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  • it was common for the Roman Emperor to be elected to one of two offices of the highest judicial magistrates known as duumviri, and the other position was left up to the emperor for the appointment of a praefectus?

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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Prefect (from the Latin praefectus, perfect participle of praeficere: "make in front", i.e., put in charge) is a magisterial title of varying definition.

A prefect's office, department, or area of control is called a prefecture, but in various post-Roman cases there is a prefect without a prefecture or vice versa. The words "prefect" and "prefecture" are also used, more or less conventionally, to render analogous words in other languages, especially Romance languages.


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Praefectus, often with a further qualification, was the formal title of many, fairly low to high-ranking, military or civil officials in the Roman Empire, whose authority was not embodied in their person (as it was with elected Magistrates) but conferred by delegation from a higher authority. They did have some authority in their prefecture such as controlling prisons and in civil administration.

Praetorian prefects

The Praetorian prefect (Praefectus praetorio) began as the military commander of a general's guard company in the field, then grew in importance as the Praetorian Guard became a potential kingmaker during the Empire. From the Emperor Diocletian's tetrarchy (c. 300) they became the administrators of the four Praetorian prefectures, the government level above the (newly created) dioceses and (multiplied) provinces.

As Egypt was a special crown domain, a rich and strategic granary, where the Emperor enjoyed an almost pharaonic position unlike any other province or diocese, its head was styled uniquely Praefectus Augustalis, indicating that he governed in the personal name of the august emperor.

Police and civil prefects

  • Praefectus urbi, or praefectus urbanus: city prefect, in charge of the administration of Rome.
  • Praefectus vigilum: commander of the Vigiles.
  • Praefectus aerarii: nobles appointed guardians of the state treasury.

Military prefects

  • Praefectus alae: commander of a cavalry battalion.
  • Praefectus castrorum: camp commandant.[1]
  • Praefectus cohortis: commander of a cohort (constituent unit of a legion, or analogous unit).
  • Praefectus classis: fleet commander.[1]
  • Praefectus equitatus: cavalry commander.
  • Praefectus equitum: cavalry commander.
  • Praefectus fabrum: officer in charge of fabri, i.e well-trained engineers and artisans.[1]
  • Praefectus legionis: equestrian legionary commander.[1]
  • Praefectus legionis agens vice legati: equestrian acting legionary commander.
  • Praefectus orae maritimae: official in charge with the control and defense of an important sector of sea coast[1]
  • Praefectus socium (sociorum): Roman officer appointed to a command function in an ala sociorum (unit recruited among the socii, Italic peoples of a privileged status within the empire).

For some auxiliary troops, specific titles could even refer to their peoples:

  • Praefectus Laetorum (Germanic, notably in Gaul)
  • Praefectus Sarmatarum gentilium (from the steppes, notably in Italy)

Religious prefects

  • Praefectus urbi: a prefect of the republican era who guarded the city during the annual sacrifice of the feriae latina on Mount Alban in which the Consuls participated. His former title was "custos urbi" ("guardian of the city").

Feudal times

Especially in Middle Latin, præfectus was used to refer to various officers—administrative, military, judicial, etc.—usually alongside a more precise term in the vernacular (such as Burggraf).


Saint Margaret attracts the attention of the Roman prefect, by Jean Fouquet from an illuminated manuscript

The term is used by the Catholic Church, which based much of its canon law terminology on Roman law, in several different ways.

  • The Roman Curia has the nine Prefects of all the Congregations as well as the two of the Papal Household and of the Economic Affairs of the Holy See.
  • The title also attaches to the heads of some Pontifical Council (central departments of the Curia), who are principally titled president, but in addition there is sometimes an ex offio prefects of an additional office. For example the president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue is also the prefect of the Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims.
  • Traditionally these Curial officials are Cardinals, hence often called "Cardinal-Prefect" or "Cardinal-President". There was a custom that those that were not cardinals when they were appointed were titled "Pro-Prefect" or "Pro-President". Then these officials would be appointed prefect or president after their elevation to the Sacred College. However, since 2005, this custom has fallen into disuse.
  • A Prefect Apostolic is a cleric (sometimes a Titular Bishop, but normally a priest) in charge of an apostolic prefecture, a type of Roman Catholic territorial jurisdiction fulfilling the functions of a diocese, usually in a missionary area or in a country that is anti-religious, such as the People's Republic of China) but that is not yet given the status of regular diocese. It is usually destined to become one in time.


  • In the context of schools, a prefect is a pupil who has been given limited, trustee-type authority over other pupils in the school, such as a hall monitor or safety patrol.
  • In many British and Commonwealth schools (especially but not exclusively Independent schools), prefects, usually students in fifth or seventh years (depending on how many years the school in question has), have considerable power and effectively run the school outside the classroom. They were once even allowed to administer corporal punishment (emulating domestic discipline) in some schools (now abolished in the UK and several other countries) under a system of self control, or sometimes used as (generally willing) 'executioner' by the staff. They usually answer to a senior prefect known as the Head of School (though in Canada, Head of School is more often seen as a gender-neutral term for headmaster or headmistress) or Head Prefect (colloquially, Head Boy or Head Girl or Senior Prefect) - many larger schools will have a hierarchy structure with a team or prefects, a team of senior prefects, and a Head Boy and Girl. The Head Prefect may also be the School Captain if that is an appointed position in the school in question. However, due to Health and Safety laws the staff have tended to become stricter about what responsibilities prefects may hold, for fear of being held responsible in case of litigation.
  • In India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Singapore and Malaysia, prefects are student leaders in primary and secondary schools, often along the lines of other Commonwealth schools, but with superior powers. The prefect system in these countries have changed little from when they were under the British, as the present governments have seen them as effective.
  • In United States, private residential college preparatory schools; see also "proctor".
  • In Sweden, a prefect (prefekt) is the head of a university department.

In the United States, formerly in many Catholic high schools this title was given to a member of the faculty ("prefect of discipline" in charge of student attendance, general order and such).

Modern sub-national administration

  • In France (and some former French or Belgian colonies, such as Rwanda), a prefect (préfet) is the State's representative in a département. His agency is called the préfecture, and his circumscription is also called a prefecture in some former French republics. Sub-prefects (sous-préfets, sous-préfecture) operate in the arrondissements under his control. In Paris, the prefect of police is the head of the cıty's polıce.
  • In Italy, a prefect (prefetto) is the State's representative in a province (provincia). His agency is called the prefettura-ufficio territoriale del governo.
  • In some Spanish-speaking states in Latin America, following a French-type model introduced in Spain itself, prefects were installed as governors; remarkably, in some republics (like Peru) two levels were constructed from the French model: a prefecture and a department, the one being only part of the other.
  • In Greece a prefect (nomarhis, νομάρχης) is the elected head of one of the 54 prefectures (nomarhies, νομαρχίες), which are second-level administrative divisions, between the first-level Peripheries (periferies, περιφέρειες) and the third-level Municipalities (demoi, δήμοι). The Prefectural elections (popular ballot) are held every four years along with the Municipal elections. The last Prefectural elections in Greece were held in October 2006.
  • In Romania, a prefect (prefect) is the appointed governmental representative in a county (judeţ) and in the Municipality of Bucharest, in an agency called prefectură. The prefect's role is to represent the national government at local level, acting as a liaison and facilitating the implementation of National Development Plans and governing programmes at local level.
  • In Quebec, a prefect (préfet) is the head of a regional county municipality.
  • In Brazil, a prefect (prefeito) is the elected head of the executive branch in a municipality. Larger cities, such as São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Curitiba, etc., also have sub-prefects, appointed to their offices by the elected prefect.
  • In Georgia, a prefect (პრეფექტი) was the head of the executive branch in a municipality, appointed by the President of Georgia from 1990 to 1992.


The Prefect of Police (Préfet de police) is the officer in charge of co-ordinating police forces in the various administrative circumscriptions of Paris. The local police in Japan are divided among prefectures too.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Berger, Adolf (2002). Encyclopedic Dictionary of Roman Law. The Lawbook Exchange. p. 643. ISBN 1584771429.  

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

PREFECT (prefet), in France, the title of a high official. The prefects of the department were created by a law of the 28th Pluviose in the year VIII. (Feb. 17, 1800). They were intended to be the chief organs of internal administration, and have, in fact, discharged this function, especially under the First and Second Empire, surviving, though with diminished importance, under the other forms of government which modern France has seen. In comparison with other French officials, they are well paid (the salary nowadays ranges from 39,000 to 18,000 francs according to the class).

In the administration of the ancien regime the term "prefect" was not employed; practically the only case in which it occurs was in the organization of the establishment of institutions opened by the religious orders, in which there was generally a "prefect of the studies" (prefet des etudes). In the year VIII., in the discussion of the law of the 28th Pluviose, no reason was stated for the choice of this term. But like the "Tribunes" and "Consuls" of the constitution of the year VIII., it was taken from. the Roman institutions which were then so fashionable (see Praefect); it may also be recalled that Voltaire had used the term "prefecture" in speaking of the authority of Louis XIV. over the free towns of Alsace.

The prefect has to a certain extent a double character and two series of functions. Firstly he is the general representative of the government, whose duty it is to ensure execution of the government's decisions, the exercise of the law, and the regular working of all branches of the public service in the department. In so far the role of the prefect is essentially political; he guarantees the direct and legal action of the government in his department. He has the supervision of all the state services in his department, which procures the necessary uniformity in the working of the services, each of which is specialized within a narrow sphere. He serves as a local source of information to the government, and transmits to it complaints or representations from those under his administration. In the name of the state he exercises a certain administrative control over the local authorities, such as the conseil general, the mayors and the municipal councils. This control, though considerably restricted by the law of the 10th of August 1871, on the conseils generaux, and that of the 5th of April 1884, on municipal organization, still holds good in some important respects. The prefect can still annul certain decisions of the conseil general.. He can suspend for a month a municipal council, mayor or deputy-mayor; certain decisions of the municipal councils require his approval; and he may annul such of their regulations as are extra vires. He can annul or suspend the maire's decrees and he has also considerable control over public institutions, charitable and otherwise. He may make regulations (reglements) both on special points, in virtue of various laws, and for the general administration of the police.

When the prefects were created in the year VIII. the intendants of provinces of the ancien regime were taken as a model, and there is a great resemblance between their respective functions. The prefect, however, is no more than an intendant in miniature, being only at the head of a department, whereas the intendant was over a generalite, which was a much larger district. In the same way the sous-prefets correspond to the subdelegues of the intendants, with the difference that they are actual officials subordinate to the prefects, while the subdelegues were merely the representatives with whom the intendants provided themselves, and to whom they gave powers.

Secondly, the prefect is not only the general representative of the government, but the representative of the department in the management of its local interests. But his unfettered powers in this respect have been reduced under the third Republic. This has chiefly been the effect of the law of the 10th of August 1871, which has led to decentralization, by increasing the powers of the conseils generaux. The law created a departmental committee (commission departementale), elected by the conseil general which, in the interval of the sessions of the latter, takes part in matters concerning the administration of the departmental interests, either in virtue of the law, or by a delegation of pOwers from the conseil general. The sous-prefecs, having very limited powers of deciding questions, serve above all as intermediaries between the prefect and the persons under his administration. This function was most useful in the year VIII., when communications were difficult, even within a department, but nowadays it only leads to complications. As a matter of fact their chief service to the administration lies in keeping up good relations with the maires of the communes in their arrondissement, and thus acquiring a certain amount of influence over them. The National Assembly, which passed the law of the 10th of August 1871, had also decided to suppress the sous-prefets, but M. Thiers, who was then president of the Republic, persuaded them to reconsider this decision. Since then the Chamber of Deputies has on several occasions taken advantage of the budget to attempt the suppression of the sous-prefecs by refusing to vote the amount necessary for the payment of their salaries. But the government has always opposed this unconstitutional measure, holding that the suppression could only be effected by an organic law, and that it would necessarily involve a remodelling of the administrative organization. So far their view has prevailed in the Chambers. (J. P. E.)

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