Policing the Roman Empire: Soldiers, Administration, and Public Order

Policing the Roman Empire: Soldiers, Administration, and Public Order

Policing the Roman Empire: Soldiers, Administration, and Public Order

Policing the Roman Empire: Soldiers, Administration, and Public Order


Historians often regard the police as a modern development, and indeed, many pre-modern societies had no such institution. Most recent scholarship has claimed that Roman society relied on kinship networks or community self-regulation as a means of conflict resolution and social control. This model, according to Christopher Fuhrmann, fails to properly account for the imperial-era evidence, which argues in fact for an expansion of state-sponsored policing activities in the first three centuries of the Common Era. Drawing on a wide variety of source material-from art, archaeology, administrative documents, Egyptian papyri, laws, Jewish and Christian religious texts, and ancient narratives-Policing the Roman Empireprovides the first-ever comprehensive overview of Roman imperial policing practices, with chapters devoted to fugitive slave hunting, the pivotal role of Augustus, the expansion of policing under his successors, and communities lacking soldier-police that were forced to rely on self-help or civilian police.

Rather than merely cataloguing references to police, this study sets policing in the broader context of Roman attitudes towards power, public order, and administration. Fuhrmann argues that a broad range of groups understood the potential value of police, from the emperors to the peasantry. Years of different police initiatives coalesced into an uneven patchwork of police institutions that were not always coordinated, effective, or upright. But the end result was a new means by which the Roman state-more ambitious than often supposed-could seek to control the lives of its subjects, as in the imperial persecutions of Christians.

The first synoptic analysis of Roman policing in over a hundred years, and the first ever in English,Policing the Roman Empirewill resonant with scholars and students of classics, history, law, and religion.


When I once told an eminent ancient historian that I was working on police forces in the Roman provinces, his snap reaction was, “But there weren’t any!” After a moment of reflection, he conceded, “Well, I suppose there were eirenarchs. And stationarii …” It was a revealing exchange, which demonstrated that a modern study of imperial Roman policing and public order was long overdue. This book is intended to remedy that neglect. I have tried to make it accessible to anyone interested in the ancient world or the history of policing, while also contributing to the academic dialogue of fellow specialists.

In the following pages, I quote a broad range of ancient sources. Biblical passages are from the New Revised Standard Version. Quoted translations of papyri are usually those of the specified edition, when these included an English translation. Otherwise most translations from Greek and Latin sources are my own; exceptions are specifically noted. In translating, I have often consulted published translations as a rough guide. In every case, my analysis is based on the original Greek and Latin, and I vouch for all of the following translated passages, even when they are not my own. My understanding of material in other ancient languages, such as Aramaic or Coptic, depends entirely on the cited translator.

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