This page describes the administrative and military organization of Roman Palestine. For territorial organization consult the maps in the page on Palestine's history.
In the first period of provincial rule, from 4 BCE to the outbreak of the First Revolt in 66 CE, officials of the equestrian order (the lower rank of governors) governed Palestine. They held the title prefect until King Agrippa assumed rule over Judaea. After his death in 44 and the reversion of Judaea to Roman rule, the governor held the title procurator. As applied to governors, this term, otherwise used for financial officers, connotes no difference in rank or function from the title prefect. Indeed authors of the late first century often use the term procurator for the early governors--so in the New Testament and in Tacitus's and Josephus's works--but contemporary documents such as this famous inscription from Caesarea attest to the title prefect.
[- - -]s Tiberieum
[. Po]ntius Pilatus
[- - - - - - - - - -]
"Pontius Pilate, prefect of Judaea, . . . the Tiberieum . . . ."
The procurators and prefects had primarily military functions, but as representatives of the empire they also exercised financial and limited judicial functions. For the most part, civil administration lay in the hands of local government: municipal councils or ethnic governments such as--in the district of Judaea--the Sanhedrin and its president the High Priest . The legate of Syria or the prefect of Judaea appointed the High Priest until 41; thereafter and until 66 the Jewish client kings exercised this privilege. The governors normally resided in Caesarea but traveled throughout the province, especially to Jerusalem, in the course of performing their duties.
As equestrians the governors could not command legionary forces and in military situations they yielded to their superiors, the legates of Syria, who would descend into Palestine with their legions as necessary. The governors of Judaea did have small auxiliary forces of locally recruited soldiers stationed regularly in Caesarea and Jerusalem and temporarily anywhere else that required a military presence. The total number of soldiers at their disposal numbered in the range of 3000.
In 6 or 7 CE the governor of Syria, Quirinius, supervised the initial tax assessment of the newly constituted province of Judaea. The Romans divided the Jewish regions of the province (Judaea, Galilee, Peraea, and Samaria) into districts called toparchies (eg, about a dozen in Judaea); in the rest of Palestine they organized taxation by cities with their territories. The governor held the Jewish council of Jerusalem--the Sanhedrin-- responsible for the collection in the territory of Judaea and the municipal councils of the cities for the collection in their territories. The taxes included the two types standard throughout the early empire: the land tax (tributum soli) on agricultural production and the head tax (tributum capitis) on personal property and on individuals--as well as a variety of indirect taxes such as the inheritance tax and customs. The notorious tax farmers called publicani collected the indirect taxes.
In this period the governors exercised justice in unusual cases, for routine judicial administration lay in the local courts such as the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. The local courts followed their own legal traditions. The governor or a Roman officer on his behalf had the prerogative of transferring a case to his own court, as happened when the commander of the garrison in Jerusalem interrupted Paul's case before the Sanhedrin and sent him to the governor in Caesarea (Acts 23).
After 73 or 74 Judaea's governor belonged to the senatorial order as a praetorian legate (legatus Augusti pro praetori). The governors had an elevated status because they now commanded a legionary force, the legio X Fretensis, stationed in Jerusalem (the governors continued in Caesarea as their primary residence). Vespasian transferred the old native auxiliary forces to other provinces and replaced them with auxiliaries recruited elsewhere. The imperial administration also included a procurator with financial duties.
Some cities, such as Caesarea when it became a colonia under the Flavians, received exemptions from taxation. Josephus reports that as Vespasian recovered control of Judaea he held the land as his personal property and leased it out to his own profit, but the nature of this control remains obscure (Jewish War 7.6.6). He also ordered Jews throughout the empire to pay the former Temple Tax of two drachmas per year to the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus.
When Agrippa II died in the 90s his lands in northern Palestine returned to the province of Judaea.
In the 110s--possibly a few years earlier--in a period of increasing national tension among Jews throughout the empire, Trajan increased the size of the provincial garrison to two legions, each commanded by a senatorial legatus legionis subordinate to the governor. Consequently the rank of the governor rose to consular rank The X Fretensis remained in Jerusalem while the II Traiana secured the Jezreel Valley from its headquarters at Legio. In the 120s the VI Ferrata arrived from Arabia when the II Traiana went on to Egypt. The II Deiotariana might have spent some time in Judaea in 123 and probably again during the second revolt.
Following the Bar Cochba Revolt Hadrian renamed the province Syria Palaestina. The province still had two legions, the VI Ferrata in Jerusalem and the X Fretensis in Legio, and former consuls continued to serve as governors. The stability of Roman rule now permitted large parts of these forces to withdraw for service elsewhere periodically, and in the middle of the third century the VI Ferrata left permanently for Damascus. Finally, under Diocletian the remaining legion, the X Fretensis, moved to Aila on the Persian Gulf. At the same time all of Arabia south of the Dead Sea became part of Palestine. These shifts in the stationing of military forces reflect the general pattern of Rome's evolving and increasing interest in the eastern and southeastern frontier.
As urbanization accelerated in the second century, the administration of much of the province shifted as lands once organized by toparchy passed into the control of the new cities, whose municipal councils organized tax collection. The governor, with overall supervision of taxation, collected the revenues from the city and passed them on to the imperial treasury.
As the dismantling of ancient republican institutions accelerated in the third century, equestrian praesides replaced senatorial legates in the governorship of the province. In principle senatorial legates governed the province until the reorganization under Diocletian. But the evidence attests no legates for the third century, and in practice equestrian procurators regularly governed in place of the legate (procurator Augusti agens vice praesidis). Diocletian's reforms included, in 296, a systematic survey of the land that fixed the boundaries of villages and made them the basic unit of taxation, payable in kind and/or in cash. Diocletian also assigned Palestine to the diocese of Oriens (one of the twelve large administrative units into which he divided the entire empire). He separated military from civil functions; the former now lay with a general or dux, whose function, in Palestine, involved the security of the limes--the frontier area to the east and southeast. The governor had authority over a small group of soldiers whom he used to keep the peace. The governor held the rank of consularis until the 380s, when we hear of higher-ranking proconsular governors
The fourth century saw a major transformation in imperial administration as the Roman Empire became the Late Roman Empire. The Greek language replaced Latin in official usage as more authoritarian institutions replaced Latinate republican institutions. The governors had more direct control of the cities, whose municipal institutions had withered; he and not the local elites bore the responsibility for administering justice (on appeal from city tribunals in civil cases and in the first instance in criminal) and especially for collecting taxes and redirecting the income partly to the imperial center and partly to local projects. Increasingly in the fifth and sixth centuries the supervision of revenue passed from the governor to the local agents of the praetorian prefect.
About 390 the government reorganized Palestine into three new provinces under governors again with ordinary consular rank. Judaea, Samaria, the coast, and Peraea became Palaestina Prima; its governor, senior to the other governors of Palestine, resided at Caesarea. Galilee, the lower Jezreel valley, the regions east of Galilee, and the western part of the former Decapolis constituted Palaestina Secunda; Scythopolis became the usual seat of government. And the Negev and southern Transjordan--once Arabia--and most of Sinai became Palaestina Tertia, with Petra the usual residence of the governor (this third region, also called Palaestina Salutaris, seems to have had a discreet identity already in the middle of the fourth century). The reorganization reduced Arabia to the northern Transjordan east of Peraea. There continued a single dux Palaestinae who commanded military units scattered across the provinces, especially Third Palestine, where the limes still represented his primary responsibility. Internal policing lay in the hands of the governors with their limited forces.
In 536 Justinian upgraded the governor of Palestine I from ordinary or consular to proconsular rank, the highest rank available to provincial governors (Novel 103). He also increased the governor's authority over second and third Palestine and granted him limited military powers with which the dux could not interfere.
Roman administration of Palestine ended temporarily during the Persian occupation of 614-28, then permanently after the Arabs conquered the region beginning in 635.
This site © 1998, 1999, 2000 the Editors of ERP. Last update 11 August 1999.