Roman dictator

A Roman dictator was an extraordinary magistrate in the Roman Republic endowed with full authority to resolve some specific problem to which he had been assigned. He received the full powers of the state, subordinating the other magistrates, consuls included, for the specific purpose of resolving that issue, and that issue only, and then dispensing with those powers forthwith.

Dictators were still controlled and accountable during their terms in office: the senate still exercised some oversight authority and the right of plebeian tribunes to veto his actions or of the people to appeal from them was retained. The extent of a dictator's mandate strictly controlled the ends to which his powers could be directed. Dictators were also liable to prosecution after their terms completed.

Dictators were frequently appointed from the earliest period of the republic down to the Second Punic War (218–201 BC), but the magistracy then went into abeyance for over a century. It was later revived in a significantly modified form, first by Sulla between 82 and 79 BC, and then by Julius Caesar between 49 and 44 BC. This later dictatorship was used to effect wide-ranging and semi-permanent changes across Roman society. After Caesar's assassination in 44, the office was formally abolished. It was never revived.


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