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Ancient Rome

In the Roman Republic, a proconsul (in Greek rendered as , anthypatos) was a promagistrate (like a propraetor) who, after serving as consul, spent a year as a governor of a province. Certain provinces were reserved for proconsuls; who received which one by senatorial appointment was determined by random choosing or negotiation between the two proconsuls.

Under the Empire, the Emperor derived a good part of his powers (alongside the military imperium and the tribunician power and presidency of the senate in Rome) from a constitutionally 'exceptional' (but permanent) mandate as the holder of proconsular authority over all, hence, so-called Imperial provinces, generally with one or more legions garrisoned (often each under a specific legate); however, he would appoint legates and other promagistrates to govern each such province in his name. The former consuls (constitutionally still eponymic chief magistrates of the res publica, but politically powerless) would still receive a term as proconsul of one of the other, so-called Senatorial provinces.

The Notitia Dignitatum, a unique early 5th-century imperial chancery document, still mentions three proconsuls (propraetors had completely disappeared), apparently above even the vicars of the dioceses in protocol though administratively their subordinates like all governors; the diocesan vicars in turn were under the four praetorian prefects:

The many other, often new or split, provinces are under governors of various other -younger, usually less prestigious- styles: comes, praefectus augustalis (unique to Egypt, the emperor's "pharaonic crown domain"), consularis, praeses [provinciae], corrector provinciae; these are not to be confused with the also territorially organised (but overlapping) and strictly military governors: comes militaris, dux and later magister militum.

Modern analogy

In modern speech, a leader appointed by a foreign power during military occupation is sometimes anachronistically described as a proconsul. One example was Gotara Ogawa during Japan's military occupation of Burma (1942 - 1945), another, US general Douglas MacArthur who was referred to as the Proconsul of Japan after World War II. More recently, the Wall Street Journal described the US Civilian Administrator of Iraq as a "modern proconsul".

The term has also been used as a disparagement towards individuals, especially ambassadors, who have attempted to influence the governments of foreign countries. In one instance, former Canadianmarker cabinet minister Lloyd Axworthy called former United Statesmarker ambassador to Canada Paul Cellucci "the U.S. ambassador-turned-proconsul" in an opinion piece in the April 29, 2003 Globe and Mail newspaper. Axworthy's comments were in response to Cellucci's frequent warnings to the Canadian government on domestic policy matters (such as the decriminalization of marijuana) which were often perceived by Canadians as threats.

It also occurred that, during the British Empire, sometimes proconsuls manifested peripheral activism versus the metropolitan restraint from London. For example, British representatives at Rio and Buenos Aires during the Uruguayan civil wars of the 1820s and 1840s often went beyond their official instructions, the latter facilitated by slow and unsure transatlantic communications.

References and Sources

  1. Alan Knight, "Britain and Latin America" in Andrew Porter (ed) The Oxford History of the British Empire - The Nineteenth Century (1999).

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