The Praetorian Guard

Geoffrey Powell profiles the Praetorian Guard. This corps d'elite, first established on a permanent footing by Augustus, played a powerful part in the history of imperial Rome.

When a soldier of a newly emergent state, possibly fresh from his military studies at Camberley, the Ecole de Guerre or Fort Leavenworth, perpetrates a coup d’etat in his native land, his treachery is often reproached with the expletive ‘Praetorian Guard’, a synonym for brutal and selfish militarism ever since Gibbon condemned ‘The Praetorian bands, whose licentious fury was the first symptom and cause of the decline of the Roman empire’.

Although the origins of these household troops of Imperial Rome lay in the cohors praetoria, a bodyguard of young men, usually of good family, employed by the Republican generals of the second century B.C., the Guard became a permanent force only after Augustus’s destruction of Mark Antony at the sea battle of Actium had made him sole master of the Roman world.

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