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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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147 news items

The New York Review of Books

The New York Review of Books
Thu, 24 Jul 2014 09:52:30 -0700

The master of the world referred to himself as princeps, “first citizen.” In 27 BC , ostensibly in gratitude to the new Caesar for ending a century of civil bloodshed and establishing political stability at home and abroad, the Roman Senate voted him ...
Hood River News
Wed, 23 Jul 2014 00:07:30 -0700

Columbia Gorge pikas, technically a population of American pika Ochotona princeps, are unusual in that they thrive at low elevations, only a couple hundred feet above sea level. “There seems to be a certain goldilocks set of factors that allow the ...
Times of Malta
Sun, 20 Jul 2014 02:22:30 -0700

Mass in D Princeps Martyrum (1975) by Maestro di Cappella Joseph Vella will be performed with the participation of soprano Miriam Cauchi, tenor Antonino Interisano, baritone Dario Russo and the Laudate Pueri Choir and orchestra, under the direction of ...

Pique Newsmagazine

Pique Newsmagazine
Thu, 10 Jul 2014 01:03:07 -0700

It was in fact an American pika, Ochotona princeps. These small mammals can be found high in the mountains throughout western North America, among boulder-strewn landscapes, and are relatives of the rabbit. The American pika lives in groups, but still ...

Bit Culturali

La Prima Pagina
Wed, 09 Jul 2014 15:07:30 -0700

“Le Chiavi di Roma. La città di Augusto” è il nome della mostra che a settembre si terrà ai Mercati di Traiano Museo dei Fori Imperiali, in occasione del Bimillenario della morte del princeps. L'esposizione si inserisce nel più ampio progetto ...
GeekDad (blog)
Fri, 04 Jul 2014 03:06:02 -0700

Principle and principal originate from the same Latin root word, princeps, meaning first or chief, which then splits into two different meanings of first: principia (foundations) and principalis (most important); the two words came to Middle English ...

Gozo News

Gozo News
Fri, 18 Jul 2014 10:35:54 -0700

The Mass in D in honour of St George “Princeps Martyrum” (Joseph Vella, 1976) for soloists, choir a 4 voci dispari and orchestra are executed. Soloists Miriam Cauchi (soprano), Antonino Interisano (tenor) and Dario Russo (bass), and the Laudate Pueri ...
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Wed, 30 Jul 2014 14:56:15 -0700

Komouši byli totiž při svém dodržování práva tak důslední, že vyznávali dokonce i některé instituty římského práva, např. rčení „Princeps legibus solutus“ (vládce stojí nad zákonem). Pro nás komunisty ale komunistické zákony neplatí. Jenže, a to je ...

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