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Positions in the Roman Government and Ranks in the Roman Army Found in The Book of Acts

Julian Spriggs M.A.

In the Book of Acts we find a large number of references to different Roman officials, or army divisions. This is a list of these, giving the Greek word, an example of where it is found in the Book of Acts, together with an explanation. Some of these show the great accuracy of Luke’s writing, as the use of many of these titles are confirmed by writings and archaeology from the first century.

Roman Citizen (16:37)

Roman citizens were strictly exempt from degrading forms of punishment, like beating, scourging, or crucifixion. They had the right to appeal to the Emperor. Paul was a Roman citizen by birth, indicating that his father or grandfather had been granted citizenship. Otherwise, it was a privilege given as a reward for loyal service to the Emperor. Within thirty days of birth, each legitimate child born of a citizen had to be registered. The father was given a certificate, which was legal evidence that the child was a Roman citizen.

Roman citizens had three names:
1) Praenomen - first name
2) Nomen, or nomen gentile - family name
3) Cognomen - additional name or surname
Newly made citizens usually adopted the family name of their patron, and often their praenomen also. There was also an optional supernomen or signum for use within the family. Paul's cognomen was Paullus. We do not know his other names. His signum was his Jewish name, Saul, which was used by his family and in Jewish communities, such as Damascus and Jerusalem.

Government Positions

City Authorities (17:6) (Gk = politarch)

A unique title for the chief magistrates only used in the cities of Macedonia, including Thessalonica and Philippi. Luke's use of this title shows his accuracy as a historian.

Magistrate (16:19) (Gk = strataegos)

A provincial official who administrated justice. Philippi as a Roman colony had two magistrates, who were normally called duoviri (meaning two men), but who preferred the more dignified title of Praetor.

Officials of the Province of Asia (19:31) (Gk = asiarch)

These were leading citizens who administered a league of cities in Asia. They were chosen annually from the most wealthy and aristocratic people. The high priests of the worship of the Roman Emperor were elected from among the Asiarchs.

Police (16:35) (Gk = rabdouchos - rod carriers)

The official attendants to the magistrates, who also carried out police duties. They were known by their Latin title - Lictors. As symbols of their office, they carried bundles of rods with an axe inserted among them, called the fasces, showing the right of the magistrate to inflict corporal and capital punishment.

Prefect or Procurator (Gk = hegemon)

The governor in charge of an Roman Imperial province, like Judea. They differed from a proconsul in having military authority, and an indefinite term of office. Their responsibilities included: Military security and public order, collection of taxes, and legal justice. These are the procurators of Judea mentioned in the New Testament:
Pontius Pilate AD 26 - 36 (Mt 27:2)
Felix AD 52 - 59 (Acts 23:24)
Festus AD 59 - 62 (Acts 24:27)

Proconsul (Gk = anthupatos)

The governor in charge of a Roman Senatorial province. He was elected by the Senate for a one year renewable term. His main duties were to insure peace and to collect taxes, although he lacked military authority. These proconsuls are named in the Book of Acts:
Sergius Paullus (13:7) Proconsul of Cyprus
L. Junius Gallio (18:2) Proconsul of Achaia, including Corinth for one year, which dates Paul's visit to Corinth in AD 51-52

Proconsuls in Ephesus (19:38)

In AD 54, the proconsul of Asia, Marcus Junius Silanus, was poisoned by his two subordinates, Helius and Celer, on instructions of Nero's mother Agrippina, to prevent Silanus from becoming emperor after the death of Claudius, instead of Nero. The plural "proconsuls" could either mean proconsuls in general, or to Helius and Celer being the two acting proconsuls until Silanus's successor was appointed. If this is the case, then this dates Paul's visit to Ephesus in AD 54.

Town Clerk (19:35) (Gk = Grammateus)

A leading civic official in a Roman city, directly responsible to Rome. He acted as a liaison between the civic government of a city and the Roman provincial administration. The Roman authorities would hold him responsible for riots and disturbances, and might impose severe penalties on the city. Also, as secretary, he drafted the legal decrees to be brought before the civic assembly.

Governmental organisation

Province

The province was the Roman administrative region, originally ruled by magistrates who were elected by the Senate. By the first century, there were two types of province:
1. Senatorial provinces, under control of the Senate, governed by proconsuls, who were ex-consuls or ex-praetors, and who held office for one year only.
2. Imperial provinces, under the direct control of the Emperor, governed by procurators or prefects, with military authority. These had the rank of senator, and held office as long as the emperor desired.
Provinces could be transferred from the Senate to the Emperor, or vice versa. For example, Cyprus was transferred from being imperial to senatorial in 22 BC, so then had a proconsul (Acts 13:7)

Roman Colony (16:12)

A corporation of Roman citizens settled away from Italy, and enjoying self-government. Roman colonies were a little Rome away from Rome, run with Roman justice and govenment systems under the control of a Roman magistrate, with Latin as the official language. They were often populated by retired Roman soldiers. Some Greek republics were given colonial status as an honour, like Philippi - something the city would be very proud of.

Army divisions

Century

A century was the smallest division in the Roman army. It originally consisted of 100 men, but the number was later reduced to 80 men. Each century was commanded by a centurion.

Each century also had a tesserarius, who was in control of guard duties, and received 1.5 times the normal pay. The standard-bearer of the century was the signifer, who was in charge of pay and expenses, and received double pay. A century also had a cornicen, who was a horn-blower, and an optio, the backup leader in case the centurion was killed or injured. He also helped to train the century.

Cohort (10:1) (Gk = speira)

A cohort was an army division of 480 or 800 men, equivalent to one tenth of a Legion (5,500 men), or six centuries. It was commanded by a Tribune, or sometimes by a Prefect. The Italian Cohort (10:1), based in Judea, was probably originally raised in Italy, but would have recruited local soldiers.

Legion

The largest unit in the Roman army, consisting of about 5,500 soldiers, often with a small cavalry division of 120 men who were used as scouts. The Roman Empire had around 30 legions. A legion consisted of ten cohorts. Nine of these cohorts had 480 men, divided into six centuries of 80 men each, but the first cohort had 800 men, divided into five centuries consisting of more specialist soldiers, such as blacksmiths or builders.

In the first century, there were normally three or four legions on duty in Syria, but before the Jewish rebellion in A.D. 66, there were no legions stationed in Judea. The governors of Judea commanded auxiliary forces the size of a cohort.

Army ranks

Centurion (10:1) (Gk = ekatontarchae)

he commander of a century in the Roman army. He had the status of a non-commissioned officer, but his responsibilities were similar to a modern army Captain. He drilled his men, inspected their arms, food and clothing, and was their commander in the camp and on the battle-field. A soldier would be given Roman Citizenship after completing his twenty-five years of service. Centurions were normally assigned to police duties and the guarding of prisoners.

Tribune (21:32) (Gk = chiliarch)

The Roman military commander of a Cohort. He was a professional officer, almost always a Roman citizen and a member of the equestrian (middle) class, who intended to make a career of public service. A tribune led the group of soldiers when Judas betrayed Jesus (John 18:12). Claudius Lysias was the tribune who led the cohort to arrest Paul in the temple (21:30-32), and wrote a letter to governor Felix about Paul (23:26).

Praetor

The title Praetor was used both by magistrates and by army commanders.

Army Organisation

Name Commanded by Number of men Smaller unit
Century Centurion 80 men
Cohort Tribune 480 men 6 centuries
Legion Legate 5,500 men 10 cohorts

Praetorium (23:35)

This originally meant the tent of a commander, or Praetor, so became a word used to describe the army headquarters. Later, it was used as the residence of the provincial governor, or even the residence of the Emperor (Phil 1:3).


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