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Edict, magistrate's

  1. Michael Peachin

Published Online: 7 FEB 2012

DOI: 10.1002/9781444338386.wbeah13092

The Encyclopedia of Ancient History

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Peachin, M. 2012. Edict, magistrate's. The Encyclopedia of Ancient History. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 7 FEB 2012

During the Roman Republican period, the edictum perpetuum of the urban Praetor was crucial to the development of civil law (see Edict, praetor's). Though the praetor's edict was by far and away the most influential in this respect, several other officers of state, who functioned in the capital, also possessed the ius edicendi: dictators, censors, consuls, aediles, quaestors, tribunes of the plebs, and the pontifex maximus. The edicts of these magistrates (and the pontifex) were issued annually, at the moment when the newly elected officers began their terms, as was the case with the praetors. The intent of these other annual edicta seems to have been to communicate publicly, and in broad terms, the manner in which these individuals would function while in office (cf. Wieacker 1988: 407).

The situation in the provinces in Republican times is not entirely clear (see Wieacker 1988: 485–6). We have scraps of evidence that would indicate yearly “jurisdictional” edicts having been issued by the governors in some provinces (e.g., Cilicia – cf. Abbott and Johnson 1926: 50–2), but it is not evident that there was some standard, universal practice in this regard. To the extent that Republican-era governors did issue annual edicts, these seem not to have been nearly as comprehensive as was that of the urban praetor, though they were apparently modeled, in what they did handle, on that document. Such provincial edicts were presumably intended, in the main, to serve the population of Roman citizens – i.e., those who might properly use Roman law – resident in the province. Under the Imperial regime, it appears that there was more standardization, and that for both senatorial and Imperial provinces, there existed a roughly typical jurisdictional edict, issued by each new governor. One of the chief indications of this is the fact that the mid-second-century jurist Gaius composed a thirty-book commentary on the provincial edict; and much of what he says there mirrors what we know of the urban praetor's edict (Liebs 1997: 189; Jolowicz and Nicholas 1972: 358; Schiller 1978: 416–18). Moreover, the Flavian-era lex Irnitana (ch. 85) informs us that the magistrates of Spanish municipia were required “to display publicly the Album [i.e., the ‘jurisdictional’ edict] of the man who governs the province, and to pronounce justice based on it.” This stipulation seems to presuppose a fairly regularized edict for the provincial governor (see González 1986: 230–1). The matter of an annual “jurisdictional” edict having been issued by the prefect of Egypt, however, remains problematic (see Jördens 2009: 21).

The word edictum can also refer to a different sort of magisterial pronouncement. Edicts specifically treating individual topics could be issued on an ad hoc basis by the officials mentioned above. Emperors possessed the same prerogative, as did various of the administrative officials created by the new Imperial system. Thus, for example, an Imperial rescript tells us that a forma (which must be equivalent to an edictum) issued by the praetorian prefect, even if it was general in scope, was, with a couple of qualifications, binding (Cod. lust. 1. 26. 2, 13 August 235).

References and Suggested Readings

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  2. References and Suggested Readings
  • Abbott, F. F. and Johnson, A. C. (1926). Municipal administration in the Roman Empire. Princeton.
  • González, J. (1986) “The lex Irnitana: a new copy of the Flavian municipal law.” Journal of Roman Studies 76: 147243.
  • Jolowicz, H. F. and Nicholas, B. (1972). Historical introduction to the study of Roman law, 3rd ed. Cambridge.
  • Jördens, A. (2009). Statthalterliche Verwaltung in der römischen Kaiserzeit. Studien zum praefectus Aegypti. Stuttgart.
  • Liebs, D. (1997). Jurisprudenz. In K. Sallmann, ed., Handbuch der lateinischen Literatur der Antike. Vierter Band. Die Literatur des Umbruchs. Von der römischen zur christlichen Literatur. 117 bis 284 n. Chr.83–217. Munich.
  • Meyer-Zwiffelhoffer, E. (2002). inline image. Zum Regierungsstil der senatorischen Statthalter in den kaiserzeitlichen griechischen Provinzen. 3423. Stuttgart. [A list of edicts by provincial governors from the Greek East, not including Egypt.]
  • Schiller, A. A. (1978). Roman law: mechanisms of development. New York.
  • Wieacker, F. (1988). Römische Rechtsgeschichte. Erster Abschnitt. Einleitung, Quellenkunde Fruhzeit und Republik. Munich.