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Edward Franks' book on vicars in the later Roman Empire

Submitted by Alain M Gowing on June 26, 2012 - 3:45pm

Edward Franks (MA '66) has kindly sent the Department a copy of a major book completed in August 2012 and entitled The Role of Vicars and the Functioning of Dioceses within the wider Administrative System of the Later Roman Empire: An investigation of a senior mid-level management position, principle lines of authority, and major interdepartmental transmission belts for the conduct of state business with the major emphasis on the period 285-450 A.D. A Response to 50 years of usurpations, civil wars and foreign invasion, 235-285 A.D., the Making of a 'Fail-Safe' civilian bureacratic Apparatus - 295-345 - the Effort to place an Empire under Civilian Control.  Duly impressed, and always eager to share the accomplishments of our alumni, we asked Mr. Franks to provide a summary of the book and how he came to write it:

"The book is a study of Roman vicars and dioceses within the wider administrative system of the Later Empire. Although a few articles had been written and most of the information is available in the Pauly's Real Encylopadie and other collections of original sources, there is no general study of them which attempts to describe how they functioned and for what purposes per se in relationship to other administrative departments. It is assumed the vicars coordinated and controlled governors. Can more be said about them? Did they become "an unnecessary wheel in the administrative machine, especially after the growth of regional praetorian prefectures,"Jones, Later Roman Empire, p. 374. If so, when did this happen and why? He further states the duties of the vicars are "less easy to define," LRE I, pp. 374-75. Perhaps more light could be shed on this. The study is lengthy because I wanted to document as much as possible. I added the study of lines of authority from a statement made by Stephen Wiliams in his book, Diocletian and the Roman Recovery, p. 248, note 10, "That the line of authority was not simply a downward transmission belt, is assumed"..."But its precise workings are still obscure and merit further study." I thought an investigation of this would aid the study of vicars. A great effort has been made to honor the work of modern scholars: hence the extensive quotes, translations and contrast of opinions on matters pertaining to late Roman administration and fiscal policy. It also spares the reader from having to track down all the sources. I raise questions which I cannot answer: perhaps others will be able to answer them."

"Not only did vicars as auxiliary prefects control and coordinate the activity of  governors as representatives of the prefects (and later within the prefecture), they exercised important judicial powers and fiscal oversight, but not administrative control, over the crown estates (the Res Privata) and the State Treasury (the Sacrae Largitiones) in their capacity as appellate judges. One cannot separate their judicial from their fiscal duties. The latter is an extension of the former. Diocletian and his successors used the regular courts as intrusive instruments of the indictional tax assessment system which organized the population by origo ( the municipality to which one belonged and the administrative unit into which everybody was placed as members of various types of tax collectives). This was a central feature of his interventionist policies. The intent was to control local governing bodies, insure a revenue stream, gather information about people, enforce the official social class status system which underpinned the performance of liturgical obligations, and gauge public opinion (the upper classes) and redirect loyalty (or at least attention) to the state as the fount of all power. The vicars were present to insure the proper functioning of the system which was organized on provincial and diocesan lines. Provincial courts were under the superintendency of vicars and prefects. Regular provincial and diocesan assemblies attended by elected delegates facilitated the inflow of information of various sorts. The administrative 'flip-flop' which eventually removed military command from all governors by the time of Constantine I and replaced it with financial duties is an expression of this policy. This concentrated financial and fiscal power in the hands of civilian officials. The last piece to complete the shift was the removal of the praetorian prefects' residual military command.  It is very important to understand that the diagonal and horizontal lines which connect the various units and departments of the bureaucracy are as important as the vertical, and that the overlaps and 'clamping of units' together by multiple means were not just the products of administrative evolution, but were deliberate and complex components of an on-going attempt to create an integrated and reasonably uniform system of administration in the interests of raising as much revenue as possible and as the means to secure a re-united empire with 'bureaucratic ligaments.' Although piecemeal in development, with two periods of decisive changes in the mid-290s and 324-326, I cannot discount that possibility that at times forward thinking and planning. and not just reaction to events, as often presumed, guided the evolution as the expression of a purpose-driven, rational design. A culture which created the Roman army, built vast public works projects, moved mountains of foodstuffs to capitals, and used a highly complex system of tax assessment was capable of fashioning an administrative system capable of managing these, a sort of 'parallel army' of civilian 'bureaucrats' of free birth. The fact that others took advantage of it for private gain to undermine or subvert the purposes for which it was created is another matter. It did its job. The fact that it continued to operate under duress in the West in the 5th century is a miracle."
"How the project came to be. Two years ago I had in mind a re-examination of the fiscal role and financial administration of the praetorian prefecture which I had looked into previously (it's a subject that was dear to the mind of the late A.H.M. Jones of Cambridge University and the subject can be found on p. 1165 The Later Roman Empire, II). As far as I know to date no one has attempted such a study, perhaps, because there's not enough information to work with compile something of a budget and global expenses for the Empire. There are numerous studies of Roman taxation. This topic is way above my head. I chose to study vicars. Through a go-between at Cambridge I was advised not to attempt the study as not enough was known. The respondent may have thought I was thinking of the early decades of vicars, 293-315 A.D., when, indeed, there's not much to go on in the way of primary source documentation. Heedless, I forged ahead thinking the study would be about 30-40 pages."

           "I was graduated from UCSB in 1965 in Classics. I received an MA in Classics from UWA in 1966, an M.Litt. from Cambridge in 1970 and an M.Div. in 1980. I served the Episcopal Church and the wider religious community until my retirement in 2005. Some years before my retirement and since I have taken guided archaeological tours of countries which were part of the Roman Empire, and become fairly competent in Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Catalan. The German language always remains problematic."

Edward Franks

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