Agentes in Rebus in Roman Empire of the 4th – 5th Centuries CE

Keywords: Late Antiquity, agentes in rebus, Codex Theodosianus, Ammianus Marcellinus, Libanius


The purpose of the research paper is to study the agentes in rebus institution as an important element of the organization of the political system of the Later Roman Empire.

Scientific novelty: The peculiarities of the staffing, organization and management of the agentes in rebus corps are characterized. The official duties of agents at different stages of their career paths are analyzed. The nature of the unofficial missions performed by agents is uncovered. An attempt is made to determine whether it is possible to consider the agentes in rebus corps a Roman Secret Service.

Conclusions: In the course of the study, the main peculiarities of the agentes in rebus corps organization are analyzed. They were civil officials, although they kept the features of a military unit. The ‘special agents’ fell under the jurisdiction of the magister officiorum, although they also had immediate commanders. It is found out that the Imperial Codes distinguished three main categories of agents: couriers that carried imperial resolutions over the empire; curiosi, who were the inspectors of the State Postal Service; principes officii, who headed the secretariats of leading provincial officials at the level of the praetorian prefects and vicarii. In parallel with performing their main work, the agentes in rebus were informants and spies of emperors.

It is unveiled that, in practice, the activities of agentes in rebus from time to time went beyond the functions written down in the imperial legislation. Agentes regularly used the practice of whipping and imprisoning people who were considered suspicious. Occasionally, Agentes were engaged in intelligence outside the state, headed high-level embassies, participated in arrests, and even assassinated high-ranking persons, whom the state considered its enemies.

It is concluded that in general, the schola agentium in rebus had the features of the secret service, even though it in parallel performed ordinary bureaucratic duties. The activity of the corps was often negatively perceived by contemporaries from a moral point of view: agentes were blamed for corruption and false denunciations used for career growth. But with all the disadvantages, the existence of such a service was needed by the state, since it contributed to its centralization and full functioning.


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How to Cite
Pukhovets, D. (2022). Agentes in Rebus in Roman Empire of the 4th – 5th Centuries CE. Eminak: Scientific Quarterly Journal, (4(40), 23-37.
Ancient History