previous next


The Latin term for a magistrate appointed for special emergencies, after auspices duly taken by the consuls on the commission of the Senate. The dictator was never appointed for more than six months. The first instance of the appointment occurred in B.C. 501. The dictator was usually, though not always, chosen from the number of consulares, or men who had held the office of consul. No plebeian was elected before B.C. 356. He was always nominated for a particular or specified purpose, on the fulfilment of which he laid down his office. He combined the supreme judicial with the supreme military power, and there was, originally, no appeal against his proceedings, even the veto of the tribunes being powerless against him. He was free from responsibility for his acts, and could therefore not be called to account on the expiration of his term of office, the case of Camillus, who was so impeached, being very peculiar. (See Becker, Röm. Alterth. ii. pt. 2, p. 172.) That the dictator was free from subsequent attack is expressly stated by Dion. Hal. (v. 70, vii. 56), Appian (B. C. ii. 23), and others. His insignia were the sella curulis and the toga praetexta, and he was attended by twenty-four lictors, who represented the lictors of two consuls, and who even in the city bore axes in their bundles of rods, as a sign of unlimited power of life and death. His assistant was the magister equitum (master of the horse), who was bound absolutely to obey his commands, and whom he had to nominate immediately after his own election. The original function of the dictator was military; but after B.C. 363 a dictator was occasionally chosen, in the absence of the consuls, for other purposes than dealing with external danger or internal troubles—especially to hold the games or religious festivities. The office gradually passed out of use, though not legally abolished. The last military dictator was appointed in B.C. 206, the last absolutely in B.C. 202. The dictatorships of Sulla and Caesar who was named perpetual dictator not long before his death, were antirepublican and unconstitutional. After Caesar had been murdered, in B.C. 44, the office was abolished forever by a law of Marcus Antonius. See Mommsen, Römische Staatsrecht, ii. 133-172; Becker, Röm. Alterth. ii. pt. 2, p. 150 foll.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: