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The praetorian guard in the political and social life of Julio-Claudian Rome Bingham, Sandra J.


The imperial praetorian guard was an elite unit of the Roman army, whose primary responsibility was to safeguard the emperor and his family. Adapted from a republican institution by Augustus, it in essence formed the personal army of the emperor. Yet, within a very short time, the praetorians became responsible for specialized military tasks involving issues of security, and for various administrative duties in Rome. This evolution occurred primarily because of the close relationship between the guard and the emperor, who saw that such a large number of soldiers in the city could be put to good use for his own benefit, and for the advantage of the state. Not only would they assist in the management of the capital, they also would serve as a constant reminder to the populace of the substantial armed force that formed the basis of imperial rule. Previous studies of the guard have concentrated on its organization and role as the imperial bodyguard. Yet it is through an examination of the other responsibilities of the praetorians that a more comprehensive understanding of their position in the state can be deduced. The purpose of the present study is to examine those aspects of the guard that are outside its basic mandate of providing protection for the imperial household. The development of the praetorians into a unit that carried out political espionage, fought fires in the city, and was employed as security at the games provides insight into the nature of the early principate, which relied on armed force to maintain its authority. The expanded role of the guard in the Julio-Claudian period can be viewed as the deliberate integration of the military into the fabric of Roman administration. By placing soldiers who owed their allegiance only to him in key roles in the capital, the emperor was able to consolidate his hold on power while, at the same time, often providing much needed services that benefited the state as a whole.

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