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ἡγεμών). The use of the word princeps as a title originated according to Tacitus ( Ann. iii. 56) in the desire of Augustus to secure a term which should express the preëminence of the first citizen of the Republic (princeps civitatis), and imply the possession of all the functions belonging to him, and yet not suggest the idea of despotic rule (Tac. Ann. i. 1; ii. 53; Hist. iv. 3; Dio Cassius, lvii. 8). The word princeps, as thus used, was merely a title of courtesy; it does not appear in the titular list in the inscriptions, it was not official and did not refer to any definite function.

The origin of the title has been variously assigned to the phrases princeps senatus and princeps civitatis. The former was an honorary title indicating that the holder was first on the list of senators and was the first to be asked his opinion. We know from Monumentum Ancyranum (Gr. iv. 2) that Caesar was princeps senatus in B.C. 28. Nevertheless he is always termed simply princeps (Car. i. 2, 50) and thus speaks of himself (me principe, Mon. Anc. ii. 45; vi. 9). In the same inscription the Greek translation of the word is ἡγεμών. The title princeps senatus would certainly be too restricted in its application, indicating the relation to the Senate and not to the State.

The view that the word princeps as used of the emperor was an abridgment of the phrase princeps senatus which came to have a wider signification is best stated by Herzog in his Geschichte und Syst. der röm. Staatsv. ii. 134. The other view which is more generally accepted is held by Mommsen (Staatsrecht, ii. 733), and is clearly set forth by H. F. Pelham in Jour. of Philol. viii. p. 322. The expression princeps civitatis is found in classical writers and is applied by Cicero to Pompey, while princeps, evidently standing for the complete phrase, is used by Cicero of both Pompey and Caesar (Ad Att. viii. 9; Ad Fam. vi. 6), and by Sallust of Pompey (Hist. iii. 61 D or 81 K). Cf. also Iul. 26. See Principatus.

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  • Cross-references from this page (2):
    • Tacitus, Annales, 1.1
    • Tacitus, Annales, 3.56
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