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The magister officiorum (Latin literally for "Master of offices", in , magistros tōn offikiōn) was one of the most senior administrative officials in the late Roman Empire and the early centuries of the Byzantine Empire. In Byzantium, the office was eventually transformed into a senior honorary rank, until it disappeared in the 12th century.

History and functions

Late Roman Empire

Although some scholars have supported its creation under Diocletian, the office can first be definitely traced to the rule of Roman Emperor Constantine I in 320, who probably created it in an effort to limit the power of the praetorian prefect (praefectus praetorio), until then the emperor's chief administrative aide. The magister supervised the palatine secretariat, divided into three bureaux, the sacra scrinia: the scrinium memoriae, the scrinium epistularum and the scrinium libellorum. Another important duty transferred to the office by Constantine was the supervision of the agentes in rebus, a corps of trusted messengers wgho also functioned as controllers of the imperial administration. His control of the feared agentes, or magistriani, as they were colloquially known, especially gave the office great power. The office rose quickly in importance after its creation: initially ranked as a tribunus, by the end of Constantine's reign the magister was a full comes.

The office's powers were further enhanced in 395, when the emperor Arcadius removed the purview of the Public Post ( , ), the palace guard (Scholae Palatinae) and the imperial arsenals (fabricae) from the praetorian prefecture and handed them to the magister. These last changes are reflected in the Notitia Dignitatum, a list of all offices compiled ca. 400. Sometime in the 5th century, the Eastern magister also assumed authority over the limitanei border guards.

In the course of time, the office also took over the coordination of foreign affairs (already in the late 4th century, the official translators and interpreters were under the control of the magister officiorum for this reason), and in the East, the Notitia records the presence of four secretaries in charge of the so-called Bureau of Barbarians under the magister's supervision. One of the most important incumbents of this office was Peter the Patrician, who held the position from 539 to 565 and undertook numerous diplomatic missions in this role for Justinian I. The office was retained in Ostrogothic Italymarker after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, and was held by eminent Roman senators such as Boethius and Cassiodorus.

Byzantine Empire

The office survived as a bureaucratic function in the eastern (or Byzantine) half of the Empire, but during the late 7th or the 8th century, most of the office's administrative functions were removed, and it was converted into the dignity of magistros (female form magistrissa). At least until the time of Leo VI the Wise however, the full former title was remembered: his powerful father-in-law, Stylianos Zaoutzes, is recorded once again as "master of the divine offices" ( ). In his administrative functions, the magister officiorum was replaced chiefly by the logothetēs tou dromou, who supervised the Public Post and foreign affairs, while the imperial bodyguard was transformed into the tagmata.

Until the reign of Michael III (842-867) there seem to have been only two magistroi, the senior of whom was termed prōtomagistros, and who was again one of the senior ministers of the state (without specific functions) and head of the Byzantine Senate. From the reign of Michael III on, the title was conferred on more people, and it effectively became a court rank, the highest in the Byzantine hierarchy until the introduction of the proedros in the mid-10th century. The List of Precedence (Klētorologion) of Philotheos, written in 899, implies the existence of 12 magistroi, while during the reign of Nikephoros II Phokas, Liutprand of Cremona recorded the presence of 24. The rank continued in existence thereafter, but lost increasingly in importance, especially in the Komnenian period, and disappearing entirely by the mid-12th century.


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  2. Notitia Dignitatum, Pars Occ. IX & Pars Orient. XI

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