The Oxford Biblical Studies Online and Oxford Islamic Studies Online have retired. Content you previously purchased on Oxford Biblical Studies Online or Oxford Islamic Studies Online has now moved to Oxford Reference, Oxford Handbooks Online, Oxford Scholarship Online, or What Everyone Needs to Know®. For information on how to continue to view articles visit the subscriber services page.
Signed in as:

Related Content

More Like This

Show all results sharing this subject:

  • Classical studies


Show Summary Details



Quick Reference

An extraordinary supreme magistracy at Rome, used first in military, later in domestic crises.

As an emergency magistracy the dictatorship is found often in the annals of the republic down to the end of the 3rd cent. bc; it was not used during the 2nd cent. but reappeared in a more powerful form, when granted to Sulla and then Caesar. Normally dictators were simply nominated in public by a magistrate with imperium (consul, praetor, or interrex) after authorization by the senate—for Sulla and Caesar the authorization was provided by a law. The dictator's function was either to command the army or to perform a specific task, such as holding elections or dealing with a sedition. His 24 lictors indicated a concentration of the powers of the consuls. The dictator immediately appointed a cavalry commander (magister equitum) as his subordinate. Existing magistrates remained in office but were subordinate to him. Originally dictators resigned as soon as their task was completed, being permitted to remain in office for at most six months. They were therefore not appropriate for emergency overseas commands, and specially chosen proconsuls were used instead (see pro consule). In the middle and later republic the dictator's actions were in theory exempt neither from veto (see intercessio) by the tribunes nor from provocatio. Nor was he himself free from prosecution after leaving office. Although after 202 no short‐term dictators were appointed, it appears that this was contemplated in 54/3; in 52, on the senate's advice, Pompey was created sole consul instead (senators apparently feared he might abuse dictatorial power). Both Sulla and Caesar, when they were appointed to this office in order to lend constitutional form to their de facto supremacy, were given the task ‘putting the state in order’.

Subjects: Classical studies

Reference entries

View all reference entries »