fire in 23 bc; in 7 bc the city was reorganized into regiones and vici, whose officials (see vicomagistri) were made responsible for fire‐prevention; in ad 6 he created a very substantial force from the freedman population. By the 3rd cent. some 7,000 vigiles were distributed in one cohort of 1,000 men for each pair of regiones, housed in purpose‐built barracks. The earlier strength may have been little more than half this figure, but was still designed to cope with fires by the rapid deployment of manpower to demolish buildings rather than by extinguishing the flames directly (which was beyond the available technology).
Their commander was an equestrian prefect, who became also a judge in petty criminal cases; the post was one of the more senior in the equestrian career path (see cursus honorum). See also police.
Subjects: Classical Studies.