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Positions in the Roman Government and Ranks in the Roman Army Found in The Book of Acts

Julian Spriggs M.A.

In the Book of Acts we find a large number of references to different Roman officials, or army divisions. This is a list of these, giving the Greek word, an example of where it is found in the Book of Acts, together with an explanation. Some of these show the great accuracy of Luke’s writing, as the use of many of these titles are confirmed by writings and archaeology from the first century.

Roman Citizen (16:37)

Roman citizens were strictly exempt from degrading forms of punishment, like beating, scourging, or crucifixion. They had the right to appeal to the Emperor. Paul was a Roman citizen by birth, indicating that his father or grandfather had been granted citizenship. Otherwise, it was a privilege given as a reward for loyal service to the Emperor. Within thirty days of birth, each legitimate child born of a citizen had to be registered. The father was given a certificate, which was legal evidence that the child was a Roman citizen.

Roman citizens had three names:
1) Praenomen - first name
2) Nomen, or nomen gentile - family name
3) Cognomen - additional name or surname
Newly made citizens usually adopted the family name of their patron, and often their praenomen also. There was also an optional supernomen or signum for use within the family. Paul's cognomen was Paullus. We do not know his other names. His signum was his Jewish name, Saul, which was used by his family and in Jewish communities, such as Damascus and Jerusalem.

Government Positions

City Authorities (17:6) (Gk = politarch)

A unique title for the chief magistrates only used in the cities of Macedonia, including Thessalonica and Philippi. Luke's use of this title shows his accuracy as a historian.

Magistrate (16:19) (Gk = strataegos)

A provincial official who administrated justice. Philippi as a Roman colony had two magistrates, who were normally called duoviri (meaning two men), but who preferred the more dignified title of Praetor.

Officials of the Province of Asia (19:31) (Gk = asiarch)

These were leading citizens who administered a league of cities in Asia. They were chosen annually from the most wealthy and aristocratic people. The high priests of the worship of the Roman Emperor were elected from among the Asiarchs.

Police (16:35) (Gk = rabdouchos - rod carriers)

The official attendants to the magistrates, who also carried out police duties. They were known by their Latin title - Lictors. As symbols of their office, they carried bundles of rods with an axe inserted among them, called the fasces, showing the right of the magistrate to inflict corporal and capital punishment.

Prefect or Procurator (Gk = hegemon)

The governor in charge of an Roman Imperial province, like Judea. They differed from a proconsul in having military authority, and an indefinite term of office. Their responsibilities included military security and public order, collection of taxes, and legal justice. These are the procurators of Judea mentioned in the New Testament:
Pontius Pilate (Mt 27:2) AD 26 - 36
Felix (Acts 23:24) AD 52 - 59
Festus (Acts 24:27) AD 59 - 62

Proconsul (Gk = anthupatos)

The governor in charge of a Roman Senatorial province. He was elected by the Senate for a one year renewable term. His main duties were to insure peace and to collect taxes, although he lacked military authority. These proconsuls are named in the Book of Acts:
Sergius Paullus (13:7) Proconsul of Cyprus
L. Junius Gallio (18:2) Proconsul of Achaia, including Corinth for one year, which dates Paul's visit to Corinth in AD 51-52

Proconsuls in Ephesus (19:38)

In AD 54, the proconsul of Asia, Marcus Junius Silanus, was poisoned by his two subordinates, Helius and Celer, on instructions of Nero's mother Agrippina, to prevent Silanus from becoming emperor after the death of Claudius, instead of Nero. The plural 'proconsuls' could either mean proconsuls in general, or to Helius and Celer being the two acting proconsuls until Silanus's successor was appointed. If this is the case, then this dates Paul's visit to Ephesus in AD 54.

Town Clerk (19:35) (Gk = Grammateus)

A leading civic official in a Roman city, directly responsible to Rome. He acted as a liaison between the civic government of a city and the Roman provincial administration. The Roman authorities would hold him responsible for riots and disturbances, and might impose severe penalties on the city. Also, as secretary, he drafted the legal decrees to be brought before the civic assembly.

Governmental organisation


The province was the Roman administrative region, originally ruled by magistrates who were elected by the Senate. By the first century, there were two types of province:
1. Senatorial provinces, under control of the Senate, governed by proconsuls, who were ex-consuls or ex-praetors, and who held office for one year only.
2. Imperial provinces, under the direct control of the Emperor, governed by procurators or prefects, with military authority. These had the rank of senator, and held office as long as the emperor desired.
Provinces could be transferred from the Senate to the Emperor, or vice versa. For example, Cyprus was transferred from being imperial to senatorial in 22 BC, so then had a proconsul (Acts 13:7)

Roman Colony (16:12)

A corporation of Roman citizens settled away from Italy, and enjoying self-government. Roman colonies were a little Rome away from Rome, run with Roman justice and govenment systems under the control of a Roman magistrate, with Latin as the official language. They were often populated by retired Roman soldiers. Some Greek republics were given colonial status as an honour, like Philippi - something the city would be very proud of.

Army divisions


A century was the smallest division in the Roman army. It originally consisted of 100 men, but the number was later reduced to 80 men. Each century was commanded by a centurion.

Each century also had a tesserarius, who was in control of guard duties, and received 1.5 times the normal pay. The standard-bearer of the century was the signifer, who was in charge of pay and expenses, and received double pay. A century also had a cornicen, who was a horn-blower, and an optio, the backup leader in case the centurion was killed or injured. He also helped to train the century.

Cohort (10:1) (Gk = speira)

A cohort was an army division of 480 or 800 men, equivalent to one tenth of a Legion (5,500 men), or six centuries. It was commanded by a Tribune, or sometimes by a Prefect. The Italian Cohort (10:1), based in Judea, was probably originally raised in Italy, but would have recruited local soldiers.


The largest unit in the Roman army, consisting of about 5,500 soldiers, often with a small cavalry division of 120 men who were used as scouts. The Roman Empire had around 30 legions. A legion consisted of ten cohorts. Nine of these cohorts had 480 men, divided into six centuries of 80 men each, but the first cohort had 800 men, divided into five centuries consisting of more specialist soldiers, such as blacksmiths or builders.

In the first century, there were normally three or four legions on duty in Syria, but before the Jewish rebellion in AD 66, there were no legions stationed in Judea. The governors of Judea commanded auxiliary forces the size of a cohort.

Army ranks

Centurion (10:1) (Gk = ekatontarchae)

The commander of a century in the Roman army. He had the status of a non-commissioned officer, but his responsibilities were similar to a modern army Captain. He drilled his men, inspected their arms, food and clothing, and was their commander in the camp and on the battle-field. A soldier would be given Roman Citizenship after completing his twenty-five years of service. Centurions were normally assigned to police duties and the guarding of prisoners.

Tribune (21:32) (Gk = chiliarch)

The Roman military commander of a Cohort. He was a professional officer, almost always a Roman citizen and a member of the equestrian (middle) class, who intended to make a career of public service. A tribune led the group of soldiers when Judas betrayed Jesus (John 18:12). Claudius Lysias was the tribune who led the cohort to arrest Paul in the temple (21:30-32), and wrote a letter to governor Felix about Paul (23:26).


The title Praetor was used both by magistrates and by army commanders.

Army Organisation

Name Commanded by Number of men Smaller unit
Century Centurion 80 men
Cohort Tribune 480 men 6 centuries
Legion Legate 5,500 men 10 cohorts

Praetorium (23:35)

This originally meant the tent of a commander, or Praetor, so became a word used to describe the army headquarters. Later, it was used as the residence of the provincial governor, or even the residence of the Emperor (Phil 1:3).

The Bible

Pages which look at issues relevant to the whole Bible, such as the Canon of Scripture, as well as doctrinal and theological issues. There are also pages about the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha and 'lost books' of the Old Testament.

Also included are lists of the quotations of the OT in the NT, and passages of the OT quoted in the NT.

Old Testament Overview

This is a series of six pages which give a historical overview through the Old Testament and the inter-testamental period, showing where each OT book fits into the history of Israel.

New Testament Overview

This is a series of five pages which give a historical overview through the New Testament, focusing on the Ministry of Jesus, Paul's missionary journeys, and the later first century. Again, it shows where each book of the NT fits into the history of the first century.

Introductions to Old Testament Books

This is an almost complete collection of introductions to each of the books in the Old Testament. Each contains information about the authorship, date, historical setting and main themes of the book.

Introductions to New Testament Books

This is a collection of introductions to each of the 27 books in the New Testament. Each contains information about the authorship, date, historical setting and main themes of the book.

Old Testament History

Information about the different nations surrounding Israel, and other articles concerning Old Testament history and the inter-testamental period.

New Testament History

Articles which give additional information about the history and culture of the first century, giving helpful background knowledge for the Gospels and Paul's travels.

Old Testament Studies

A series of articles covering more general topics for OT studies. These include a list of the people named in the OT and confirmed by archaeology. There are also pages to convert the different units of measure in the OT, such as the talent, cubit and ephah into modern units.

More theological topics include warfare in the ancient world, the Holy Spirit in the OT, and types of Jesus in the OT.

Studies in the Pentateuch (Gen - Deut)

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There are also pages about covenants, the sacrifices and offerings, the Jewish festivals and the tabernacle, as well as the issue of tithing.

Studies in the Old Testament History Books (Josh - Esther)

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the history books. These include a list of the dates of the kings of Israel and Judah, a summary of the kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and studies of Solomon, Jeroboam and Josiah.

There are also pages describing some of the historical events of the period, including the Syro-Ephraimite War, and the Assyrian invasion of Judah in 701 BC.

Studies in the Old Testament Prophets (Is - Mal)

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the OT prophets. These include a page looking at the way the prophets look ahead into their future, a page looking at the question of whether Satan is a fallen angel, and a page studying the seventy weeks of Daniel.

There are also a series of pages giving a commentary through the text of two of the books:
Isaiah (13 pages) and Daniel (10 pages).

New Testament Studies

A series of articles covering more general topics for NT studies. These include a list of the people in the NT confirmed by archaeology.

More theological topics include the Kingdom of God and the Coming of Christ.

Studies in the Four Gospels (Matt - John)

A series of articles covering various studies in the four gospels. These include a list of the unique passages in each of the Synoptic Gospels and helpful information about the parables and how to interpret them.

Some articles look at the life and ministry of Jesus, including his genealogy, birth narratives, transfiguration, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and the seating arrangements at the Last Supper.

More theological topics include the teaching about the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete and whether John the Baptist fulfilled the predictions of the coming of Elijah.

Studies in the Book of Acts and the New Testament Letters

A series of articles covering various studies in the Book of Acts and the Letters, including Paul's letters. These include a page studying the messages given by the apostles in the Book of Acts, and the information about the financial collection that Paul made during his third missionary journey.

More theological topics include Paul's teaching on Jesus as the last Adam, and descriptions of the church such as the body of Christ and the temple, as well as a look at redemption and the issue of fallen angels.

There are a series of pages giving a commentary through the text of five of the books:
Romans (7 pages), 1 Corinthians (7 pages), Galatians (3 pages), Philemon (1 page) and Hebrews (7 pages)

Studies in the Book of Revelation

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the study of the Book of Revelation and topics concerning Eschatology (the study of end-times).

These include a description of the structure of the book, a comparison and contrast between the good and evil characters in the book and a list of the many allusions to the OT. For the seven churches, there is a page which gives links to their location on Google maps.

There is a page studying the important theme of Jesus as the Lamb, which forms the central theological truth of the book. There are pages looking at the major views of the Millennium, as well as the rapture and tribulation, as well as a list of dates of the second coming that have been mistakenly predicted through history.

There is also a series of ten pages giving a detailed commentry through the text of the Book of Revelation.

Inductive Bible Study

These are a series of pages giving practical help showing how to study the Bible inductively, by asking a series of simple questions. There are lists of observation and interpretation questions, as well as information about the structure and historical background of biblical books, as well as a list of the different types of figures of speech used in the Bible. There is also a page giving helpful tips on how to apply the Scriptures personally.

Types of Literature in the Bible

These are a series of pages giving practical help showing how to study each of the different types of book in the Bible by appreciating the type of literature being used. These include historical narrative, law, wisdom, prophets, Gospels, Acts, letters and Revelation.

It is most important that when reading the Bible we are taking note of the type of literature we are reading. Each type needs to be considered and interpreted differently as they have different purposes.

Geography and Archaeology

These are a series of pages giving geographical and archaeological information relevant to the study of the Bible. There is a page where you can search for a particular geographical location and locate it on Google maps, as well as viewing photographs on other sites.

There are also pages with photographs from Ephesus and Corinth.

Early Church Fathers

These are a series of pages giving biographical information about some of the more significant early church fathers, such as Irenaeus, Origen and Tertullian, as well as some important groups and events in the first centuries of the church.

Artifacts in the British Museum relevant to Biblical studies

These are a series of pages describing artifacts in each gallery of the British Museum, which have a connection with the Bible.

Biblical Archaeology in Museums around the world

A page with a facility to search for artifacts held in museums around the world which have a connection with the Bible. These give information about each artifact, as well as links to the museum's collection website where available showing high resolution photographs of the artifact.

There is also page of photographs from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem of important artifacts.

Historical documents

These are a series of pages containing historical documents which give helpful information for Biblical studies. These include Hittite suzerainty treaties with a similar structure to the Book of Deuteronomy, different lists of the New Testament books and quotations from Josephus and other ancient writers.

Life Questions

These are a series of pages looking at some of the more difficult questions of Christian theology, including war, suffering, disappointment and what happens to those who have never heard the Gospel.

How to Preach

These are a series of pages giving a practical step-by-step explanation of the process of preparing a message for preaching, and how to lead a small group Bible study.

Information for SBS staff members

Two pages particularly relevant for people serving as staff on the School of Biblical Studies (SBS) in YWAM. One gives helpful instruction about how to prepare to teach on a book in the SBS. The other gives a list of recommended topics which can be taught about for each book of the Bible.