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Roman Administration and Towns

The Roman invasion of Britain brought about great changes in the way the country was run. Instead of politics dependent on war and peace between the various tribes, the country now formed part of a vast empire ruled from one centre, Rome. The Roman Empire was divided into provinces nominally ruled by the Senate in Rome or by the Emperor on the Senate's behalf. Newly-acquired areas almost always came under the rule of the Emperor. He would then entrust these areas to the power of a Governor, or legatus Augusti pro praetore, who was both commander-in-chief of the army in the province and head of the civilian administration.

The governorship of Britain was one of the most important in the Roman Empire, and as such was usually held by men from the Roman aristocracy - the Senate of Rome - who had worked their way up the political ladder, holding various positions to gain essential experience.

In Britain, as commander-in-chief of the army, much of the Governor's time was spent on the battlefield, attempting to subdue unruly and rebellious tribes. Between campaigns, the Governor would travel around the province; each town would receive him with speeches and ceremonies and he would inspect new buildings, bridges and roads. The Governor was also the Lord Chief Justice of the province, and it was his responsibility to ensure that lawbreakers were captured and that peace and order were maintained.

To help the Governor in his duties he had a personal staff of about 30-40 individuals, including personal assistants, secretaries, police officers, couriers, accountants and clerks. Some of the staff would have been slaves or freedmen. There was also a legatus iuridicus, or law-officer, who could go around the province and deal with some of the legal matters to leave more of the Governor's time free for campaigns and peace-keeping.

The financial responsibility of an imperial province was in the hands of a high-ranking Procurator. These officials were chosen from among the equites, or knights, the class which ranked below the Senate and had its own political ladder of military and civilian posts. The Procurators were directly responsible to the Emperor and not to the provincial Governors, which sometimes caused tension between these two posts. The Procurators were responsible for the taxation of provinces in order to generate imperial revenue. The system of taxation can be divided into two types: direct and indirect. One type of direct tax was tributum soli, a tax on land and fixed property. The idea behind this was that all land in the Province belonged to the Roman state, and therefore those who lived on or made a living out of it could be expected to pay rent. Owners of taxable land were required to register it with the local record office. There was also the tributum capitis, a poll tax on property other than land, including that which was use for trade or commerce.

Taxes were mostly paid with coins, but grain, hides and other payments were sometimes demanded. The people of Roman Britain were also expected to provide the Roman army with grain, leather and lard. Sometimes this came under taxation and sometimes it was paid for at prices fixed by the government, most likely in their favour.

[Original author: Miranda Greene, 2004]