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The Principate is the name sometimes given to the first period of the
Roman Empire The Roman Empire ( la, Imperium Rōmānum ; grc-gre, Βασιλεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων, Basileía tôn Rhōmaíōn) was the post-Roman Republic, Republican period of ancient Rome. As a polity it included large territorial holdings aro ...

Roman Empire
from the beginning of the reign of
Augustus Caesar Augustus (23 September 63 BC19 August AD 14) was the first Roman emperor, reigning from 27 BC until his death in AD 14. His status as the founder of the Roman Principate (the first phase of the Roman Empire) has consolidated ...

Augustus
in 27 BC to the end of the
Crisis of the Third Century#REDIRECT Crisis of the Third Century {{Redirect category shell, 1= {{R from other capitalisation ...
in AD 284, after which it evolved into the so-called ''
Dominate The Dominate is the name sometimes given to the " despotic" later phase of imperial government, following the earlier period known as the " Principate", in the ancient Roman Empire. This phase is more often called the Tetrarchy The Tetrarch ...
''. The Principate is characterised by the reign of a single emperor (''princeps'') and an effort on the part of the early emperors, at least, to preserve the illusion of the formal continuance, in some aspects, of the
Roman Republic The Roman Republic ( la, Rēs pūblica Rōmāna ) was a state of the ancient Rome, classical Roman civilization, run through res publica, public Representation (politics), representation of the Roman people. Beginning with the Overthrow of the ...
.


Etymology and anticipations

*'Principate' is etymologically derived from the
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roman Republic, it became the ...

Latin
word ''
princeps Princeps (plural: principes) is a Latin word meaning "first in time or order; the first, foremost, chief, the most eminent, distinguished, or noble; the first man, first person". As a title, "princeps" originated in the Roman Republic wherein the le ...
'', meaning ''chief'' or ''first'', and therefore represents the political regime dominated by such a political leader, whether or not he is formally
head of state A head of state (or chief of state) is the public persona who officially embodies a state (polity), state#Foakes, Foakes, pp. 110–11 "
he head of state He or HE may refer to: Language * He (pronoun) In Modern English, ''he'' is a Grammatical number, singular, Grammatical gender, masculine, Grammatical person, third-person personal pronoun, pronoun. Morphology In Standard English, Standard M ...
being an embodiment of the State itself or representatitve of its international perso ...
or
head of government The head of government is either the highest or second highest official in the executive branch of a sovereign state, a federated state, or a self-governing colony, autonomous region, or other government who often presides over a cabinet (gover ...
. This reflects the principate emperors' assertion that they were merely "
first among equals ''Primus inter pares'' ( grc, πρῶτος μεταξὺ ἴσων, ) is a Latin phrase meaning first among equals. It is typically used as an honorary title for someone who is formally equal to other members of their group but is accorded unoff ...
" among the citizens of Rome. *Under the Republic, the ''princeps senatus'', traditionally the oldest or most honoured member of the
Senate The Curia Julia in the Roman Forum ">Roman_Forum.html" ;"title="Curia Julia in the Roman Forum">Curia Julia in the Roman Forum A senate is a deliberative assembly, often the upper house or Debating chamber, chamber of a bicameral legislatu ...

Senate
, had the right to be heard first on any debate. *
Scipio Aemilianus Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus Aemilianus (185–129 BC), primarily known as Scipio Aemilianus, was a Roman general and statesman noted for his military exploits in the Third Punic War The Third Punic War (149–146 BC) was the third a ...
and his
circle A circle is a shape consisting of all point (geometry), points in a plane (mathematics), plane that are at a given distance from a given point, the Centre (geometry), centre; equivalently it is the curve traced out by a point that moves in a ...
had fostered the (quasi-Platonic) idea that authority should be invested in the worthiest citizen (''princeps''), who would beneficently guide his compeers, an ideal of the patriot statesman later taken up by
Cicero Marcus Tullius Cicero ( ; ; 3 January 106 – 7 December 43 BC) was a Ancient Rome, Roman statesman, lawyer, scholar, philosopher and Academic skepticism, Academic Skeptic, who tried to uphold republican principles during crisis of th ...

Cicero
.


Duration

In a more limited and precise ''chronological'' sense, the term Principate is applied either to the entire Empire (in the sense of the post-Republican Roman state), or specifically to the earlier of the two phases of "Imperial" government in the ancient
Roman Empire The Roman Empire ( la, Imperium Rōmānum ; grc-gre, Βασιλεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων, Basileía tôn Rhōmaíōn) was the post-Roman Republic, Republican period of ancient Rome. As a polity it included large territorial holdings aro ...

Roman Empire
before Rome's military collapse in the West (
fall of Rome The fall of the Western Roman Empire (also called the fall of the Roman Empire or the fall of Rome), c. 376-476, was the process of decline in the Western Roman Empire The Western Roman Empire comprises the western provinces of the Roman ...
) in 476 left the
Byzantine Empire The Byzantine Empire, also referred to as the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantium, was the continuation of the Roman Empire in its eastern provinces during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages In the history of Europe, the Middle Ages ...
as sole heir. This early, 'Principate' phase began when Augustus claimed ''
auctoritas 300px, Representation of a sitting of the Roman Senate: Cicero attacks Catilina, Catiline, from a 19th-century fresco ''Auctoritas'' is a Latin word which is the origin of English "authority". While historically its use in English was restricted ...
'' for himself as ''princeps''; and continued (depending on the source) up to the rule of
Commodus Commodus (; 31 August 161 – 31 December 192) was Roman emperor The Roman Emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire during the History of the Roman Empire, imperial period (starting in 27 BC). The emperors used a variety of different titles ...
, of
Maximinus Thrax Gaius Julius Verus Maximinus "Thrax" ("the Thracian";  – May 238) was Roman emperor from 235 to 238. His father was an accountant in the governor's office and sprang from ancestors who were Carpi (a Dacians, Dacian tribe), a people who ...

Maximinus Thrax
or of
Diocletian Diocletian (; la, Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus; born Diocles; 22 December c. 244 – 3 December 311) was Roman emperor from 284 to 305. Born to a family of low status in Dalmatia (Roman province), Dalmatia, Diocletian rose through the ...
. Afterwards, Imperial rule in the Empire is designated as the ''
dominate The Dominate is the name sometimes given to the " despotic" later phase of imperial government, following the earlier period known as the " Principate", in the ancient Roman Empire. This phase is more often called the Tetrarchy The Tetrarch ...
'', which is subjectively more like an (absolute) monarchy while the earlier ''Principate'' is still more 'Republican'.


History

The title, in full, of ''princeps senatus'' / ''princeps civitatis'' ("first amongst the senators" / "first amongst the citizens") was first adopted by
Octavian Caesar Augustus
Octavian Caesar Augustus
(27 BC–AD 14), the first
Roman Roman or Romans usually refers to: *Rome, the capital city of Italy *Ancient Rome, Roman civilization from 8th century BC to 5th century AD *Roman people, the people of ancient Rome *''Epistle to the Romans'', shortened to ''Romans'', a letter in ...
"emperor" who chose, like the assassinated
Julius Caesar Gaius Julius Caesar (; 12 July 100 BC – 15 March 44 BC) was a Roman people, Roman general and statesman who played a critical role in Crisis of the Roman Republic, the events that led to the demise of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Rom ...

Julius Caesar
, not to reintroduce a legal
monarchy A monarchy is a form of government in which a person, the monarch A monarch is a head of stateWebster's II New College DictionarMonarch Houghton Mifflin. Boston. 2001. p. 707. Life tenure, for life or until abdication, and therefore ...
. Augustus's purpose was probably to establish the political stability desperately needed after the exhausting
civil wars A civil war, also known as an intrastate war in polemology, is a war between organized groups within the same state or country A country is a distinct territory, territorial body or political entity. It is often referred to as the ...
by a ''de facto'' dictatorial regime within the
constitution A constitution is an aggregate of fundamental principles A principle is a proposition or value that is a guide for behavior or evaluation. In law, it is a rule Rule or ruling may refer to: Human activity * The exercise of political ...
al framework of the
Roman Republic The Roman Republic ( la, Rēs pūblica Rōmāna ) was a state of the ancient Rome, classical Roman civilization, run through res publica, public Representation (politics), representation of the Roman people. Beginning with the Overthrow of the ...
- what
Gibbon Gibbons () are apes in the Family (biology), family Hylobatidae (). The family historically contained one genus, but now is split into four extant genera and 18 species. Gibbons live in tropical rainforest, subtropical and tropical rainforest fro ...
called "an absolute monarchy disguised by the forms of a commonwealth" - as a more acceptable alternative to, for example, the early
Roman Kingdom The Roman Kingdom, also referred to as the Roman monarchy, or the regal period of ancient Rome, was the earliest period of Ancient Rome, Roman history, when the city and its territory were ruled by kings. Little is certain about the kingdom's ...
. Although dynastic pretences crept in from the start, formalizing this in a monarchic style remained politically perilous; and Octavian was undoubtedly correct to work through established Republican forms to consolidate his power. He began with the powers of a
Roman consul A consul held the highest elected political office The incumbent is the current holder of an official, office or position, usually in relation to an election. For example, in an election for president, the incumbent is the person holding or a ...
, combined with those of a
Tribune of the plebs Tribune of the plebs, tribune of the people or plebeian tribune ( la, tribunus plebis) was the first office of the Roman state that was open to the plebeians, and was, throughout the history of the Republic, the most important check on the power o ...
; later added the role of the censor; and finally became
Pontifex Maximus The (Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roman Republi ...
as well.
Tiberius Tiberius Caesar Augustus ( ; 16 November 42 BC – 16 March AD 37) was the second Roman emperor The Roman Emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire during the History of the Roman Empire, imperial period (starting in 27 BC). The emperors us ...

Tiberius
too acquired his powers piecemeal, and was proud to emphasise his place as first citizen: "a good and healthful ''princeps'', whom you have invested with such great discretionary power, ought to be the servant of the Senate, and often of the whole citizen body". Thereafter, however, the role of princeps became more institutionalised: as
Dio Cassius Lucius Cassius Dio (; ) or Dio Cassius ( ''Dion Kassios'')), Cassius Lucius Dio or Cassius Claudius Dio; alleged to have the ' (nickname) Cocceianus was a Roman statesman and historian of Greek and Roman origin. He published 80 volumes of the h ...
put it,
Caligula Caligula (; 31 August 12 – 24 January 41 AD), formally known as Gaius ( Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus), was the third Roman emperor, ruling from 37 to 41. The son of the popular Roman general Germanicus and Augustus Caesar Au ...
was "voted in a single day all the prerogatives which Augustus over so long a span of time had been voted gradually and piecemeal". Nevertheless, under this "Principate ''stricto sensu''", the political reality of
autocratic Autocracy is a system of government in which supreme power over a State (polity), state is concentrated in the hands of one person, whose decisions are subject to neither external legal restraints nor regularized mechanisms of popular control (exc ...
rule by the
Emperor An emperor (from la, imperator, via fro, empereor) is a monarch, and usually the sovereignty, sovereign ruler of an empire or another type of imperial realm. Empress, the female equivalent, may indicate an emperor's wife (empress consort), m ...
was still scrupulously masked by forms and conventions of
oligarchic Oligarchy (; ) is a form of power structure in which power rests with a small number of people. These people may or may not be distinguished by one or several characteristics, such as nobility Nobility is a social class normally ranked ...
self-rule inherited from the political period of the 'uncrowned'
Roman Republic The Roman Republic ( la, Rēs pūblica Rōmāna ) was a state of the ancient Rome, classical Roman civilization, run through res publica, public Representation (politics), representation of the Roman people. Beginning with the Overthrow of the ...
(509 BC–27 BC) under the motto ''Senatus Populusque Romanus'' ("The Senate and people of Rome") or ''
SPQR SPQR, an abbreviation for (; en, "The Roman Senate and Roman people, People"; or more freely "The Senate and Roman people, People of Rome"), is an emblematic abbreviated phrase referring to the government of the ancient Roman Republic. It ap ...

SPQR
''. Initially, the theory implied the 'first citizen' had to earn his extraordinary position (''de facto'' evolving to nearly absolute monarchy) by merit in the style that Augustus himself had gained the position of ''auctoritas''. Imperial
propaganda Propaganda is communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share") is the act of developing Semantics, meaning among Subject (philosophy), entities or Organization, groups through the use of sufficiently mutually und ...
developed a paternalistic
ideology An ideology () is a set of belief A belief is an Attitude (psychology), attitude that something is the case, or that some proposition about the world is truth, true. In epistemology, philosophers use the term "belief" to refer to attitudes abo ...
, presenting the ''princeps'' as the very incarnation of all virtues attributed to the ideal ruler (much like a Greek '' tyrannos'' earlier), such as clemency and justice, and military leadership, obliging the ''princeps'' to play this designated role within
Roman Roman or Romans usually refers to: *Rome, the capital city of Italy *Ancient Rome, Roman civilization from 8th century BC to 5th century AD *Roman people, the people of ancient Rome *''Epistle to the Romans'', shortened to ''Romans'', a letter in ...
society, as his political insurance as well as a moral duty. What specifically was expected of the ''princeps'' seems to have varied according to the times, and the observers:
Tiberius Tiberius Caesar Augustus ( ; 16 November 42 BC – 16 March AD 37) was the second Roman emperor The Roman Emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire during the History of the Roman Empire, imperial period (starting in 27 BC). The emperors us ...

Tiberius
, who amassed a huge surplus for the city of
Rome , established_title = Founded , established_date = 753 BC , founder = King Romulus , image_map = Map of comune of Rome (metropolitan city of Capital Rome, region Lazio, Italy).svg , map_caption = The te ...

Rome
, was criticized as a miser, but
Caligula Caligula (; 31 August 12 – 24 January 41 AD), formally known as Gaius ( Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus), was the third Roman emperor, ruling from 37 to 41. The son of the popular Roman general Germanicus and Augustus Caesar Au ...
was criticized for his lavish spending on games and spectacles. Generally speaking, it was expected of the Emperor to be generous but not frivolous, not just as a good ruler but also with his personal fortune (as in the proverbial "bread and circuses" – '' panem et circenses'') providing occasional public games, gladiators, horse races and artistic shows. Large distributions of food for the public and charitable institutions also served as popularity boosters, while the construction of public works provided paid employment for the poor.


Redefinition under Vespasian

With the fall of the
Julio-Claudian dynasty , native_name_lang=Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Rom ...
in AD 68, the ''principate'' became more formalised under the Emperor
Vespasian Vespasian (; la, Vespasianus ; 17 November AD 9 – 23/24 June 79) was a Roman emperor The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire during the imperial period (starting in 27 BC). The emperors used a variety of different titles thr ...

Vespasian
from AD 69 onwards. The position of ''princeps'' became a distinct entity within the broader – formally still republican – Roman
constitution A constitution is an aggregate of fundamental principles A principle is a proposition or value that is a guide for behavior or evaluation. In law, it is a rule Rule or ruling may refer to: Human activity * The exercise of political ...
. While many of the same cultural and political expectations remained, the civilian aspect of the Augustan ideal of the ''princeps'' gradually gave way to the military role of the imperator. Rule was no longer a position (even notionally) extended on the basis of merit, or ''auctoritas'', but on a firmer basis, allowing Vespasian and future emperors to designate their own heir without those heirs having to earn the position through years of success and public favor. Under the Antonine dynasty, it was the norm for the Emperor to appoint a successful and politically promising individual as his successor. In modern historical analysis, this is treated by many authors as an "ideal" situation: the individual who was most capable was promoted to the position of princeps. Of the Antonine dynasty,
Edward Gibbon Edward Gibbon (; 8 May 173716 January 1794) was an English historian, writer and Member of Parliament. His most important work, '' The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'', was published in six volumes between 1776 and 1788 an ...

Edward Gibbon
famously wrote that this was the happiest and most productive period in human
history History (from Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approximately 10.7 millio ...

history
, and credited the system of succession as the key factor.


''Dominate''

The autocratic elements in the Principate tended to increase over time, with the style of ''dominus'' ("Lord", "Master", suggesting the citizens became ''servi'', servants or slaves) gradually becoming current for the emperor. There was however no clear constitutional turning point, with
Septimius Severus Lucius Septimius Severus (; 11 April 145 – 4 February 211) was Roman emperor from 193 to 211. He was born in Leptis Magna (present day Al-Khums, Libya) in the Roman province of Africa (Roman province), Africa. As a young man he advanced throu ...
and the
Severan dynasty The Severan dynasty was a Roman Roman or Romans usually refers to: *Rome, the capital city of Italy *Ancient Rome, Roman civilization from 8th century BC to 5th century AD *Roman people, the people of ancient Rome *''Epistle to the Romans'', s ...
beginning to use the terminology of the ''
Dominate The Dominate is the name sometimes given to the " despotic" later phase of imperial government, following the earlier period known as the " Principate", in the ancient Roman Empire. This phase is more often called the Tetrarchy The Tetrarch ...
'' in reference to the emperor, and the various emperors and their usurpers throughout the 3rd century appealing to the people as both military ''dominus'' and political ''princeps''. It was after the
Crisis of the Third Century#REDIRECT Crisis of the Third Century {{Redirect category shell, 1= {{R from other capitalisation ...
almost resulted in the Roman Empire's political collapse that
Diocletian Diocletian (; la, Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus; born Diocles; 22 December c. 244 – 3 December 311) was Roman emperor from 284 to 305. Born to a family of low status in Dalmatia (Roman province), Dalmatia, Diocletian rose through the ...
firmly consolidated the trend to autocracy. He replaced the one-headed ''principate'' with the
tetrarchy The Tetrarchy was the system instituted by Roman Emperor The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire during the imperial period (starting in 27 BC). The emperors used a variety of different titles throughout history. Often when ...
(c. AD 300, two ''Augusti'' ranking above two ''Caesares''), in which the vestigial pretence of the old
Republic A republic () is a form of government A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, generally a state. In the case of its broad associative definition, government normally consists of legislature ...

Republic
an forms was largely abandoned. The title of ''princeps'' disappeared – like the territorial unity of the Empire – in favor of ''dominus''; and new forms of pomp and awe were deliberately used in an attempt to insulate the emperor and the civil authority from the unbridled and mutinous soldiery of the mid-century. The political role of the Senate went into final eclipse, no more being heard of the division by the Augustan Principate of the provinces between imperial (militarised) provinces and senatorial provinces. Lawyers developed a theory of the total delegation of authority into the hands of the emperor,H M Gwatkin ed., ''The Cambridge Medieval History Vol I'' (1924) p. 28 and the ''dominate'' developed more and more, especially in the
Eastern Roman Empire The Byzantine Empire, also referred to as the Eastern Roman Empire, or Byzantium, was the continuation of the Roman Empire The Roman Empire ( la, Imperium Rōmānum ; grc-gre, Βασιλεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων, Basileía tôn R ...

Eastern Roman Empire
, where the subjects, and even diplomatic allies, could be termed ''servus'' or the corresponding Greek term ''doulos'' ("servant/slave") so as to express the exalted position of the Emperor as second only to
God God, in monotheistic thought, is conceived of as the supreme being, creator, and principal object of faith Faith, derived from Latin ''fides'' and Old French ''feid'', is confidence or trust in a person, thing, or In the context of religio ...

God
, and on earth to none.


See also

* Constitution of the Late Roman Empire


References


Sources

* Alston, Richard. 1998. ''Aspects of Roman History. AD 14–117.'' London: Routledge. * Aparicio Pérez, Antonio. 2009. “Taxation in Times of the Principate.” ''Gerión'' 27:1: 207-217. * Bleicken, Jochen. 1978. ''Prinzipat und Dominat. Gedanken zur Periodisierung der römischen Kaiserzeit''. Wiesbaden: Fr. Stein. * Flaig, Egon. 2011. “The Transition from Republic to Principate: Loss of Legitimacy, Revolution, and Acceptance.” In The Roman Empire in Context: Historical and Comparative Perspectives, Edited by Jóhann Páll Arnason and Kurt A. Raaflaub. Ancient World, 67-84. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell. * Gallia, Andrew B. 2012. ''Remembering the Roman Republic: Culture, Politics and History under the Principate.'' Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press. * Gibson, A. G. G., ed. 2013. ''The Julio-Claudian Succession: Reality and Perception of the Augustan model.'' Mnemosyne. Supplements; 349. Leiden: Brill. * Harlow, Mary and Laurence, Ray. 2017. “Augustus Senex: Old Age and the Remaking of the Principate.” ''Greece and Rome'' 64.2: 115-131. * Kousser, Rachel Meredith. 2005. “From Conquest to Civilization: The Rhetoric of Imperialism in the Early Principate.” In ''A Tall Order: Writing the Social History of the Ancient World: Essays in Honor of William V. Harris,'' Edited by Jean-Jacques Aubert and Zsuzsanna Várhelyi. Beiträge zur Altertumskunde; 216, 185-202. München: Saur. * Melounová, Markéta. 2012. “Trials with Religious and Political Charges from the Principate to the Dominate.” ''Series archaeologica et classica'' 17.2: 117-130. * Raaflaub, Kurt A, Mark Toher, and G. W Bowersock. 1990. ''Between Republic and Empire: Interpretations of Augustus and His Principate.'' Berkeley: University of California Press. * Williams, Kathryn Frances. 2009. “Tacitus' Germanicus and the Principate.” ''Latomus'' 68.1: 117-130.


External links

{{Authority control Government of the Roman Empire