Roman dictator

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The dictator ( Latin dictator ) was the holder of a political office in the Roman Republic that was endowed with extensive powers but was limited in time .

The dictatorship was a legal, albeit extraordinary, magistratus office ( magistratus extraordinarius ), in which the principle of collegiality, which is customary for the offices of the cursus honorum, did not apply: In the place of the two consuls there was only one dictator who also did was subordinate to the other magistrate officials and could not be prosecuted for acts during his tenure.

Term of office and duties

In view of the historically justified aversion of the Romans to the permanent unlimited power of rule such as that possessed by the Roman kings, the term of office of a dictator, who was only appointed in special situations, was limited to a maximum of six months. In addition, his full title was often accompanied by the specific task that he had to solve:

  • for warfare ( rei gerundae causa )
  • to appease internal turmoil ( seditionis sedandae causa )
  • for holding elections ( comitiorum habendorum causa )
  • for ritual driving in a nail ( clavus annalis ) in the temple of Jupiter ( clavi figendi causa )
  • for holding games ( ludorum faciendorum causa )
  • to conduct legal proceedings ( quaestionibus exercendis )
  • to fill the Senate (only used once) ( legendo senatui )
  • for the writing of new laws and the formation of the state (only documented by Sulla) ( legibus faciendis et rei publicae constituendae causa )

Special dictatorships

  • for reading the Senate List - only 216 BC Occupied after the battle of Cannae ( senatus legendi causa )
  • to fix festive days with certain signs - only 344 BC Proven ( feriarum constituendarum causa )
  • to host the Latin festival - only 257 BC Recorded during the First Punic War ( feriarum Latinarum causa )
  • for holding votive games - possibly 358 BC BC 322 BC BC and 208 BC BC, sources are uncertain ( ludorum faciendorum causa )

In such cases his office could sometimes only last a few days, because the dictators were expected to resign prematurely as soon as the immediate task for which they were given the dictatorial powers had been completed.

It was only towards the end of the Roman Republic that attempts were made to extend the maximum term of office of six months, first with Sulla and finally with Gaius Iulius Caesar , whose term of office brought the change in Roman constitutional history from magistrate to rule by a single person. how it was then realized under Augustus as a principate . These long-term dictators were also given their very extensive task: dictator legibus scribundis et rei publicae constituendae (enactment of laws and reorganization of the state).

Early history

After the overthrow of the monarchy in Rome (traditionally around the year 510 BC) and the establishment of the republic, a future sole rule was prevented by appointing two consuls with equal rights who would serve for one year; one consul could veto measures taken by the other (right of intercession). In view of the endangerment of the Roman Republic from attacks from outside, it was soon realized that in times of need a tighter leadership could be an advantage. Therefore, according to the (probably later constructed) tradition, it was decided in 501 BC. To establish the office of dictator. The lex de dictatore creando of that year stipulated that only someone who had previously been consul could be designated as a dictator. The dictator was appointed when the Senate passed a resolution ( senatus consultum ) authorizing one of the consuls to appoint a dictator. The consuls themselves were not allowed to take action without the Senate. The consul appointed in this way then appointed a person of his choice as dictator, usually between midnight and sunrise. Usually the person who had already been proposed by the Senate for this office was chosen; However, the consul was not bound by the Senate's personnel proposal, so that there were also cases where a consul deviated from it. The call to dictator was usually made in Rome; but if the elected person was not in the city, it happened that the senate gave the consul the task of introducing the dictator into his office outside Rome; however, the rule was not to designate a dictator outside of Italy. Originally the office of dictator was reserved for the patricians . In 356 BC It was abandoned when the plebeian Gaius Marcius Rutilus was appointed dictator.

The rule that there could only be one dictator at a time was always maintained. Only immediately after the Battle of Cannae in 216 BC In BC, Marcus Fabius Buteo was nominated as dictator (with the task of filling up the vacancies in the Senate), although there was already an incumbent dictator in Marcus Iunius Pera . For this very reason, however, Marcus Fabius Buteo decided not to take up his post.

Powers and Power

If a dictator was appointed, the magistrate's officials practically ceased their independent administration and instead submitted to the dictator whose orders they carried out. The dictator's abundance of power resulted primarily from his independence from the Senate and from the fact that he did not have to submit to any legal proceedings and that he had complete immunity . In some ways he resembled the tribune , but the dictator represented the entire Roman nation, not just the plebeians. No dictator was openly opposed to the Senate, but in principle, especially since he had no colleague, he was completely independent. There was also no possibility of revision or appeal against his decisions; they were binding in any case. As a sign of his absolute power over life and death, the fasces were presented to him by (24) lictors .

The dictator was even allowed to change Roman laws if he deemed it necessary to avert the danger. He could pass new laws that did not require the approval of the popular assembly. As a rule, however, the dictators put their laws to a vote in order to gain more solid support for their position among the people. This is what happened in the case of Sulla's proscription laws. At the same time, the dictator was the supreme court lord as well as the commander-in-chief of the army and lord of the executive.

The relationship between the dictator and the tribune was apparently not precisely regulated. The tribunes of the people also had an independent position, but during a dictatorship they too were subject to the dictator's orders and could not block his actions with a veto. Since the office of dictator had been created before that of the tribune, there was apparently no reason to regulate the dictator's powers in relation to the tribune separately.

Magistrate officials also had immunity during their tenure. After their expiry, however, they could be prosecuted for misconduct and criminal offenses. This was not the case with the dictator; to a certain extent, he had immunity for life and any legal violations were treated as if they had not occurred.

In view of this abundance of power, the rulership (the imperium ) was often compared with that of the earlier monarchs, from which it differed essentially only in terms of the time limit. However, there were a few other restrictions: For example, the Senate retained control of the finances even during a dictatorship, so that the dictator had to get by with the sum that the Senate allowed him. In addition, he was not allowed to leave Italy in order not to be able to endanger his own state from the provinces or abroad. He was also not allowed to appear on horseback in the city of Rome without the consent of the people - this would have evoked all too clear memories of the behavior of the kings. At least some of the dictatorial insignia were of royal origin: in addition to the ax and the fasces (which were also used as insignia by the consuls and praetors), these were the curular chair and the toga praetexta.

The dictator was always supported by a magister equitum (colonel on horseback) appointed by him . If he died during the dictator's tenure, the dictator had to appoint a new one. Sometimes the Senate also proposed a candidate. The magister equitum was the highest official, apart from the dictator, to whom he was subordinate, but whom he could represent in his absence. The Empire Master of equitum was otherwise deemed to correspond to that of a praetor. The general rule was that a magister equitum must have been praetor beforehand, but there were exceptions to this rule. Like the praetor, the magister equitum was accompanied by six lictors, and like the praetor, he too wore a toga praetexta.

Later story

The dictatorship played a role primarily in the Punic Wars . When a dictator used his authority to wage war outside Italy, in Africa, even though this did not correspond to the rules of the office, thought was given to a constitutional amendment, especially since the Africa campaign ended in a fiasco. But when Hannibal invaded Italy itself, the institution of dictatorship was used again. After the end of the Second Punic War, however, the office of dictator disappeared and the Senate chose instead the instrument of the senatus consultum ultimum , a kind of emergency law with which the Senate could give the two consuls unrestricted powers.

Sulla was the first to revive the office, but at the same time changed its character. If dictators were rei gerendae causa until then , Sulla appointed himself in 82 BC. BC (without prior consultation of the Senate) to the dictator rei publicae constituendae causa , whereby he renounced to limit his term of office. He then held it for several years before he finally resigned voluntarily.

The next dictator was Gaius Iulius Caesar, who kept the form insofar as he limited the term of office to one year. But he took advantage of the political situation so skillfully that he held the office between 49 and 46 BC. BC three times (I = 49-> 48, II = 48-> 47, III = 46-> 45), which resulted in a dictatorship of several years from 49 to 45. Finally, in February 44 BC, the Senate decided To appoint Caesar dictator perpetuus , i.e. dictator for the long term, which, however, was an occasion for Caesar's republican-minded opponents to murder him on March 15 of the same year. After the assassination, Caesar's co-consul announced the Lex Antonia , which abolished the office of dictator.

After the years of turmoil and civil wars that followed Caesar's assassination were over, Augustus was offered this office, but instead in the year 27 BC. Decided in favor of a constitutional model called its own principate, which on the one hand preserved the forms of the republic, but on the other hand secured the undisputed position of power of the emperor, with which in a certain way the classic dictatorship experienced its climax in a modified form.

The term dictatorship , which was derived from the office of the Roman Republic, had a mostly negative connotation in later epochs. In Italy, the term dittatore retained its original meaning at least until the 19th century, namely a temporary office with unlimited powers. The Venetian Attilo Bandiera , who founded the Esperia secret society in 1840 , offered it to the freedom fighter Giuseppe Mazzini in 1842 , who, however, rejected the idea of ​​a “revolutionary dictatorship”. On August 11, 1848, Daniele Manin received "unlimited powers" as dictator from the democratically elected Venetian city parliament in view of the siege of Venice by Austrian troops. Giuseppe Garibaldi made himself dictator of Sicily in 1860 on behalf of King Victor Emmanuel II . The fascist dictatorship of Italy in the 20th century consciously drew on ancient Rome in its symbols. The original idea of ​​the dictator as an office holder with unlimited authority for short-term exceptional situations was taken up again in Bavaria in the 1920s under the name of State Commissioner General .

List of Roman dictators

Year (s)
from Chr.
Colonel on horseback
magister equitum
501 T. Larcius Flavus Sp. Cassius Vecellinus rei gerundae causa
496 (499?) A. Postumius Albus Regillensis T. Aebutius Helva rei gerundae causa
494 M '. Valerius Maximus Q. Servilius Priscus Structus rei gerundae causa
458 L. Quinctius Cincinnatus L. Tarquitius Flaccus rei gerundae causa
439 L. Quinctius Cincinnatus II C. Servilius Ahala rei gerundae causa or
seditionis sedandae causa
437 Mam. Aemilius Mamercinus L. Quinctius Cincinnatus rei gerundae causa
435 Q. Servilius Priscus Fidenas Post Office. Aebutius Helva Cornicen rei gerundae causa
434 Mam. Aemilius Mamercinus II A. Postumius Tubertus rei gerundae causa
431 A. Postumius Tubertus L. Iulius Iullus rei gerundae causa
426 Mam. Aemilius Mamercinus III A. Cornelius Cossus rei gerundae causa
418 Q. Servilius Priscus Fidenas II C. Servilius axilla rei gerundae causa
408 P. Cornelius Rutilus Cossus C. Servilius Ahala rei gerundae causa
396 M. Furius Camillus P. Cornelius Maluginensis rei gerundae causa
390 M. Furius Camillus II L. Valerius Potitus rei gerundae causa
389 M. Furius Camillus III C. Servilius Ahala rei gerundae causa
385 A. Cornelius Cossus T. Quinctius Cincinnatus Capitolinus rei gerundae causa
380 T. Quinctius Cincinnatus Capitolinus Aulus Sempronius Atratinus rei gerundae et seditionis sedandae causa
368 M. Furius Camillus IV L. Aemilius Mamercinus rei gerundae causa
368 P. Manlius Capitolinus C. Licinius Calvus seditionis sedandae et rei gerundae causa
367 M. Furius Camillus V T. Quinctius Cincinnatus Capitolinus rei gerundae causa
363 L. Manlius Capitolinus Imperiosus L. Pinarius Natta clavi figendi causa
362 Ap. Claudius Crassus Inregillensis P. Cornelius Scapula (?) rei gerundae causa
361 T. Quinctius Pennus Capitolinus Crispinus Ser. Cornelius Maluginensis rei gerundae causa
360 Q. Servilius Ahala T. Quinctius Pennus Capitolinus Crispinus rei gerundae causa
358 C. Sulpicius Peticus M. Valerius Poplicola rei gerundae causa
356 C. Marcius Rutilus C. Plautius Proculus rei gerundae causa
353 T. Manlius Imperiosus Torquatus A. Cornelius Cossus Arvina rei gerundae causa
352 C. Iulius (Iullus?) L. Aemilius Mamercinus rei gerundae et comitiorum habendorum causa
351 M. Fabius Ambustus Q. Servilius Ahala comitiorum habendorum causa
350 L. Furius Camillus P. Cornelius Scipio comitiorum habendorum causa
349 T. Manlius Imperiosus Torquatus II A. Cornelius Cossus Arvina comitiorum habendorum causa
348 unknown unknown comitiorum habendorum causa
345 L. Furius Camillus II Cn. Manlius Capitolinus Imperiosus rei gerundae causa
344 P. Valerius Poplicola Q. Fabius Ambustus feriarum constituendarum causa
342 M. Valerius Corvus L. Aemilius Mamercinus Privernas seditionis sedandae causa or
rei gerundae causa
340 L. Papirius Crassus L. Papirius Cursor rei gerundae causa
339 Q. Publilius Philo D. Junius Brutus Scaeva brought laws in favor of the plebeians a
337 C. Claudius Crassus Inregillensis C. Claudius Hortator Resigned from office
335 L. Aemilius Mamercinus Privernas Q. Publilius Philo comitiorum habendorum causa
334 P. Cornelius Rufinus M. Antonius
333 P. Cornelius Rufinus M. Antonius rei gerundae causa (?)
332 M. Papirius Crassus P. Valerius Poplicola rei gerundae causa
331 Cn. Quinctius Capitolinus C. Valerius Potitus or L. Valerius Flaccus clavi figendi causa
327 M. Claudius Marcellus Sp. Postumius Albinus Caudinus comitiorum habendorum causa
325 L. Papirius Cursor Q. Fabius Maximus Rullianus rei gerundae causa
324 L. Papirius Cursor II M. (Livius) Drusus rei gerundae causa
322 A. Cornelius Cossus Arvina M. Fabius Ambustus rei gerundae et ludorum faciendorum causa
321 Q. Fabius Ambustus P. Aelius Paetus comitiorum habendorum causa
321 M. Aemilius Papus L. Valerius Flaccus comitiorum habendorum causa
320 C. Maenius M. Foslius Flaccinator quaestionibus exercendis
320 L. Cornelius Lentulus L. Papirius Cursor rei gerundae causa (?)
320 T. Manlius Imperiosus Torquatus L. Papirius Cursor comitiorum habendorum causa (?)
316 L. Aemilius Mamercinus Privernas M. ( or L.) Fulvius Curvus rei gerundae causa
315 Q. Fabius Maximus Rullianus Q. Aulius Cerretanus rei gerundae causa
314 C. Maenius II M. Folius Flaccinator rei gerundae causa
313 C. Poetelius Libo M. Poetelius Libo rei gerundae et clavi figendi causa
313 Q. Fabius Maximus Rullianus II rei gerundae causa
312 C. Sulpicius Longus C. Junius Bubulcus Brutus rei gerundae causa
309 L. Papirius Cursor III C. Junius Bubulcus Brutus rei gerundae causa
306 P. Cornelius Scipio Barbatus P. Decius Mus comitiorum habendorum causa
302 C. Junius Bubulcus Brutus M. Titinius rei gerundae causa
301 M. Valerius Corvus II Q. Fabius Maximus Rullianus
or M. Aemilius Paullus
rei gerundae causa
287 Q. Hortensius unknown seditionis sedandae causa or
rei gerundae causa
291/285 M. Aemilius Barbula
Ap. Claudius Caecus
P. Cornelius Rufinus
unknown rei gerundae causa (?)
280 Cn. Domitius Calvinus Maximus unknown comitiorum habendorum causa
263 Cn. Fulvius Maximus Centumalus Q. Marcius Philippus clavi figendi causa
257 Q. Ogulnius Gallus M. Laetorius Plancianus ludorum faciendorum causa
249 M. Claudius Glicia L. Caecilius Metellus rei gerundae causa (?)
249 A. Atilius Caiatinus rei gerundae causa
246 Ti. Coruncanius M. Fulvius Flaccus comitiorum habendorum causa
231 C. Duilius C. Aurelius Cotta comitiorum habendorum causa
224 L. Caecilius Metellus N. Fabius Buteo comitiorum habendorum causa
221 Q. Fabius Maximus Verrucosus C. Flaminius rei gerundae causa (?)
217 Q. Fabius Maximus Verrucosus II M. Minucius Rufus rei gerundae causa
217 M. Minucius Rufus rei gerundae causa
217 L. Veturius Philo M. Pomponius Matho comitiorum habendorum causa
216 M. Junius Pera Ti.Sempronius Gracchus rei gerundae causa
216 M. Fabius Buteo no magister equitum appointed legendo senatui
213 C. Claudius Centho Q. Fulvius Flaccus comitiorum habendorum causa
210 Q. Fulvius Flaccus P. Licinius Crassus Dives comitiorum habendorum causa
208 T. Manlius Torquatus C. Servilius Geminus comitiorum habendorum causa et ludorum faciendorum causa
207 M. Livius Salinator Q. Caecilius Metellus comitiorum habendorum causa
205 Q. Caecilius Metellus L. Veturius Philo comitiorum habendorum causa
203 P. Sulpicius Galba Maximus M. Servilius Pulex Geminus comitiorum habendorum causa or rei gerundae causa
202 C. Servilius Geminus P. Aelius Paetus comitiorum habendorum causa
82-79 L. Cornelius Sulla Felix L. Valerius Flaccus legibus faciendis et rei publicae constituendae causa
49 C. Julius Caesar no magister equitum appointed rei gerundae causa
48-47 C. Julius Caesar II M. Antonius rei gerundae causa
46-45 C. Julius Caesar III M. Aemilius Lepidus rei gerundae causa
44 C. Julius Caesar IV M. Aemilius Lepidus rei gerundae causa ; Caesar dictator for life


  • T. Robert S. Broughton : The magistrates of the Roman republic (= Philological monographs of the American Philological Association. 15). 3 volumes;
    • Volume 1: 509 BC - 100 BC Reprinted edition. American Philological Association, New York 1986, ISBN 0-89130-812-1 ;
    • Volume 2: 99 BC - 31 BC Reprinted edition. American Philological Association, New York 1984, ISBN 0-89130-812-1 ;
    • Volume 3: Supplement. Scholars Press, Atlanta GA 1986, ISBN 0-89130-811-3 .
  • Karl-Ludwig Elvers : Roman consuls, dictators, censors and special colleges up to 30 BC Chr., In: W. Eder / J. Renger (ed.): DNP Suppl. 1: Herrscherchronorien, Stuttgart 2004, pp. 191-263.
  • Florian Ingrisch: Sulla's “dictatura rei publicae constituendae” and Caesar's “dictatura rei gerendae”. A comparison. wvb - Wissenschaftlicher Verlag, Berlin 2007, ISBN 978-3-86573-284-2 .
  • Wilhelm Liebenam : Dictator . In: Paulys Realencyclopadie der classischen Antiquity Science (RE). Volume V, 1, Stuttgart 1903, Col. 370-390.
  • Helmuth Schneider : The emergence of the Roman military dictatorship. The crisis and decline of an ancient republic. Kiepenheuer and Witsch, Cologne 1977, ISBN 3-462-01230-4 .
  • Ulrich Wilcken : On the development of the Roman dictatorship (= treatises of the Prussian Academy of Sciences. Philosophical-Historical Class. 1940, 1, ZDB -ID 210015-0 ). Academy of Sciences, de Gruyter in commission, Berlin 1940.


  1. ^ Cesare Vetter: Mazzini e la dittatura risorgimentale. In: Il Risorgimento. Vol. 46, 1994, ISSN  0035-5607 , pp. 1-46, here p. 8 ff.
  2. Against all other sources Festus names an M '. Valerius as the first dictator. Livius (2,18,5f.) Mentions him as another possible dictator, but tends towards Larcius Flavus.
  3. Livius 5:19 calls him P. Cornelius Scipio.
  4. Livius 6:42 calls him T. Quinctius Poenus.
  5. Or T. Quinctius Poenus Capitolinus Crispinus.
  6. He was deposed for disobedience. L. Papirius Crassus received his post. (Livy 8.36)
  7. ^ According to the Consularia Constantinopolitana (Richard W. Burgess: The Chronicle of Hydatius and the Consularia Constantinopolitana , Oxford 1993, p. 218) and the Chronicon Paschale (CIL ²I, p. 130 = Inscr. It. XIII, 414), the literary Sources don't know about him. For its historicity u. a. Friedrich Münzer ( Roman noble parties and noble families , Stuttgart 1920, pp. 227–229).
  8. He fell in battle and was replaced by C. Fabius (Livius 9:23).
  9. ^ In Livius' also M. Foslius Flaccinator ; Fasti Capitolini got M. Foslius Flaccinator in 314.
  10. so the Fasti Capitolini ; with Livius he is dictator.