In January of the year b.c. 27 （a.u.c.
727) Gaius Caesar Octavianus established the Roman Empire, or, as the new form of government
at this stage of its existence may be more correctly termed, the principate. On the thirteenth
day of that month he voluntarily laid aside the extra-constitutional powers granted him under
the stress of civil disorder and on the sixteenth initiated a new system whose constitutional
theory and plan were based upon the old republican form of government.
According to Augustus's own words, as given in Mon. Anc.
vi. 83, consulatu sexto
(B.C. 28) et septimo
rem publicam ex mea potestate in senatus populique Romani arbitrium transtuli
in his sixth consulship he performed the initial act in the abolition of the provisional
government by surrendering powers which he had received as triumvir, and which he had held
alone after the deposing of Lentulus and after the hostility of Antonius. In January of the
following year he completed the restoration of authority to the Senate and people, by what
final act it is impossible to say, although at that time he may have surrendered the proconsulare imperium
which was involved in the triumviral powers granted by
the plebescite of P. Titius (Mon. Anc. Lat.
vi. 13; Tac. Ann. iii. 28
; Dio Cass. liii. 2). This voluntary return of
intrusted powers was immediately followed by the renewal of the proconsulare
for a period of ten years and by the conferring, by the Senate and people, of
the cognomen Augustus
, which thus dignified and consecrated the new position
assumed by Caesar in his relation to the State, and which became the distinctive title of the
principate (Mon. Anc. Lat.
vi. 16). The constitution of the principate thus
dates from the renunciatory and reëstablishing enactments of January, B.C. 27.
Augustus still held, however, some form of the tribunicia potestas
which had been given to him for life in b.c. 36 （a.u.c. 718) (Dio Cass. xlix. 15). He was also consul, for he succeeded
himself each year from b.c. 31-23 （a.u.c.
723-731) in a series of nine consulships (Tac. Ann. i.
). The proconsulare imperium
, which was similar in character to
that given to Pompey by the Gabinian and Manilian laws, implied the exclusive command of the
armies and fleet, as well as the control of the most important border provinces. Inasmuch as
Rome and Italy were not included under this imperium
, Augustus relied
upon the consulship which not only brought the city and Italy under his control, but rendered
superior to that of other proconsuls. This is substantially
the view of Mommsen as given in his Staatsrecht
, vol. ii. Another theory stated
by H. F. Pelham, Jour. of Philol.
xvii., bases the new principate entirely on
the consulship on the ground that in January, B.C. 27, Augustus, while consul, received from
the people the consulare imperium
involved in the conferring of the usual
“province,” which was in this case of very broad area, carrying with it
control of armies, the direction of foreign relations, as well as the government of important
On the 27th of June, B.C. 23, Augustus, finding the consulship unsuited to his purpose, laid
it aside (Dio Cass. liii. 32) and brought into prominence the tribunicia
, which, being perpetual, he made nominally annual by renewal from year to
year. Thenceforward the title TR(ibunicia
) appears in the inscriptions in the titular list followed by a numeral
indicating the number of renewals (Corpus Inscr. Latin.
vol. iii.). This tribunician power was the civil magistracy supplementing the authority given
by the imperium, ranking higher moreover than the latter prerogative (Dio Cass. liii. 32;
ii. 1050). Through its privileges the princeps
had the right of intercessio
or veto, also that of coercitio
or power of compelling obedience, also sacrosancta
, so that his person was inviolable. This substitution of tribunicia potestas
for the consulship involved the loss of consulare
, which gave authority in Rome and Italy although naturally it did not
interfere with the proconsulare imperium.
(According to Mr. Pelham's view
stated above, the consulare imperium
given Augustus in B.C. 27, which
conferred such extensive powers, he now no longer holds as consul, but as proconsul, so that
it really becomes proconsulare imperium.
The renunciation of the consulship meant, however, the loss of an imperium
, superior to that of other proconsuls, as well as most important prerogatives
possessed by the consuls alone. This difficulty was met by special legislative action, whereby
Augustus received from the Senate and people rights which belonged originally and legitimately
to the consulship. These were, the enlargement of his imperium
, so that it became maius
as compared with
that of other proconsuls (B.C. 23), the privilege of introducing the first motion in the
Senate (ius primae relationis
) (B.C. 23), the right of convening the
Senate (B.C. 22), the insignia of consular dignity—the twelve fasces and the curule
chair between those of the consuls (B.C. 19). An inscription, Lex de Imperio Vespasiani
（Corp. Inscr. Lat.
vi. 930), engraved on a bronze tablet, which is
extant in fragmentary form, confers upon Vespasian certain rights which were not included in the scope of his imperium
or of his tribunicia potestas.
In this lex
we probably possess in
documentary form the special legislative measures which were passed in favour of Augustus. For
opposing views on this subject, see Mommsen (Staatsr.
vol. ii.), who believes
that the lex de imperio
conferred the tribunicia
extended in its scope, and Herzog (op. cit.
617-619), who holds the view expressed above.
The constitutional theory of the principate that the princeps
citizen provided with exceptional powers by the Senate and people did not look to the
transmission of this delegated power, but left the matter in the hands of the Senate and
people in so far as the conferring of these remarkable powers was concerned. Thus at the death
of the princeps
the principate ended and was not renewed until similar
powers had been delegated to his successor, the government being carried on by the consuls
during the interregnum. Although there seems to have been no constitutional provision for the
selection of a princeps
, yet, theoretically at least, he was the creature
of the people, and his appointment consisted in the conferring of the imperium
and subsequently of the tribunicia potestas
by the Senate
and the people, the latter ratifying the action of the Senate in their Comitia. The final act
was the bestowal of special privileges by the lex de imperio.
acts the choice of the one thus honoured is implied and involved. Although the princeps
was in theory elected, the choice, however, virtually depended upon certain
influences which indicated and determined the selection, as, for example, in times of peace
the designating of a son or near relative on the part of the reigning princeps
and the investing such a one with powers of an imperial nature so as to
confirm the choice. In time of civil strife other influences naturally prevailed, such as
popularity with the Senate or army, or marked military ability. For opposing theories as to
the election of the princeps
, see Herzog, Geschichte und Syst. der
ii. 610 foll.; Momm. Staatsr.
ii. 1038, and
Pelham in the Jour. of Philol.
This in outline is the constitution of the principate which recognized the existence of a
republican form of government, and also the establishment of a new authority which, standing
alongside of the consuls, theoretically the chief magistrates (Tac.
Ann. iv. 19
), held under the designation of tribunicia
powers equal to those of the consul at home and superior to them abroad. The
government is practically in the hands of the princeps
and the Senate, so
that it has been aptly termed a dyarchy. The history of the first three centuries of the
Christian era records the dissolution of this dyarchy by the absorption of all power by the
, and the disclosure of the imperial government in its true
character as an absolute monarchy. The fictitious nature of the principate and the inevitable
tendency under such a system to the centralization of power in the hands of Caesar may be more
readily appreciated by considering the princeps
, first in his relation to
this second governing power, the Senate, and their mutual partition of governmental functions,
and again in his personal position as ostensible magistrate but actual monarch, with all the
attributes of kingly station.
The constitution of the Senate was controlled in various ways by the princeps.
He was able to influence the election of magistrates in the assembly
by certain privileges known as nominatio
The former arose from the right, belonging to the magistrates (regularly
the consuls) presiding at the elections, to canvass the names of the candidates and publish a
list of those qualified to stand (Tac. Ann. i.
). By accepting only a sufficient number to fill vacancies the princeps
could easily control the election. Through the right of commendatio
the princeps recommended his own candidates, candidati
, and naturally these persons were sure of election (Vell. ii. 124, 4
; Tac. Ann. i. 15
See also the Lex de Imperio
, 4, 12; Mommsen, Staatsr.
Again, while only those of senatorial rank could hold the office of quaestor
, the initial office of the senatorial career, yet the emperor would admit to
the preliminary service, the vigintivirate and the tribunate of the soldiers, those outside of
the senatorial order who were thus placed in the line of promotion as prospective senators
ii. 354). By a process known as adlectio
could place a non-senator in the senatorial
order, assigning him to the performance of certain functions as those of quaestor or praetor.
Hence we find in inscriptions adlecti inter praetorios, inter
, and rarely inter quaestorios
, but after the third
century inter consulares.
In the meetings of the Senate the princeps
had the privilege of voting first, also the right of introducing
), and of receiving information as to the transactions.
The Senate under the principate discharged administrative functions in regard to religion,
the affairs of Italy, and at first of the city itself; but its important control was over the
senatorial provinces. In these provinces, however, the princeps
certain powers which resulted from his control of the troops, and again, because of the
collection by imperial officers of the revenues which came to the fiscus
of the emperor. Since his imperium
proconsuls were his subordinates and under his direction (Momm. Staatsr.
227). The final result was the entire subordination of authority in the senatorial provinces
to that of Caesar. This change is seen in the gradual modification in the relations existing
between the princeps
and the proconsuls of senatorial provinces. The
former at first refused to control such officials of the Senate and people (Tac. Ann. ii. 47
; iii. 60; Momm.
iii. 1211), but in the latter part of the second century, Caesar, by
virtue of his maius imperium
, controlled proconsuls, and looked to them
to follow his edicts as carefully as any of his own legati
, 6; Momm. Staatsr.
ii. 843). What was true of the provinces
was true of the general departments of administration in Italy and in Rome. They were
gradually brought under the control of the princeps
, so that officers of
his own appointment, praefecti
were in charge of public works, of the corn supply, and of the viae.
As regards judicial functions, Augustus made the Senate a high court of justice, in which he
himself sat, and thus could influence decisions by his vote and by his right of intercessio
(Tac. Ann. iii. 12
; iv. 34;
iii. 70). Although all criminal cases could be brought before this court, only those of the
highest importance really fell to its jurisdiction. The emperor also had a private court of
his own, before which only cases of political importance seem to have been
brought (Suet. Aug. 32
). The court of the
praetors still existed in Rome and Italy, but the princeps
appointed the praetor and frequently sat at his side as assessor
Cass. liii. 2, 3; Tac. Ann. i. 75
from senatorial provinces against the judicial decisions of governors were often heard by the
on the authority of his maius imperium
The Senate, by the republican theory, had no direct legislative power, save through the
acceptance of senatus consulta
by the assembly of the people. Under the
principate, however, the senatus consulta
, enacted according to the wish
of the emperor, became laws. The emperor, however, became the real source of law, for by
special acts of the Senate (Verr.
ii. 2, 49, 121) he was empowered to found
colonies, grant charters, confer the Roman franchise (leges datae
) (e. g.
the Lex Malacitana, Bruns, Fontes Iuris Romani
, vi. 147; C. I.
ii. 876, 1964); and on his own authority he issued legislative documents (constitutiones
), which were entirely of imperial origin. These were either
edicta, decreta, rescripta
, or epistulae.
Bruns, op. cit.
The financial affairs of the Empire were divided between the Senate and the princeps.
There was a Senate treasury, known as the aerarium
also the privy purse of the emperor, the fiscus.
The latter was drawn
upon not merely for the direct expenses of the emperor, but for provincial administration, the
support of the army and fleet, and many public expenditures. The collection of taxes in all
the provinces was at first farmed out on the old republican principle, but was ultimately
conducted by the imperial officials. The coinage of gold and silver belonged at first to the
Senate and emperor, but it was finally given exclusively to the emperor, and the coinage of
copper was assigned to the Senate.
The falseness of the pretensions as to the magisterial character of the principate in the
matter of limited tenure was disclosed at an early period in the acceptance by Tiberius and
his successors of a life imperium, although the festival known as decennalia
still recalled the periodical renewal. According to Dio Cassius (lix. 3, 2),
Gaius received the powers of the principate by one grant, an act which showed still further
the tendency to individualize the princeps
in the possession of sole and
permanent authority (Momm. Staatsr.
ii. 744). Augustus refused the censorship
consistently with his evident purpose; for a princeps
possessed of the
censor's power would be a monarch, inasmuch as he would absolutely control the constitution of
the Senate. He indeed acted at times as censor, but only by virtue of his consular power.
Domitian and his successors, however, performed the censorial functions simply by reason of
their authority as principes
The name of the princeps
was similar to that of an ordinary citizen,
but differed in certain special features. The title imperator
substituted by Augustus for his praenomen
, Gaius ; and although the
custom was disregarded by Tiberius, Gaius , and Claudius, it was resumed by Nero and regularly
followed by his successors. The inscriptions show that it regularly took the position of a
A distinction must be made between this use of the word and
the acclamatio imperatoria
followed by the numeral of iteration, which
appears among the titles. From the names of the early emperors, with the exception of
the Claudii and Vitellius, the nomen
was omitted, but its use was resumed
by Hadrian. Caesar, the inherited cognomen
of the Julian family, became a
distinguishing mark of the reigning house, but from the time of Hadrian it was restricted to
the emperor and his successor.
, the last word, strictly speaking, in the name of the princeps
, was associated with the principate, and was conferred with the official
granting of power by the Senate and people. From the latter part of the second century the
was preceded by additional surnames—e. g. Pius,
Pius Felix Invictus
—and from the beginning of the fourth century it was
strengthened by perpetuus
Special cognomina ex virtute
—e. g. Germanicus, Dacicus,
—were assumed by Vitellius and Nerva and regularly by Trajan and
his successors. The following titles indicating honores
also belonged to
the imperial name: Pontifex Maximus, Tribunicia Potestate, Imperator, Consul,
(held only by Claudius, Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian), Pater
(declined by Tiberius, Nero, Vespasian, Hadrian), Proconsul
the names of Trajan, Hadrian, M. Aurelius, L. Verus, Septimius Severus, and his successors).
The emperors, because of the founding of the principate upon republican principles and
precedents, had the right to use republican insignia, the curule chair, the laurel wreath and
gold-embroidered toga of the triumphator
, which were henceforth
restricted to their use (Dio Cass. liii. 26), and the purple-bound toga of the magistrate
, 22). The right to wear the purple paludamentum
was granted to Caesar as an indication of the supreme nature of his imperium
, but it was rarely used in the first century, although it
subsequently became the symbol of assumed authority (Momm. Staatsr.
i. 349). As
had the privilege of
carrying the sword of military power. For the personal safety of the princeps
the cohors praetoria
kept guard at the palace.
Consecration and deification of emperors testify to the unrepublican position they occupied.
Iulius Caesar had permitted himself to be regarded as a god, but Augustus refused to allow
worship of himself, at least in Rome and Italy. Like Iulius Caesar, however, he was placed
among the gods of Rome after death, and with his deified successors received the title divus.
Temples were built in Asia to Augustus and Tiberius during their
lives, and the tendency to deify living emperors prevailed generally during the latter half of
the second century.
Augustus and the early emperors endeavoured to follow republican principles in the natural
dignifying and honouring of members of their families. Livia was an exception in the
privileges she obtained (Dio Cass. xlix. 38), but at her death honours were restricted and
deification was at first denied (Tac. Ann. v.
). The title Augusta was conferred upon Livia by the will of Augustus, perhaps with
some political significance; but though from the time of Domitian it was regularly given to
the wife of the reigning prince, it became a general title of honour, being granted also to
other relatives of the princeps.
Later the wife of the reigning emperor
was still more highly honoured by the granting of the appellation mater
, e. g., to Faustina, wife of Marcus Aurelius, and mater castrorum et senatus et patriae
to Iulia Domna, wife of Severus. The
young men were made principes iuventutis
, a title merely signifying
entrance into the equestrian order, and whatever rank they obtained came through the holding
of magistracies perhaps at an unusually early age, a favour granted, however, by a special
decree alone. Notwithstanding this moderation on the part of the early emperors, there is a
persistent endeavour to glorify the imperial family. In the votorum
(Wilmanns, 2876) we find the tota domus
the names of the emperor Domitian, of Domitia and Iulia (Momm. Staatsr.
776), and the phrase tota domus Augusta
occurs in an inscription of the time of
Hadrian (Wilm. 319), while numina Augusti totiusque domus divinae
is seen in an
inscription of the time of Commodus (Wilm. 120), and mention of the domus
is very common thereafter (Momm. Staatsr.
As with his family, so with his associates and friends, Augustus endeavoured to prevent
intimate relations with the princeps
from implying undue influence and
power (Suet. Aug. 56
; Tac. Ann. ii. 34
). It was inevitable, however, that the
preëminence of the princeps
should result in an exaggeration of
the standing of those who had the honour of his friendship. The morning receptions, similar to
those of other prominent citizens, became with the princeps
gatherings of magistrates and senators (Friedländer, Sittengeschichte
I. ch. ii.). The amici Caesaris
developed under Tiberius into a distinct and
semi-official body (cohors
Ann. vi. 9
), arranged in classes with rank determined by degree of
intimacy. The renuntiatio amicitiae
on the part of the princeps
was equivalent to sentence of banishment (Suet.
; Tac. Ann. ii.
; iii. 12,
). The travelling companions (comites
of the princeps
were chosen from this circle of amici
(Suet. Tib. 46
). After the first
became a general term, and included the regular attendants
upon the emperor as well as any of high rank who were especially favoured. The term comes
becomes more definite in its application, referring to those assigned
to expeditions. These were supplied with special camp-quarters, and had precedence over
provincial governors. A proof of the value assigned to appointment as comes
is found in the appearance of the title in the inscriptions among the honores
, i. 118
foll.). At first the agents of the princeps
belonged strictly to his own
household, and were either slaves or freedmen. The necessity of having a body of imperial
representatives led to the formation of the equestrian cursus honorum.
From a select class of the equites
selected administrative officers, who were his agents, while the magistrates of the senatorial
order were the officers of the State. The equestrian cursus honorum
introduced by a military service, which led to procuratorships of various grades and finally
to the important praefectures. These imperial officers formed an organized service, which,
spreading throughout the Empire, supplanted in many instances the representatives of the
State, and brought the control of the provinces directly into the hands of the princeps
, centralizing the governmental control in Caesar, and making him in this
respect also a monarch. See Hirschfeld, Verwaltungsgeschichte;
and the article
Bibliography.—J. B. Mispoulet, Les Institutions
Politiques des Romains
, 2 vols. (Paris, 1883)
; Th. Mommsen,
Res Gestae Divi Augusti (Berlin, 1883)
; Ernst Herzog,
Geschichte und System der Römischen Staatsverfassung
, 2 vols.
(Leipzig, 1884- 87); A. Bouché-Leclercq, Manuel des Institutions
Romaines (Paris, 1886)
; P. Willems, Le Droit Public
Romain (Paris, 1888)
; Theodor Mommsen, Römisches
, 3 vols. (Leipzig, 1887-88)