Caesar (title)

Caesar (title)

Caesar (plural Caesars), Latin: Caesar (plural Caesares), is a title of imperial character. It derives from the "cognomen" of Julius Caesar, the Roman dictator. The change from being a familial name to an imperial title can be loosely dated to 68 / 69, the so-called "Year of the Four Emperors".

Onomastic root

Although the etymology of the name of Julius Caesar is not known with certainty, many scholars believe that it was simply a use of the Latin expression "caesar" meaning "hairy". [Aldrete, Gregory S.: " [ Daily Life In The Roman City: Rome, Pompeii, And Ostia] ", pg. 145, Greenwood Press, 2004, ISBN-13: 978-0313331749] [Ellis, Ralph: " [ Cleopatra to Christ/Scota: Egyptian Queen of the Scots] ", pp. 21-23, Edfu Books Ltd, 2006, ISBN:0953191338.] As such this might imply that the Iulii Caesares, a specific branch of the "gens Julia" bearing this name, were conspicuous for having fine heads of hair (alternatively, given the Roman sense of humour and Julius Caesar's own receding hairline, it could be that the Julii Caesares were conspicuous for going bald). [Cokayne, Karen: " [ Experiencing Old Age in Ancient Rome] ", pg. 14, Routledge, 2003, ISBN:0415299144.] It is probably not related to the root "to cut", a hypothesized etymology for Caesarian section.

The first Emperor, Caesar Augustus, bore the name as a matter of course; born Gaius Octavius, he was posthumously adopted by Caesar in his will, and per Roman naming conventions was renamed "Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus" (usually called "Octavian" in English during this stage of his life).

ole Roman emperor

For political and personal reasons Octavian chose to emphasise his relationship with Caesar by styling himself simply "Imperator Caesar" (whereto the Roman Senate added the honorific "Augustus", "Majestic" or "Venerable", in 26 BC), without any of the other elements of his full name. His successor as emperor, his stepson Tiberius, also bore the name as a matter of course; born Tiberius Claudius Nero, he was adopted by Caesar Augustus on June 26, 4, as "Tiberius Iulius Caesar". The precedent was set: the Emperor designated his successor by adopting him and giving him the name "Caesar".

The fourth Emperor, Claudius, was the first to assume the name "Caesar" upon accession, without having been adopted by the previous emperor; however, he was at least a member by blood of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, being the nephew of Tiberius and the uncle of Caligula. Claudius in turn adopted his stepson and grand-nephew Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, giving him the name "Caesar" in the traditional way; his stepson would rule as the Emperor Nero. The first emperor to assume the position and the name simultaneously without any real claim to either was the usurper Servius Sulpicius Galba, who took the imperial throne under the name "Servius Galba Imperator Caesar" following the death of the last of the Julio-Claudians, Nero, in 68. Galba helped solidify "Caesar" as the title of the designated heir by giving it to his own adopted heir, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Frugi Licinianus.

Galba's reign did not last long and he was soon deposed by Marcus Otho. Otho did not use the title "Caesar", but occasionally used the title "Nero" as emperor. Otho was then defeated by Aulus Vitellius who acceded with the name "Aulus Vitellius Germanicus Imperator Augustus." Vitellius did not at first adopt the cognomen "Caesar" as part of his name, and may have intended to replace it with "Germanicus" (he bestowed the name "Germanicus" upon his own son that year).

Nevertheless, Caesar had become such an integral part of the imperial dignity that its place was immediately restored by Titus Flavius Vespasianus ("Vespasian"), whose defeat of Vitellius in 69 put an end to the period of instability and began the Flavian dynasty. Vespasian's natural son, Titus Flavius Vespasianus became "Titus Caesar Vespasianus".

Minor dynastic title

By this point, the status of "Caesar" had been regularised into that of a title given to the Emperor-designate (occasionally also with the honorific title "Princeps Iuventutis", "Prince of Youth") and retained by him upon accession to the throne ("e.g.", Marcus Ulpius Traianus became Marcus Cocceius Nerva's designated heir as Caesar Nerva Traianus in October 97 and acceded on January 28, 98 as "Imperator Caesar Nerva Traianus Augustus"). After some variation among the earliest Emperors, the style of the Emperor-designate was "NN. Caesar" before accession and "Imperator Caesar NN. Augustus" after accession; starting with Marcus Aurelius Severus Alexander, it became customary to style the Emperor-designate as "NN. Caesar" ("NN. Most Noble Caesar") rather than simply "NN. Caesar".

Late Empire

The use of Caesar for the junior partner in a consortium imperii naturally occurred also in break-away 'empires', eager to copy the Rome-proper original; e.g. the last Gallic emperor, Tetricus I, granted the title to his son, Tetricus II.


On March 1, 293, Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus established the Tetrarchy, a system of rule by two senior Emperors and two junior sub-Emperors. The two coequal senior emperors were styled identically to previous Emperors, as "Imperator Caesar NN. Pius Felix Invictus Augustus" ("Elagabalus" had introduced the use of "Pius Felix", "the Pious and Blessed", while Gaius Iulius Verus Maximinus "Thrax" introduced the use of "Invictus", "the Unconquered"), and were called the "Augusti", while the two junior sub-Emperors were styled identically to previous Emperors-designate, as "NN. Nobilissimus Caesar". Likewise, the junior sub-Emperors retained the title "Caesar" upon accession to the senior position.

The Tetrarchy was quickly abandoned as a system (though the four quarters of the empire survived as praetorian prefectures) in favour of two equal, territorial emperors, and the previous system of Emperors and Emperors-designate was restored, both in the Latin-speaking West and the Greek-speaking East.

Byzantine Empire

In the East (the so-called "Byzantine Empire"), the "kaisar" acquired a crown (without a cross) and was junior in rank to the Patriarch of Constantinople; as a result, this title was seen as a suitable one for a high prince of the blood, a Prince-regent or an Emperor-designate (Emperors-designate were usually crowned as co-Emperors during their predecessors' reigns). The proliferation of individuals so titled prompted Aleksios I Komnenos to create the superior title "Sebastokratôr" (a portmanteau word meaning "Majestic ruler" derived from "sebastos" and "Autokratôr", the Greek equivalents of "Augustus" and "Imperator") for his brother Isaakios. Both "Kaisar" and "Sebastokratôr" were reduced in degree when Manuel I Komnenos introduced "Despotes" as a superior title; unlike the Caesar and the Sebastocrat, the Despot had a territorial jurisdiction, known as despotate, in addition to his degree of precedence. The continuing title cycle of proliferation causing devalutation continued to produce more artificial titles.

Ottoman Empire

Following his conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the victorious Ottoman sultan Mehmed II was the first of the rulers of the Ottoman Empire to assume the title "Caesar of the Roman Empire" (Ottoman Turkish "Kayser-i-Rûm"). Here, the Caesar title should not be understood as the minor title it had become, but as the glorious title of the emperors of the past, a connotation that had been preserved in Persian and Arabic. The adoption of the title also implied that the Ottoman state considered itself the continuation, by absorption, of the Roman Empire, a view not shared in the West. Acting in his capacity as Caesar of the Roman Empire, Mehmed reinstated the defunct Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.


The history of "Caesar" as an imperial title is reflected by the following monarchic titles, usually reserved for "Emperor" and "Empress" in many languages (note that the name Caesar, pronounced "see-zer" in English, was pronounced "kai-sahr" in Classical Latin):

Germanic languages:
*Danish: Kejser & Kejserinde;
*Dutch: Keizer & Keizerin;
*German: Kaiser & Kaiserin;
*Icelandic: Keisari & Keisaraynja;
*Faroese: Keisari & Keisarinna;
*Norwegian: Keiser & Keiserinne;
*Swedish: Kejsare & Kejsarinna
*Old English: cāsere (an honorific used by early English kings)

Slavic and Baltic languages:
*Belarusian: Tsar & Tsarytsa
*Bulgarian: Цар & Царица (Tsar & Tsaritsa);
*Croatian & Serbian: Car & Carica ("c" is read "ts");
*Czech: Císař & Císařovna;
*Latvian: Keizars & Keizarienne;
*Macedonian: Кајсар & Кајсарица (Kajsar & Kajsarica "c" is read "ts")
*Polish: Cesarz & Cesarzowa;
*Russian: Czar & Czaritsa (archaic transliteration), Tsar & Tsaritsa (modern transliteration); however in the Russian empire (also reflected in some of its other languages), which aimed to be the "third Rome" as successor to the Byzantine empire, it was abandoned (not in the foreign language renderings though) as imperial style -in favor of Imperator and Autocrator- and used as a lower, "royal" style as within the empire in chief of some of its parts, e.g. Georgia and Siberia
*Slovak: Cisár & Cisárovná;
*Slovene: Cesar & Cesarica;
*Ukrainian: Tsar & Tsarytsya

Finno-Ugric, Semitic, Altaic, and Indo-Iranian languages:
*Arabic: Qaysar - قيصر
*Estonian: Keiser & Keisrinna;
*Finnish: Keisari & Keisarinna;
*Hebrew: Keisár & Keisarít;
*Hungarian: Császár & Császárnő;
*Persian: Ghaysar - قيصر
*Turkish: Kayser-i-Rûm "Caesar of [Constantinople, the second] Rome", one of many subsidiary titles proclaiming the Ottoman Great Sultan (main imperial title Padishah) as (Muslim) successor to "Rum" as the Turks called the (Christian) Roman Empire (as Byzantium had continued to call itself), continuing to use the name for part of formerly Byzantine territory (compare the Seljuk Rum-sultanate)
*Urdu: Qaysar - قيصر

In various Romance and other languages, the imperial title was rather based on the Latin Imperator (in fact a military mandate or a victory title), but Caesar or a derivation is then still used for both the name and the minor ranks (still perceived as Latin)

There have been other cases of a noun proper being turned into a title, such as Charlemagne's Latin name, including the epithet, "Carolus (magnus)" becoming Slavonic titles rendered as King: Kralj (Serbo-Croat), Král (Czech) and Król (Polish), etc.

However certain languages, especially Romance languages, also commonly use a 'modernized' word (e.g. César in French) for the name, both referring to the Roman cognomen and modern use as a first name, and even to render the title Caesar, sometimes again extended to the derived imperial titles above.

ee also

*Augustus (honorific)




Pauly-Wissowa - "Realencyclopädie der Classischen Altertumswissenschaft"

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Caesar — or Cæsar may refer to: Contents 1 People 1.1 Given name 1.2 Surname …   Wikipedia

  • Caesar and Pompey — is a Jacobean era stage play, a classical tragedy written by George Chapman. Arguably Chapman s most obscure play, it is also one of the more problematic works of English Renaissance drama.DateNothing is known with certainty about the play s… …   Wikipedia

  • Caesar's Rhine bridges — Caesar’s Rhine bridges, the first two bridges to cross the Rhine River, were built by Julius Caesar and his legionaries during the Gallic War in 55 BC and 53 BC, respectively. Strategically successful, they are also considered masterpieces of… …   Wikipedia

  • Caesar and Cleopatra (play) — Caesar and Cleopatra, a play written in 1898 by George Bernard Shaw, was first staged in 1901 and first published with Captain Brassbound s Conversion and The Devil s Disciple in his 1901 collection, Three Plays for Puritans . It was first… …   Wikipedia

  • Caesar's Hour — was a television program that aired on NBC from 1954 until 1957. The program starred, among others, Sid Caesar, Nanette Fabray, Carl Reiner, and Milt Kamen, and featured a number of cameo roles by famous entertainers such as Joan Crawford and… …   Wikipedia

  • Caesar (game) — Caesar is a board wargame depicting the ancient Battle of Alesia in which Julius Caesar and his legions defeated the Gauls under Vercingetorix. Originally published as Alesia in 1971, it was redesigned and reissued by Avalon Hill in 1976. Jon… …   Wikipedia

  • Caesar's Commentaries — may refer to one of two works written by Julius Caesar: Commentarii de Bello Gallico, concerning Caesar s campaigns in Gaul and Britain, 58–50 BC Commentarii de Bello Civili, concerning his participation in the Roman Civil War of 49–48 BC This… …   Wikipedia

  • Caesar — ► NOUN ▪ a title of Roman emperors, especially those from Augustus to Hadrian. ORIGIN family name of the Roman statesman Gaius Julius Caesar …   English terms dictionary

  • Caesar — Caesar1 [sē′zər] n. [after CAESAR2 (Gaius) Julius] 1. the title of the emperor of Rome from Augustus to Hadrian, or of the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire 2. any of the Roman emperors 3. [often c ] any emperor or dictator Caesar2 [sē′zər]… …   English World dictionary

  • Caesar — c.1200, see CAESARIAN (Cf. caesarian); O.E. had casere, which would have yielded modern *coser, but it was replaced in Middle English by keiser, from Norse or Low German, and later in Middle English by the French or Latin form of the name. Cæsar… …   Etymology dictionary

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”