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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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GOVERNOR.—The word ‘governor’ (ἡγεμών, Lat. praeses, dux) is a comprehensive term, being the only Greek word which includes every class of provincial governor under the Roman empire. The following officials, for instance, are included under this title:—(1) Governors of Senatorial Provinces, namely, pro consulibus who are ex-consuls, and pro consulibus who are ex-praetors. The former class ruled the governmental spheres of duty, Asia and Africa; the latter all other provinces which by the arrangement between Augustus and the Senate in 27 b.c. were put under the authority of that body, such as Sicily, Macedonia, Achaia. (2) Governors of Imperial Provinces, namely, legati Augusti pro practoribus who are ex-consuls; legati Augusti pro practoribus who are ex-praetors; procuratores; praefecti Acgypti, etc. Examples of Imperial provinces are Syria, the Gauls (except Narbonensis), Judaea, and Egypt. These governors were all accountable to the Emperor, being put in charge of his provinces, but were by no means of equal rank. The legati were always members of the Senate, but the others were of the lower rank of equites. It was to this class that Pilate belonged (Matthew 27, 28; see under Procurator, Pilate). Every senator, being a member of the same class as the Emperor himself, was a possible rival to him; those of inferior rank were practically in the position of his servants.

Governors of provinces had certain powers of jurisdiction delegated to them, which it is now impossible accurately to define. These were embodied in mandata given to them before setting out. They were also, of course, influenced by the traditions of the province to which they were going. They administered the law with a competence and a justice which have never been surpassed. As the provinces had an appeal from their decisions to the Senate in the case of Senatorial provinces, and to the Emperor in the case of Imperial, it was dangerous for a governor to go against the strongly expressed wish of the subjects of Rome. A procurator, for example, could be cast aside by the Emperor and ruined for life, without the slightest chance of redress.

Governors were commonly changed annually. The emperor Tiberius, however, retained many governors for a number of years in one position, and he also instituted the custom of payment of definite salaries to such, thus doing away with the necessity for plunder in order to recoup themselves. The Roman system was sufficiently elastic to permit the appointment of officers for special service and the suspension of the regular order of things. It was probably under an arrangement of this kind that P. Sulpicius Quirinius was ‘governor of Syria’ (Luke 2:2) in a.d. 6–9 (Ramsay, Was Christ Born at Bethlehem? ch. xi.), in order to carry on a campaign against the Homonadenses, and leave the ordinary governor free for civil duties. See art. Birth of Christ.

In Matthew 10:18, Mark 13:9, and Luke 21:12 ‘kings’ are coupled with ‘governors.’ The reference here is to ‘client-kings’ of the Roman empire (such as Herod) as well as the ordinary governors. The territory ruled by such kings was part of the imperium Romanum in the fullest sense of that term. In other words, the Romans had suzerainty over these kingdoms; but they left them under the rule of their kings until they were sufficiently civilized to become ordinary provinces under ordinary governors. Then they were taken over. In Luke 21:12 the ‘kings’ are mentioned before the ‘governors.’ If this change is not accidental, it would appear that St. Luke wished βασιλεῖς to be understood in the sense of ‘emperors,’ a sense quite in accordance with the Greek. The plural need be no difficulty, as it was the common practice for emperors to have their successors invested with the imperatorial powers, while they themselves were still alive and active.

Literature.—H. F. Pelham, Outlines of Roman History, hk. v. ch. iii.; J. B. Bury, A History of the Roman Empire, ch. vi.; A. H. J. Greenidge, Roman Public Life, ch. xi.; for the regular course of an administrative career, see R. Cagnat, Cours d’Epigraphie Latine3 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] (1898, with Supplement 1904), pp. 86–155; Schürer, HJP [Note: JP History of the Jewish People.] i. ii. 43–48.

Alex. Souter.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Governor'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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