A promagistrate is a person who acts in and with the authority and capacity of a magistrate
Roman Magistrates
The Roman Magistrates were elected officials in Ancient Rome. During the period of the Roman Kingdom, the King of Rome was the principal executive magistrate. His power, in practice, was absolute. He was the chief priest, lawgiver, judge, and the sole commander of the army...

, but without holding a magisterial office. A legal innovation of the Roman Republic
Roman Republic
The Roman Republic was the period of the ancient Roman civilization where the government operated as a republic. It began with the overthrow of the Roman monarchy, traditionally dated around 508 BC, and its replacement by a government headed by two consuls, elected annually by the citizens and...

, the promagistracy was invented in order to provide Rome with governors of overseas territories instead of having to elect more magistrates each year. Promagistrates were appointed by senatus consultum
Senatus consultum
A senatus consultum is a text emanating from the senate in Ancient Rome. It is used in the modern phrase senatus consultum ultimum...

; like all acts of the Roman Senate
Roman Senate
The Senate of the Roman Republic was a political institution in the ancient Roman Republic, however, it was not an elected body, but one whose members were appointed by the consuls, and later by the censors. After a magistrate served his term in office, it usually was followed with automatic...

, these appointments were not entirely legal and could be overruled by the Roman assemblies
Roman assemblies
The Legislative Assemblies of the Roman Republic were political institutions in the ancient Roman Republic. According to the contemporary historian Polybius, it was the people who had the final say regarding the election of magistrates, the enactment of new statutes, the carrying out of capital...

, e.g., the replacement of Quintus Caecilius Metellus Numidicus
Quintus Caecilius Metellus Numidicus
Quintus Caecilius Metellus Numidicus was the leader of the conservative faction of the Roman Senate and a bitter enemy of Gaius Marius....

 by Gaius Marius
Gaius Marius
Gaius Marius was a Roman general and statesman. He was elected consul an unprecedented seven times during his career. He was also noted for his dramatic reforms of Roman armies, authorizing recruitment of landless citizens, eliminating the manipular military formations, and reorganizing the...

 during the Jugurthine War
Jugurthine War
The Jugurthine War takes its name from the Berber king Jugurtha , nephew and later adopted son of Micipsa, King of Numidia.-Jugurtha and Numidia:...


Promagistrates were usually either proquaestors (acting in place of quaestor
A Quaestor was a type of public official in the "Cursus honorum" system who supervised financial affairs. In the Roman Republic a quaestor was an elected official whereas, with the autocratic government of the Roman Empire, quaestors were simply appointed....

s), propraetors, acting in place of praetor
Praetor was a title granted by the government of Ancient Rome to men acting in one of two official capacities: the commander of an army, usually in the field, or the named commander before mustering the army; and an elected magistratus assigned varied duties...

s, or proconsuls acting in place of consul
Consul was the highest elected office of the Roman Republic and an appointive office under the Empire. The title was also used in other city states and also revived in modern states, notably in the First French Republic...

s. A promagistrate held equal authority to the equivalent magistrate, was attended by the same number of lictor
The lictor was a member of a special class of Roman civil servant, with special tasks of attending and guarding magistrates of the Roman Republic and Empire who held imperium, the right and power to command; essentially, a bodyguard...

s, and generally speaking had autocratic power within his province, be it territorial or otherwise. Promagistrates usually had already held the office in whose stead they were acting, although this was not mandatory.

One should also mention here the procurator, a posting originally as a financial manager in a province, a position which held no magisterial power until Claudius
Claudius , was Roman Emperor from 41 to 54. A member of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, he was the son of Drusus and Antonia Minor. He was born at Lugdunum in Gaul and was the first Roman Emperor to be born outside Italy...

 gave them his power in the mid 40's AD, enabling them to administer provinces.

The institution of promagistracies developed because the Romans found it inconvenient to continue adding ordinary magistracies to administer their newly-acquired overseas possessions. Therefore, they adopted the practice of appointing an individual to act in place or capacity of (pro) a magistrate (magistratu); a promagistrate was literally a lieutenant. Subsequently, when Pompeius Magnus was given proconsular imperium to fight against Quintus Sertorius
Quintus Sertorius
Quintus Sertorius was a Roman statesman and general, born in Nursia, in Sabine territory. His brilliance as a military commander was shown most clearly in his battles against Rome for control of Hispania...

, the Senate made a point of distinguishing that he was not actually being appointed a promagistrate: he was appointed to act not in place of a consul (pro consule), but on behalf of the consuls (pro consulibus).

The Roman legal concept of imperium meant that an "imperial" magistrate or promagistrate had absolute authority within the competence of his office; a promagistrate with imperium appointed to govern a province, therefore, had absolute authority within his capacity as governor of that province; indeed, the word provincia referred both to the governor's office or jurisdiction and to the territory he governed. A provincial governor had almost totally unlimited authority, and frequently extorted vast amounts of money from the provincial population — he had total immunity from prosecution during his term in office. It became fairly common for provincial governors to seek continual election to office to avoid trial for extortion and bribery, two famous examples being Gaius Verres and Lucius Sergius Catilina
Lucius Sergius Catilina , known in English as Catiline, was a Roman politician of the 1st century BC who is best known for the Catiline conspiracy, an attempt to overthrow the Roman Republic, and in particular the power of the aristocratic Senate.-Family background:Catiline was born in 108 BC to...


The near limitless power of a high-ranking promagistrate has led to the term "proconsul" being used to designate any high-ranking and authoritative official appointed from above (or from without) to govern a territory without regard for local political institutions (i.e., one who is not elected and whose authority supersedes that of local officials). One of the most prominent examples of this is Douglas MacArthur
Douglas MacArthur
General of the Army Douglas MacArthur was an American general and field marshal of the Philippine Army. He was a Chief of Staff of the United States Army during the 1930s and played a prominent role in the Pacific theater during World War II. He received the Medal of Honor for his service in the...

, who was given vast powers to implement reform and recovery efforts in Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

 after World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, and has been described occasionally as "the American proconsul of Japan".

Usage in the Roman Catholic Church

It was formerly the rule that the heads of all Curial
Roman Curia
The Roman Curia is the administrative apparatus of the Holy See and the central governing body of the entire Catholic Church, together with the Pope...

Congregation (Roman Curia)
A congregation is a type of dicastery of the Roman Curia, the central administrative organism of the Catholic Church....

s must be cardinal
Cardinal (Catholicism)
A cardinal is a senior ecclesiastical official, usually an ordained bishop, and ecclesiastical prince of the Catholic Church. They are collectively known as the College of Cardinals, which as a body elects a new pope. The duties of the cardinals include attending the meetings of the College and...

s, and until the later twentieth century they were titled Pro-Prefects until they were raised to that dignity.

On their appointment, Nuncio
Nuncio is an ecclesiastical diplomatic title, derived from the ancient Latin word, Nuntius, meaning "envoy." This article addresses this title as well as derived similar titles, all within the structure of the Roman Catholic Church...

s are also appointed bishop
A bishop is an ordained or consecrated member of the Christian clergy who is generally entrusted with a position of authority and oversight. Within the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox Churches, in the Assyrian Church of the East, in the Independent Catholic Churches, and in the...

s. In the time of Pope Pius XII
Pope Pius XII
The Venerable Pope Pius XII , born Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli , reigned as Pope, head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of Vatican City State, from 2 March 1939 until his death in 1958....

, some priests were appointed Nuncios without being raised to the status of bishop. They were not called "Pro-Nuncios", a title that historically was given to Nuncios from the moment their appointment as cardinals was announced until their departure for Rome, and that was revived for some twenty years (ending in 1991) as a distinct title for Nuncios accredited to those countries that did not follow the tradition of considering the Nuncio as Dean of the Diplomatic Corps from the moment he presented his credentials.
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