From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Roman SPQR banner.svg
This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
ancient Rome
Roman Constitution
Ordinary magistrates
Extraordinary magistrates
Titles and honours
Precedent and law

A legatus (anglicised as legate) during the empire period could refer to a military governor, general, or colonel in the Roman army, equivalent to a modern high ranking general officer. Being of senatorial rank, he was a deputy to his immediate superior, who may have been the emperor or other high official. Some commanded as the military or imperial governor of a Roman province. He outranked all military tribunes (equivalent to a major, the base rank of a praetorian). A legate could be invested with propraetorian imperium (legatus pro praetore) in his own right.

From the times of the Roman republic, legates had received large shares of the army's booty at the end of a successful campaign, which made the position a lucrative one, so it could often attract even distinguished consuls (e.g., the consul Lucius Julius Caesar volunteered late in the Gallic Wars as a legate under his first cousin once removed, Gaius Julius Caesar).


The men who filled the office of legate were drawn from among the senatorial class of Rome. There were two main positions; the legatus legionis was an ex-praetor given command of one of Rome's elite legions,[1] while the legatus pro praetore was an ex-consul, who was given the governorship of a Roman province with the magisterial powers of a praetor, which in some cases gave him command of four or more legions. Due to his senatorial rank, a legatus was entitled to twelve lictors (bodyguards) which carried out punishments with a fasces (bundled rods).

This rank was also the overall legionary commander. This post was generally appointed by the emperor. The person chosen for this rank was a former tribune, and although the emperor Augustus set a maximum term of command of two years for a legatus, subsequent emperors extended the tenure to three or four years, although he could serve for a much longer period. In a province with only one legion, the legatus served as the provincial governor, but in provinces with multiple legions, each legion had a legatus and a separate provincial governor had overall command.

The legatus could be distinguished in the field by his elaborate helmet and body armour, as well as his scarlet paludamentum and cincticulus. The latter was a scarlet waist-band tied around his waist in a bow.[2]

Diplomatic legatus

Legatus was also a term for an ambassador of the Roman Republic who was appointed by the senate for a mission (legatio) to a foreign nation, as well as for ambassadors who came to Rome from other countries.[3] This is the sense of the word that survives in the phrase Papal legate.

See also


  1. ^ "The Roman Army". Accessed April 16, 2007.
  2. ^ The Legions of Rome, Stephen Dando-Collins, p. 47, Quercus (December 2010).
  3. ^ Smith, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1875), Bill Thayer's edition, entry on "Legatus".
Retrieved from "https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Legatus&oldid=802728539"
This content was retrieved from Wikipedia : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legatus
This page is based on the copyrighted Wikipedia article "Legatus"; it is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA). You may redistribute it, verbatim or modified, providing that you comply with the terms of the CC-BY-SA