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Impearls: CotRCS: Interference of the central government

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Earthdate 2007-10-13

Interference of the central government   by G. H. Stevenson

A word must be said in conclusion on the relations which existed between provincial cities and the imperial government.  Rome was, as we have seen, familiar with the principle of “indirect rule,” and, indeed, could not have governed her provinces unless they had contained communities capable of managing their own affairs and of assisting the government in the collection of taxes.  Roman policy was to interfere as little as possible with the autonomy of these communities, and, indeed, to foster the development of self-governing cities in areas where they had not previously existed.  The absence of an imperial civil service under the Republic and its slow development under the Principate would have made any other system quite unworkable.  It was, however, inevitable that provincial governors should interest themselves at least in the financial side of municipal administration.  Cicero was much exercised about the misgovernment of the cities of Cilicia during his governorship of the province (51-50 b.c.), and sought to check excessive expenditure on such purposes as embassies to Rome.

By the end of the first century a.d. there had been considerable development of the bureaucratic machinery which made its first appearance under Augustus, with the result that the central government came to expect a fairly high standard of administrative efficiency throughout the empire.  This tendency led to an interference with the affairs of the cities both of Italy and the provinces which had hitherto been unknown.  The control exercised by the emperors and their agents over municipal government was almost certainly beneficial in this period, though in the following centuries it robbed self-government of most of its reality.

The wastefulness and inefficiency which Pliny found in Bithynia, examples of which have been quoted, cannot have been confined to that province, and may well have diminished the yield of imperial taxation.  It was therefore with the best of motives that Trajan dispatched Maximus to Greece “ad ordinandum statum liberarum civitatium,” and that Hadrian followed his example in the same province and in Syria.  In his mission to Bithynia Pliny had a wider scope, and we find him investigating the finances not only of free cities but of Apamea, a Roman colony of the highest class.  His correspondence makes it clear that previous governors had interested themselves to some extent in the financial affairs of the cities, but that no such thorough investigation had been undertaken before.  Certain regulations had been made by the government, e.g., that grants should not be made to individuals from municipal funds, and it is probable that from this time the consent of the governor was required for any extraordinary expenditure.  An inscription of a rather later date records the permission given by the governor of Asia for the distribution of money to the citizens of Ephesus who attended the celebration of the emperor’s birthday.

A further stage in the control of the municipalities by the central government is marked by the appearance of curatores reipublicae (called logistae in the eastern provinces) in the reigns of Nerva and Trajan.  These men, who were nominees of the Emperor and often of senatorial or equestrian rank, differed from Maximus and Pliny in exercising their authority over a single city or a small group of cities.  They did not supersede the ordinary magistrates till the third century [by which time Rome was entering the so-called “Dominate” period, a time as the term suggests of military dictatorship –Impearls], when the curator became a kind of mayor.  In the earlier [Principate] period they were merely advisors whom the magistrates were expected to consult on financial matters.  As early as a.d. 113 we find the decurions of Caere asking for the consent of the curator to the grant of a piece of land for the erection of a hall for the meetings of the Augustales.  The institution originated in Italy, but traces of it are found in the senatorial provinces before the end of the second century.  Curatores were also appointed by the emperors of this period for some special purpose, e.g., the supervision of the municipal calendar or of public works.

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