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A prefect (from the Latin praefectus, perfect participle of praeficere: "make in front", i.e., put in charge) is an official of various different types.

A prefect's office, department, or area of control is called a prefecture, but in various post-Roman cases there is a prefect without a prefecture or vice versa. The words "prefect" and "prefecture" are also used, more or less conventionally, to render analogous words in other languages, especially Romance languages, which may be misleading or even incorrect.


[edit] Ancient Rome

Praefectus, often with a further qualification, was the formal title of many, fairly low to high-ranking, military or civil officials in the Roman Empire, whose authority was not embodied in their person (as it was with elected Magistrates) but conferred by delegation from a higher authority.

[edit] Praetorian prefects

The Praetorian prefect (Praefectus praetorio) began as the military commander of a general's guard company in the field, then grew in importance as the Praetorian Guard became a potential kingmaker during the Empire. From the Emperor Diocletian's tetrarchy (c. 300) they became the administrators of the four Praetorian Prefectures, the government level above the (newly created) dioceses and (multiplied) provinces.

As Egypt was a special crown domain, a rich and strategic granary, where the Emperor enjoyed an almost pharaonic position unlike any other province or diocese, its head was styled uniquely Praefectus Augustalis, indicating that he governed in the personal name of the august emperor.

[edit] Police prefects

[edit] Military prefects

  • Praefectus alae: commander of a cavalry battalion.
  • Praefectus castrorum: camp commandant.
  • Praefectus cohortis: commander of a cohort (constituent unit of a legion, or analogous unit).
  • Praefectus classis: fleet commander.
  • Praefectus equitatus: cavalry commander.
  • Praefectus equitum: cavalry commander.
  • Praefectus fabrum: officer in charge of fabri, i.e well-trained engineers and artisans.
  • Praefectus legionis: equestrian legionary commander.
  • Praefectus legionis agens vice legati: equestrian acting legionary commander.
  • Praefectus sociorum: Roman officer appointed to a command function in an ala sociorum (unit recruited among the socii, Italic peoples of a privileged status within the empire).

For some auxiliary troops, specific titles could even refer to their peoples:

[edit] Religious prefects

  • Praefectus urbi: a prefect of the republican era who guarded the city during the annual sacrifice of the feriae latina on Moun Alban in which the Consuls participated. His former title was "custos urbi" ("guardian of the city").

[edit] Feudal times

Especially in Middle Latin, præfectus was used to refer to various officers—administrative, military, judicial, etc.—usually alongside a more precise term in the vernacular (such as Burggraf).

[edit] Ecclesiastical

The term is used by the Roman Catholic Church, which based much of its canon law terminology on Roman law, in several different ways.

  • The Roman Curia still has two Prefecs, of the Papal Household and the Economic Affairs of the Holy See.
  • The title now also attaches to the heads of some Congregations (central departments of the Curia), who are traditionally Cardinals, hence often called "Cardinal-prefect" (if not they are titled "Pro-Prefect").
  • A Prefect Apostolic is a cleric (sometimes a Titular Bishop, but normally a priest) in charge of an apostolic prefecture, a type of Roman Catholic territorial jurisdiction fulfilling the functions of a diocese, usually in a missionary area or in a country that is anti-religious, such as the People's Republic of China) but that is not yet given the status of regular diocese. It is usually destined to become one in time.

[edit] Academic

  • In the context of schools, a prefect is a pupil who has been given limited, trustee-type authority over other pupils in the school, such as a hall monitor or safety patrol.
  • In many British and Commonwealth schools (especially but not exclusively public schools), prefects, usually sixth formers, have considerable power and effectively run the school outside the classroom. They were once even allowed to administer corporal punishment (emulating domestic discipline) in some schools (now abolished in the UK and several other countries) under a system of self control, or sometimes used as (generally willing) 'executioner' by the staff. They usually answer to a senior prefect known as the Head of School (colloquially, Head Boy or Head Girl). However, due to Health and Safety laws the staff have tended to become stricter about what responsibilities prefects may hold, for fear of being held responsible in case of litigation.
  • In United States private residential college preparatory schools; see also "proctor".
  • In Sweden, a prefect (prefekt) is the head of a university department.

In the United States, formerly in many Catholic high schools this title was given to a member of the faculty ("prefect of discipline" incharge of student attendance, general order and such).

[edit] Modern sub-national administration

  • In France (and some former French or Belgian colonies, such as Rwanda), a prefect (préfet) is the State's representative in a région (préfet de région) or département. His agency is called the préfecture, and his circumscription is also called a prefecture in some former French republics. Sub-prefects (sous-préfets, sous-préfecture) operate in the arrondissements under his control.
  • In Italy, a prefect (prefetto) is the State's representative in a province (provincia). His agency is called the prefettura.
  • In some Spanish-speaking states in Latin America, following a French-type model introduced in Spain itself, prefects were installed as governors; remarkably, in some republics (like Peru) two levels were constructed from the French model: a prefecture and a department, the one being only part of the other.
  • In Romania, a prefect is the governmental representative in a county (judeţ), in an agency called prefectură.
  • In Quebec, a prefect (préfet) is the head of a regional county municipality.
  • In Brazil, a prefect (prefeito) is the elected head of the executive branch in a municipality. Larger cities, such as São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Curitiba, etc., also have sub-prefects, appointed to their offices by the elected prefect.

[edit] Police

The Prefect of Police (Préfet de police) is the officer in charge of co-ordinating police forces in the various administrativ circumscriptions of Paris.

[edit] See also

[edit] External link

de:Präfekt et:Prefekt (Vana-Rooma) es:Prefecto eo:Prefekto fr:Préfet no:Prefekt pl:Prefekt (Harry Potter) ru:Префект (Древний Рим) fi:Prefekti [sv:Prefekt]]


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