Defensor Civitatis

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The term applied to the official created in the later Roman Empire as the defender of the city or people. Valentinian I, in 364, created the office of defensor civitatis principally to defend the powerless against the privileged in minor litigations. He was appointed for life by the praetorian prefect, and was to have easy access, in the cause of justice, to the praetorian prefect and the emperor himself. Under theodosius i (387) the office became elective, and its powers were enlarged to deal with criminal and religious affairs. By 428 the defensor civitatis had become a municipal magistrate with wide administrative powers. justinian i, in 535, strengthened the institution, which had become corrupt and ineffective, by putting it into the hands of the first citizens of the city, who would take turns holding it for two years. With increased powers of administration and jurisdiction, the defensor civitatis became a lieutenant governor, to whom the city officials and provincial officials dwelling within the city owed obedience. As the office became almost completely transformed from its original character, the defensor civitatis became more a ruler than the defender of the ruled. In the 9th century the office was abolished. In the meantime the defense of the powerless had fallen more and more to the bishops.

Bibliography: h. leclercq, Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienneet de liturgie, ed. f. cabrol, h. leclercq and h. i. marrou, 15 v. (Paris 190753) 4.1:406427. j. b. bury, A History of the Later Roman Empire from the Death of Theodosius I to the Death of Justinian A.D. 395565, 2 v. (London 1923; repr. pa. New York 1957) 1:6061.

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Defensor Civitatis

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