The Roman provinces (Latin: provincia, pl. provinciae) were the administrative regions of the Roman Empire outside of Italy that were controlled by the Romans under the Republic and later under the Empire. Each province was ruled by a Roman appointed as governor.


A province was the basic and, until the tetrarchy (from 293 AD), the largest territorial and administrative unit of the empire's territorial possessions outside Italy. The word province in Modern English has its origins in the Latin term used by the Romans.

Provinces were generally governed by politicians of senatorial rank, usually former consuls or former praetors. A later exception was the province of Egypt, which was incorporated by Augustus after the death of Cleopatra and was ruled by a governor of only equestrian rank, perhaps as a discouragement to senatorial ambition. That exception was unique but not contrary to Roman law, as Egypt was considered Augustus's personal property, following the tradition of the kings of the earlier Hellenistic period.

The Latin term provincia also had a more general meaning of "jurisdiction".

Republican provinces

The Latin word provincia originally meant any task or set of responsibilities assigned by the Roman Senate to an individual who held imperium (right of command), which was often a military command within a specified theatre of operations.[1][2] Under the Roman Republic, the magistrates were elected to office for a period of one year, and those serving outside the city of Rome, such as consuls acting as generals on a military campaign, were assigned a particular provincia, the scope of authority within which they exercised their command.

The territory of a people who were defeated in war might be brought under various forms of treaty, in some cases entailing complete subjection (deditio). The formal annexation of a territory created a province, in the modern sense of an administrative unit that is geographically defined. Republican-period provinces were administered in one-year terms by the consuls and praetors who had held office the previous year and were invested with imperium.[3]

Rome started expanding beyond Italy during the First Punic War. The first permanent provinces to be annexed were Sicilia in 241 BC and Corsica et Sardinia in 237 BC. Militarized expansionism kept increasing the number of these administrative provinces until there were no longer enough qualified individuals to fill the posts. [4][5]

The terms of provincial governors often had to be extended for multiple years (prorogatio), and on occasion, the Senate awarded imperium even to private citizens (privati), most notably Pompey the Great.[6][7] Prorogation undermined the republican constitutional principle of annually-elected magistracies and the amassing of disproportionate wealth and military power by a few men through their provincial commands was a major factor in the transition from a republic to an imperial autocracy.[8][9][10][11]

List of republican provinces

  • 241 BC – Sicilia (Sicily) taken over from the Carthaginians and annexed at the end of the First Punic War
  • 237 BC – Corsica et Sardinia; these two islands were taken over from the Carthaginians and annexed soon after the Mercenary War, in 238 BC and 237 BC respectively
  • 197 BC – Hispania Citerior; along the east coast of the Iberian Peninsula; part of the territories taken over from the Carthaginians
  • 197 BC – Hispania Ulterior; along the southern coast of the Iberian Peninsula; part of the territories taken over from the Carthaginians in the Second Punic War
  • 147 BC – Macedonia was annexed after a rebellion by the Achaean League.
  • 146 BC – Africa (modern day Tunisia and western Libya) home territory of Carthage; annexed after the destruction of Carthage in the Third Punic War
  • 129 BC – Asia, formerly the Kingdom of Pergamon, in western Anatolia (modern Turkey) by its last king, Attalus III, in 133 BC
  • 120 BC – Gallia Narbonensis (southern France); prior to its annexation it was called Gallia Transalpina (Gallia on the other side of the Alps) to distinguish it from Gallia Cisalpina (Gaul on this same side of the Alps, in northern Italy). It was annexed following attacks on the allied Greek city of Massalia (Marseille).
  • 67 BC – Creta et Cyrenae; Cyrenaica was bequeathed to Rome in 78 BC. However, it was not organised as a province. It was incorporated into the province of Creta et Cyrenae when Crete was annexed in 67 BC.
  • 63 BC – Pontus et Bithynia; the Kingdom of Bithynia (in North-western Anatolia – Turkey) was bequeathed to Rome by its last king, Nicomedes IV in 74 BC. It was organised as a Roman province at the end of the Third Mithridatic War (73–63 BC) by Pompey, who incorporated the eastern part of the defeated Kingdom of Pontus into it in 63 BC.
  • 63 BC – Syria; Pompey annexed Syria at the end of the Third Mithridatic War
  • 58 BC – Cilicia et Cyprus; Cilicia was created as a province in the sense of area of military command in 102 BC in a campaign against piracy. The Romans controlled only a small area. In 74 BC Lycia and Pamphylia (to the east) were added to the small Roman possessions in Cilicia. Cilicia came fully under Roman control towards the end of the Third Mithridatic War – 73–63 BC. The province was reorganised by Pompey in 63 BC. Cyprus was annexed and added to this province in 58 BC.
  • 46 BC – Africa Nova (eastern Numidia – Algeria), Julius Caesar annexed eastern Numidia and the new province called Africa Nova (new Africa) to distinguish it from the older province of Africa, which become known as Africa Vetus (old Africa).

Gallia Cisalpina (in northern Italy) was a province in the sense of an area of military command, but was never a province in the sense of an administrative unit. During Rome's expansion in the Italian peninsula, the Romans assigned some areas as provinces in the sense of areas of military command assigned to consuls and praetors (not proconsuls or propraetors as in the case of administrative provinces) due to risks of rebellions or invasions. This was applied to Liguria because there was a series of rebellions, Bruttium and to (Calabria) because of perceived risks of rebellion.

In the early days of the Roman presence in Gallia Cisalpina, the issue was rebellion. Later, the issue was risk of invasions by warlike peoples east of Italy. The city of Aquileia was founded to protect northern Italy from invasions. Gaius Julius Caesar granted the inhabitants of this region Roman citizenship and incorporated the region into Italy.

Imperial provinces during the principate

The Roman Empire at its greatest extent, under Trajan (117); imperial provinces are shaded green, senatorial provinces are shaded pink, and client states are shaded gray

In the so-called Augustan Settlement of 27 BC, which established the Roman Empire, the governance of the provinces was regulated. Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus, having emerged from the civil wars as the undisputed victor and master of Rome, officially laid down his powers and, in theory, restored the authority of the Roman Senate. Octavian himself assumed the title "Augustus" and was given to govern, in addition to Egypt, the strategically-important provinces of Gaul, Hispania and Syria (including Cilicia and Cyprus).

Under Augustus, Roman provinces were classified as either public or imperial, depending on whether power was exercised by the Senate or the emperor. Generally, the older provinces that had existed under the Republic were public. Public provinces were, as they had been under the Republic, governed by a proconsul, who was chosen by lot among the ranks of senators who were ex-consuls or ex-praetors, depending on the province that was assigned.

The major imperial provinces were under a legatus Augusti pro praetore, also a senator of consular or praetorian rank. Egypt and some smaller provinces in which no legions were based were ruled by a procurator (praefectus in Egypt), whom the emperor selected from non-senators of equestrian rank.

The status of a province could change from time to time. In AD 68, of a total 36 provinces, 11 were public and 25 imperial. Of the latter, 15 were under legati and 10 under procuratores or praefecti.

During the principate, the number and size of provinces also changed, through conquest or the division of existing provinces. The larger or most heavily-garrisoned provinces (for example Syria and Moesia) were subdivided into smaller provinces to prevent any single governor from holding too much power.

List of provinces created during the principate

Under Augustus