First Advisor

Brian Turner

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in History and University Honors




Dictators -- Rome, Rome -- Politics and government -- 510-30 B.C, Rome -- History – Republic -- 510-30 B.C




During the Roman Republic, a dictator usually acted as a temporary military commander with supreme authority. When the crisis was over, the dictator resigned, as his term was tightly restricted to six-months. The dictatorship was a reliable emergency response for centuries (501- 201 BCE). It appeared regularly from the first decade of the Republic through the Second Punic War. Although the job description sounds straightforward, no single fact about the Roman dictatorship is easily definable. Traditional arguments about the dictatorship have focused on famous military dictators and their tactical actions in battle. This has limited our discussion of the dictatorship, which has often led the office to be misunderstood or simplified. The office was not static, but constantly adapted. Dictators served in multiple roles during the Republic, including completing rituals, holding elections, and calming riots. While modern scholars have revealed new nuanced perspectives on the Republic, there has been little update to the conventional understanding of the dictatorship. In order to move away from excessively legalistic interpretations of the Republic, this study examines the sixty-seven dictators that appear in the ancient historian Livy’s comprehensive work. By examining detailed descriptions of a variety of dictators, it is possible to reconsider standard notions of the dictatorship. This investigation reveals the Roman dictatorship to be a complex and constantly evolving institution, which reflected the Republic’s shift from an exclusive aristocracy towards experimenting with popular sovereignty.


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