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Latin - Commander-in-Chief (supreme commander for military forces).

When followed by a number, the number indicates the number of victories.

Dictionary of Roman Coins

Please add updates or make corrections to the NumisWiki text version as appropriate.
Imperator -The title of Emperor (Imperator) was, at first, only used as a surname, and placed after all the names of the individual on whom it was conferred. But at the establishment of the empire, this appellation took another nature. The prince being generalissimo of the Roman legions, appropriated to himself the merit of all the victories achieved, whether he commanded the army in person, or whether he merely carried on the war by his lieutenants. When the Senate in the year 29 BC (725 of Rome) bestowed on Augustus the title Imperator, it was placed after his name. Subsequently we see it borne by Emperors from the first days of their reign; and without any victory, even without any war to give occasion for it. In fact the word, from that time, became one of the attributes of sovereignty; but in the latter case, it is found preceding all the other names and dignities, even that of Caesar, and it is not followed by any number as I II III etc on medals. But when, on the contrary, the word IMP or IMPERATOR was designed to enumerate victories, it is usually placed after the name, and often at the end of all the other titles. thus we sometimes see the prince declaring himself emperor for the fifteenth or twentieth time, and giving himself for surnames, titles formed out of vanquished nations. To such a pitch of mad presumption was this imperial vanity carried, that we sometimes see an emperor assuming the marks of triumph, and impudently pretending to be the conqueror of people who had actually defeated his armies.-

After the extinction of consular government, the name IMPERATOR was very seldom conferred upon private individuals, either on account of military command, or of victories gained; and it soon became the exclusive appendage of Imperial rank and power. -This title is expressed in Greek by the word AYTOKPATIP, which is often abridged.

After the death of Caligula, the title of Emperor became elective, and it was soldiers of the Praetorian Guard who proclaimed the Emperor Claudius. The children, however, of the deceased prince, or he whom the Emperor had adopted, pretty generally succeeded to the empire, not by right of succession, but because the reigning sovereign had, during his life-time, associated them in the government, or had created them Caesars, that is to say, appointed them his successors, with the concurrence of the armies, who, having the strength to enforce their wishes, had wrested from the Senate the right of election. The choice of the soldiery almost always fell on some one of their own chiefs, whose bravery was well known; and held higher in their appreciation than either birth or political abilities. It was thus that the empire frequently devolved into the hands of mere soldiers of fortune, whose only merit was their ferocious valour. On the other hand, when the Senate could influence the choice of an emperor, that body, with all its faults, consulted with more judgment the qualities most suitable in the master of so mighty an empire. Immediately after their election, the Emperors sent their image to Rome and to the armies, in order that it might be placed on military standards. This was the customary mode of acknowledging the new Princes.

Their accession thus announced, they failed not to distribute largesses amongst the troops, each soldier receiving his share as he marched past the emperor, to mark their joy at whose election they carried crowns of laurel in their heads. The first who introduced the system of giving money to soldiers was Claudius, who, in gratitude for their choice of him, promised them fifteen sesterces a head. Soon after the election of the Emperor, the Senate conferred the name of Augusta on his wife and daughters.

That the Imperial title, or appelative of the Roman general was augmented according to the number of victories, so that on coins it should be found marked by the inscription of IMP ITERVM or III, IV, etc, there are frequent proofs, in the series of the Augusti; nor are the like examples wanting, during the existence of the republic, or at least before it was utterly abolished, though these however are more rare.

Sylla is numismatically called IMPER ITERVM; whilst Cn. Pompey M., after having gained the greatest victories and those of the most varied description, is styled on his coins only IMP -Caesar the Dictator, only IMP ITER- Nor is Sextus Pompey, son of Pompey the Great, mentioned as having oftener enjoyed the title. But Antony the IIIVIR is recorded as IMP IIII- And it is certain that after Blaesus, who was the last private individual (by Tiberius ' permission) to be called Imperator, the important honour, although obtained by the Lieutenants of the Augusti, belonged to the Prince alone, because wars were carried on under his sole auspices; thus a praetor of former times derived the title of Imperator from a victory achieved by his quaestor, of which Varro records one example. If Dio is to be relied on, it was the Roman custom to assume the name Imperator not oftener than once, for one war; and this practice was abused by Claudius Aug, who allowed himself to be called by that title several times on account of victories over the Britons. -It is very questionable, however, whether this usage was, even in the earlier age, religiously observed, for from the coins of Sylla it is probable that he was called Imperator for the second time, during the same war.

It is abundantly clear on inspection, that the greater part of Imperial coins exhibit a numeral addition to this inscription of IMPERATOR on account of fresh victories gained. But it is observable, that Caracalla was the last who stamped this illustrious title on his coinage, as now by degrees the ancient institutions of the Roman empire had begun to be neglected or corrupted. Nevertheless, in the mint of Postumus, singular to say, there occur IMP V and IMP X -But Ducange adduces from marbles, some examples of adding numbers to the title continued to a later period, although of rarer occurrence. -The gold solidi of Theodosius II are common, bearing amongst his titles even IMP XXXXII, which Ducange considers to import the old acclamation of the soldiers. But Eckhel is of opinion that on coins of this emperor the years of his reign are indicated by that number- Gallienus, for the reiterated title of IMP called himself Germanicus Maximus III or V, or inscribed on his coins VICTORIA AVG VI VII VIII; and similar examples occur on the medals of Postumus, as before observed; especially on one bearing the legend of PM TR P IMP V etc.- Other evidences which verify the derivation of the title from Victories, are to be found in the Doct. Num. Vet. of Eckhel. De Nomine Imperatoris. vol. viii. p. 346.

-Imperator. Cassius, the assassin of Caesar, is so called: C CASSI IMP Caio Cassio Imperatori. -In a like manner, Brutus, BRVT IMP otherwise Q CAEP BRVT IMP- see the Junia family. -M LEPIDVS obtained the title of IMP in Spain, and received triumphal honours for his victories there. -In imitation also of M. Antonius IMP the title of Imperator is given on coins to Caius Caesar. -Moreover Pompey is styled MAG or MAGN PIVS IMP -See the Pompeia family.

-This title is not found attached to the names of the Roman Emperors much beyond the time of Constantine. For the sons of that great prince, instead of Imperator, caused themselves to be called D N, Domini Nostri.

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