Empire (rome)

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The term empire (from the Latin imperare , “rule”, “command”, “command”) belonged to the concept of legal authority in the Roman Empire . A man who one imperium held, had almost absolute power within the jurisdiction of his office, but could by veto be overruled or majority vote by the holder or holders of a higher or equivalent empire. The distinction between imperium (authority, sphere of influence) and potestas (authority) was fuzzy. The best way to say that an empire was always a potestas , not the other way around. Originally every bearer of an empire was called an emperor ; only later, since Scipio Africanus , did this word have a more special meaning - first "military commander", then "victorious general" - and ultimately only referred to the Roman emperors.

As a rule, one was elected to the offices with which an empire was connected by the Comitia Centuriata , that is, by that popular assembly that represented the Roman people in arms. An official with an imperium ( magistrate or promagistrate ) was accompanied by lictors wearing the fasces (the traditional symbol of empire and authority in Rome ); outside of the pomerium (the sacred city limits) axes were added to the fasces to indicate the power of an imperial official to impose the death penalty on Roman citizens who served under him outside Rome. The number of lictors accompanying the officer was an obvious sign of the rank of the empire:

  • Dictator - originally 12 lictors, after Sulla's dictatorship there were 24
    • Since the dictator could also impose the death penalty within Rome, only his lictors carried the axes on the fasces also within the pomerium
  • Consul - 12 lictors
  • Praetor - 6 lictors outside, 2 inside Rome
  • magister equitum (the “assistant” of a dictator) - 6 lictors
    • There is a historical dispute as to whether the empire of a praetor took precedence over the empire of a magister equitum .
  • curular aedile - 2 lictors (only in the late period and then not in every case; whether aediles regularly held an empire is unclear)
    • Since an aedilis plebis did not hold an empire , he was not accompanied by lictors

Formally, the magistrates received the imperium after their election by the Comitia Centuriata when they took office through a lex curiata de imperio from the otherwise hardly customary and ancient form of the people's assembly, the Comitia Curiata . As an imperium domi , it was subject to certain legal restrictions within Rome ; outside the pomerium, it encompassed full penal and command powers (imperium militiae) . A few years ago, the older view was again taken that an empire, with a few exceptional cases, was only effective outside the pomerium, while the authority of all magistrates in Rome was regarded as potestas .

The imperium domi expired at the end of the year in office, the imperium militiae, on the other hand, continued in principle until its holder was given a successor. Since the late 4th century BC It could be formally extended ("prorogated") by the Senate. Its owner was then a promagistrate ( proconsul or propaetor) and held the empire in the same way as during the original office; he was therefore accompanied by the same number of lictors. The imperium militiae automatically expired when its wearer crossed the Pomerium and entered Rome; only triumphants lost their empire only after the triumphal procession. However, if they entered the city before the triumph - for example to apply for an office - they would lose their empire and the claim to the triumph if they had not previously obtained special permission.

Some extraordinary commissions, such as the famous command of Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus against the pirates, were equipped with an imperium maius , which meant that it towered over all owners of other Imperia within the commissioned area (in Pompey's case also the consuls).

The similarly designed imperium proconsulare [ maius ?] ("[Increased] governor authority") became an important part of the authority of the Roman emperors since it was conferred on Augustus in 23 BC. Chr .; it gave them the opportunity to assume supreme command of the army in all provinces that were formally subordinate to the emperor. These provinces were located on the border of the empire with strong troops (including rich Egypt) and are referred to as " imperial provinces ", in contrast to the so-called " senatorial provinces ". In the imperial provinces, the emperors were represented by legati Augusti ; as these are not formally under their own auspices and without its own imperium acted, they could not for the Emperor to be declared and therefore celebrate no triumph; In fact, only the emperor was entitled to both. Inscriptions from North Africa ( Cyrene ) prove that the imperium proconsulare also already allowed Augustus to intervene directly in senate provinces, although these were not formally subordinate to him.

Towards the end of the republic, like provincia , imperium also increasingly assumed a spatial meaning and thus designated a specific territorial area of ​​responsibility or power. The initially unofficial terms Imperium populi Romani (“sphere of power of the Roman people”) and since Cicero Imperium Romanum (“Roman empire”) became names for the Roman domain as a whole, i.e. the Roman Empire.


  • Jochen Bleicken : Empire. In: The Little Pauly (KlP). Volume 2, Stuttgart 1967, Sp. 1381-1383.
  • Fred K. Drogula: Commanders and Command in the Roman Republic and Early Empire . University of North Carolina Press: Chapell Hill 2015, ISBN 978-1-4696-2126-5 .
  • Gerhard Dulckeit , Fritz Schwarz: Roman legal history. A study book. Revised by Wolfgang Waldstein . 8th, revised edition. Beck, Munich 1989, ISBN 3-406-33398-2 , esp. Pp. 86, 88-90, 188.
  • Frederik J. Vervaet: The High Command in the Roman Republic. The Principle of the “summum imperium auspiciumque” from 509 to 19 BCE (= Historia . Individual writings. Vol. 232). Franz Steiner, Stuttgart 2014, ISBN 978-3-515-10630-6 .


  1. Fred K. Drogula: Empire, potestas, and the pomerium in the Roman republic. In: Historia 56, 2007, pp. 419-452.