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Princeps (plural: principes) is a Latin word meaning "first in time or order; the first, chief, the most eminent, distinguished, or noble; the first man, first person."[1]

This article is devoted to a number of specific historical meanings the word took, in approximate historical order.

Roman Emperor[edit]

Princeps (in this sense usually translated as "First Citizen") was an official title of a Roman Emperor as the title determining the leader in Ancient Rome at the beginning of the Roman Empire. It created the principate Roman imperial system.[2]

This usage of "princeps" derived from the position of Princeps Senatus, the "first among equals" of the Senate. The princeps senatus (plural principes senatus) was the first member by precedence of the Roman Senate.

It was first given as a special title to Caesar Augustus in 27 BC,[3] who saw that use of the titles rex (king) or dictator would create resentment amongst senators and other influential men, who had earlier demonstrated their disapproval by supporting the assassination of Julius Caesar. While Augustus had political and military supremacy, he needed the assistance of his fellow Romans to manage the Empire. In his Res Gestae, Augustus claims auctoritas for the princeps (himself).[2]

For a comprehensive list of other official Roman titles used for the office of emperor see Roman Emperor. These titles included imperator, Augustus, Caesar, and later dominus (lord) and basileus (the Greek word for "sovereign"). The word Emperor itself is derived from the Roman title 'imperator', which was a very high, but not exclusive, military title until Augustus began to use it as his praenomen.

The Emperor Diocletian (285-305), the father of the Tetrarchy, was the first to stop referring to himself as "princeps" altogether, calling himself 'dominus' (lord, master), thus dropping the pretense that emperor was not truly a monarchical office. The period when the emperors that called themselves princeps ruled - from Augustus to Diocletian - is called "the Principate", while no later than under Diocletian began "the Dominate" period.

Ancient Rome knew another kind of 'princely' principes too, like 'princeps iuventutis' ("the first amongst the young"), which in the early empire was frequently bestowed on eligible successors to the emperor, especially from his family. It was first given to Augustus' adoptive sons Gaius and Lucius.[4]

Roman administration[edit]

Main article: officium

Princeps is also the (official) short version of Princeps officii, the chief of an officium (the office staff of a Roman dignitary) -


  • See Principes (legionary heavy infantry soldier)
  • centurio(n) in command of a unit or administrative office.
  • Princeps ordinarius vexillationis: centurion in command of a vexillatio (detachment).
  • Princeps peregrinorum ("commander of the foreigners"): centurion in charge of troops in the castra peregrina (military base at Rome for personnel seconded from the provincial armies)
  • Princeps prior: Centurion commanding a manipulus (unit of two centuries) of principes (legionary heavy infantry).
  • Princeps posterior: deputy to the Princeps prior
  • Princeps praetorii : centurion attached to headquarters.

Princeps was also used as defining second part of various other military titles, such as Decurio princeps, Signifer princeps (among the standard-bearers). See also Principalis (as in Optio principalis): NCO.

Nobiliary legacy[edit]

"Princeps" is the root and Latin rendering of modern words as the English title and generic term prince (see that article, also for various equivalents in other languages), as the Byzantine version of Roman law was the basis for the legal terminology developed in feudal (and later absolutist) Europe.

Non-Roman meaning[edit]

"Princeps" is also the name of an obsolete genus of Swallowtail butterflies (now merged with the genus Papilio).

Latin binomial abbreviations for species



  1. ^ Charlton T. Lewis, Charles Short (1897). "princeps, cĭpis, adj.". A Latin Dictionary. Retrieved 2009-04-21. 
  2. ^ a b Grant, p. 62
  3. ^ Africa, Thomas (1991). The Immense Majesty: A History of Rome and the Roman Empire. Harlan Davidson, Inc. p. 219. 
  4. ^ Suetonius

See also[edit]


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184 news items

The Guardian

Tue, 19 Aug 2014 11:16:11 -0700

The solution revolved around a new title he adopted: "princeps," often translated as "first citizen." Where Julius Caesar increasingly behaved like a Roman King, Augustus carefully avoided the trappings of monarchy. While consolidating power behind the ...

Shelter Island Reporter

Shelter Island Reporter
Thu, 21 Aug 2014 09:07:30 -0700

He ruled as an autocrat but maintained the fiction that he was no more than the Republic's “First Citizen,” the Princeps. His long reign saw the transformation of Rome's government and administration and the flourishing of art, architecture and ...


Wed, 06 Aug 2014 13:24:32 -0700

The pika (Ochotona princeps) belongs to the order Lagomorpha, which includes rabbits and hares. Pikas are small, furry mammals with roundish bodies, short legs, short round ears, and no visible tail. Each foot has five digits and hairy soles that are ...
Wicked Local Concord
Wed, 30 Jul 2014 23:19:33 -0700

This species proved quite common all along our trek, as did prince baskettails, Epitheca princeps, which are large, strong, zippy emerald dragonflies that often fly high, not easy to catch with a net. Another skimmer, the blue dasher dragonfly ...
The Australian
Fri, 15 Aug 2014 07:40:45 -0700

He extended the Roman Empire's frontiers to the Rhine-Danube region to the north and Egypt in the south; presided over a period mercifully free of civil war; and rather than naming himself “Rex” or King, he gave himself the more modest title “Princeps ...
De Tijd
Tue, 26 Aug 2014 20:56:15 -0700

Ook Suetonius verschaft ons een portret van de eerste princeps dat in het verlengde ligt van het verhaal van Tacitus, maar dan gelardeerd met talloze details die niet altijd even ter zake zijn. In ieder geval heeft Augustus tijdens zijn leven enorm ...


Mon, 18 Aug 2014 15:03:25 -0700

Da trägt Octavius bereits zahlreiche Ehrentitel, er ist "Augustus", der Erhabene, und "Princeps senatus", er inszeniert sich als "leuchtender Friedensfürst" und regiert de facto als Alleinherrscher. Zu seinem 2000. Todestag liegt nun eine Neubewertung ...
La Nuova Ferrara
Mon, 25 Aug 2014 18:07:30 -0700

... Nerone è Giuseppe Cartella di Roma figlio d'arte in quanto il padre era musicista del gruppo "Princeps" si è poi lanciato con successo nel mondo dello spettacolo; Sarah è Eleonora Mazzotti di Ravenna oggi con diverse ed importanti esperienze ...

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