from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Princeps (according to Sextus Pompeius Festus from Latin primus - capio , originally meaning "first taking (when distributing booty)", "first in order") is generally "first citizen" or "first among equals" in society roman antiquity . It was the official title of the Roman Emperors during the Principate's time .


Etymologically, the word goes back to the root “pro”, which in Indo-European usage expresses a spatial relationship, and was often used for the formation of the ordinal number primus “the first”. This primus was connected with the root * cap capio "to take", but more likely caput "main". The princeps was accordingly the class definition of a person within society and thus the most respected or most important within a group of people or a number of objects. The term princeps was associated with a managerial position or a high rank.

The meaning is very similar to those words that designate the most distinguished and influential people within a state:

  • Primores are those who have acquired this status either by birth, reputation, or fortune.
  • Principes are those who have acquired this class through their intellectual ability or talent, or who have distinguished themselves among the Primoribus through special activity.
  • Proceres describes the natural nobility compared to the common people.
  • Princeps also refers to the Roman emperor as the holder of the highest civil authority, in contrast to the Imperator (holder of military authority), as well as the first to do something or whose example others follow.


During the Roman Republic , writers could call outstanding men of all peoples and countries princeps . Within Rome there were usually several principes at the same time. Prerequisite for the "record" under the principes were benefits for the state and belonging to the nobility, was expected bravery and knowledge of the laws, institutions (institutiones) and ancient traditions.

During the Roman Empire , the term was applied to the emperor, to other Romans of special rank (principes viri) and to non-Romans - in the latter two cases mostly with an addition such as princeps civitatis . But since Caesar's time, Celtic and Germanic tribal princes had been given this title. However, the emperor alone was addressed as princeps without any further addition. There was no constitutional incorporation of the term, and the term does not belong to the fixed imperial title. The power of the imperial princeps grew out of the transfer of other powers, such as proconsular power over the imperial provinces or tribunician power .

As Princeps, the Emperor is also Princeps senatus , the first in the Senate to act as primus inter pares in the Roman Senate and to be the first to cast his vote during a Senate meeting. To designate a potential successor to the emperor, the title princeps iuventutis ("first of the noble youth") was used, a term that was already used during the republic for noble riders and for leading young men of non-Roman communities, from the imperial era only the imperial prince came to.

Since around the Middle Ages, the Latin term Princeps has been used in German to refer to the title of nobility of a prince with the right to be addressed as "Your Highness" or "Erlaucht". The German term Fürst is linguistically related to the English word “the first”.

The term does not necessarily presuppose monarchical rule. The Doge of Venice, elected by drawing lots from the ranks of the families entitled to office, figured as Serenissimus Princeps . In addition, the plural principes could designate the group of oligarchs and their officials in the medieval and early modern commune.


Web links

Wiktionary: princeps  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations (English)

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Paulus Diaconus , Epitome from De Verborum Significatu des Sextus Pompeius Festus 71, 2; 75, 4.
  2. ^ L. Robert Lind: The Idea of ​​the Republic and the Foundation of Roman Political Liberty. In: Carl Deroux (Ed.): Studies in Latin Literature and Roman History IV. (= Collection Latomus . Volume 196). Brussels 1986, p. 92
  3. Ludwig von Doederlein: Handbuch der Lateinsichen etymologie . Vogel, 1840, p. 179-180 ( ).
  4. Julius Cramer: The constitutional history of the Germans and Celts in antiquity. Rprograph. Reprint of the first edition from 1906. Book on demand, Paderborn 2012, p. 160. ISBN 3-86382-745-7 .
  5. Prince: Definition, Concept and Explanation., accessed on February 17, 2016 .