PROVINCE. A word of doubtful etymology, it signifies the sphere of duty of a magistrate. The “roads and forest of Italy” for example, were a province, supervised by the appropriate commissioner. With the empire’s gradual acquisition of new lands, spheres of magisterial duty signified increasingly the defense, organization, and government of distant territories; and the word province acquired the geographical significance that became its prime Latin meaning and its exclusive derived meaning. The provinces of Rome in this sense of the word were acquired over a period of more than three centuries. The first was Sicily (241 b.c.). The last were Britain, organized by Claudius, and Dacia, acquired by Trajan. Marcus Aurelius made a province out of Mesopotamia. Under the settlement of 27 b.c., all provinces were divided into two categories. First there were the imperial provinces, those that required a frontier army and that, in consequence, were kept under the control of the emperor, who was commander-in-chief of all armed forces. Second there were the senatorial provinces, those that presented no major problems of military occupation or defense and that were left in the control of the Senate. Imperial provinces were governed by the emperor’s legati or, in the case of smaller units like Judea or Thrace, by procurators. The senatorial provinces were under a “proconsul” (niv) or “deputy” (kjv); see Acts.13.7. Cyprus became a senatorial province in 22. Egypt, a special case, was governed by a prefect.——EMB

The limits of an archbishop's* or a metropolitan's* jurisdiction. The word signifies also the territorial division of certain Roman Catholic orders wherein area chiefs are known as “provincials.”

PROVINCE (מְדִינָה, H10406, district; ἐπαρχεία, G2065, province). An administrative district of government.


Originally the term designated the sphere of administrative action or duty exercised by an appointed official over a conquered territory, but later the term was used of the geographical territory itself.

Use in the OT.

Use in the NT.

The term ἐπαρχεία, G2065, is used only two times in the NT. First is Acts 23:34, where Felix asked Paul to what province he belonged. Second is Acts 25:1, where the newly appointed procurator Festus had arrived in his province. It can be seen that in NT times the term “province” designated the geographical territory to be governed.

History of Roman provincial administration

From 509 to 241 B.C.

Until the first Punic War all the provinces were in Italy. The consuls (two yearly elected civil and military magistrates) would campaign and the two praetors (juridical magistrates) would rule; one was in charge of the administration of justice, the other assumed jurisdiction among the aliens.

From 241 to 27 B.C.

It was not until Sicily was conquered in 241 b.c. that Rome had its first province beyond the Italian peninsula (cf. Cicero In Verrum ii. 1. 2). Although Sardinia was seized from Carthage in 238 b.c. it was not until 227 b.c. that she became a province, at which time two more praetors were added; one to administer in Sicily, the other in Sardinia. There was an increase in the number of praetors to six in 197 b.c. to administer Spain, and to eight by Sulla (c. 138-78 b.c.), who required them to remain in Rome as judges during their year as praetors and to proceed to the governorship of the provinces after their year of office. Sulla introduced this practice because of the increase of provinces and because of the unwillingness of some men (e.g. Cicero) to serve abroad. During Sulla’s day only those men who headed up the important provinces were given the title of proconsul, but after Sulla all governors seemed to be ranked as proconsuls. There were increases in the number of praetors to sixteen during the remaining years of the Republic.

From 27 B.C. to A.D. 180.

The accession of Augustus (27 b.c.) marked the advent of the Principate. There were changes in administration. During the republican era all provinces were under the jurisdiction of the Senate but beginning with Augustus the provinces were divided into three classes. First, the ten older provinces which had no need of a large military force were left under the jurisdiction of the Senate. Generally the administration was basically a continuation of the post-Sulla era of the republican rule. The senatorial governors had the title of proconsul and were appointed for one year having no military power (the two large provinces of Asia and Africa were held by ex-consuls while the remaining eight provinces were held by expraetors). The accuracy of Acts 13:7 is attested by designating Sergius Paulus a proconsul since Cyprus was a senatorial province from 22 b.c.

Second, twelve provinces (and any provinces added subsequent to 27 b.c.) came under the imperial administration. These were frontier provinces needing a large military force under the leadership of Augustus, the commander and chief of all armies. The governor of an imperial province was a legate of the emperor (legatus Augusti pro praetore). These legates were chosen by the emperor for an indefinite term of office and were in charge of the military. There were two classes of legates: (1) those of consular status who were over larger and more important provinces; (2) those of praetorian status who were over provinces which required no more than one legion.

Third, there were the provinces which were under a special form of provincial administration because of the nature of their rugged terrain (e.g. Alpine districts), their underdeveloped state (e.g. Mauretania and Thrace), or the stubborn character of the people (e.g. Judea and Egypt). They were regarded as imperial provinces governed by an imperial procurator or praefectus of the equestrian rank chosen by the emperor and responsible to both the emperor and the neighboring legate.

Principal Roman provinces.

The following list of provinces are those mentioned in the NT. They are listed in the order of their admission to the Rom. empire in each of the categories. Of course, some of the imperial provinces had been senatorial provinces before 27 b.c.

Senatorial provinces.

Imperial provinces.

First class ruled with consulars. Syria (64 b.c.); Cilicia (64 b.c.—united with Syria 22 b.c.-a.d. 72); Illyricum (11 b.c.); Dalmatia (a.d. 9).

The second class ruled with praetors. Pamphylia—part of Cilicia (102-44 b.c.), united with Asia (44 b.c.-a.d. 43), and united with Lycia (a.d. 43); Egypt (30 b.c.); Galatia (25 b.c.-a.d. 72—after which time it was united with Cappadocia and Armenia Minor under a legate of consular rank); Lycia (a.d. 43-69).

The third class ruled with procurators praefectus. Judea (a.d. 6-41, 44-70)—part of Syria 63-40 b.c.; Cappadocia (a.d. 17-72—after which it was united with Galatia and Armenia Minor under a legate of consular rank).

The province of Judea.

The province of Judea was under Syria’s consular legate as seen in Varus’ intervention shortly after Herod the Great’s death (Jos. Antiq. xvii. 9. 3 § 222; War ii. 2. 2 § 17; Antiq. xvii. 10. 9, 10 § 286-298; War ii. 5. 1-3 § 66-79; cf. also Antiq. xvii. 11. 1 § 299-303; War ii. 6. 1 § 80-83). In a.d. 36 Vitellius took charge of Judea, ordering Pilate to report to Tiberius (Jos. Antiq. xviii. 4. 2 § 88, 89; cf. also Tac. Ann. vi. 32).


J. Marquardt, Römische Staatsverwaltung (1881), I, 497-502, 517-567; T. Mommsen, Römische Staatsrechts, 3rd ed. (3 vols.; 1887-1888), passim; T. Mommsen, The Provinces of Roman Empire, trans. by W. P. Dickson (2 vols.; 1909), passim; G. H. Stevenson, Roman Provincial Administration (1939), passim. D. Magie, Roman Rule in Asia Minor (2 vols.; 1950), passim; J. Crook, Concilium Principis (1955), passim; E. W. Saunders, “Province,” IDB, III (1962), 940, 941; B. Reicke, The New Testament Era, trans. by D. E. Green (1968), passim; F. F. Bruce, New Testament History (1969), passim; E. Badian, “Provincia,” The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 2nd ed. (1970), 891, 892 (and for various provinces, ad loc.); A. H. M. Jones, The Cities of the Eastern Roman Provinces, 2nd ed. (1971), passim.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(medhinah, "jurisdiction"; eparchia (English Versions of the Bible, province) (Ac 23:34; 25:1)):

1. Meaning of the Term

2. Roman Provincial Administration

(1) First Period

(2) Second Period

(3) Third Period

3. Division of Provinces

4. Province of Judea

5. Revenue


1. Meaning of the Term:

Province (provincia) did not originally denote a territorial circumscription in Roman usage, since the employment of the word was much more ancient than any of the conquests of the Romans outside of Italy. In the most comprehensive official sense it signified a magistrate’s sphere of administrative action, which in one instance might be the direction of jurisdiction at Rome, in another the management of military operations against a particular hostile community. When the imperium was conferred upon two consuls at the beginning of the Republic, and upon a praetor in 367 BC, and finally upon a second praetor in 241 BC, it became necessary in practice to define their individual competence which was unlimited in theory. When the Romans extended their control over lands situated outside of Italy, it became expedient to fix territorial limits to the exercise of authority by the magistrates who were regularly sent abroad, so that provincia signified henceforth in an abstract sense the rule of the governor, and in a concrete sense the specified region entrusted to his care; and with the development and consolidation of the Roman system of administration, the geographical meaning of the word became more and more significant.

2. Roman Provincial Administration:

The history of Roman provincial administration in the more definite sense commences in 227 BC, when four praetors were elected for the first time, of whom two were assigned to the government of the provinces. Three periods may be distinguished in the history of the system of provincial administration:

(1) from 227 BC to Sulla,

(2) from Sulla to Augustus, and

(3) the Empire.

(1) First Period.

During the first period, provision was made for the government of the provinces by means of special praetors, or, in exceptional circumstances, by consuls, during their term of office. Accordingly, the number of praetors was increased from four in 227 BC to eight at the time of Sulla.

(2) Second Period.

In accordance with the reforms of Sulla all the consuls and praetors remained at Rome during their year of office, and were entrusted with the administration of provinces a subsequent year with the title proconsul (pro consule) or propraetor (pro praetore). The proconsuls were sent to the more important provinces. The senate determined the distinction between consular and praetorian provinces and generally controlled the assignment of the provinces to the ex-magistrates. Julius Caesar increased the praetors to sixteen, but Augustus reduced them to twelve.

(3) Third Period.

In 27 BC, Augustus as commander-in-chief of the Roman army definitely assumed the administration of all provinces which required the presence of military forces and left the other provinces to the control of the senate. There were then twelve imperial and ten senatorial provinces, but all provinces added after 27 BC came under imperial administration. The emperor administered his provinces through the agency of personal delegates, legati Augusti of senatorial, and praefecti or procuratores of equestrian, rank. The term of their service was not uniform, but continued usually for more than a single year. The senatorial administration was essentially a continuation of the post-Sullan, republican regime. The senatorial governors were called proconsuls generally, whether they were of consular or praetorian rank; but Africa and Asia alone were reserved for exconsuls, the eight remaining senatorial provinces being attributed to ex-praetors. The financial administration of each imperial province was entrusted to a procurator, that of each senatorial province to a quaestor.

3. Division of Provinces:

The provinces were divided into smaller circumscriptions (civitates) for the purposes of local government. In the older provinces these districts corresponded generally with the urban communities which had been the units of sovereignty before the advent of the Romans. Under Roman rule they were divided into different classes on the basis of their dignity and prerogatives, as follows:

(1) Coloniae:

Roman or Latin colonies established after the model of the Italian commonwealths.

(2) Civitates Foederatae:

Communities whose independence had been guaranteed by a formal treaty with Rome.

(3) Civitates Liberae:

Communities whose independence the Romans respected, although not bound to do so by a formal obligation.

(4) Civitates Stipendiariae:

Communities which had surrendered to the discretion of the Romans and to which limited powers of local government were granted by the conquerors as a matter of convenience.

The civitates stipendiariae, and in some cases the colonies, paid taxes to the Roman government, the greater part of which was in the form either of a certain proportion of the annual products of the soil, such as a fifth or tenth, or a fixed annual payment in money or kind.

4. Province of Judea:

Judaea became a part of the province of Syria in 63 BC, but was assigned in 40 BC as a kingdom to Herod the Great, whose sovereignty became effective three years later. The provincial regime was reestablished in 6 AD, and was broken only during the years 41-44 AD, when Herod Agrippa was granted royal authority over the land (Josephus, Josephus, Antiquities XIX, viii, 2). The Roman administration was in the hands of the procurators (see Procurator) who resided at Caesarea (Josephus, BJ, II, xv, 6; Ac 23:23,33; 25:1) in the palace of Herod the Great (Ac 23:1-35). The procurators of Judea were subject to the authority of the imperial governors of Syria, as is evident from the deposition of Pontius Pilate by Vitellius (Josephus, Ant, XVIII, iv, 2; Tacitus, Annals vi.32). The procurator was competent to exercise criminal jurisdiction over the provincials in cases involving a capital sentence (Josephus, BJ, II, viii, 1), but he was bound to grant an appeal by Roman citizens for trial at Rome (Ac 25:11). A death sentence by the Sanhedrin required the sanction of the procurator, as appears in the process against the Saviour. Under Roman rule cities like Caesarea, Sebaste, and Jerusalem became organs for local government, like the urban communities in other parts of the Empire.

5. Revenue:

The revenue of Palestine under Claudius is said to have been 12,000,000 denarii (about $2,400,000, or 500,000 British pounds (in 1915); compare Josephus, Ant XIX, viii, 2). In addition to the ground tax, the amount of which is not known, a variety of indirect contributions were collected on auctions, salt, highways, bridges, etc., which constituted, no doubt, the field of activity in which the publicans gained their unenviable reputation.


The reader may be directed to Marquardt, Romische Staatsverwaltung, I, 497-502, 517-57, for a general discussion of the Roman system of provincial administration, and to the same volume, pp. 405-12, for the provincial government of Palestine.

George H. Allen