Caesar (title)

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Augustus , first holder of the title Caesar

Caesar (ancient pronunciation about [ 'kaɪ̯sar ]) was a title of power in the ancient Roman Empire . It originated from the cognomen Caesar , the epithet that a branch of the important Iulii family bore in the Republican era . During the imperial era , the title Caesar was mainly used for the designated successor of the emperor, but was also part of the title of the reigning emperor.

The rulership titles known today as emperor and tsar are derived from the Roman title.


Origin and early use as an imperial title

The title is derived from the cognomen Gaius Iulius Caesars . Originally Caesar was a Roman cognomen, about the meaning of which different sources provide different information. One of the two most likely theories is that of the writer Pliny , who derives the name from the fact that the first bearer of this name was cut from the womb: "Primusque Caesarum a caeso matris utero dictus" . (For example: 'And the first of the Caesars is named from the cut out abdomen of the mother'). The medical name of the caesarean section is accordingly also Caesarean section . Other credible traditions assume that caesar comes from the Latin caesaries , which means something like "hairy" or "head hair" and thus probably expressed that the branch of the Julier family is known for thick or fine hair was. Two further theories , mainly handed down by the (mostly rather unreliable) Historia Augusta, speak for caesa for "elephant" ( Historia Augusta , Verus 2,3; Servius commentarius in Vergilii Aeneida 1,286) and caesius for "blue-gray" ( Historia Augusta , Verus 2,4). According to the elephant theory, the first bearer of the name Caesar is said to have killed an elephant - perhaps this alludes to the First Punic War .

The Cognomen Caesar remained hereditary in the family of Julius Caesars. Caesar, who had no biological son from his wives, adopted his great-nephew Octavian , now known as Augustus, through his will , so that he now called himself just like his adoptive father Gaius Iulius Caesar , supplemented by the nickname Octavianus , which he never did led. Octavian soon renounced the gentile name Iulius and instead used Caesar in the place of the nomen gentile . In addition, Imperator took the place of the first name Gaius , so that since October / November 40 BC. BC the name of Emperor Caesar Divi filius ("son of the deified") finds. The name Caesar was borne by him in honor and to illustrate his claim to power. The title or honorary name that characterize the ruler was Augustus , the Octavian in 27 BC. Was awarded by the Senate . From then on he called himself Imperator Caesar [Divi filius] Augustus , and all three elements were to change from names to titles in the course of time.

Augustus passed the name Caesar on to his four adopted sons Gaius , Lucius , Tiberius and Agrippa Postumus . Tiberius, who ruled as emperor from 14 to 37 AD, had his biological son Drusus , his grandson Tiberius Gemellus and his adopted sons Germanicus , Nero and Drusus bear the name. Caligula , the youngest son of Germanicus and successor to Tiberius as emperor, also called himself Caesar following this family tradition . With Claudius (41–54) and Nero (54–68), who were only related by marriage to the Julier family, Caesar was no longer just a name, but became an integral part of the Roman emperors' titles. This development ended with the end of the Julio-Claudian dynasty after the death of Nero - three of the emperors of the four-emperor year 68/69, none of whom belonged to the Julier family, also gave themselves the title of Caesar . An exception was Vitellius , who instead referred to himself as Consul perpetuus , "perpetual consul ", since the title Caesar aroused too many monarchical connotations and he wanted to be associated with the Roman Republic.

After the end of the Julio-Claudian house, Caesar began to play a special role among the rulers' titles. Galba , one of the emperors of the four-emperor year, bestowed the title of Caesar on his adopted son and designated successor Lucius Calpurnius Piso Frugi Licinianus . From this point on, the title was awarded to the respective heir to the throne, which was already noticeable among the Flavians (69-96). At the latest since the reign of the Antonines (138–192), the title was no longer awarded to all of the emperor's sons, but only to the heirs to the throne. While the emperors now each carried the title of Imperator Caesar Augustus , supplemented by the respective individual names (for example, Imperator Caesar Flavius Vespasianus Augustus ), the designated successors only called themselves Caesar or Imperator Caesar . The title Augustus was only added when he came to power (sometimes, as in the case of Commodus , during the lifetime of the predecessor, who then remained superior as senior Augustus ). This procedure was necessary because the empire was not formally hereditary until the end and the award of the title Caesar , often associated with important powers, could clarify the often delicate question of succession during the lifetime of Augustus . Since Geta (198) Caesar regularly used the epithet nobilissimus ; this became independent in late antiquity and was therefore replaced by felicissimus in the Caesar title in the late 6th century .

The title Caesar in late antiquity

Diocletian - with whose elevation to emperor in 284 we usually start late antiquity - introduced the system of tetrarchy , in which there were two Augusti as superior rulers and two Caesares as subordinate co-rulers (and designated emperors). In this tetrarchical system, all four rulers enjoyed extensive autonomy in their respective areas - that is, administrative, legislative and military powers, even if the senior Augustus had the last word. The title Caesar stood for the respective "lower emperor". According to Diocletian's conception, when one of the Augusti dies or resigns, his Caesar should automatically follow, who should then appoint a successor to Caesar . However, the system collapsed shortly after Diocletian's abdication in the early 4th century. (As before, by the way, every Augustus still carried the title Caesar .) What was opposed to this was the legal position of the Caesares as emperors: Since the Tetrarchy, a Caesar , like an Augustus, was called dominus noster and princeps ; In addition, he was allowed to issue imperial laws ( constitutiones ), have coins struck with his image and count the years of his reign. He wore imperial purple and a diadem , which was, however, less elaborate than that of an Augustus .

In the struggle to succeed Diocletian, Constantine the Great was finally able to prevail, who ruled as sole Augustus from 324 onwards. He named his sons Caesares , some of them still as children , but - in contrast to Diocletian's tetrarchical system - only granted them military powers in their respective areas. After the death of Constantine in 337, however, this system could not be maintained without any problems, as it required a strong Augustus , whose final decision-making power was recognized by all emperors. In addition, there was no primogeniture in the Roman Empire. Conflicts arose between Constantine's three sons, which could not be resolved because all three eventually assumed the title Augustus . Constantius II , the last surviving son and from 350 onwards sole (legitimate) Augustus , had problems with his cousins ​​who he appointed as Caesares , as he had not clearly named and delimited their competencies. Constantius Gallus , whom he appointed Caesar in 351 , evidently saw himself in the tetrarchic tradition and demanded administrative and legislative powers for himself in addition to the military function intended for him, which brought him into conflict with the civil servants appointed by Constantius. In 354 Constantius finally had him executed. For similar reasons, Constantius also came into conflict with Julian , the half-brother of Gallus, whom he appointed as Caesar in 355 . Julian finally had himself proclaimed Augustus on his own initiative in 360 after several conflicts with the officials of Constantius . A civil war between Julian and Constantius was only prevented by Constantius' death in 361.

In the time after Constantius II - starting with Gratian , whom his father Valentinian I named Augustus directly - the title was no longer awarded as often, the emperors (including those designated) were henceforth usually raised directly to Augusti . Nevertheless, there were still a number of Caesares , for example Valentinian III. and Leo II , who - both as boys - were first raised to Caesares in 424 and 472 and advanced to Augusti a year later . The western emperor Petronius Maximus elevated his son Palladius to Caesar in 455 , and the western Roman emperors Majorian , Anthemius and perhaps also Julius Nepos , recognized by Ostrom, also only carried the Caesar title at the beginning of their reign . The Eastern Emperor Leo I elevated Patricius to Caesar , Zenon the younger Basiliscus - both Caesares never became Augusti . In Italy in 490 Odoacer elevated his son Thela to Caesar , who in 493 died. Justinian was first Caesar of his uncle Justin I from 525 and then became Augustus in 527 . Tiberios I was appointed Caesar Emperor Justins II in 574 to support the insane ruler before becoming Augustus himself in 578 . Emperor Maurikios was also Caesar (together with Germanus ) in 582 , before becoming Augustus a little later . Under Herakleios , the later emperors Heraklonas and David Tiberios were first appointed Caesares . The reason for the less frequent use of the Caesar title could perhaps have been the memory of the aforementioned tensions between Constantius II and his Caesares . It is much more likely, however, that in the 5th and 6th centuries a Caesar was simply raised when the incumbent Augustus did not want to or could not make a definitive decision about his successor. The Caesares of the 5th and 6th centuries no longer had the right to have their own coins struck, and are therefore mainly attested to in literature.

The further development

In the imperial titulature, Caesar disappeared in the Byzantine Empire under Justinian II (Emperor 685–695 and 705–711). Nevertheless, he was still awarded as a special honorary title (now in the Graecized form Kaisar ) until the time of Alexios I (1081–1118) and remained the second most important title after Basileus (βασιλεύς). With Alexios I began its devaluation, since he gave his brother Isaak Komnenos the honorary title of Sebastokrator , derived from Augustus (Greek Sebastos ) and Imperator (Greek autocrator ) . In the reign of Manuel I , a new title was then introduced, Despotes ("Lord"), which followed in rank after Basileus . Sebastokrator , Despotes and Caesar / Kaisar remained titles awarded exclusively by the emperor until the end of the Byzantine Empire. However , after the restoration of the Byzantine Empire under the Palaiologists, the title of Caesar was no longer awarded to close family members from 1261, but mainly to merited military leaders. The last known bearer was Manuel Angelos Philanthropenos , Lord of Thessaly .

In the Holy Roman Empire , Emperor Friedrich I elevated his son and designated successor Heinrich to Caesar in 1186 ; the exact scope of this unique act is, however, controversial in research.


Web links


  1. Pliny, naturalis historia 7.47 .
  2. For the various names derived from Hans Georg Gundel : Caesar. In: The Little Pauly (KlP). Volume 1, Stuttgart 1964, column 996 f.
  3. Oktavian, however, had himself called Caesar even before the official, sacredly valid adoption (see Dietmar Kienast , Römische Kaisertabelle , p. 24).
  4. See Fritz Mitthof : From ίερώτατος Καίσαρ to έπιφανέστατος Καίσαρ. The honorary titles in the title of the heir to the throne of the 3rd century AD according to the papyri. In: Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 99, 1993, pp. 97–111 ( PDF ), here: pp. 98 f .; Gerhard Rösch : Onoma basileias. Studies on the official use of the imperial titles in late antique and early Byzantine times (= Byzantina Vindobonensia. Vol. 10). Publishing house of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna 1978, ISBN 3-7001-0260-7 , p. 37.
  5. On the problematic relationship between Constantius II and his lower emperors cf. David S. Potter, The Roman Empire at Bay , London / New York 2004, p. 471ff.
  6. This is assumed by Kienast, Römische Kaisertabelle , p. 25.
  7. For the further development of the Caesar title see G. Weiß, Caesar (title), II. Byzanz , in: Lexikon des Mittelalters , Volume 2, Sp. 1352.