A DICTATOR was a magistrate of the
* 1 Origin
* 2 Nomination
* 3 Insignia
* 4 Powers and limitations
* 6 Decline and disappearance
* 6.1 The dictatorship revived * 6.2 Abolition
* 7 List of Roman dictators * 8 See also * 9 Footnotes * 10 References * 11 Bibliography
With the abolition of the Roman monarchy in 509 BC, the _imperium_, or executive power, of the king was divided between two annually-elected magistrates, known as _praetors_. In time they would come to be known as _consuls _, although probably not until the creation of a third, junior praetor in 367 BC. Neither consul was superior to the other, and the decisions of one could be appealed to the other (_provocatio_). Their insignia were the _toga praetexta _ and the _sella curulis _, and each was attended by an escort of twelve lictors , each of whom bore the _fasces _, a bundle of rods topped by an axe; but by custom the lictors had to remove the axes from their fasces within the _pomerium _, the sacred boundary of Rome, to signify that the _people_, and not the consuls, were sovereign.
After several years, the fear of impending war with both the Sabines
Latin League , combined with widespread suspicion that one or
both of the consuls favoured the restoration of the monarchy, led to
the call for a _praetor maximus_, or _dictator_ ("one who gives
orders"), akin to the supreme magistrate of other
Although there are indications that the term _praetor maximus_ may have been used in the earliest period, the official title of the dictator throughout the history of the Republic was _magister populi_, or "master of the infantry". His lieutenant, the _magister equitum_, was the "master of the horse" (that is, of the cavalry ). However, the use of _dictator_ to refer to the _magister populi_ seems to have been widespread from a very early period.
The appointment of a dictator involved three steps: first, the Senate would issue a decree known as a _senatus consultum _, authorizing one of the consuls to nominate a dictator. Technically, a _senatus consultum_ was advisory, and did not have the force of law, but in practice it was nearly always followed. Either consul could nominate a dictator. If both consuls were available, the dictator was chosen by agreement; if they could not agree, the consuls would draw lots for the responsibility. Finally, the _Comitia Curiata _ would be called upon to confer _imperium_ on the dictator through the passage of a law known as a _lex curiata de imperio _.
A dictator could be nominated for different reasons, or _causa_. The three most common were _rei gerundae causa_, "for the matter to be done", used in the case of dictators appointed to hold a military command against a specific enemy; _comitiorum habendorum causa_, for holding the _comitia_, or elections, when the consuls were unable to do so; and _clavi figendi causa _, an important religious rite involving the driving of a nail into the wall of the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus , as a protection against pestilence. Other reasons included _seditionis sedandae causa_ ("to quell sedition"); _ferarium constituendarum causa_ (to establish a religious holiday in response to a dreadful portent ); _ludorum faciendorum causa_ (to hold the _ Ludi Romani _, or "Roman Games", an ancient religious festival); _quaestionibus exercendis_, (to investigate certain actions); and in one extraordinary case, _senatus legendi causa_, to fill up the ranks of the Senate after the Battle of Cannae . These reasons could be combined (_seditionis sedandae et rei gerundae causa_), but are not always recorded or clearly stated in ancient authorities, and must instead be inferred.
In the earlier period it was customary to nominate someone whom the consul considered the best available military commander; often this was a former consul, but this was never required. However, from 360 BC onward, the dictators were usually _consulares_. Normally there was only one dictator at a time, although a new dictator could be appointed following the resignation of another. A dictator could be compelled to resign his office without accomplishing his task or serving out his term if there were found to be a fault in the auspices under which he had been nominated.
Like other curule magistrates, the dictator was entitled to the _toga praetexta_ and the _sella curulis_. He received a ceremonial bodyguard that was unique in Roman tradition: "wenty-four lictors indicated his quasi-regal power, which, however, was rather a concentration of the consular authority than a limited revival of the kingship."
In a notable exception to the Roman reluctance to reconstitute the symbols of the kings, the lictors of the dictator never removed the axes from their fasces, even within the pomerium. Symbolizing their power over life and death, the axes of a dictator's lictors set him apart from all other magistrates. In an extraordinary sign of deference, the lictors of other magistrates could not bear fasces at all when appearing before the dictator.
As the kings had been accustomed to appear on horseback, this right was forbidden to the dictator, unless he first received permission from the _comitia_.
POWERS AND LIMITATIONS
In addition to holding a military command and carrying out the
actions decreed by the Senate, a dictator could summon the Senate or
convene one of the legislative assemblies of the Roman people. The
full extent of the dictatorial power was considerable, but not
unlimited. It was circumscribed by the conditions of a dictator's
appointment, as well as by the evolving traditions of
In the pursuit of his _causa_, the dictator's authority was nearly absolute. However, as a rule he could not exceed the mandate for which he was appointed; a dictator nominated to hold the _comitia_ could not then take up a military command against the wishes of the Senate. Some dictators appointed to a military command also performed other duties, such as holding the _comitia_, or driving a nail into the wall of the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus; but presumably they did so with the Senate's consent.
The _imperium_ of the other magistrates was not vacated by the nomination of a dictator. They continued to perform the duties of their office, although subject to the dictator's authority, and continued in office until the expiration of their year, by which time the dictator had typically resigned. It is uncertain whether a dictator's _imperium_ could extend beyond that of the consul by whom he was nominated; Mommsen believed that his _imperium_ would cease together with that of the nominating magistrate, but others have suggested that it could continue beyond the end of the civil year; and in fact there are several examples in which a dictator appears to have entered a new year without any consuls at all, although some scholars doubt the authenticity of these _dictator years_.
Initially a dictator's power was not subject to either _provocatio_, the right to appeal from the decision of a magistrate, or _intercessio_, the veto of the tribunes of the plebs. However, the _lex Valeria _, establishing the right of appeal, was not abrogated by the appointment of a dictator, and by 300 BC even the dictator was subject to _provocatio_, at least within the city of Rome. There is also evidence that the power of the plebeian tribunes was not vitiated by the dictator's commands, and 210 BC, the tribunes threatened to prevent elections held by the dictator, Quintus Fulvius Flaccus , unless he agreed to withdraw his name from the list of candidates for the consulship.
A dictator was expected to resign his office upon the successful completion of the task for which he was appointed, or at the expiration of six months. These sharp limitations were intended to prevent the dictatorship from too closely resembling the absolute power of the Roman kings. But the six month limitation may have been dispensed with when the Senate deemed it expedient; no consuls are known for the years 333, 324, 309, and 301, and it is reported that the dictator and magister equitum continued in office without any consuls.
Most authorities hold that a dictator could not be held to account for his actions after resigning his office, the prosecution of Marcus Furius Camillus for misappropriating the spoils of Veii being exceptional, as perhaps was that of Lucius Manlius Capitolinus in 362, which was dropped only because his son, Titus , threatened the life of the tribune who had undertaken the prosecution. However, some scholars suggest that the dictator was only immune from prosecution during his term of office, and could theoretically be called to answer charges of corruption.
Main article: magister equitum
The dictator's lieutenant was the magister equitum, or "master of the horse". He would be nominated by the dictator immediately upon his own appointment, and unless the _senatus consultum_ specified the name of the person to be appointed, the dictator was free to choose whomever he wished. It was customary for the dictator to nominate a magister equitum even if he were appointed for a non-military reason. Before the time of Caesar, the only dictator who refused to nominate a magister equitum was Marcus Fabius Buteo in 216 BC, and he strenuously objected to his own nomination, because there was already a dictator in the field.
Like the dictator, the magister equitum was a curule magistrate, entitled to the _toga praetexta_ and the _sella curulis_. His _imperium_ was equivalent to that of a praetor (in the later use of the term), in that he was accompanied by six lictors, half the number accorded to the consuls. But like the dictator, he could summon the Senate, and probably also the popular assemblies. His authority was not subject to recall, although if the dictator were compelled to resign due to a fault in the auspices, the magister equitum was also expected to resign, and when the dictator laid down his _imperium_, so would the magister equitum.
In theory, the magister equitum was commander of the cavalry, but he
was not limited to that role. The dictator and magister equitum did
not always take the field together; in some instances the magister
equitum was assigned the defense of the city while the dictator took
an army into the field, while on other occasions the dictator remained
DECLINE AND DISAPPEARANCE
During the first two centuries of the Republic, the dictatorship
served as an expedient means by which a powerful magistracy could be
created quickly in order to deal with extraordinary situations.
Created for military emergencies, the office could also be used to
suppress sedition and prevent the growing number of plebeians from
obtaining greater political power. In the
Conflict of the Orders
After the Second Samnite War , the dictatorship was relegated almost
exclusively to domestic activities. No dictator was nominated during
the Third Samnite War , and the six-month limitation on its powers
made the dictatorship impractical for campaigns beyond the Italian
peninsula. In 249 BC,
Aulus Atilius Calatinus became the only
dictator to lead an army outside Italy, when he invaded
THE DICTATORSHIP REVIVED
For the next century, Rome's ordinary magistrates and promagistrates
successfully carried on all Roman campaigns, without the need for a
dictator, and the office fell into abeyance. Then, in 82 BC, the
dictatorship was suddenly revived by
Sulla . Sulla, already a
successful general, had previously marched on
Sulla doubled the size of the Senate from 300 to 600, filling its ranks with his supporters. He then placed severe limits on the tribunician power , limiting the veto and forbidding ex-tribunes from holding higher magistracies. Although he resigned the dictatorship in 81, and held the consulship in 80, before returning to private life, Sulla's actions had weakened the Roman state and set a precedent for the concentration of power without effective limitation.
The dictatorial power was then granted to Caesar in 49 BC, when he
Caesar's murder came at the hands of conspirators who presented themselves as saviours of the Republic. In order to maintain popular support, Caesar's followers took great care to show their own commitment to preserving the Roman state. The month after the assassination, Mark Antony , who had been Caesar's magister equitum in BC 47, proposed a series of laws, confirming Caesar's actions, but allowing appeals and formally abolishing the dictatorship. These were passed, as the _leges Antoniae _.
In 23 BC, when Caesar's nephew and heir
LIST OF ROMAN DICTATORS
Main article: List of Roman dictators
* ^ The exact date is uncertain, as are many of the details of this
event, but 501 BC is the date generally favoured by historians.
* ^ An alternative tradition mentioned by
Livy is that the first
Manius Valerius Maximus , although
Livy thought this
improbable, as dictators were supposed to be _consulares_, that is,
men who had already served as consul; and had a Valerius been desired,
Manius' brother, Marcus (described by
Livy as either the uncle or
father of Manius), consul in 505 BC, would have been chosen instead.
Modern historians generally share Livy's view, notwithstanding the
fact that Manius Valerius was appointed dictator in BC 494, without
having first held the consulship.
* ^ Lintott considers the evidence for _praetor maximus_ as the
original name of the magistracy inconclusive, as it depends on the
interpretation of an ancient law calling for an official of this title
to drive a nail into the wall of the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus
; the law seems to have dated from the period of the monarchy, and
under the Republic was interpreted to mean that this duty should be
undertaken by a dictator, as the highest-ranking magistrate; but the
first to perform it after the expulsion of the Tarquins was a consul,
Marcus Horatius Pulvillus . Nevertheless, the law seems to confirm the
existence of such a magistracy in the time of the kings, which might
be considered the forerunner of the later _magister populi_.
* ^ Literally, of the _equites_, sometimes translated as "knights".
* ^ A notable exception occurred in BC 431, when the consuls Titus
Quinctius Cincinnatus and
Gaius Julius Mento were directed to nominate
a dictator, probably after having been defeated in an attempt to
Volsci from their fortifications on Mount
Algidus . The consuls, who still felt themselves able to hold the
military command, refused, until the tribunes of the plebs threatened
to have them imprisoned if they did not nominate a dictator.
* ^ As this was an annual ritual, it must generally have been
observed by the consuls; but
Livy mentions an ancient law calling for
it to be performed by the _praetor maximus_, apparently a magistrate
in the time of the kings; and on at least one occasion when there was
a dictator, it was interpreted to mean that the rite _must_ be
performed by the dictator, as the magistrate then holding the greatest
* ^ In 344 BC, "a shower of stones rained down and darkness spread
over the sky in the daytime." This appeared to be a repetition of an
omen that occurred during the reign of
* ^ _A_ _B_ _C_ _D_ _E_ _F_ _G_ _Harper's Dictionary of Classical Antiquities_, p. 509. * ^ _A_ _B_ _C_ _D_ _E_ _F_ _G_ _H_ _I_ _J_ _K_ _L_ _M_ _N_ _O_ _Oxford Classical Dictionary_, p. 339 ("Dictator"). * ^ Lintott, pp. 109–113. * ^ _Oxford Classical Dictionary_, p. 286 ("Consul"). * ^ _Oxford Classical Dictionary_, pp. 429 ("Fasces"), 609 ("Lictores"), 639 ("Magistracy, Roman"), 1080 ("Toga"). * ^ Broughton, vol. I, p. 9. * ^ _A_ _B_ _C_ Livy, ii. 18. * ^ Broughton, vol. I, pp. 9, 14. * ^ Lintott, p. 104 (note 47). * ^ _A_ _B_ Livy, vii. 3. * ^ _A_ _B_ _C_ _D_ _E_ _F_ _G_ Lintott, p. 110. * ^ Livy, iv. 26. * ^ Livy, iv. 27. * ^ Livy, vii. 28, Betty Radice, trans. * ^ Livy, i. 31. * ^ Livy, ix. 27. * ^ _A_ _B_ _C_ Livy, xxiii. 23. * ^ Broughton, vol. I, pp. 112, 132, 150, 152, 248. * ^ Broughton, vol. I, p. 112. * ^ _Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology_, vol. II, p. 276. * ^ Broughton, vol. I, p. 215. * ^ Livy, viii. 15, 17, 23. * ^ Broughton, vol. I, pp. 139, 140, 145. * ^ _A_ _B_ _C_ _D_ _E_ _F_ _G_ Lintott, p. 111. * ^ Livy, xxiii. 14. * ^ Plutarch, "Life of Fabius Maximus", 4. * ^ _A_ _B_ _C_ _D_ _E_ Lintott, p. 112. * ^ Livy, vii. 3–5. * ^ Broughton, vol. I, p. 125. * ^ Livy, xxxiii. 14. * ^ Broughton, vol. I, p. 248. * ^ Mommsen, _Römisches Staatsrecht_, ii. 133–172. * ^ _A_ _B_ Broughton, vol. I, pp. 140, 141, 147–149, 162, 163, 169–171. * ^ Livy, ii. 18, iii. 20. * ^ Dionysius, vi. 58. * ^ Livy, viii. 29–35. * ^ _A_ _B_ Livy, xxvii. 6. * ^ Plutarch, "Life of Fabius Maximus", 9. * ^ Broughton, vol. I, p. 118. * ^ Livy, vii. 4, 5. * ^ _A_ _B_ Broughton, vol. I, pp. 125, 128. * ^ Broughton, vol. I, p. 215. * ^ Broughton, vol. I, pp. 243, 248. * ^ Livy, xxvii. 34. * ^ Broughton, vol. I, p. 290. * ^ Livy, xxx. 39. * ^ Broughton, vol. I, p. 316. * ^ Livy, xxx. 38. * ^ _A_ _B_ _C_ _Oxford Classical Dictionary_, p. 1022 ("Sulla"). * ^ _Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology_, vol. I, pp. 139–155 ("Caesar", no. 18). * ^ _Oxford Classical Dictionary_, pp. 189, 190 ("Caesar"). * ^ Lintott, p. 113. * ^ _Oxford Classical Dictionary_, p. 601 ("Lex"). * ^ _Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology_, vol. I, p. 428 ("Augustus"). * ^ _Oxford Classical Dictionary_, p. 638 ("Magister Militum").
* Titus Livius ( Livy ), _Ab Urbe Condita _ (History of Rome). * Dionysius of Halicarnassus , _Romaike Archaiologia_. * Plutarchus , _Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans _. * Christian Matthias Theodor Mommsen , _Römisches Staatsrecht_, S. Hirzel, Leipzig (1876). * _Harper\'s Dictionary of Classical Literature and Antiquities _, Second Edition, Harry Thurston Peck , ed., Harper ;background:none transparent;border:none;-moz-box-shadow:none;-webkit-box-shadow:none;box-shadow:none;">v
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