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The Praetorians because of their proximity to the absolute ruler of the known world knew that his power depended on deference and the unthinking obedience of the population. The Imperial Bodyguard, under Prefects such as Sejanus, recognized that ultimately power depended on brute force and that they had a monopoly on violence in Rome. As a result, the Imperial Guard played a considerable role in the history of the Empire. They had the ability, which the Senate did not have of making and unmaking the absolute ruler of the Roman world. The guards only deposed Emperors who were weak or during times of crisis. For the majority of their existence, strong rulers controlled the elite bodyguard. There are long periods in the 2nd century, for example, when the bodyguard is not mentioned in the sources, because they were tightly controlled by rulers, such as Hadrian.<ref>Bingham, p 178</ref>
The Imperial guard was a formation of the army, and Emperors often deployed them in the field. The Praetorian cohorts often accompanied Emperors on the campaign, where they protected their sovereign. For example, they accompanied Trajan on his campaign in Dacia, and this is memorialized on the Arch of Trajan in Rome. It was not uncommon for the Imperial Bodyguard to take part in the battle and they were regarded as an elite unit, who was often used when the outcome of a battle was uncertain.
On one occasion, they accompanied Germanicus as he quelled a great mutiny among the legions on the Rhine, who were threatening the new Emperor Tiberius. They helped Germanicus to persuade the legionnaires to return to their camps and restore discipline.<ref> Tacitus, x, v </ref> For many Emperors, they were seen as the last line of defense against a mutinous army or the legions of a rival.
The Praetorians appear to have been used not only to guard the Emperor but also maintained their authority in the capital.<ref> Bingham, p 117</ref> There are claims that the guards would often secretly assassinate those who were believed to be a threat to the Emperor. It seems that the Imperial Guardsmen were flexible and used in emergencies. The elite unit was often used as firefighters, alongside the urban militia. For example, Praetorian Guards fought a fire that threatened the Temple of Vesta in the great conflagration that engulfed the city on the Tiber, during the reign of Nero. <ref> Tacitus, xi x</ref>
While the Imperial Bodyguard was mainly stationed in Rome, it was not uncommon for Praetorian officers to be located elsewhere in Italy. The Praetorian Prefect was important in the government of Italy. There is evidence that Praetorians could be stationed throughout Italy. Imperial Bodyguards often administered areas and urban centers in Italy. For example, the graves of Praetorians have been found in Pompeii, where they were presumably involved in local affairs. It was believed that Praetorians had a role in collecting taxes and maintaining law and order. They would, presumably, ensure that the orders of the Emperor were enforced at the local level. It is believed that Praetorians were employed to arbitrate in local land disputes between communities, which often threatened to flare up into open violence.<ref>Kelpie, p 116</ref> It also appears that they were involved in the collection of taxes. The exact role of the Praetorian in the Italian provinces is unknown, but it appears that they played an important role in the administration of Italy.
The Praetorian Guards were an important institution in the history of Imperial Rome. They were used to guard the Emperor and to protect his person and his family. This was a critical task in any autocracy such as the Roman Empire. However, they were in a privileged position to determine if an emperor should stay in power. Praetorian Guards never ousted a strong Emperor, but the Imperial bodyguard was often a destabilizing factor in Imperial politics.