Praetorian Guard

Roman SPQR banner.svg
This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
ancient Rome
Roman Constitution
Precedent and law
Ordinary magistrates
Extraordinary magistrates
Titles and honours

The Praetorian Guard (Latin: cohortes praetoriae) was an elite unit of the Imperial Roman army whose members served as personal bodyguards and intelligence for the Roman emperors. During the era of the Roman Republic, the Praetorians served as a small escort force for high-ranking officials such as senators or provincial governors like procurators, and also serving as bodyguards for high ranking officers within the Roman legions. With the republic's transition into the Roman Empire, however, the first emperor, Augustus, founded the Guard as his personal security detail. Although they continued to serve in this capacity for roughly three centuries, the Guard became notable for its intrigue and interference in Roman politics, to the point of overthrowing emperors and proclaiming their successors. In 312, the Guard was disbanded by Constantine the Great.

Under the Roman Republic

The designation originated during the Roman Republic, for the guards of Roman generals as early as the rise to prominence of the Scipio family around 275 BC. There was no permanent guard charged with the protection of military general officers; however, certain military officers chose to surround themselves with guards to ensure their security. For example, during the Siege of Numantia, Scipio Aemilianus formed a troop of 500 men for his personal protection, as sorties were often quite dangerous for the upper ranks. This usage was then emulated and spread, as Roman generals occupied their positions for longer periods of time. Accordingly, this guard was referred to as Cohors Prætoria. In battle, these cohorts would intervene as a final reserve. The consuls, when with an army under non-battle conditions, were protected by the lictors, who would station themselves around the consuls' tents.

At the end of the year 40 BC, Octavian (the future Augustus) and his rival Mark Antony both operated Praetorian units organized individually. According to Appian, amongst them were veterans forming cohorts. Antony commanded three cohorts in the Orient and in 32 BC, he issued coins in honor of his Praetorians. According to Paul Orose, Octavian commanded five cohorts at Actium.

Following his victory at Actium, Octavian merged his forces with those of his adversary in a symbolic reunification of the Army of Julius Caesar.