prefect or praefect (both: prēˈfĕkt) [key], in ancient Rome, various military and civil officers. Under the empire some prefects were very important. The Praetorian prefects (first appointed 2 B.C.) usually numbered two; they commanded the powerful Praetorians. From the 2d cent. A.D. they had juridical functions, and important legists (e.g., Papinian and Ulpian) held the post. The prefect of the city was at first a deputy for absent consuls; the office fell out of use but was revived by Julius Caesar. Under the empire this prefect had power over the summary court for the region within 100 mi (160 km) of Rome. The prefect of the watch had charge of the fire brigade set up by Augustus. Augustus also established a prefect of the grain supply. There were other officers called prefects, such as the Roman viceroy of Egypt and many other officials of Italian cities.
See L. L. Howe, The Praetorian Prefect from Commodus to Diocletian (1942).
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