office appointed consuls power
DICTATOR, the highest extraordinary magistrate of the ancient Roman republic. The original name of this office was magister populi, by which appellation he was called in the sacred books down to the latest times of the commonwealth.
When the republican form of government was established at Rome, and the supreme executive vested in the two consuls, emergencies sometimes occurred in which it seemed that the safety of the state might advantageously be intrusted for the time to same one man, whose past life had gained for him the esteem and respect of the whole body of the citizens. The idea of this office was borrowed by the Romans from the constitution of some of the Latin towns which they had subdued. It lay with the senate to decide when the services of a dictator were necessary. The power of nominating a man to the office was by that body made over to one of the consuls. It is not exactly determined to which of these officers the nomination of a dictator properly appertained.
The insignia of the dictator's office were - first, the lictors, twenty-four in number, who bore the fasces and secures ; second, the curule chair ; and third, the toga prtexta.
The first dictator was appointed at Rome 501 B.C., nine years after the expulsion of the Tarquins. Who the first dictator was is differently stated by different historians, but it is most probable that it was T. Lartius.
Dictators were generally appointed to conduct a foreign war, but it often happened that in matters of less importance they were appointed with nominal authority. The dictator was generally selected in the absence of the consuls to perform some small ceremonies, which in strict propriety could only be gone through by one of the consuls. Thus he was sometimes chosen to hold the comitia, to appoint holidays, to affix the clams annalis in the temple of Jupiter, and to preside at trials. As soon as the dictator was appointed, he was required to select a master of the horse (magister equitum), whose term of office was the same as his own.
The power of the dictator was absolute ; and so long..aA he remained in office no appeal was open against his mandates to any other authority in the state. He was nearly altogether independent of the senate. He could inflict much severer punishments than the consuls without being liable, as these officers were, to have his sentence reversed by the assembly of the people. His power was as irresponsible as it was absolute. In token of the absolute power of the dictators over the lives of their fellow-citizens, their lictors bore the axe in the midst of the fasces, even in their walks through the city - a mark of distinction which the consuls had formerly enjoyed, but which had been abolished in their case by the Valerian law.
Though the power of the dictator was thus great, it was nevertheless limited by certain indirect restrictions. The most important of these was, that he had no control whatever over the public money, and had to content himself with such sums as were allowed him by the senate. He was not allowed to leave Italy ; and could not appear on horseback in the city without the express permission of the people. The surest safeguard, however, against any treacherous designs on the part of the dictator was the shortness of the period during which he remained in office. This was never permitted to exceed six months.
When a dictator was appointed, all the ordinary magistrates ceased to be directly responsible to the governing authorities of the state, and took their orders directly from him. The only magistrates exempt from this necessity were the tribunes of the commons. The inferior officers, however, did not, as has been supposed, retire from office altogether. They merely obeyed the dictator so long as he continued in power, and on his resignation entered once more upon the untrammelled exercise of their authority.
It remains to be added that dictators were only appointed at Rome so long as Italy remained unsubdued. The last dictator appointed at Rome held office in 202 B.C. ; from that time the constitutional dictatorship disappears from Roman history.
See Mommsen's Rtimische Staatsrecht, ii. 1.