Make Roma Great Again
ru | en

The Praetorians

Багерман А.Я.

Attention! The text below was auto-translated from Russian. You can switch the site language to Russian to see the text in its original language or wait until it is fully translated.

Imperial Guard, Praetorians (Latin: praetoriani) — personal bodyguards of the emperors of the Roman Empire. It originated from a select detachment (Latin ablecti) of allies who served in the Republican period in the protection of the commander-in-chief and his praetorium. From this came the name — cohors praetoria or cohortes praetoriae. Scipio Africanus organized a guard of Roman horsemen under the same name. The staff, chancery, and all the immediate retinue of the general or ruler of the region constituted his cohors praetoria.

The Praetorians lasted from 27 BC until 312, when they were abolished by Emperor Constantine I the Great.

History of the Praetorian Guard

It was the guard of Roman emperors that the Praetorians formed under the first emperor of Rome, Octavian Augustus, from 27 BC.

Before Augustus, during the Roman Republic, the term "Praetorians" meant a select group that included both infantry and cavalry. He was engaged in the protection of the commander and his staff. Hence the name - cohors praetoria, in another source - cohortes praetoriae. This group included younger relatives, clients and freedmen of the commander.

In addition to protecting the commander, they made up his honorary retinue.

Often, this group was joined by young noble aristocrats who wanted to gain military experience, make useful connections and make a career for themselves.

Roman historians attributed the creation of the "praetorian cohort" to Scipio Aemilianus, the conqueror of Carthage ( II century BC).

In the first century BC, Roman generals began to surround themselves with bodyguards, and they did not necessarily consist only of selected Roman soldiers.

Prior to the civil wars of the 40s and 30s BC, the term "Praetorians" was used in this period to refer to groups of bodyguards of officials, in particular — governors.

During the Civil Wars in Rome in the first century BC (40s-30s BC), starting from the wars of Caesar and Pompey and ending with the war of Octavian and Mark Antony, the composition and purpose of the Praetorian cohorts changed somewhat. Now they were recruited from the best soldiers and were engaged in protecting the commander on and off the battlefield. If necessary, they could be used by the commander as a tactical shock reserve in battle.

Marble relief from the Palace of Conservatives in Rome (Palazzo Cancelleria) with the scene of Domitian's triumph. Lunar marble. Rome, Vatican Museums, Gregorian Secular Museum. 81-96 A.D.

Numbers and history of the Praetorians

Beginning with the first Roman emperor Octavian Augustus (27 BC-14 AD), the Praetorians became a permanent part of the Roman army. Under him, the Praetorian cohorts consisted of 9 cohorts and numbered 4,500 soldiers. Augustus kept three cohorts in Rome itself, and six more were stationed in the surrounding cities of Latium. The Praetorians were commanded by two senior officers with the rank of Praetorian Prefect. They were appointed from the equestrian class, which for them was considered the " ceiling” in their career. Sometimes he was alone, like Sejanus under Tiberius, or three under the emperor Commodus. Due to his proximity to the emperor, the Praetorian prefect was a member of the imperial council, and gradually acquired administrative and judicial powers. The Praetorian prefect exercised supreme command in large-scale military operations, and in the absence of the emperor ruled Italy and Rome.

In AD 23, according to Tacitus, the Praetorian Guard consisted of 9 cohorts. In the reign of Caligula or Claudius, their number grew to twelve. In 69, Vitellius dispersed the old guard of Emperor Otto and recruited 16 new cohorts, each with 1,000 warriors. Vespasian re-established the Praetorian Guard from Otto's guards, part of Vitellius ' guards, and his distinguished soldiers as it had existed under Augustus, reducing the number of cohorts to nine. In the reign of Domitian or Trajan, the tenth cohort was created, and thereafter the number of cohorts remained unchanged until the reign of Septimius Severus.

The question of the number of soldiers in the cohort is still open, since literary and epigraphic sources do not give complete clarity here. Dion Cassius believed that there were 1,000 warriors in one cohort, but according to archaeological data, at least in the time of Augustus, the number of one cohort was 500 people – this is supported by the area of the Praetorian camp and 3 city cohorts, on the Viminal Hill.

Septimius Severus replaced the old Praetorian Guard with distinguished soldiers from all over the empire.

The Guard showed its venality in the crisis of the third century-the era of soldier emperors. Emperor Diocletian, who came to power in 284 AD, reformed the Praetorian Guard.

Under the tetrarchy system, the Guardsmen were distributed among four emperors who ruled different parts of the empire. A small force of Praetorians remained at Castra Praetoria.

The last battle of the Praetorians was the Battle of Mulvian Bridge on October 28, 312. In this battle, two contenders for the throne of the Western Roman Empire fought — Constantine and Maxentius. In the end, Maxentius lost, despite the stubborn resistance of his Praetorians. The victor Constantine disbanded the Praetorian Guard. The former soldiers of the Praetorian cohorts were distributed to the border units on the Rhine and Danube. By order of Emperor Constantine, only the southern and western walls of the Castra Praetoria in Rome were destroyed, as the northern and eastern walls had already become part of the Roman walls. The destruction of the fortress showed that the days of the Praetorians were gone forever. Beginning with Constantine the Great, the Praetorians were replaced by the corpus scholae palatinae. This unit consisted of 500 mounted warriors who protected the emperor's person on the campaign and did not have enough strength to influence the policy of the empire.

Praetorians, relief of the Emperor Claudius ' Arch of triumph that has not been preserved. Louvre Museum, Paris. 1st century AD

Organization and composition of the Praetorians

The Praetorian Cohort was a mixed unit composed of infantry and horsemen. Each cohort consisted of 6 centuries of foot soldiers, numbering from 60 to 80 people. They were led by a centurion. In addition, the cohort consisted of 3 cavalry turmas, 30 horsemen each. These horsemen were nominally part of the cohorts to which they were assigned, but at the same time they formed a special corps of 900 men under the command of a special optio (optio equitum). In peacetime, they served as messengers and couriers. An ordinary soldier could become a horseman after five years of service.

Another select group of Praetorian cavalry included 300 men, the so — called "scouts" (speculatores) - the most loyal soldiers who were supposed to serve directly under the emperor. This unit was also led by a special centurion, who held the title of "trecenarius". The second most senior centurion had the title of "camp commander" (princeps castrorum). The other centurions of the Guard, contrary to the rules adopted in the legions, had equal status and equal pay.

The number of soldiers in the Guard gradually increased, primarily due to the increase in the number of centuries and turmas in each cohort. During the last two decades of the first century and for most of the second century, the number of centuries in each cohort gradually increased from six to ten, and the number of turmas from three to five. Thus, the number of each cohort increased from 500 to almost 1,000 warriors. While under Augustus the Praetorian Guard numbered 4,500, under Vespasian it grew to 7,200, Domitian increased it to 8,000, under Commodus it numbered 10,000,and Septimius Severus increased it to 15,000.

A Praetorian in the segmentate. Column of Antoninus Pius. Second half of the 2nd century AD

Task and functions of the Praetorians

Under the emperor Tiberius (14-37), in 23 AD, all the Praetorian cohorts were transferred to Rome and for this purpose they built a common camp in the northern part of the city, between the hills of Viminal and Esquiline.

Praetorians kept watch around the Palatine palace complex, and also accompanied the emperor on the streets of Rome when he took part in various solemn events or religious ceremonies. The entire guard marched out of Rome when the emperor was at the head of an army to undertake a military campaign or conquer another province. Inscriptions indicate that the Praetorian troops were also involved in the fight against the robbers who tormented Italy.

Salary and privileges of the Praetorians

The Praetorians, as selected units, had their own privileges, in particular, this applied to their salary (salary). The annual salary of a Praetorian guard was 750 denarii under the Emperor Augustus (27 BC-14 AD), compared to 225 denarii for an ordinary legionary for a year. Under the Emperor Domitian (81-96), the salary of legionaries and praetorians was increased: up to 300 denarii for a legionary and up to 900 denarii for a Praetorian. The salary of a Praetorian exceeded the salary of a simple ordinary legionnaire by 2 and 1/3 times.

In addition, the Praetorians received various payments from the emperors in honor of any event: 1) accession to the throne (each emperor paid the Praetorians an amount 5 times higher than their usual salary for this. Emperor Claudius, for example, upon his accession to the throne, ordered to give each of the praetorians 3750 denarii); 2) major military victories; 3) family holidays in the imperial family (birth of an heir, marriage, adoption, etc.); 4) anniversaries of the ruler; 5) the emperor's will (August, according to his will, after his death). death in 14. ordered to pay each Praetorian 2,500 denarii).

The Praetorians did not serve for 25 years, like all other soldiers of the empire, but for 16 years. After the age of 16, they could retire or they could get an officer's post in the auxiliary troops on the border. Also, during the service, Praetorian soldiers could move up the career ladder, and, accordingly, their salaries also increased. They could, after 4 years of service in the Guard, be promoted to " scouts” in the cavalry, and then still be promoted to the position of junior commanders (pritsipals) - tesiary, option, vexilary, etc.

Praetorians who rose to senior principal positions easily obtained the position of centurion in the army or in one of the Roman city cohorts, retiring honorably after 16 years of service and then entering long-term service as an evocat. Remaining in the army as centurions, the Praetorians tried to rise to the position of Centurion primipilus. If they remained centurions in the city cohorts, then after a few years of service they tried again to transfer to the guard as centurions of the Praetorian cohorts.

Nero's Sestertium, minted by him between 64 and 67 at Lugdunum, Gaul. ADLOCVT COH stands for the emperor's address to the Praetorian cohorts.

Recruitment to the Guard

Initially, Praetorians were recruited from Italy and Romanized Macedonia, Spain, and Noricum. The main factor that could help a young aristocrat get into the guard service was a letter of recommendation or the patronage of an influential nobleman. The Guard could also be transferred from the legions for outstanding service.

The proportion of provincials in the Roman guard gradually increased, reaching half of the total number at the end of the second century. Finally, in 193, Septimius Severus dispersed the Old Guard and began recruiting it from the distinguished soldiers of the provincial legions. Dion Cassius, in his Roman History, described Severus 'decision to replace the old guard with soldiers from the legions:" He did so in the expectation that he would receive a guard more familiar with military duties, and provide a kind of reward to those who showed bravery in war. In fact, he undoubtedly destroyed the Italian youth, who, instead of their former military service, turned to robbery and gladiatorial fights, and filled the city with a motley crowd of soldiers of the wildest appearance, the most complete redneck in speech and behavior...”

In the era of the" soldier emperors " (the crisis of the third century), Praetorian cohorts began to receive the names of emperors, which were quickly discarded when power changed. So the 2nd cohort was for some time "Gordianic" in honor of one of the Gordians. The 5th cohort for some time held the title of "Filippov" in honor of the Emperor Philip the Arab.

Preserved wall of the Castra praetoria, Rome. Italy.

Praetorian equipment

According to Trajan's column, the armor and weapons of the Praetorians were the same as those of the legionaries, with the only caveat that they were more luxurious and expensive than those of the legionaries.

Their weapons were gladius, pilum, pugio. There is some debate about the helmet: some say that they wore a legionary helmet of the imperial type, others - that they used a helmet with a movable head and a lush hair (feather) comb. Segmentates were the most common type of armor. There are also many images of musculature, but most likely they are officers of the Guard.

It should be noted some archaism in the equipment of the Praetorians. As a shield, they used mainly a Republican variation of the oval scutum. The outer side of the shield was decorated with images of winged lightning of Jupiter, crescents and stars. In addition, there is an image of a Praetorian from the time of Nero, dressed as hoplite - in linothorax, with gasta and hoplon. But most likely, this was an exception at the whim of the Emperor, rather than a stable pattern in equipment.

Warrior in a fresco from Pompeii. 80-20 BC

Guards around the imperial palace on the Palatine, in the theater, circus or Colosseum were carried by Praetorians dressed in civilian clothes, including a toga under which they hid a sword. Mounted Praetorians wore a hamata or lorica squamata and special flat hexagonal shields with the image of a scorpion (the sign of the Praetorian guard, introduced under the Emperor Octavian Augustus) and the winged lightning bolts of Jupiter.

Helmets were used both "Attic" and special cavalry (with an engraving on the crown in the form of human hair and with cheek pads that completely cover the ears). As a weapon, they used a spatula, with which they cut down the enemy from a horse, a spear, and often they used throwing darts adapted to the pommel of the saddle in a special quiver.

The equipment of a walking Praetorian guard for the period of 1-2 centuries AD could consist of the following elements::

Fabric / Leather products:

Protective equipment items based on metal:

Weapons items:

Additional elements:

Praetorian standards

Unlike the banners of the legions (signum), the Praetorian signum depicted the winged goddess of victory Victoria (Nika in the Greeks), scorpio, and the emperor and members of his family. In the legions, there was also the position of an imagnifer, who wore a standard with the image of the emperor.

The Guards 'trumpeters and standard bearers wore lion skins over their helmets, while the legions' standard bearers and standard bearers used the skins of wolves and bears. The aquilifer of the Legion of Special Merit, as in the Guard, could wear the skin of a lion.

Praetorians and politics

The Praetorians and their commanders, the Praetorian prefects, often played a significant role in the politics of the Roman Empire. There were times when the Emperor of Rome was made at the behest of the Praetorians (for example, the accession to the throne of Emperor Claudius, who became emperor at the behest of the guards who killed the Emperor Caligula in 41). Many Roman emperors were killed by the Praetorians or directly by the Praetorian prefect. For example, the tribune of the Praetorian Guard, Heneia, who personally killed the Emperor Caligula in 41. With the participation of the Praetorian prefect, the Roman emperor Commodus was assassinated in 193, after which a series of changes of emperors for money began, which the Praetorians arranged in the year of the five emperors. Because of this denigration of his activities, Septimius Severus, who was victorious in 193, ordered the old guard to be dispersed and a new one recruited from the distinguished soldiers of the legions. Macrinus, the Praetorian prefect, organized a plot to assassinate the Emperor Caracalla (Severus dynasty), after which he himself became Roman emperor in 217-218. Officers of the Praetorian Guard killed the Emperor Aurelian in 275. Sometimes the prefects of the praetorium concentrated in their hands a power that was almost equal to the imperial one. For example, the Praetorian prefect Sejanus (15-31 gg. commander of the guard) under the Emperor Tiberius (14-37 gg.). The truth of Tiberius eventually realized his mistake and executed Sejanus in 31 g. The history and political claims of the Praetorians ended in the IV century, when they were finally disbanded by Emperor Constantine I the Great (306-337 gg.) in 312 g. and destroyed them camp in Rome.

Related topics

Legionnaire, Liner, Penula, Sagum, Focale, Subarmalis, Tunic, Marriages, Subligaculum, Kaligi, Calcei, Socks, Galea, Segmentata, Squamate, Hamata , Lorica Musculata, Cingulum, Gladius , Full name , Scutum


1. Herodian. History of imperial power after Mark

2. Bedoyere G. de la. Praetorian: Rise and Fall of Rome’s Imperal Bodyguard

3. Tacitus. Annals

4. Tacitus. History

5. Schiller, «Die Röm. Staats-, Rechts- und Kriegsaltertümer».

6. The Roman Army // Encyclopedia of Brockhaus and Efron : in 86 volumes (82 volumes and 4 additions). - St. Petersburg, 1890-1907.

7. Cohort // Encyclopedia of Brockhaus and Efron : in 86 volumes (82 volumes and 4 additions). - St. Petersburg, 1890-1907.

8. Praetorians / / Encyclopedia of Pomegranates: In 58 volumes, Moscow, 1910-1948.

9. Semenov V. V. Praetorian cohorts: model and practice / / Para bellum: journal. St. Petersburg, 2001, No. 12, ISSN 1683-8114.

10. Cohors / / Real dictionary of classical antiquities / author-comp. F. Lubker; Edited by members of the Society of Classical Philology and Pedagogy F. Gelbke, L. Georgievsky, F. Zelinsky, V. Kansky, M. Kutorgi and P. Nikitin. - St. Petersburg, 1885.

11. Rankov, Boris. The Praetorian Guard. — Osprey Publishing, 1994. — 64 p. — ISBN 9781855323612.

12. Durry M. Les cohortes pretoriennes. — Paris, 1938.

13. Passerini A. Le coorti pretorienni. — Roma, 1939.

14. Rankov B. The Praetorian Guard. — Osprey Publishing, 1994.

15. Ushakov Yu. A. The role of the Praetorian Guard in the internal political life of the Roman Empire under the first emperors// Antique Civil Community, Moscow, 1984, pp. 115-131.

16. Semenov V. V. Praetorian cohorts: model i praktika [Praetorian cohorts: model and practice]. Para bellum, St. Petersburg, 2001, no. 12.


Bas-relief with the Praetorian Publio Elio Pontico holding an armilla in his hand. Archaeological Museum of Padova (Museo Archeologico di Padova), 2nd century AD