Our spring sale is on! Use promo code SPRING24 at checkout to save 50% on any order!

The role and development of the Roman dictatorship over three centuries

Table of contents

Part I: Haec Imperiosa Dictatura 
1 Introduction 
2 Narrative 
3 Origins 

Part II: Et Homo Et Potestas 
4 Need 
5 Choice 
6 Invocation 
7 Mandate 
8 Imperium 
9 Answerability 
10 Colleague 
11 Renunciation 
12 Principles 

Part III: Αἱρετὴ Τυραννὶς 
13 Desuetude 
14 Sulla 
15 Caesar 
16 Conclusions 

A Catalog of Dictatorships 
B Catalog of Names 
C Terms and Concepts 
D Dictator Years 
E Mommsen’s Dictatorship 


Roman consuls were routinely trained by background and experience to handle the usual problems of a twelve-month turn in office.  But what if a crisis arose that wasn’t best met by whoever happened to be in office that year? The Romans had a mechanism for that: the dictatorship, an alternative emergency executive post that granted total, unanswerable power to that man who was best suited to resolve the crisis and then stand down, restoring normality. This office was so useful and effective that it was invoked at least 85 times across three centuries against every kind of serious problem, from conspiracies and insurgencies to the repelling of invaders to propitiation of the gods.

In Dictator: The Evolution of the Roman Dictatorship, Mark B. Wilson makes the first detailed and comprehensive examination of the role and evolution of the dictatorship as an integral element of the Roman Republic. Each stage of a dictatorship—need, call, choice, invocation, mandate, imperium, answerability, colleague, and renunciation—is explored, with examples and case studies illustrating the dictators’ rigorous adherence to a set of core principles, or, in rare cases of deviation, showing how exceptions tended to demonstrate the rule as vividly as instances. Wilson also charts the flexibility of the dictatorship as it adapted to the needs of the Republic, reshaping its role in relation to the consuls, the senate, and the people.

The routine use of the dictatorship is only part of the story. The abandonment and disuse of the dictatorship for 120 years, its revival under Sulla, and its appropriation and transformation under Caesar are all examined in detail, with attention paid to what the dictatorship meant to the Romans of the late Republic, alternative means of crisis resolution in contrast with the dictatorship, and the groundwork laid in those last two centuries for that which was to come. Dictator provides a new basis for discussion and debate relating to the Roman dictatorship, Roman crisis management, and the systems and institutions of the Roman Republic.

Mark B. Wilson is Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Lehman College.

“In conclusion, Wilson’s book is a thorough and well-informed study of the Roman dictatorship. Quite every aspect of the office is treated and the collection of ancient sources is impressive...he has doubtless provided every scholar interested in the study of this magistracy with an important and compelling work.”
Bryn Mawr Classical Review

- Bryn Mawr Classical Review

"By proceeding thematically but also broadly chronologically, Wilson has produced an asset that will shape future scholarship of the Roman Republic...this monograph will become a standard for scholars of the Republic—both those with an interest in the early and middle Republics, but also those seeking to understand Sulla and Caesar."
--Rhea Classical Reviews

- Rhea Classical Reviews