Caesars and Emperors difference

Talking to my friend today after watching Gladiator, he asked me, why are some Roman leaders known as Caesar and others as Emperor? As in Julius Caesar and Emperor Nero. Am i right in assuming Caesar is a family name passed down from father to son, or is there deeper meaning?

Caesers were elected by the Senate and ruled for certain number of years(rather like a president). After Julias Caeser was assasinated ,which caused a civil war, Augustus took power and established a dynasty with powers handed on to his heirs (like a royal family). So the Caesers were republicans and Emperor were royalists.

No, David, Caesar was the family name of Julius. His title was imperator, plus a tacked on dictator.


Caesar was originally a family name in the gens Julia (most assume that it originally came from caesus, “cut”, however, there are other theories) and was born by the greatest (although not necessarily the best) Roman of them all, C. Julius Caesar. He passed by adoption to his nephew, C. Octavius, who by virtue of that adoption became C. Julius Caesar Octavianus, yclept Augustus. Augustus, in turn, passed it (again by adoption) to his heirs. The mystique of the Caesar name led it to be used by many who had no claim to it, and, by the end of the 3[sup]rd[/sup] century, had come to mean “second person in the Empire”.

Imperator derives from imperare, “to command”, and originally meant “commander”. It was never a formal rank in Rome; rather, it was used by the legionaires for whoever they thought worthy of it. Augustus took it as a praenomen (roughly, first name); it was, again, so used by Augustus’ successors, and came to mean “first person in the Empire”. (“Empire”, incidentally, also coomes from imperare, and originally meant “sphere of command”. The Romans never called their dominion an Empire; they always referred to it as res publica, “the public matter”, long after that term had ceased to fool anybody).

I think Caesar had become a generic title already at the time of Augustus, applied to deputy emperors or co-emperors. Augustus himself took a variety of titles, including Imperator, Pontifex Maximus etc. So to answer the OP, emperor is better than Caesar.

Might as well add the German Kaisers and Russian Czars also derived their titles from Julius C.

What I was trying to say was that up to Julias Caeser’s time the leader was elected but after his time the leadership was either inherited of seized by force of arms.

David Cronan writes:

It’s questionable whether we can say “up to Julius Caesar’s time”.

It’s generally agreed that the first internecine Roman political violence (as distinct from them going out and slaughtering foreigners that they didn’t like) was the murder of Ti. Sempronius Gracchus, to prevent him from being re-elected tribune of the plebs in 132 BCE. The political split between optimates (insider aristocrats) and populares (either leaders of the people or demagogues, depending on your spin) smoldered for a couple of generations. The Marian military reforms at the end of the 2[sup]nd[/sup] century BCE provided a needed expansion of military manpower, but also dangerously redirected the loyalty of the troops away from the state and towards their commanders (to be just, the optimates were at that time almost solely interested in the proles as catapult fodder).

The optimate-popular feud finally broke out into open violence (as distinct from the occasional assassination and politically-inspired mob) at the beginning of the 1[sup]st[/sup] century BCE, when a civil war between Marius (popular) and Sulla (optimate) combined with the Social War (revolt of Rome’s incompletely assimilated Italian allies (socii)) and a good deal of personal nastiness (Marius and Sulla were personal, as well as political, enemies) in a decade-long outbreak of violence. Sulla eventually came out on top, made himself dictator (a formal political office, although Sulla held it unconstitutionally), and retired to private debauchery in 79 BCE, having launched a number of political “reforms” that, he thought, firmly entrenched the optimates. In fact, political and military leaders (the two were virtually identical in republican Rome) destroyed them in the next decade, and went on to make a sham of the Republic’s institutions until Augustus finally got all the marbles in 30 BCE. Even he thought it better to defer to the sentimental attachment of the optimates to the Republic (although almost none of them had ever known a real republic, even by Roman standards) and established the regime known to later historians as the Principate, in which he and the optimates pretended that he was just this guy whose talents the Republic couldn’t afford to be without.

And Caesar? He was born either in 102 or 100 BCE; we might argue that his boyhood had been spent in a Republic, but no other portion of his life could be said to have been (almost his first appearance in history is when Sulla ordered him to divorce his wife (which he didn’t) and confiscated her dowry).

hibernicus opines:

Nope, it was still a cognomen, although C. Julius had covered it (and him) with glory, and Augustis carefully cultivated its mystique (and his).

IIRC, Caesar never took the name/title of “imperator” (other than in the specific sense that he was a troop commander). He was dictator-for-life. Augustus is normally listed as the first emperor.

hibernicus, are you thinking of the formal division of the titles that the Emperor Diocletian made, around the end of the 3rd century?

Diocletian found that being Emperor was too big a job for one man, so he took Maximian into association as his co-emperor in 286, and assigned him the western Empire while Diocletian kept the eastern Empire. Even that was too much, so in 292 he proclaimed Constantius Chlorus and Galerius as “Caesars,” or junior emperors, each under the supervision of one of the emperors. Diocletian thought that as the emperors aged, they would retire, the Caesars would succeed as co-Emperors, appoint new Caesars, and so on - a nice orderly transition.

Didn’t work, of course, even though Diocletian retired in 303, and forced Maximian to retire as well. There was just too much power at stake. Constantius Chlorus and Galerius squabbled, Maximian came out of retirement, and at one point there were 6 emperors at once. When the smoke cleared, Constantine the Great, son of Constantius Chlorus, was sole Emperor.

The connection between the Caesar family and Roman rule only lasted through the first five emperors. Ocatavian was the nephew of Julius Caesar and became Emperor Augustus in 27 BC. He ruled until 14 AD and was succeeded by his stepson Tiberius who died in 37 AD. Tiberius was succeeded by his nephew Gaius Caligula who only lasted to 41 AD. Next was Claudius, Augustus’ grandson and Caligula’s uncle, who died in 54 AD and was succeeded by his stepson Nero. These five emperors are known as the Julian dynasty.

In 68 AD, due to prolonged misrule, Nero was overthrown and killed himself. There was a great deal of confusion with three different men (Galba, Otho, and Vitellius) becoming emperor and being overthrown within a single year. In 69 AD, military forces led by Vespasian took control of the empire and Vespasian founded the Flavian dynasty.

So to some it up; prior to 27 BC, Caesar was a family name, from 27 BC to 68 AD, Caesar was the name of the Imperial family, and after 68 AD Caesar was a title which was sometimes given to rulers who were unrelated to the Caesar family.

Maybe. According to the Encyclopedia Americana, some linguists believe that “Czar” may actually be derived from the Mongol title “Kasar”, which probably pre-dates the Caesars.

Well, the tsar’s of Bulgaria derived their title from Julius C.

Just my 2sense