The equivalent of the Latin province from the time of republican Rome. Whereas most provinces of the empire were administered by senatorial governors at the beginning of the imperial period, the province of Egypt was the first to have at its head a governor of equestrian rank, the eparchos or praefectus Alexandreae et Aegypti. The administrative unity of the Egyptian province was to some extent dissolved by the reforms of Diocletian (see PROVINCIAL ORGANIZATION OF EGYPT for the details of these reforms). The newly created provinces covering the territory of late Roman Egypt (Aegyptus Iovia, Aegyptus Herculia, Thebais, and others) became now eparchies.
Their civil administration was directed by a governor. In sixth-century Egypt the civil governors of the provinces were subordinated to the duces (the dux was originally the military commander of the province). The former province, or a plurality of provinces, could thus be conceived as ducal territories. But eparchy continued to be used officially as the designation of a province (see, for example, Justinian’s edict XIII), whereas the frontier provinces of Thebais and Libya were termed limites (boundaries). Changing designations, minor rearrangements, and the random nature of our documentation must not obscure one basic feature: In the face of the fluctuating attributions of their governors and other administrators, Egypt and its territorial divisions maintained a remarkable continuity throughout late antiquity.
As far as the ecclesiastical use of eparchy is concerned, canons 4, 5, and 6 of the Council of NICAEA (325) refer to (civil) eparchies in order to delimit the jurisdictions of single churches. Canon 6 of the Council of CONSTANTINOPLE (381) and canon 9 of the Council of CHALCEDON (451) recognize and recommend the institution of provincial synods as bodies of ecclesiastical jurisdiction. That the ecclesiastical status of communities was directly linked to their political or administrative status is clearly shown by canon 17 of the Council of Chalcedon, specifying that the ecclesiastical “order” has to adapt itself to the public one. Canon 9 of the same council puts in evidence the ascending line from the bishop of the single bishopric to the synod of the province (eparchia), directed by the metropolitan, and from there to the exarch (patriarch) of the diocese.
- Lallemand, J. L’Administration civile de l’Egypte de l’avènement de Dioclétien à la création du diocèse (284-382). Contribution à l’étude des rapports entre l’Egypte et l’Empire à la fin du IIIe et au IVe siècle, pp. 41-57. Brussels, 1964.
- Mason, H. J. Greek Terms for Roman Institutions: A Lexicon and Analysis, pp. 135f. American Studies in Papyrology 13. Toronto, 1974.
- Rouillard, G. L’Administration civile de l’Egypte byzantine, 2nd ed. Paris, 1928.