In ancient Rome, an apparitor[1] (also spelled apparator in English, or shortened to paritor) was a civil servant whose salary was paid from the public treasury.[2] The apparitores assisted the magistrates. There were four occupational grades (decuriae) among them.[3] The highest-ranked were the scribae, the clerks or public notaries, followed by the lictores, lictors; viatores, messengers or summoners, that is, agents on official errands; and praecones, announcers or heralds.[4]

The term has hence referred to a beadle in a university, a pursuivant or herald;[5] particularly, in Roman Catholic canon law, which was largely inspired by Roman law.

Apparitors (sometimes called summoners) continued to serve as officers in ecclesiastical courts. They were designated to serve the summons, to arrest a person accused,[6] and in ecclesiastico-civil procedure, to take possession, physically or formally, of property in dispute, in order to secure the execution of the judge's sentence. This was done in countries where the ecclesiastical forum, in its substantial integrity, is recognized.[7] An apparitor thus acted as constable and sheriff. His guarantee of his delivery of the summons provided evidence of a party's knowledge of his obligation to appear, either to stand trial, to give testimony, or to do whatever else might be legally enjoined by the judge; the apparitor's statement becomes the basis of a charge of contumacy against anyone refusing to obey a summons. Offenses dealt with by such courts included "sins of immorality, witchcraft, usury, simony, neglect of the sacraments, and withholding tithes or offering".[8][9][10]


  1. ^ Latin for "a servant of a public official", from apparere, "to attend in public".
  2. ^ Purcell, N. “The Apparitores: A Study in Social Mobility.” PBSR 51 (1983): 125– 73.
  3. ^ Christopher J. Fuhrmann (13 December 2011). Policing the Roman Empire: Soldiers, Administration, and Public Order. Oxford University Press. pp. 62–. ISBN 978-0-19-973784-0.
  4. ^ Marietta Horster, "Living on Religion: Professionals and Personnel," in A Companion to Roman Religion (Blackwell, 2007), p. 334; Daniel Peretz, "The Roman Interpreter and His Diplomatic and Military Roles", Historia 55 (2006), p. 452.
  5. ^   One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Apparitor". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 210.
  6. ^ Chisholm 1911.
  7. ^ Apparitor - Catholic Encyclopedia article
  8. ^ Chaucer, Geoffrey (1903). The prologue. Macmillan. p. 91. Retrieved 15 October 2012.
  9. ^ Clarence Griffin Child, Selections from Chaucer: Including His Earlier and Later Verse - 1912. "A Summoner was an ecclesiastical officer whose duty it was to detect offenses against the ecclesiastical law and bring the offenders before the ecclesiastical ..."
  10. ^ Maynard Mack - The Age of Chaucer 1961 -- Page 4 "A summoner was a minor church official connected with ecclesiastical courts. At this period the church was supported by tithes, or taxes levied on all parishioners and enforced by the penalty of excommunication (which involved subsequent imprisonment) — a penalty Chaucer's Parson was loath to invoke. Summonses could be issued (as the Friar's Tale implies) for other offenses, including fornication. Pardoners were traveling preachers who also sold saints' relics and indulgences.