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  • Writer's pictureJP Kenwood

Rome’s Praetorian Guard

Several characters in the Dominus saga are (or were) members of Rome’s elite Praetorian Guard:


“We found this gentleman hiding by the back portal, Commander. It appears he was trying to leave the premises undetected.”

“Sneaking about like a sewer rat?” Gaius grabbed the man’s clean-shaven chin to get a better look at his pockmarked face. “Ah, it is you, Victorinus. I thought I recognized you. Why, for shit’s sake, has a member of the emperor’s guard sequestered his sorry arse by the back exit of the home of Lucius Petronius?”

~~ Games of Rome (Dominus Book 2)


“Gaius raised his brows before addressing the Prefect. “Livianus, were you born in Spain like my ward brother and our noble emperor?”

“I’m Italian, a proud native of the district of Latium.”

“Ah, then we’re practically related. I was born in Rome, as were my ancestors. What is your birth town in our fair Latium?”

Livianus puffed his chest out. “Tusculum, sir.”

“Lovely place— fertile and most scenic. And you grew up there?”

“Until I came of age and was sent to Rome to begin my career in the army, sir.”

“Then, as a fellow native son of Latium, you should have no trouble understanding this.” Gaius raised his right hand, lifted his middle finger, and twisted and jabbed his wrist in a most indecent manner.

“I believe all soldiers, especially those of us from Latium, understand that particular gesture, sir.”

~~ Games of Rome (Dominus Book 2)

And there will be more members of the guard making appearances in Books 3-5. But who were the Praetorian Guard?

Relief of a Praetorian from Pozzuoli (2nd century AD)

The history of Rome’s elite Praetorian Guard can be traced  back to the late Republican period when a special group of soldiers were assigned to protect Roman generals in the field. The first emperor, Augustus, eventually recruited 9,000 highly-trained personal body guards from the army, and allowed these armed soldiers to enter the capital city and patrol the palace, thereby breaking centuries of tradition which forbid arms within the sacred boundary of Rome.

Remains of the Castra Praetoria in Rome

Under Tiberius, Augustus’ successor, the Praetorians received a permanent fortified home close to Rome’s seven hills. Known as the Castra Praetoria (“Camp of the Praetorians”), this massive walled complex still stands (in ruins) today NE of the city. Within these towering brick walls were rows of barracks, bath structures, dining halls, latrines, and other utilitarian buildings. Rome now had a permanent base for its elite and most feared fighting force.

By the time of the Dacian Wars, the number of Praetorians had increased to 10,000. Recruitment of new guards (usually men between 18-20 years of age) was always restricted to Roman citizens of free birth. Former slaves, like Maximus, could never become members of the Guard. Being appointed a member of the guard was a high honor and came with several advantages — Praetorians served fewer years than regular soldiers (Roman soldiers could not legally marry until their service term was completed), and they were paid significantly higher wages and enjoyed more prestigious status.

At least one cohort of Praetorians (a military unit consisting of 1,000 men) served as an elite fighting force on the battlefields of Dacia. Under the direction of Tiberius Claudius Livianus (yes, our Livianus was a real dude), the Praetorians accompanied Trajan (our dear Marcus) on campaign to fight the Dacian menace. However, some argue that the Guard was losing its influence under Trajan while another, newly-created group of bodyguard cavalrymen was increasing in prominence and power. More about the fascinating equites singulars Augusti in the next ‘Roman army’ blog post.

In book 3, Gaius visits the camp of the Praetorians. Although there is no solid evidence for a prison within the walls of the Castra Praetoria, I shall devise one to house some of the most valued Dacian prisoners awaiting ceremonious execution. Perhaps we’ll finally meet Allerix’s captured friend, Brasus?  *rubs hands together*

JPK xoxo

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