I recall reading that there was an unwritten rule to the effect that Roman Senators under the Empire were forbidden to visit Egypt without an express permission from the Emperor, on pain of death.

  1. Is my memory correct? If yes, can you supply a reference?
  2. If yes, is it known when this rule was rescinded?

1 Answer 1


Egypt remained "special" throughout the period of rule from Rome (through at least 395, in some respects through 640), and there is no indication that the Augustan restrictions were ever lifted.

Dio recounts in the Roman History 51.17 that

[Octavian] made Egypt tributary and gave it in charge of Cornelius Gallus. For in view of the populousness of both the cities and the country, the facile, fickle character of the inhabitants, and the extent of the grain-supply and of the wealth, so far from daring to entrust the land to any senator, he would not even grant a senator permission to live in it, except as he personally made the concession to him by name.

Tacitus tells us in Annals 2.59

[Tiberius sharply rebuked Germanicus] on his visit to Alexandria without the emperor's leave, contrary to the regulations of Augustus. That prince, among other secrets of imperial policy, had forbidden senators and Roman equestrians of the higher rank [equites inlustres] to enter Egypt except by permission, and he had specially reserved the country, from a fear that any one who held a province containing the key of the land and of the sea, with ever so small a force against the mightiest army, might distress Italy by famine.

Augustus tells us in Res Gestae 27 that he made Egypt a domain of the Roman people— in contrast to a province of the Senate. In practice, his victory over Mark Antony and Cleopatra had given him direct control of Egypt and its immense wealth; he ruled as if a pharaoh. Egypt was both an important source of grain and easily defended, making it particularly valuable and to keep out of the hand of potential rivals.

  • Thanks, this is a great answer. But it seems to me that your second sentence contains an over-generalization: the travel restriction applied only to Egypt, not to other imperial provinces. May I edit? Dec 10, 2012 at 10:32
  • Oh, and the wording "among other secrets of imperial policy" does indicate, in my opinion, an unwritten rule. Presumably, there was no decree of the Senate, or Lex Sometoadieia to that effect - it was just something people in the elite knew was lethally out of bounds to do. Dec 10, 2012 at 12:03
  • @FelixGoldberg Fair enough; the commentary that senators faced restrictions on all "frontier" provinces comes only from footnotes in secondary sources, so I removed that discussion.
    – choster
    Dec 13, 2012 at 19:40
  • I wonder, which secondary sources are you referring to? Dec 13, 2012 at 23:44

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