Proconsul: Definition & Overview

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Explore the history and significance of the Roman political office called the proconsul, and test your understanding about ancient Roman politics, government, and culture.

Definition of Proconsul

Ancient Rome, in its pre-Empire era, had a very complex system of government that included elections and representative officials. As Rome expanded in size and power, the need for more political administrators grew, and new positions were created. One such position was the proconsul. A proconsul was a governor of a Roman province and a very respected position in Roman government. Each province had its own proconsul, so there were several proconsuls across the Roman Empire.

Medieval depiction of the Roman proconsul, Sergius
Proconsul

The Roman Republic

The Roman Republic, which lasted from roughly 509-27 BC, was defined by a representative system of government in which the people elected officials to represent their needs. These elected officials comprised the Senate, the institution of government that voted on new decrees and policies. The Senate was officially meant to advise the consuls, the two men elected to lead Rome, but their authority was so respected that their advice was nearly always obeyed. The consuls were the highest-elected officials in Rome and served for one year. Any person elected consul could not be made consul again for ten years.

Statue of Roman Consul
Statue of Roman Consul

Originally, only land-owning aristocrats called patricians could be elected to the Senate or as consuls. This changed in 367 BC, and new laws were passed that allowed commoners, called plebeians, the right to be elected consul. The first plebeian consul, L. Sextius, was appointed in 366 BC.

Office of the Proconsul

By 282 BC, Rome controlled all of the Italian Peninsula. By the 2nd century BC, Rome controlled most of the Mediterranean region. With so much territory, the consuls needed people to represent their authority across the provinces, and so the office of the proconsul was created.

After a citizen served one term as consul, the Senate could name that person as a proconsul. The proconsul was a one-year term as a governor of one of the Roman provinces. Since the consuls could not personally oversee all of the Roman Republic, the proconsuls acted with the authority of the consul in that single province and passed legislation, commissioned building projects, and resolved trials. The proconsul was assigned his province either by lottery or by an agreement made between the current consuls for political reasons.

Areas controlled by the Roman Republic
Roman Republic

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