Roman diocese

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Original dioceses of the Roman Empire, created by emperor Diocletian (284-305)
Dioceses of the Roman Empire around 400 AD

A Roman or civil diocese (Latin: dioecēsis, from the [διοίκησις] error: {{lang-xx}}: text has italic markup (help), "administration") was one of the administrative divisions of the later Roman Empire, starting with the Tetrarchy. It formed the intermediate level of government, grouping several provinces and being in turn subordinated to a praetorian prefecture.


Civil dioceses[edit]

The earliest use of "diocese" as an administrative unit was in the Greek-speaking East. Three districts, Cibyra, Apamea, and Synnada, were added to the Province of Cilicia in the time of Cicero, who mentioned the fact in his epistles.[1] The word "diocese" means management district and referred to special which at that time denoted a district pertinent for the collection of taxes, was applied to the territory per se. In the 3rd century the term was applied to temporary judicial districts carved out of proconsular provinces.

Diocletian initiated a reorganization of the imperial administration from the late 280s. He doubled the number of provinces from 47 to almost 100. Smaller and more compact they were easily governable (though the statutory staff complement was only 100. He established mints near heavy concentrations of troops; took empire-wide censuses from early in the reign a process not completed for 15 years; ended arbitrary army requisitions (plundering) which had become almost norm from the 250s and replaced it with a revised, stable taxation and delivery system that gave the Empire a budget in the modern sense for the first time; tried to reestablish a stable coinage; rebuild the army (in 285 A.D. 390,000 + 46,000 in round numbers according to John Lydus a 6th century bureaucrat of the prefecture of the East - numbers vary from 400-000 - 600,000 for the 4th century); instituted much needed infrastructure; centralized the administration of justice with the governors; began the removal of their military commands such as those who still had them; furthered 'professionalization' the bureaucracy with salaried men of free birth; an novel interventionist policy towards local government to insure that fulfilled their obligations to the imperial government policies; and in a momentous step taken in the late 280s created regional districts or 'dioceses' for the Treasury (Res Summa) governed by comptrollers (rationales) within which were also housed the regional-level managers (magistri) of the Crown Estates (Res Privata), indicative of a heightened attention to fiscal needs and the means to satisfy them. The two ministries worked closely together. The magistri were junior to the comptrollers until the 350s but the close connection was maintained (in the West much of the CE income went to the Res Summa.

For over a century it was the general consensus of scholars that the judicial and administrative oversight dioceses governed by vicars were created in 297 as set by Mommsen more than a century ago based on a statement by Lactantius that linked regional rationales of the treasury, magistri of the Crown Estates and vicars of prefects together during the latter part of the reign of Dicoletian. It is unclear whether Lactatnius was referring to special commissioners of prefects without permanent administrative territories or diocesan vicars with the same title. However, as a result of a 2002 article by Constantin Zuckermann, Travaux et Memoires 14, Melanges Gilbert Dagron, the consensus is growing that the vicariate diocese were created in 313/14, and that the Verona List of June 314 attests to this development. A motive to create permanent vice-prefects within fixed was to control regions by outsourcing the authority of the praetorian prefects (though the vicars were given superior not supreme authority, i.e. they could not render a final verdict and theirs could be appealed to the emperor). The creation of permanent vicars with territories in essence 'outsourced' the power (but restricted) the prefects while at the same time solidifying a radical new way of governing the Empire, i.e. regionally begun by Diocletian in the late 280s when he set up regional officer and territories for the Res Summa (the Treasury) and the Res Private (the Crown Estates). The new vicars were mainly judicial counterparts to the regional set of dioceses for the Treasury (renamed the sacrae larigitiones) headed by rationales (fiscal comptrollers). The vicars also were the regional civilian quarter-masters general of the army(a measure undertaken by Diocletian to remove army logistics and supply matters from the military in order to get a strange hold on it by using civilian administration). Starting in the early 290s Diocletian began to divide the 47 provinces so that by the end of his reign in 305 they approached 100 in number. It was thought that vicars were created in 297 to supervise the division, a assume administrative oversight over and keep a watch on the military. If created in 313/14 these motives still applied. However they were part of Constantine's early attempts to rationalize the bureaucracy and complete the removal of military authority from the last remaining governors, and from the prefects (the measures taken 286- 330 resulted in the administration and military systems of the Later Roman Empire. These were a mélange of previous means, new ones and some discarded. In terms of fiscal policy measures were taken "by a cautious government working steadily towards its intended goals; or perhaps"..."a rather arbitrary series of makeshift reactions," Roger Rees, Diocletian and the Tetrarchy, 2004, p. 39 of which the most comprehensive in all areas occurred in the years 293-297 (Diocletian) and 325-329 (Constantine I).

The SL was responsible for the distribution of soldiers' gold and silver emoluments; the collection of taxes paid by cities, senators and certain classes of business men and women; the operation of clothing mills; funds for infrastructure and buildings which required an outlay in gold or silver; the operation of the mints and mines; clothing supply to the army, Civil Service and Imperial Courts. Until the 320s the regional heads of the SL were involved in most aspects of tax collection with the vicars under their respective heads at the highest palatine level with the emperors. By 330 they were removed from the actual participation in the collection of most taxes in gold and silver (and in kind such as military uniforms) due their offices (this task had been placed with the governors) but the remained responsible for the actual delivery to their depots or the palace mints and continued to have supervisory authority to make sure income due them was not diverted to the prefecture. Logically they worked closely with their regional counterparts, the vicars who were at the apex of the civilian authority ladder absent an emperor or prefect (vicars could not interfere with the daily operations of the SL and RP. The Res Privata supplied income to the emperors from rent and taxes paid on leased lands to private individuals (most of it) or managed directly by imperial officials. In 366 all rents and taxes paid in kind were commuted to gold and silver. Income regularly supplemented the imperial budgets.

The praetorian prefects were the chief financial officers and in overall charge of the budgets (based regionally, i.e. by diocese): they were responsible for regular in kind taxes, the special in kind tax to support the army (the Annona Militaris), the salaries of all officials under their control, the operation and maintenance of the public post, tax rates. the supply of State armories and mills, most issues pertaining to civil and criminal justice; they were quarter-masters general of the Army; and acted as prime ministers though not general heads of administration, the oversight of which they had to share with the masters of the offices post-330s.

The 'fiscal diocese' of the Treasury is the obvious model for the 'vicariate diocese' which was the judicial and administrative oversight counterparts to the fiscal districts though the vicariate it seems were created 25 years after the fiscal. By 330 the term 'diocese' was used exclusively for the vicariate diocese. Among the measures taken by Constantine in the years 325-329 one of which was rescinding the right of the SL and RP administrative courts from sending fiscal debt appeals to their superiors at Court: instead these went to the prefects, vicars, the urban prefect of Rome and the proconsuls. This change of administrative policy and the abolition of the comptrollers provincial procurators of the SL made the vicars the senior heads of diocesan finance (just as they were judicially). These measures were taken to strengthen the already existing financial oversight of the prefects and ensure one locus for budget composition without allowing them to interfere with the day-to-day operation of SL and RP. The emperors were at pains to keep the accounts of these two departments separate from the prefects' each of which had its own treasury.

Possibly in the early 340s the monitoring of the regional administration was strengthened by the appointment of senior agentes in rebus, State Investigators as heads of the diocesan office (also in prefectures and two of three proconsular provinces). They were a corps of 2,500 courier/bureaucrats commanded by the master(s) of the offices, minister of internal security, chiefs of the imperial secretariats, and inspectors-general of the public post. All business in and out of the office was subject to their scrutiny and approval. They were not part of the office staff. They wrote confidential reports to their bosses which the prefects did not see, A. Piganiol, L'Empire chretien (325-395), 1947, p. 321. With 20 years moving about to different parts of the empire and experience seconded to different offices their presence could be a great help to vicars, W. G. Sinnigen, Three Administrative Changes attributed to Constantius II, AJP, 83, 1962, pp. 369–383. Constantine reforms mark a century-long off-and-on struggle between prefects and the heads of the SL and RP for control over the latter, former won for the most part after 430, and which worked in favor of the continuing importance of the vicars, R. Delmaire, Les largesses sacrees et res privata, L'aerarium imperial et son administration du IV au VI siècle, 1989, pp. 703–714; M.F. Hendy, Studies in the Byzantine Monetary Economy, 300-1450 A.D. , 1985.

During the Tetrarchy, each emperor, the Augusti, had a praetorian prefect. The two Caesars did not. Constantine I broke with precedent by appointing Bassus (318) as a third prefect for his son Cripus who had been put in charge of Britain and Gaul in 317. There were no formal territorial prefectures until 330. It was not until the early 340s that the prefectures take on something of an administrative role which emergence more prominently from the late 360s. There were four in 331. A fifth for Africa existed in the tears 335-337. They varied in number from three to four until the number four was fixed in 395: Gaul, Italy, Illyricum and the East, the Illyrican Prefecture existed from 342/43 to 361, and from 375-379 and 388-391. The number was fixed at four in 395. The Constantinian prefectures may have more to do with the emperor's dynastic arrangements than administration, T. Barnes, Constantine: Dynasty, Religion and Power in the Later Roman Empire, 2011, pp. 292–296. These begin to come into their own during the reigns of Constans and Constantius II in the 340s and even more so from the reigns of Valentinian I (364-375 and Valens 364 -378) Joachim Migl, Die Ordnung der Amter, Pratorianer und Vikariat in der Regionsverwaltung des Romishcen Reiches von Konstantin bis zur Valentiischen Dynastie, 1994 and P. Porena, Le origini della prefettura del pretorio tardoantica, 2003; Timothy Barnes, op. cit. Even after the evolution of the prefectures the vicars and dioceses remained important until the 430-440s in particular as arms of the emperors' centralization and revenue drives from the nid-360s.

The largest diocese by number of provinces, not area, was the Diocese of the East, which included 16 provinces, while the smallest, the Diocese of Britain, comprised only 4 provinces (Reviews of these developments can be found in the Age of Constantine, Ed. Noel Lenski, Bureaucracy and Government, Christopher Kelly, p. 183-204; David. S Potter, The Empire at Bay, 180-395, pp. 367–377; Cambridge Ancient History, volume XII, pp. 170–183). Despite the creation of territorial prefectures the administrative program of the Constantinian Dynasty was diocesan-centered, R. Malcolm Errington, Roman Imperial Policy from Julian to Theodosius, 2006, pp. 80–81, 261-262.

The provinces were grouped into 12 dioceses, each headed by a vicarius i. e. a deputy to a Praefectus praetorio ("Praetorian Prefect"). The Italian diocese had two vicars, one in Rome for the region south of the capital and for the islands and one normally in Milan for northern Italy and the Alpine regions south of the Danube in Bavaria and western Austria. In 321 or by 327 the diocese of Moesia was divided into Dacia and Macedonia. In 370 or 380 Egypt was detached from the diocese of the Oriens (Cilicia, Cyprus, Syria, and Palestine) and made a diocese to establish more direct fiscal accountability and secure the food supply of Constantinople. The dioceses did not and could not have administered the vast territories under their supervision: rather the vicars were a mid-level authority ('Instanz' in German), B. Palme, 'Die Officia der Statthalter in der spatantike,' Antiquite Tardive 7, 1999, pp. 108–110) whose main task was in concert with the SL and RP regional officials the smooth function of the regional admiistration. The vicars absent a prefect or emperor exercised superior authority but with restrictions: they could not change anything decided on at the top level: theirs was to execute, not make policy. Vicars were subordinate to but not under the absolute control of prefects - the vicars shared the authority of prefects; it was not erived to the vicars which gave the latter a measure of autonomy Migl op. cit. pp 54–6 Prefects could not overturn a vicar's verdict unless it was sent on appeal or dismiss them or governors) on their own authority. Provincial governors could still send appeals directly to the Praefectus praetorio who could render a final verdict (vicars could not) or to the Emperor but only after the appeal had first been heard by the vicar as seen a law of the Theodosian Code 11, 30, 16 (331) which proves the double appeal ladder set out by Constantine, John Noel Dillon, The Justice of Constantine, 20 66. p.248. The diocesan staffs were involved with data collection and processing; judicial matters; and doing much detailed financial work for the prefecture, S. Williams, Diocletian and the Roman Recovery, 1985, p. 110.

The vicars' main tasks were to control and coordinate the activities of provincial governors (actual administration was done at the local level by cities), regulate courts, secure revenue, and monitor the fiscal offices of the Treasury the res summa, renamed in 319 Sacrae Largitiones, i. e., the Imperial treasury which collected monetary taxes and res privata, i. e., the private property of the Emperor. as part of their overall responsibility for the well-being of the regional administration. The vicars' control over governors was direct but not absolute (they could not appoint or dismiss them, but could investigate them and fine them); over the Sl and RP, the vicars had very limited but focused authority so as not to be able to interfere with the normal routine operation of these two independent ministries but enough require them to report on their legal and fiscal natters (their offices were located in the diocesan see cities except for Corsica, Sardinia and Sicily). They had appeal authority over fiscal debt cases, and jurisdiction over their staffs in civil and criminal cases and over tenants of the RP in major criminal cases. The main judicial function of the vicars was as to act as appeal judges; as keepers of the regional budget ("the dioceses were the great fiscal districts of the Empire," CAH XII, p.181, LoCascio); monitors of the administration, regulators of the courts; and as coordinators of a highly complex and cumbersome tax collection and distribution systems; guarantors of liturgical assignments issued by governors according to instructions from the prefecture; and as the civilian quartermaster-generals of the army. In 385 the counts of the SL and RP at Court were once again allowed to take appeals form the rationales and procurators (of the RP) in their respective departments in a move to possibly streamline and expedite these cases at a time of imperial financial duress: this appears to be the first change that diminished the role of the vicars, which nonetheless could receive appeals as before.

The conversion of most of the prefectures' taxes from in kind collection to payment gold began very slowly under Constantine I. It was resorted to in certain circumstances if it were more convenient to buy supplies locally rather than having to collect and transport these from a distance and proximity to military units (prior to Diocletian forced requisitions had become so common that it amounted to arbitrary confiscation during a times of high inflation as a result debasement of the coinage). By the end of the 4th and beginning of the 5th century the pace of conversion to collection of taxes in gold had quickened especially in the West. The process of commutation to gold was completed mostly in the West by 425 and in the East by the last decades of the century (though collection in kind never ceased and was resorted to as needed in the form of requisitions). The placement of permanent provincial-level tax collection officials directly under the prefects in the course of the 5th century (instead of relying on officials sent on annual or ad hoc visitations from central headquarters) made the vicars' services and dioceses increasingly redundant. Also the greater use of direct appeal and the regulations that cases under a certain value threshold be dealt with by the vicars' courts while the most important cases be sent to the highest echelon marginalized their courts though the vicars' watchdog fiscal role continued for the rest of the 5th century in the East as seen in CJ 10, 13, 4 (468) which instructs them to make sure that the revenues of the SL were not alienated to the prefecture by the governors and the prefects' agents.

The process of diocesan decline was very slow - indeed the sum total of source material in the Theodosian Code published in 438 suggests the compilers thought dioceses were still running on 7 if not 8 cylinders (their functioning is somewhat difficult to detect as they are subsumed by the prefectures especially after these come to the fore). However, they slipped into steeper decline after 450 A.D. as did their regional counterparts of the SL and RP. The Vicar of the Seven Provinces in South Gaul (who also managed the Diocese of Gaul) worked effectively with the praetorian prefect (located from Trier to Arles in 407) to maintain control as much as possible and wherever it existed until the very end of Roman rule in 475. The vicar in Rome continued to perform important functions for the city of Rome, southern Italy and the Islands on behalf of the prefect in Ravenna. However, the others in the East slipped into morbidity with the exception of Oriens and Egypt because of their strategic locations and wealth, Jones op. cit. pp.280–283; Wiewiorowski, op. cit. pp. 74, 299–301; Delmaire, op. cit, pp. 703-714.

The diocesan see cities for over 125 years had been centers of administrative control and major collection hubs for the processing and transmission of information from the governors (and regional and provincial agents of the Treasury and Crown Estates) to the prefects, the two palatine fiscal ministries respectively but the changes mentioned above hastened their decline, though to consider this inevitable based on conditions for which they were created in the early 4th century would be anachronistic. Conditions in the 5th century had changed. The invasions and loss of territory in the West disrupted the imperial administration in the various parts of the Empire from 410 to the curtain fell in 476 A.D.

Regarding dioceses as ineffectual and corrupted the Emperor Justinian I abolished the remaining ones in the East (Thrace disappeared early in the reign of Anastasius I 491-519: Asia, Pontus, Dacia and Macedonia were abolished in 535 and Egypt in 539 (the southern part of this diocese was from 468 governed by a dux with civil authority, a reversal of the principle established by Diocletian and completed by Constantine I that civil and military spheres be strictly separated unlike before when governors exercised military command, and had judicial and administrative duties (in the 'switch' the fiscal role of the procurators was slowly shifted to governors whose military commands went to a new classes of generals). At the same time he strengthened the authority of provincial governors and increased their pay. This practice was extended to the recovered territory of Africa, where Justinian installed a praetorian prefect and not a vicar (the prefects and a vicar were restored for Italy). In 545 and 548 he restored the dioceses of Pontus and Asia and small Oriens. The vicars there were given vastly increased powers over all other civilian and military officials. the remnants of the intermediate tier finally withered away in the early 7th century. A truncated Eastern Roma Empire from 637 A.D. had no need for it - direct central control through provinces and then Themes was the order of the day. For discussions of vicars' judicial powers, Jacek Wiewiorowski, The Judiciary of Diocesan Vicars in the Later Roman Empire, 2016; John Noel Dillon, The Justice of Constantine, 2016; Christopher Kelly, Ruling the Later Roman Empire, 2004 pp.208–214; A.H.M. Jones, later Roman Empire, 1964, pp. 450–462 (financial), 481-486 (judicial), decline of dioceses pp. 280–283; P.S. Barnwell, Emperor, Prefects & Kings, The Roman West, 395-565 for administrative history of the period; for a critique of the fiscal, L. Edward Alexander Franks, Byzantinishce Zeitscrift, De Gruyter, 2016, Band 109, Heft 2, pp. 987–994.

In the eastern parts of Roman Empire, dominated by Greek language and common use of Greek terminology, the vicarius was called hyparchus or exarch.[2]

Introduction of the term in ecclesiastical usage[edit]

Between the 4th and 6th centuries, as the older administrative structure began to crumble, the role of the bishops in the western lands of the Empire enabled those lands and their peoples to maintain a semblance of civilization as the authority of Rome vanished. The senatorial aristocracy, especially in the provinces, continued in many places to serve as sources of local authority to complement the authority assumed by the Church. In Late Antiquity, political power often came to be vested in the spiritual offices of the bishops in each region. This transfer of authority from secular officials to ecclesiastical leaders was natural in that, because of the close integration of the secular and ecclesiastical leadership in the Empire, the areas of ecclesiastical administration always coincided with those of the Roman civil administration.

Therefore, as the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches began to define their administrative structures, they relied on the older Roman terminology and methods to describe administrative units and hierarchy, which often caused the division between ecclesiastical and secular authority to disappear. In the Eastern Empire, this became fundamental doctrine: see Caesaropapism and State church of the Roman Empire.

A millennium later this process would be somewhat repeated when the Ottoman Empire conquered the Eastern Roman Empire (see Christianity and Judaism in the Ottoman Empire) and the eastern bishops assumed political roles as the Roman civil structure was stripped away. In modern times, many an ancient diocese, though later divided among several dioceses, has preserved the boundaries of a long-vanished Roman administrative division.

See also[edit]

  • Diocese, the ecclesiastical territory originally corresponding to a civil diocese
  • Exarch, equivalent for vicarius, in Ancient Greek terminology


  1. ^ Marcus Tullius Cicero, EB, 1911.
  2. ^ Meyendorff 1989.


Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "article name needed". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.