A Roman or civil diocese (Latin: dioecēsis, from Greek: διοίκησις, "administration") was an administrative division of the later Roman Empire. The 'vicariate dioceses' were created sometime between 297-313/4: the latter date is the terminus ante quem, it formed part of the regional intermediate tier of governance. A diocese was regional grouping of from 4 to 20 provinces; in turn they were included within a praetorian prefecture headed by praetorian prefects whose number varied between 3 to 4 until fixed at 4 in 395.
The creation of permanent vicars in defined territories 'outsourced' the prefects' authority with on-the-spot representatives of the emperor, the existence of the vicariate diocese marked a major new way of governing the empire, regionally (viewed by some historians as foreshadowing the European nation-state). The vicars were invested with superior not supreme authority: they could not render a final verdict, i.e. their decisions could be appealed. Subordinate to the prefects from their creation, in the early decades they may have had more autonomy (William G. Sinnigen, 'The Vicarius Urbis Romae and the Urban Prefecture,' Historia, vol 8, No. 1 1959 p. 98, "technically independent";"the degree of subordination of these officials to the Praetorian Prefects, at least in some judicial matters is also uncertain" (Kelly op. cit. p. 185). Were they deputies or substitutes? Their discretionary authority was restricted so much that they became very senior managers and executors of policy.
Other regional 'fiscal' districts pre-dated the vicariate dioceses by 10-25 years depending on which date is accepted for the 'vicariates.' The fiscal were headed by comptrollers (rationales) of the Treasury (Sum Res/Summarum, from 318-9 called Sacrae Largitiones) and managers (magistri) of the Crown Estates (Res Privata). the latter were subordinate to comptrollers until the mid-350s but the two ministries remained closely connected since they supplied the emperor(s) with the greater park of reveneue in gold and silver until the early 5th century. The SL rationales supervised the collection of taxes in specie whose distribution they were responsible for (post-330 the governors supervised this under the watch of the rationales and vicars), the two regional officials reported to their superiors lodged with the emperor(s). The 'fiscals' were housed within the 'vicariate' dioceses after these were created (Delmaire, R. Les largesses sacrees et res private, Parte I, 1989, pp. 171-172, 181). Together with the vicars they made up the intermediate tier: the evolution and fates of all three converge in decline from the mid-5th century as the prefects and palace administration supplant them withdirect control over the provincial level(ibid, pp. 703-714; Jones, Later Roman History, pp. 279-283).
Circa 330 the term 'diocese' became exclusive to the vicariate district after Constantine rearranged some competencies, although from the beginning senior in authority to these two officials even when of the same rank until 326, vicars were not in full operational control of the diocese until Constantine gave them appeal jurisdiction over SL and RP fiscal debt cases (the governors already pronounced sentences of confiscated property for assimilation to the RP). Even after the reforms the two fiscal departments remained independent operationally. However, policy was set for them. Anything having to do with revenue was double or tripled cross-checked interdepartmentally to prevent fraud: their agents could not interact with the provincial tax payers, issue tax orders, regulations time tables et cetera without the permission of the emperor and/or prefects (Delmaire, op. cit. p. 64-65, 68).
The 'general consensus' date for the creation of dioceses was the year 297 during the First Tetrarchy of 293–305 (for a list of scholars' choices for the dates, Wiewiorowski, The Judiciary of Diocesan Vicars in the Later Roman Empire, English Edition, 2016, p. 92 note 23). The date was chosen by Mommsen (1817–1903) the great German Classicist, some historians have argued for later dates (collected in. The year 313/4 has been proposed, the source for the 'traditional' date is Lactantius' reference to "vicarii praefectorum" existing together with the regional comptrollers of the Treasury and managers of the Crown Estates (De Mortibus Persecutorum, 7, 4 a work dated to 314/315). It has been argued by those in favor of a post-Tetrarchic date that the "vicarii praefectorum" were in lieu commanders of the Guard for prefects absent from Rome, these appear by the 290s to be ad hoc, extraordinary vice-prefects on special assignments without formal districts and not the permanent vicars of regional districts on the grounds that no district is mentioned with any of them pre-313/14, such as vicar or vice-prefect of Africa. Others have argued the co-existence of the two for the period, the Verona List of vicars and dioceses of June 314 provides the latest date for the creation of the twelve vicariate dioceses. The creation of dioceses was not dependent on the creation of territorial prefectures which happened circa 325 and which evolved differently. If vicars existed before 313 they had military command as id prefects and some governors up to this time.
The ad hoc type of vice-prefect, agens vices praefectorum praetorio, was fazed out by the 320s, they were replaced by counts of provinces, comites provinciarum, whom Constantine created in 316 to carry out various specific tasks or reforms in the provincial and regional administrations especially in the years 324-337 when he was sole emperor (Jacek Wiewiorowski, p. 72). Some 20 are recorded in six of thirteen dioceses (Moesia was divided into Dacia and Macedonia by 327), the consensus now among scholars is that they replaced rather than served alongside diocesan vicars. The last known was a Count of the Spains in 340, the title, comes, for reasons unknown, became standard for the vicar of the Orient. From then on the regular vicars governed dioceses (cf. for an overview, Wiewiorowski, op. cit. English Edition, 2016, pp. 52–74; A. H. M. Jones, LRE pp. 104–105; Clemence, Dupont, Constantin et Les Dioceses,' Studi in Onore de. G. Donatuti, vol. 3, 1973, pp. 309–336).
The vicars' main task was to control and coordinate the activities of provincial governors who were subordinate to them and whose prestige was already diminished by having their numbers doubled from 47 in 284 to 100+, although vicars had contact with the municipalities and other local units of governance this responsibility belonged primarily to the governors. Their responsibilities were added to, adjusted over time or came to be by-passed as the vicars declined.
The vicars' main role in the beginning years was as appeal judges with extraordinary jurisdiction, they also had first instance ordinary jurisdiction (like governors and some other officials in the administrative courts). They were overseers of the regular courts, keepers of the global diocesan budget set by the prefects for the prefecture and the SL and RP, and guarantors of liturgical assignments (determined by the prefects issued by the governors to the liturgists) and quarter-masters general of the armies. the vicars especially in the regions with high concentrations of troops or feeding the two capital cities, were tasked with monitoring, coordinating and regulating the operation of highly complex and cumbersome tax collection and distribution system that ate up 50 to 60% of the overall budget Franks, Byzantinische Zeitschrift, 2016, Band 109, Heft 2, pp. 992 in Review of Wiewiorowski). Perhaps fortunate for them in 3 o 4 dioceses, Gaul (see Trier), Italy (from Milan governing the part north of the Apennines to the Danube), Dacia and Thrace (when the prefect was resident in Constantinople) were regularly governed by prefects (perhaps as suggested focal points flanked by the nearest dioceses in strategic military support clusters).
Their responsibilities were added to, adjusted over time or came to be by-passed as the vicars declined, their greater responsibilities in respect to financial matters was enhanced in the years 325-329; and in 331. Constantine I reiterated his ruling that appeals be directed preferably through "proconsuls, counts and others" (vicars and the urban prefect of Rome) before being sent to the praetorian prefects or to himself (CTh. 11, 130, 16). These policies placed the vicars more firmly in control of the diocesan administration. Afterwards they, the governors and prefects continued to have jurisdiction over soldiers in criminal and civil cases (in 355 trials of defendant soldiers was transferred to the courts martial; and the same in civil suits officially in 413). The removal of jurisdiction in 355 is the only loss of jurisdiction for vicars until the heads of the SL and RP were allowed in 385 to receive appeals of fiscal debt owed their departments, a power they had lost in sometime between 327-329 to the prefects and vicars.
The death of Constantine in 337 brings to a close the period of major administrative changes that began with Diocletian, these innovations fixed the Roman Empire's basic governance structures for two centuries; and were the products of pre-285 structures, innovations and competencies being mixed, remolded and adapted over a period 50 years (A.H.M. Jones, LRE, 1964, p. 207-208 for pace of commutation; pp. 401-410 'Centralisation' and the rise of the prefects; for and overview of administrative developments, The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Constantine, Ed. Noel Lenski, 'Law and Society,' Christopher Kelly, p. 184-204, The Cambridge Ancient History, XIII, The Late Empire A.D. 337-425, 'Emperors, government and bureaucracy,' pp. 138-184, Christopher Kelly; and Peter Heather, 'Senators and senates,' 'Institutional change,' p. 188-189, David S. Potter, The Roman Empire at Bay, 180-395, 1994, pp. 367-372).
The fates of the fifteen vicars varied, the decline has been attributed to incremental administrative centralization by praetorian prefects from the 380s; the gradual take-over of the Treasury and Crown Estates ministries by the same and the palace chamberlains respectively; a reversion to two-tier governance in practice, the general commutation of taxes in the 5th century from kind to gold in the 5th century which made collection and delivery , if not computation, much easier, and abandonment or loss of dioceses to invaders. By 450 the Spains, Africa, and Pannonia were lost to invaders, the diocese of Britain having been abandoned in 410, the two Gallic dioceses were still in some operation south of line from Cologne to Boulogne served by one vicar under the prefect of the Gauls in Arles. The diocese of Italy had had two vicars: the vicar in Milan (of Italy) was discontinued, the vicars in Rome continued to function fully as did those of Oriens and Egypt. Thrace, Dacia, Macedonia, Pontus and Asia were slipping into redundancy, the last, Egypt, was abolished in 539 (for the rise of dioceses 340-410 and first indications of vicariate decline post as exemplified by the situation in Asia, Denis Feissel, 'Vicaires et proconsuls d'asie du iv au v siècle, Antiquite Tardive 6, 1998, pp. 103-104; the rise of the prefecture in the last decades of the 4th century that contributed to the decline of the Treasury and the Crown Estates after a 60-year struggle, Roland Delmaire, Les Largesses sacrees et res private, 1989 vols I & II, pp. 703-714). The consensus is that events in the 5th century had a very negative impact on the intermediate level governance which was effective in the 4th: it is mentioned much less post-440.
The scholarly world has debated the degree to which dioceses were successful, and if so, why and whether their rise and decline was inevitable because of some 'design' flaw such as a lack of sufficient authority to perform what was expected of them ('design flaw' in Wiewiorowski, for the thesis of imperial and highest officials' loss of confidence in the judiciary of the vicars in the very last years of the 4th century with the result that vicariate was a mere embellishment after the first few decades of the 5th, pp. 292-293, 299 for a review of first and appeal authority of vicars., ibid, pp. 91-93; for a different assessment of Constantine's expedited appellate system John Noel Dillon, The Justice of Constantine, Law, Communication and Control, 2012; Franks, op. cit. suggests the increase in the importance of the fiscal role post-325 and the various procedural and regulatory means of control available to vicars over the administration counter-balanced any defects on the judicial side so - vicars were in their 'salad days' into the early decades of the 5th century); inability to control governors and territories too large to manage, Noetlichs, 'Zur Entstehung der Diocese als Mittelinstanz des Spatantiken Verwaltungssystem,' Historia 31: 70-81, 1982); or changed circumstances and challenges in the 5th century for which dioceses had not been created spelled their 'doom' (in regard to the latter care must be taken not to anachronistically prejudge the efficacy of dioceses in the 4th).
The word 'diocese' means 'administration,' 'management,' 'assize district,' 'management district.' It could refer to the collection of taxes and was applied to the territory per se. 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. In the 3rd century A.D. the word was applied to temporary districts carved within a proconsular provinces, governance of which was assigned to officials called correctores on staff (CAH XII, p. 161). From time to time some provinces were governed by extraordinary officials called vicarii from the equestrian order instead of proconsuls, ibid, however these are not to be considered the antecedents of the later vicariate dioceses from either the very late 3rd or early 4th centuries.
The 'fiscal dioceses' of the Treasury were the precursor and model for the vicariate dioceses, the fiscal 'dioceses' were headed by a comptrollers (rationales in Latin) who were subordinates of the chief comptroller to the emperors. The financial district of Egypt, which at the time included Cyrenaica and Crete (detached in 294) is the original for the fiscal diocese, it was headed by the dioiketes (chief financial administrator or officer) who was given a new title, katholikos whose duties were the same. The earliest date for this official with a new name is 286 (CAH XII, Alan K. Bowman, 'Egypt from Septimius Severus to the Death of Constantine, p. 320). There are references to two more early in the 290s (Delmaire, op. cit. p. 181). Even though the record is incomplete for all regions the early period, it is assumed they were empire-wide under Diocletian (Delmaire, pp. 183–185; pp. 171–204 on the regional-level fiscal officials). The comptrollers were assisted by the regional managers (magistri) of the Crown Estates, res privata. Both are attested to in Egypt in 298 (with two procurators in each province to assist), the magistri were junior to the comptrollers until the 350s but remained closely connected (in the West half the revenue of the RP was directed to the SL which was still in charge of both departments into the 5th century).
Diocletian's imperial renewal program included other measures intended to strengthen the empire, he established mints near heavy concentrations of troops. From the early 290s the 47 provinces were divided so that by the end of his reign in 305 there were 100 or just over, the motive was to increase the effectiveness of provincial administration by giving governors smaller territories to govern (staff size 100). They would be given more financial duties added to their judicial and administrative responsibilities, the emperor ended arbitrary army requisitions (plundering) which had become almost the norm during the years of crises, 250-280. He substituted regular annual indictions, separate tax (the Annona militaris for the army), ane revised taxation system which gave the empire a regular budget in the modern sense, he changed the relationship of the imperial government to municipalities in tax matters. During the Principate the government issued demands which the cities allocated as they wished, from his reign the government issued and allocated the demands and tried to police the whole process at every level for each taxable community to hold it to its collective responsibility (Cam Grey, Constructing Communities in the Late Roman Coutryside, 2011 pp. 185, 189, 195-196). He gave army supply and logistics to the civilian administration in order to get a strangle hold on it, it is claimed this caused log jams since supply was placed in the control of reluctant liturgists and contracting services directly with local populations (R. Mitthof, Annona Militaris: Die Heresvorsorgung im spatantiken Aegypten, 2001, pp. 276-287). Even so direct contracting between the army and suppliers was resorted to in cases of emergency; when payment at a source close to the designated recipient of the goods would reduce transport costs and save time instead of seeking the same in kind; and to collect back taxes when these were a small percentage of the original tax demand (indictio). He tried to recreate a stable coinage; rebuild the army (in 285 AD 390,000 + 46,000 in round numbers, according to John Lydus, a 6th-century bureaucrat of the prefecture of the East – estimates vary from 400,000 to 600,000 for the 4th century); began much needed infrastructure repairs after years of neglect; centralized the administration of justice with the governors (who had oversight of lower local courts); began the separation of civil administration from military command from governors (which Constantine completed in 312 at which time prefects were stripped of active command); made liturgies obligatory (free services provided the state and cities by private citizens either monetarily or in labor and supplies); furthered 'professionalization' of the bureaucracy with salaried men of free birth; and instituted an interventionist policy towards local government and by allocating their fiscal obligations rather than allowing the city councils to allocate the tax demands as they saw fit. This caused considerable resentment among the heretofore autonomous city-states the administrative backbone of the empire.
The Imperial Treasury, the Res Summa, from 318 titled the Sacrae Largitiones, raised revenue many types of taxes: inheritance, sales, excise, import, 'voluntary' contributions made on an emperor's accession and 5th anniversary levied on cities and senators, an annual supplemental property tax on senators, a business tax paid in gold on certain classes of business men and women, and a gold levy in lieu a recruit for the army, the Treasury paid cash stipendia to officials and soldiers and the accession donatives of the latter. It produced and collected clothing for the court, military and civil service, it operated the state armories, mints and mines; funded and maintained for imperial palaces and other structures.
The Res Privata supplied income to the emperors from rent and taxes on leased or managed imperial lands, it operated clothing mills and dye works. The greater part of the land was leased to private individuals, this was the res private proper; that part managed directly by imperial officials was the patrimonium. Prior to 366 RP rent and taxes could be paid in kind or in gold and silver; afterwards in specie only. The discontinuation of in kind payments may have come about as part of the huge revenue drive by Valentinian I and Valens occasioned by the extravagances of Julian, the cost of his ruinous Persian War and the massive need for gold and silver to pay two accession donatives of 363 and 364 to 600,000 soldiers, 83,334 pounds each year, a sum equal to 25% of imperial revenue estimated 300,000 pounds of gold per annum (Hugh Elton, Warfare in Roman Europe Ad 350-425, 1996, pp. 118-125).
The SL and RP which were held accountable for the collection of the taxes due their departments which supplied most of the income in gold and silver to the emperors before commutation got under way in earnest in the early 5th century (Jones, op. cit. pp. 445, 460-462). Prior to the 320s their agents were everywhere and omnipotent until Constantine demoted them after his reorganization of the palatine level ministries' competencies in the years 325-326 (Delmaire, op. cit. pp. 197, 204, 245, 704). He restricted their activity to supervision of the collection of taxes collected in gold and silver performed by the governors under the general supervision of the vicars. Even more crippling the counts of the Treasury and rationales lost the last of their provincial field force of procurators between 330-337, although they still had numerous minor agents to look after their affairs in the cities, largitionales civitatum).
The prefects were forbidden from interfering in their normal routine operations unless directed to do so, the prefects, however, possessed a brake on the two fiscal departments in that they could not independently issue instructions or initiate actions of any kind involving provincials without the prior approval of themselves or the emperor (Delmaire, op. cit. p. 68). This prohibition applied even more strictly to the Master(s) of the Offices, Ministers of Internal Security, were forbidden from having anything to do with the SL and RP (A. Giardina, Aspetti della burocrzia nel basso imperio, 1977 pp. 59-60). From the 340s they were 'represented' permanently by their agents who were appointed as heads of the office in the prefectures, dioceses and two of three proconsular provinces; and by field inspectors of the public post who were stationed in diocesan and provincial see cities and other towns such as ports. These several administrative arrangements set up a series of overlapping triangulations by which independent departments of State cold be 'clamped' together by shared duties at discrete junctures.
Until the 360s the RP with its vast local agents and staff was able to collect its own rents and taxes. Perhaps because of the duress in imperial finances in the mid-360s governors were assigned supervision of the collection of RP rents (lands paid rent and regular tax referred to as 'rent'), the result was massive arrears in the 370s and int the early 380s. The government's policy swung back and forth from gubernatorial supervision or not. By the end of the century it lay with the governors in the West and jointly in the East (Jones. op. ci. p. 414). This is important in respect to vicars because they are seen occasionally to be more directly involved in this matter at the behest of prefects who were trying to assume control over the RP (Jones, ibid) as they had been given in respect to fiscal debt matters of the SL by Constantine who gave them appeal jurisdiction, the prefects succeeded in taking over the SL in the mid-fifth century but the RP was more successful in fending them off; however, it fell under the power of the palace senior chamberlain (Delmaire, op. cit. pp. 71-714).
The two fiscal departments were under the direct control of the emperor, they provided the bulk of income in gold and silver to the imperial budget until the early fifth century. The income from the RP was at the emperor's discretion and was used regularly to supplement the regular budget of the prefects, the duties and functions of the two regional officials and the vicars converged and overlapped at some points operationally; and provided mutual checks on each other to "ensure that senior office holders might police the actions of their colleagues." (The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Constantine, Ed. Noel Lenski, 'Law and Society,' Christopher Kelly, p. 191; 184–192 for a general description of administration changes in the years 284–337).
From the reign of Augustus to Diocletian praetorian prefects had evolved from being commanders of the Imperial Guard to becoming vice-regents, "a kind of grand vizier" (Jones, op. cit. p. 371) as they acquired more significant responsibilities. Diocletian did not address the problem of task overload which resulted from this development in particular since he kept the 'canonical' number of prefects at two even during the Tetrarchy, each emperor, the Augusti, had a praetorian prefect. The two Caesars did not. Constantine I broke with precedent by appointing Bassus in 318 as the third prefect for his son Cripus who had been put in charge of Britain and Gaul in 317, the number increased to four in 331, if not earlier. A fifth for Africa existed in the years 335-337, after the emperor's death in 337 the number reverted to three, one for each of his three son successors. Numbers varied from three to four until four as the 'canonical' number was fixed in 395 for Gaul, Italy, Illyricum and the East: These four existed from 342/43 to 361, from 375-379 and from 388-391, the significance of this is that during the 4th century the dioceses were the principle component of the administration before prefectural centralization rose to prominence from the late 380s (Errington, op. cit. 292-265).
Constantine was not able to reform the prefects' competencies in major ways until he became sole emperor with the defeat of Licinius the end of 324; in 325 divided the Treasury previously under the count of the SL into three one each for the SL, the RP and the prefects (dating Delmaire, op. cit. p. 703). The accounts, however, prior to 325 were kept separate), this was replicated at the diocesan level corresponding to an upgrade in the financial functions of the vicars. He realigned some competencies. Prefects were given sole control over the regular land tax due the prefecture after Constantine removed the Treasury from any participation: the collection of SL taxes was assigned to the governors oversight of whom in this matter was shared between the vicars and comptrollers (Delmaire, op. cit. p. 163, 199, 204-205, 243-24).
The prefects supplied the army with payments in kind, weapons and other needed items, they funded the operation and repair of the public post, the construction and repair of roads, harbors and state granaries; the operation and supply of State armories, and the supply of State mills (operated by the SL and RP). The emperor transferred maintenance and operation of the State Post from the SL to the prefects (the cursus publicus was a privately operated empire-wide transport system of ways stations, rest stops and draught animals funded and maintained by obligations laid on private persons which could be used by government agents and departments - and private citizens with influence- the inspection and use of which, however, was from the early 340s placed under the Masters of the Offices.
The prefects (also vicars, governors and urban prefect(s) and proconsuls) had jurisdiction in civil and criminal suits; tax debt cases of the prefecture (from 328-29 appeals of SL and RP debt were transferred to the courts of the prefecture exclusively until 385); and over soldiers in criminal and civil suits - criminal cases of soldier defendants were transferred to the courts martial in 355 and civil in 413 (Jones, op. cit. pp. 487-489). The prefects vicars and governors appear not to have had disciplinary control over the master(s) of the offices provincial state post inspectors. Constantius II in 359 threatened to place them under the prefects if not controlled (Jones, p. 389). In 317 Constantine transferred jurisdiction over senators accused of criminal offense to the courts of the governors from the urban prefect of Rome; in 364 civil cases in which senators were plaintiffs were also transferred to governors. In 376 a final reassignment was made: criminal cases of senators resident within 100 mile distance from Rome were transferred back to the urban prefect and a panel of five senators; and civil suits to the urban prefect also in the suburbicarian portion of the Diocese of Italy which included the large islands with option that cases could be sent to the praetorian prefect in Milan (Jones, op. cit. pp. 490-491). In all other regions the prefecture controlled cases against or brought by senators, the legislation of 376 marks the last major upgrade to affect the vicars' role judicially.
After the completion of major reforms in the years 325-329 the prefects remained as chief finance officers, chief justices, quarter-master generals of the army, and heads of government by reason of being vice-regents: in their own spheres the vicars mirrored this rearrangement as deputies or substitute prefects, the prefects lost any control they had had over the Treasury, Crown Estates, the imperial secretariats, the state security apparatus, the palace administration, the imperial guard. They remained in overall charge of the budgets (composed by region ("the prefect was responsible for the tax demands within his prefecture, all orders for payment issued form him, but the product of the collection went to different treasuries," Delmaire, op. cit. p. 243). They had been stripped earlier in 312 of active military command. Vicars did not have military command (if created post-312), however they led minor military campaigns against Isaurian brigands in Isauria on the mid-350s, Asia in 363 (when the vicar was slain in an ambush) and led an army operating against the Sueves in northwest Spain in 418 at the same time the Visigoths were decimating the Vandals and Alans. The count of the Orient at the end of the 4th century commanded the fleet in Seleucia. the port for Antioch.
The exact nature and purpose of the early prefectures of Constantine has been much discussed, the 'general consensus' seems to be that they may not have been 'territorial' as claimed by the 5th century historian Zosimus as clearly seen as such in the late 4th century Notitia Dignitatum which gives a detailed listing of the administrative organization of the empire with some missing pieces (Kelly, op. cit. p. 186). They may not have been 'fully administrative' either, the early prefectures may reflect more Constantine's dynastic hopes than administrative interests, an aspect which appears in the 340s under Constans and Constantius I; and more evidently so from the 360s (Joachim Migl, Die Ordnung der Amter, Pratorianer und Vikariat in der Regionsverwaltung des Romishcen Reiches von Konstantin bis zur Valentiischen Dynastie, 1994; for the view that they correspond to Constantine's dynastic ambitions, Timothy Barnes, Constantine, Dynasty, Religion and Power in the Later Roman Empire, 2011, for the thesis the prefectures reflect emperors' dynastic concerns less than administration and administrative growth in the 340s, pp. 292-298; Malcom Errington, Roman Imperial Policy from Julian to Theodosius, 2006, pp. 261-262 dates the rise of prefectures post-364 stating "the Constantinan Dynasty, favored, on the one hand, a regionally-based centralism, and on the other, the gradual separation of the regions," pp. 262-263; P. Porena, Le origini della prefettura del pretorio tardoantica, 2003, believes the prefectures came into full territorial and administrative effect between 325-330), the slow evolution of the prefectures which appears to be the result of further gradual centralization from the 360s worked in favor of the dioceses as the primary governance districts until the end of the 4th and possibly the early 5th.
Various motives have been suggested for the creation of vicars in dioceses: to assist in Diocletian's division of provinces and to facilitate the introduction of the new tax assessment and collection system in the 'general consensus' year 297; secure control of regions by placing officials with "supreme power" in each of them for 313/14, (Zuckermann, op. cit. pp. 627, 636); to counteract the centrifugal tendencies resulting from doubling the number of provinces (D. Bowder, The Age of Constantine, 1978, p. 37); so thatg the prefects could delegate much of the detailed work (financial) to the 12 vicars with their attached financial departments (Stephen Williams, Diocletian and the Roman Recovery, 1982, p. 110); or supervise governors so they would have more time to supervise the cities (Pat Southern, The Roman Empire from Severus to Constantine, 2001 p. 164-165). Underlying all of these is control; "control was the order of the day," (Southern, op. cit. 165). Fiscal stability may have been at the top of list of concerns: the Empire could not be administered or defended without sufficient revenue in the budget (the value of liturgical contributions not included) which went to the army by some estimates from a low of 40% to a high of 70% (Richard Duncan-Jones, Money and Government in the Roman Empire, 1994 pp. 33-46; Kenneth W. Harl, Coinage in the Roman Economy, 1996, pp. 212-228; Garnsey, Peter & Whittiker, C.R., CAH XIII, p. 316, "The whole bureaucratic machinery seems to have been intended to maximize efficiencies to ensure that the revenues from private and state land were collected and channel in accordance with government policies; The impression given in the legal codes is that the interests of the state were primarily fiscal," ibid). Conditions had changed: the empire could not be governed from the city of Rome post-284:the center was wherever the emperor(s) was residing for however a short or long period of time usually somewhere along the northern and eastern borders.
The dioceses initially numbered twelve for 100+ provinces (120 in the Notitia), 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 stationed in Milan for northern Italy and the Alpine regions south of the Danube as far as Vienna (Vindabona) and the Istria peninsula (when the prefect moved to the diocese of Pannonia, the vicar went to Milan: which neatly illustrates the relationship and reason for vicars, Jones, op. cit. p. 373). 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) to be a diocese for reasons of establish more direct fiscal accountability with the capital and secure the food supply of Constantinople with a rapidly growing population. The large size of the dioceses preclude the idea that these could have directly administered rather than control the overall administration of regions(" diocese were less geographical administrative entities than administrative conglomerates which a new authority should supervise governors and coordinate over all regional activities," (B. Palme, 'Die Officia der Statthalter in der spatantike,' Antiquite Tardive 7, 1999, pp. 97-98; "...grouped them into large circumscriptions,: Jones, p. 373) with their small staffs. For the most part administration, judicial matters, and tax collection were left to the governors and a vast number of minor and mid-rank officials at the local level in the 2,000 city states with their surrounding territories, the largest diocese by number of provinces, not area, was the Diocese of the East, which included 20 provinces when Egypt was part of it, 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, ibid; Kelly, Ruling the Later Roman Empire, 2004, on "the organizing principles of irregularity," pp. 208-209 i.e. overlapping; David. S Potter, The Empire at Bay, 180-395, pp.367–377; Cambridge Ancient History, volume XII, pp.170–183). the typical staff complement was 300, and 600 in Oriens. The range of diocesan activity reflects the narrow concerns and capacity of the ancient state - absent are the large scale social programs of the modern Western industrial states - it was directed towards matters of justice, revenue collection and all other business of government (Kelly op. cit. p. 145;'The impression conveyed in the legal codes is that the interests of the state were primarily fiscal"..."In general, the concerns of the government were narrow," Peter Garnsey and C.R. Whittaker, CAH XIII, p. 316). Above all defense of the empire was the primary concern, and fiscal the means to provide it.
The statutory complement of the diocesan office was 300 (600 in Oriens) dived into the senior judicial branch and the financial branches, the head of the office and the senior heads of staff, the senior assistants and other permanent career staff would have provided the expertise, continuity, stability and institutional memory for the proper conduct of business. These were very small offices in numbers to conduct administrative oversight of large regions with from 2-12 million inhabitants: the primary duty was oversight and regulation of the imperial administrative apparatus and the collection and analysis of data pertinent to this endeavor for use within the diocese or for the highest echelon.
The diocesan staffs did much of the detailed preparation work for the prefecture in financial matters for the prefecture (Stephen Williams, Diocletian and the Roman Recovery, 1985, p.110) just as it was expected to do in judicial matters. They were involved with tax delinquencies all sorts; tax evasion, fraud, financial reports; illegal transfer of exemption from liturgical obligations and supplemental tax demands to private property by claiming these were leased Crown estates which had exempt status; tax remissions, revisions, reassessments, and reallocations; the auditing of provincial tax returns; and reviewing the integrity of army roster and requisition returns (initially done by the governors and army accountants (Franks op. cit. p. 991). The vicariani, diocesan staff, were supposed to act as collectors of arrears (compulsories) only, they were forbidden participation in tax collection which was a local responsibility (there were repetitive imperial denunciations of imperial staff from the prefecture and the SL interjecting themselves in tax collection and practicing extortion, Jones, op. cit. pp. 459-60). The African diocesan office keep copies of the RP tax returns and delinquencies (CTh. 11, 28 13, 422) and was responsible for forwarding copies of these to headquarters in Ravenna. Most financial matters would not have required no litigation: executive orders, investigations and administrative decision would have sufficed since one of the primary duties of vicars was to enforce imperial orders, regulations and procedures. General tax remissions were rare from the 360s to the early 5th century due to imperial financial duress - there is evidence though spotty that some dioceses were more directly engaged in collecting current and back taxes owed the prefectures and directly supervising governors than monitoring, auditing and investigating these matters - in Codex Theodosianus, Egypt, 1, 14, 1 395, Africa, 15, 14 (395) and 17 (400), the Seven Provinces of southern Gaul 15, 15 (400); and of the RP in the diocese of the Orient 1, 13, 1 (394).
Although there is no way to know the ratio of judicial to fiscal business which probably varied from region to region the more than 250 or so references in the Codex Theodosianus and Novels 313 to 472 A.D. to vicars and their staffs (many often couched in documents addressed to other officials) between years 313-472 suggest a plurality on judicial issues (Wiewiorowski analyzes the judicial in detail pp. 109-235 and lists 70 laws deal with "more or less important criminal and civil cases, lawsuits related to tax obligations, or issues concerning religion"..."criminal law 9, family law and affairs 9, protection of property 6, and inheritance 5," op. cit. pp. 206-214, 294-95 4 laws he examines deal with tax matters; Franks identifies 47 "on a broad spectrum of fiscal matters" of which 32 suggest major vicariate roles in a wide-range of budgetary and fiscal policy oversight, liturgies, tax collection supervision (8), and 2 in direct intervention (replacement of governors' supervision), op. cit. p. 1991; the remainder deal with imperial staff, guilds, municipalities, building construction and repairs and a miscellany of other government concerns). The increased number of entries referring to vicariate involvement in financial matters dates from the 360s on though the greater oversight role dates from the 320s and may be attributed to duress in imperial finances - selection of laws by the compilers is lopsided, "bountiful but deceptive, because of the illusion of comprehensiveness it projects" (Lenski, op. cit. p. 267).
The location of the diocesan, SL and RP offices together in almost all diocesan see cities (except in Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily and one of the Pannonian provinces) facilitated the vicars task of monitoring the operation and health of the regional administration as "ringmaster, but not sole arbiter" (Franks, p. 991). Nonetheless they had to navigate the thicket of overlapping authority and bundled tasks that hampered the civil service but monopolized power in the hands of the emperors (Kelly, op. cit. pp. 225-231) and interdepartmental rivaries and jealousies, Jones, p. 601-602).
The vicars are variously characterized as 'mini-prefects' (M.F. Hendy, Economy and State in Late Rome and Early Byzantium, 1989, pp. 373-379); as deputies who "...seem to have deputized for the praetorian prefects in all their manifold functions," Jones op. cit. p. 47) and "duplicated" the work of prefects (Wieworowski, op. cit. p. 301). Since they spoke in place of or for the emperors can they be regarded as 'mini-vice-regents?' To complicate matters it unclear "the degree of subordination of these officials to the Praetorian Prefects, at least in some judicial matters is also uncertain" (Kelly op. cit. p. 185; vicars' verdicts could not be arbitrarily overturned by prefects they had to be appealed appeal). To state that vicars duplicated the prefect's competencies is not quite correct since the vicars did not carry out the same set of judicial and financial duties since they labored under tighter restrictions on their discretionary powers and possessed superior, not supreme authority. Most importantly they were not policy-makers or originators of law.
Vicars were not part of the imperial bureaucracy which was termed 'militia inermis' - 'unarmed military service' (those who were enrolled as stipendiaries in a fictional legion, Adiutrix I), their post was a dignitas, an honor, bestowed on private citizens. Analysis of 330+ entries in the Prosopography of the Roman Empire (those with sufficient information) reveals that most vicars had had several years experience - non necessarily sequential without breaks - in a variety of junior posts as legal counsels (assessores), sometimes experience on the financial side which was less favored than the judicial/administrative, and one or more governorships, the 'careers' of most ended with the vicariate - a significant minority, however, went on to serve in the highest palatine offices whether as proconsuls, urban or as praetorian prefects, counts of the two fiscal ministries or as master of he offices (the holders of these latter three offices typically served two or more years limiting the number of candidates for these posts).
The vicars in the beginning were the same rank as their regional counterparts of the SL and RP, the equestrian grade of perfectissimus, and most governors; in 326 vicars were made senator with the rank of clarissimus at the time that they were being moved more decidedly into the driver's seat as diocesan heads. In 372 they were elevated a step higher to spectabilis where they remained when Valentinian I sorted out all higher officials into three classes within which there rankings by precedence, from the 306s the regional SL and RP comptrollers (and palace officials) were being elevated to senatorial status as grade-inflation picked up speed. Further elevation of senators is a sign that their influence had peaked as central headquarter officials surpassed began to surpass them in rank at the end of the 4th and in the early 5th centuries as centralization picked speed. Nonetheless the vicars remained the senior ranking civilian officials with highest authority in the dioceses until their demise.
Vicars were handicapped by having been 'dropped' into a pre-existing web of a somewhat porous "administrative system that was not rationally planned and lacked and clearly-defined hierarchy of offices" (Jones, op. cit. 377; cf. Kelly Ruling the Later Roman Empire, pp. 186-231, "...blurred spectrum of responsibilities;" "...waste of time caused by duplication, cross-checking, the transfer of personnel, the short tenure of posts, the uncertainties of appointment and advancement, and the arbitrary division of tasks..." p. 229; T. F. Carney, Bureaucracy in Traditional Society: Roman-Byzantine Bureaucracies viewed from Within, 1971). Constantine tried to disentangle the web of overlapping and unclear lines of authority by making departmental competencies more defined in the years 325-331 but the system was never more than partially rationalized and remained a patchwork (Jones, op. cit. p. 377). Constantine's re-alignments placed the vicars more clearly at the apex of the diocesan administration.
Vicars wielded superior authority, however it was not a blanket carte blanche authority. The ability to exercise it depended on the restrictions placed on it and to whom it was applied. Uncertainties in law and procedure complicated matters. Numerous restrictions on their discretionary authority handicapped the vicars but it was intentional - supreme power to make final decisions was not going to be extended to distant officials, and it was carefully rationed.To have been given supreme authority would have given distant officials too much power, would have put a chokehold on much-needed information from reaching the emperor and senior ministers inviting loss of central control, in particular in regions - Britain, Gaul, Africa, Egypt and Oriens - where there had been breakaway regimes and serious rebellions between the years 260-274 and again in 286-296 (Britain) and Egypt 297-298. Theirs was to execute, not to act independently except in some emergency situations such as civil disturbances or where the law clearly allowed them to respond on their own by taking the initiative.
The vicars' discretionary powers to relax regulations, orders, procedures or make changes in fiscal matters decided from on high were very much restricted. Vicars could not change or order a census, issue annual tax demands, set or change tax rates and assessments, reallocate taxes, modify the imperial budget, issue orders for supplemental tax demands, grant tax remission and rebates or change orders for liturgical obligations without imperial approval except in emergencies and even then these were usually denied (Jones op. cit. p. 404). Lack of sufficient discretionary authority and slow communications hampered effective responses to emergencies and leave officials confused as to what they could do; in part this policy existed to protect the provincials from rapaciousness: for example no supplemental tax demands could be levied by governors and other departmental officials. These had to be transmitted by governors and vicars to prefects, 11, 16, 7, (356). Prefects labored under the same restrictions, they were allowed to grant tax remissions and issue tax supplemental demands contingent upon final imperial approval at the end of the 4th century. The difference is they had the ear of the emperor. Given the limitations vicars were able to exercise a high degree of control over the diocesan administration by executive orders or administrative decisions (Franks p. 991) and by insisting that procedures, orders, instruction, methods and regulations be followed stemming from their disciplinary power. They could even fine governors and their staffs for lax performance.
The vicars' main tasks were to control and coordinate the activities of provincial governors - and back them up if need be when threatened by local grandees who might outrank them - and secure the revenue, their ability to do so was complicated by the fact that though subordinate governors could communicate directly with the prefects and emperor(s) who in turn preferred the routine business be collected and processed in the diocesan see cities; and that official reports, queries and legal cases be vetted by diocesan staff (policy also in regard to the SL and RP). The potential for chaos was rife if the hierarchy was not strictly observed, (Pat Southern, The Roman Empire from Severus to Constantine, 2001, 165) , their control over governors was direct but not absolute (they could not appoint or dismiss them, but could investigate them and fine them); they had a very limited but focused power over the SL and RP sufficient to monitor them. From 327-329 to 385 vicars had appeal jurisdiction in fiscal debt cases of the SL and RP (CTh. 11, 30, 28, Franks, op. cit. p. 990). Vicars also exercised jurisdiction over the staffs of the two fiscal ministries in civil and criminal cases, and over tenants of the RP in major criminal cases until in 385 (the same year they lost control over SL staff in civil suits). Vicars were the civilian quartermaster-generals of the army, they had an important role in war preparation and the supply of troops in transit across provincial and diocesan lines. The vicars of Africa and Oriens (later Egypt after it was detached and made a diocese) had special oversight duties regard to the supply of foodstuffs to Rome and Constantinople, though the prefects of Annona had direct responsibility (the vicar of the suburbicarian region and islands of the diocese of Italy was responsible for the 5-month winter months pork supply to the poor; grain, oil and wine imports for the Civil Annona belonged to the urban prefect and the prefect of the Annona subordinate to him from 331 (order given by UP but carried out by the PA's staff without interference from the UP's staff, Geoffrey Rickman, The Corn Supply of Ancient Rome, 980, pp. 199-201). They had some oversight responsibilities in regard to the maintenance of the State Post, though the first instance duty belonged to the governors as is the case in so many other administrative activities: vicars were supposed to 'hold the reigns' not doing or interfering in others' work at the lower levels.
The vicars were mainly appeal judges with extraordinary jurisdiction, they also had ordinary jurisdiction which they were expected to use judiciously. Most appeal cases went to the vicars' courts, emperor's intention during the 4th century and well into the fifth century (Jones p. 481-83). In 331 Constantine confirmed the routing of appeals (CTh. 11, 30, 16). The emperor confirmed he would receive appeals from the intermediate judges. Only the four prefects besides himself were given authority to render a final verdict on his behalf "vice sacra.' The routing of appeals was not on a strict vertical ladder. It was forked as a Y. An appeal went from governor to vicar or to urban prefect to emperor or from governor to prefect should a vicar refuse the case whoever was nearest and had jurisdiction (CTh. 1, 16, 6 and 7, 331). A case from a governor of Britain would go to the vicar, and if denied, would go to the prefect in Trier (to whom appeals were sent from the diocese of Gaul which e governed directly), the ruling remained, at least on the books, the standard procedure for two centuries (Jones, op. cit. 485-486). It was modified for first time in 365 when appeals of a prefect's verdict was allowed to the emperor (which rather nullified a purpose of Constantine's ruling which was to prevent so many cases coming to him), the law of 331 "...established a three-tier system for those who wished to appeal the sentences of judges vice sacra with the exception of the praetorian prefects" (who spoke for the emperor in his place)..."...whether to appeal directly to the emperor on the basis of his and his judge's statements and the records of the case, or proceed personally to the nearest highest instance" (John Noel Dillon, The Justice of Constantine, 2012 p. 248-258; Wiewiorowski op. cit. for a detailed analysis of the laws and other documents on the judicial role of vicars passim and p. 293 for his thesis that the vicars' poorly defined judicial authority was fatal to their success). Vicars were expected to use their authority settles cases if possible and to prevent lesser and trivial suits from reaching the emperor and prefects who "were occupied with administrative and financial work and the consistory had little time for judicial work" (Jones, op. cit. 496). They also had first instance authority which allowed them to intervene in the lower courts to correct irregularities, take a case of great value, or of an important person, and to prevent intimidation of a powerful person of a governor (CTh. 1, 15, 1, 325). First instance was to be used sparingly and for cause as the emperors and prefects wanted the provincial courts to close cases as much as possible. Litigants, however, to get a more definitive verdicts more immediately and to lessen the expense of the appeal process or a more favorable judge, tried to have vicars take their cases from the provincial courts per saltim thereby circumventing the regular appeal process, "to bypass the rules" (Jones, op. cit. pp. 293). It seems that governors pressed as they were by administrative duties in particular with "raising the revenue" were only too happy to pass a case to a vicar and "scamped their judicial duties" (Jones, pp. 495-496). The vicars could deny an appeal but only at peril to themselves. If they did the litigants could go to the prefect directly, and if they won their case vicars could be fined for 'passing the buck,' 11, 30, 16. Judges 'passed the buck,' claiming they could not hear a case because of illness or the press of public business (Jones, p. 1211, note 59). The sending of cases to the top level 'for advice' appears to have been quite a common practice. the lower position than prefects, Wiewiorowksi, The Judiciary of Diocesan Vicars in the Later Roman Empire, 2016 p. 41; for an argument that the competencies were not sorted out until the mid-4th century, Joachim Migl Die Ordnung der Amter, Pratorianer und Vikariat in Der Regionalverwaltung des Romischen Reiches von Konstantin bis zur Valentinischen Dynastie, 1994, pp. 64-65, 67; Seston, Diocletian et la tetrarchie, 1946, pp. 339; on the uncertainty of the vicars' degree of subordination in judicial matters to prefects, Christopher Kelly, The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Constantine, Ed. Noel Lenski, 'Law and Society,' Christopher Kelly, p. 185).
The vicars' financial role post-325/330 were became more important especially as keepers of the global diocesan budget which was more clearly their responsibility after the SL's remit was narrowed. Composition of it was diocesan-based ("The dioceses were the great fiscal districts of the Empire, they also hosted the financial officials of the fiscus and of the res privata the rationales summmarum and the magistri (later called rationales) rei privatae,' CAH XII, p. 181, quoting Delmaire, p. 181, 'The Emperor and his new Administration,' Elio LoCascio). Until the 320s the rationnales had been involved in most aspects of tax collection, they were ubiquitous and involved in almost every aspect of finance prior to the 320s (Delmaire pp. 197, 204, 245, 704). They had shared the financial role with the vicars though without appeal authority, these had gone to their superiors the counts of the SL with the emperor. Sometime between 327 and 329 Constantine re-directed appeals SL fiscal debt appeal cases from the SL to the courts of the prefecture (CTh. 11, 30, 28 of 359 refers to an earlier lost law; 14 of 327 and 18 of 329). This effectively placed the comptrollers in 'junior position' to the vicars, he also abolished the remaining provincial SL procurators of the comptrollers which left the SL without a field force to supervise collection its own taxes (Delmaire, op. cit. pp. 208-209, 213). Their duties largely devolved upon the governors who already had responsibility for the prefects' tax revenues, the comptrollers remained responsible for oversight of the collections performed by agents of the prefecture, but delivery remained to their depots or to the palace mints remained theirs (for which they had their own transport service and special guards); and they had first instance fiscal debt jurisdiction but they were dependent on the vicars' office (Delmaire, pp. 203-204). In one case, diocese of Africa, the diocese managed the SL accounts (CTh. 1, 15, 7 378), a clear case of encroachment. One year later the first reference appears of 'diocese' to denote a region governed by a vicar, reserved thereafter exclusively vicariate dioceses(Delmaire p, 171; Wiewieorowski, op. cit. p. 55, note 71 quoting CTh. 2, 26, 1 of 330)).
The financial branch of the prefecture whose structure is known, Orient, was organized by diocese subdivided by province. Financial correspondence was handled by the curae epistularum for each diocese with their corresponding official in the diocese (the usurpation of this function by the tractatores, accountants of the provincial branches in the East, late in the 5th century is indicative of diocesan decline), the vicars were monitors, coordinators and regulators of a highly complex and cumbersome tax collection and distribution system (Franks, op. cit. p. 992); and guarantors of liturgical assignments (composed and issued by governors according to instructions from the prefecture, CTH, 11, 14, 4, 328). They were among the set of officials - prefects, proconsuls, urban prefects - wo presided over appeals of tax debts owed the prefecture, and the SL and RP, their financial duties increased post 325 and for the rest of the 4th century ("vicars and governors were ultimately responsible for the good functioning of the tax machine," Gilles Bransbourg, 'Fiscalite imperial et finances municipals au iv siècle,' Antiquite Tardive 6, 2008, pp. 255-296; Gaudemet p. 197-205 suggested the fiscal were the "main object of activities of diocesan vicars," 'Les constitutions au vicaire Dracontius,' Melanges d'histoire ancienne offerts a W. Seston from Wiewioroski, op. cit. p 174). They were 'fiscal cops' not only over the prefecture but of the two fiscal offices (Franks, op. cit. p. 991). Important examples of their duties can be seen in Constantine's instructions to the proconsul of Africa in 319 (CTh. 1 12. 2) - vicars and proconsuls were virtually identical in authority and at times a proconsul substituted for or governed dioceses (Africa and Asia); and the order of emperor Valentinian in 366 (CTh. 11, 1,13) that the vicar of Africa head a commission of inquiry concerning back taxes on lands owned by absent landowners resident in Rome, an investigation that involved local and imperial officials and the appearance of senior accountants from Rome in Africa). Until the 320s the regional heads of the SL were involved in most aspects of tax collection.
An important example of the vicar's pre-327-329 investigative financial role can be seen in a law which is actually addressed to the proconsul of Africa in 319 (CTh. 1 12. 2) before appeal jurisdiction was given over the SL and RP. The instructions might as well have applied to the vicar of Africa since the offices were interchangeable functionally and there are known cases were proconsuls substituted for an ill or absent vicar in Africa in the 4th century and in Asia in the 5th, he ordered the proconsul to investigate the fiscal reports of governors, the SL, RP and the prefect of the Annona. In 366 Valentinian I (CTh. 11, 1,13) ordered the vicar of Africa to head a commission of inquiry concerning back taxes on lands owned by absent landowners resident in Rome, an investigation that involved local and imperial officials and the appearance of senior accountants from Rome in Africa). Perhaps in response to pressing fiscal needs, the desire to expedite settlement of fiscal debt cases and the fact that gubernatorial collection of RP taxes in the 370s and early 380s was disaster that resulted in massive arrears Jones, LRE p. 414, in 385 the palatine counts of the SL and RP at Court were once again allowed to take appeals of fiscal debt directly from the rationales and procurators (of the RP) of their respective departments: the restoration is possibly the first major change in the role the vicars who nonetheless could receive appeals as before. Until then the trajectory of their importance and additional responsibilities had been upwards.
Possibly in the early 340s the monitoring of the diocesan administration was strengthened by the appointment of senior agentes in rebus, State Investigators (the 'agents of affairs'), as heads of the diocesan office, principes, they also staffed the prefectures and two of three proconsular provinces. The corps of agentes were under the direct command of the master(s) of the offices, a kind of minister of the interior for state security, communications and foreign affairs (whom the mid-4th century orator Libanius describes as "the emperor's eyes" in a speech from the year 362), the post had originally been fairly minor - a tribune commander of the imperial guard and head of minor palace offices who was made head of the imperial secretariats, the scrinia (to distinguish them from the officia of all other departments of State) very early in the reign and to whom was given the title master: his post would become the second most powerful after the prefect. Each emperor had his own master of the offices who watchdogged rest of the administrative apparatus (Andrea Giardina, op. cit. pp. 58-64). The agents number 1,270 in the East at one point, the masters were inspectors-general of the public post and had agents stationed on assignment with the provincial governors to monitor use of the service (a role very possibly given to them at the time when the decision was made to appoint the diocesan heads). The main task of the outsider diocesan heads was to scrutinize and business coming in and going of the officium. Nothing could be sent out with their approval (CTh. 6, 27, 4 (387). In 399 it was decreed that no court order for the execution of urgent matters could be fulfilled without the annotation of the princeps (6, 27, 6 399), these 'plants' from the master of the offices were not members of the diocesan staff. They had the privilege of bringing their own assistants with them during the one year term of service, they wrote confidential reports to their bosses which the prefects did not see (A. Piganiol, L'Empire chretien (325-395), 1947, p. 321) and to insure that a independent source of information flowed from the diocese to the master of the offices and the palace based on the principle of control and counter-control - double reporting - B. Palme, 'Die Officia der Statthalter in der spatantike,' Antiquite Tardive 7, 1999, pp. 108). At the end of their one year of service they returned to the palace before retirement, they could be a great help to vicars who were not professional bureaucrats as they had already had twenty years or more service in different parts of the empire and gained experience having been seconded to different parts of the administration (W. G. Sinnigen, Three Administrative Changes attributed to Constantius II, AJP, 83, 1962, pp.369–383; Roberto, Morosi, "Il princeps officii e la schola agentum in rebus,' Humanitas, 1979/80, pp. 748-779. Constantine's reforms begin a century-long off-and-on struggle between the heads of the SL and RP and the prefects who wanted to assert more control over the former, a battle won for the most part by the latter after 430, 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).
The conversion of most of the prefectures' taxes from in kind collection to payment gold (commutation, adaeratio) began very slowly under Constantine I and his successors, it picked up speed with the conversion of RP rents to gold in 366 and within the prefecture towards the end of the century. It would be a major factor in the decline of the dioceses, 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). 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 from the mid-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 reallocated to the prefecture by the governors and the prefects' agents.
The chronology of diocesan rise and decline was very slow and cam be tracked: upward trajectory until the early fifth century followed by a plateau and then decline post 440 (Wiewiorowski, op. cit. pp. 288-301; Franks op. cit. passim; Sinnigen, op. cit.; Jones op. cit. 280-283 for the post-450 decline but who offers only a few general remarks about vicars). Constantine and his sons' administrative policy was diocesan-centered ("... regionally-based centralism," R. Malcolm, Errington, Roman Imperial Policy from Julian to Theodosius, pp. 261-262). This policy was slowly abandoned post-363 in favor of greater central control as the empire dealt with serious financial challenges and invasions along the Rhine and Danube from the mid-360s, the vicars, however, continued to play a very important role in governing the empire since they were enlisted in the efforts to defend the empire by bringing in more revenue and keep the machinery of government going. In this respect to this 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. Belief in the value of dioceses persisted even in crises or because of them, 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 (Wiewiorowski, op. cit. p. 74). The diocese of the Spains may have even been re-established around 418 after the Visigoth's decimation of the tribal invaders (M. Kulikowski, 'The Career of the 'comes Hispaniarum' Asterius, Phoenix 53, pp. 123-141); and may have exercised control over the peninsula except the far northwest (occupied by the Sueves) until 438 after the Vandals' departure for Africa in 429 (S. Barnwell, Emperor, Prefects & Kings, The Roman West 395-565, 1992 p. 69). If so it would provide evidence for the authorities' continuing positive attitude to having a presence with superior authority in the regions (Franks, op. cit. p. 992). The dioceses from 450 slipped into steeper decline and redundancy, as did their regional counterparts of the SL and RP, as a result of a reversion to direct prefectural-provincial rule and the commutation of taxes, the diocesan courts were bypassed more and more; their financial responsibilities atrophied (Jones op. cit. pp. 280-283). There is not much evidence for the Italian vicars post-450, the post seems to have been discontinued. The vicar in Rome continued to perform important functions for the city, southern Italy and the Islands on behalf of the prefect in Ravenna during the post-imperial period under Odoacer, 476-493, and the Ostrogothic Kingdom 493-536. Theodosius, vice-regent of Italy for the emperors in Constantinople even restored a praetorian prefect for the rump prefecture of Gaul and provided him a vicar, Gemellus, who undertook two commissions involving taxation, one concerning the army and two on judicial cases (P. S. Barnwell, pp. 163-164, p. 223 notes. 62-66. The vicars of Oriens, Egypt and Rome which continued to function at a higher level because of the important duties given them: the remaining two Balkan dioceses of Dacia and Macedonia and the Anatolian dioceses of Pontus and Asia slipped into a state of morbidity (Wiewiorowski, pp. 299-301). The dominance and proximity of Constantinople, the seat of the emperor, prefect and urban prefect and changes in taxation collection methods, judicial procedures, and governance made the Balkan and Asian dioceses redundant (Jones op. cit. pp. 280-292; Wiewiorowski, op. cit. pp. 299–301; Delmaire, op. cit, pp. 703-714; Franks, p. 992).
Regarding dioceses as functionally 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. 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 new-stule 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 Roman Empire from 637 A.D. had no need for it - direct central control through provinces and the development of the military Theme system 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; in general, 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 as assessment which stresses the importance of the diocesan fiscal responsibilities, Franks, op. cit. pp. 989-992 and Wiewiorowski, op. cit. pp. 17, 39, 55, 83, 89, 174-175 no 2 whose study mentions, p. 55, but does not include an examination of the relationship between vicars, the SL and RP).
The diocesan see cities for over 125 years had been centers of regional administrative control and oversight, they were major players in governance: they were hubs and foci where major components of the top echelon replicated at the intermediate level came together regionally. They were major destination points for the processing and transmission of information to the palatine level from governors, the regional and provincial agents of the Treasury and Crown Estates, and municipalities: given the slowness of communications having masses of information prepared beforehand saved time, they were the 'base-camp' for 500-1000 staff of the vicar, comptrollers, managers of the RP (from the 350s comptrollers), a governor, agents of the masters of the offices, and in many diocesan see cities locales the headquarters of a general. Changed conditions in the 5th century - the drift towards a two rather than three-tier imperial administration, commutation of taxes, and direct appeals - resulted in dioceses taking the back rather than the driver's seat which they had had during the 4th century century.
From the beginning the Romans ran their empire 'on the cheap.' Officials were few: unpaid locals - the city councils and influential rich people who chosen annually to supervise the tax collections and fulfill liturgical duties - did their work for them. In this way they could avoid having to create a vast permanent salaried civil service to govern (Roger S. Bagnall, Egypt in Late Antiquity, 1993, p. 62 on Diocletian's municipalization of Egypt's lower administration; and quoting Bowman, 'The Town Councils of Roman Egypt' (Am.Stud.Pap. 1, Toronto, who says this "policy of amateurism was a failure, in the sense that it combined ineffectiveness and oppression"). The 4th century saw an improvement in the imperial bureaucracy - it was more professional, free-born, salaried and pensioned and underwent a great expansion from 10,000 to 30-40,000 from the end of the 3rd to the 4th century (35-40% of the civil servants staffed the palatine and diocesan levels in 15 cities), the imperial bureaucracy was concentrated in 125 provincial and diocesan see cities and, therefore, was a distant presence to most inhabitants of the empire. In addition to the changes Anastasius' (491-518) placement of imperial tax officials in cities (491-518) further damaged the already weakened post of vicar.
Unlike repeated imperial attacks on governors, the staff of the SL and RP and the lower rungs of the imperial bureaucracy, men who served as vicars come in for little criticism until Justinian in the Novels which abolished them presents the reasons as inability to perform their financial functions and patronage. Which is not to say that there were no bad vicars, but rather the office does not appear to come in for criticism nor the diocese itself whose value must be based on a range of evidence the sum of which suggests that it was valued until the middle of the 5th century, some dioceses than others.
It has been said the history of Roman is the history of a State, the dioceses were extensions of the central power Roman emperors. As regions lost in the 5th century in the West provincial and municipal administration under new Germanic rulers continued more or less as before in most areas: however, the imperial supra-structure that in a very real was the Roman State was gone, the bureaucracy despite all its "manifest failings" played a vital part in holding the empire together, A.H.M. Jones, LRE p. 606 and went down fighting against the invaders by trying to keep the State going.
Introduction of the term in ecclesiastical usage
In the 5th and 6th centuries, as the older administrative structure began to crumble in the West, the role of the bishops in these regions 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 often coincided with those of the Roman civil administration form which they had derived; 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.
- Diocese, the ecclesiastical territory originally corresponding to a civil diocese
- Exarch, equivalent for vicarius, in Ancient Greek terminology
- Constantin Zuckermann, "Sur la Liste de Verone...", Travaux et Memoires 14 Melanges Gilbert Dagron, 2002, pp. 618–637
- Marcus Tullius Cicero, EB, 1911.
- Meyendorff 1989.
- Ostrogorsky, George (1956). History of the Byzantine State. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
- Meyendorff, John (1989). Imperial unity and Christian divisions: The Church 450-680 A.D. The Church in history. 2. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.