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DICTATOR. A magistrate extraordinary, appointed by the Romans only under circumstances of alleged public and pressing necessity. He was originally called Magister Populi, and also Pretor Maximus; afterwards Dictator, because (Dictus) named by the consul for the time, or because the people implicitly obeyed his commands. The first Dictator created at Rome was T. Lartius Flavus in the year u.c. 253 (B.C. 501). He, being then one of the consuls, was nominated to this office, under an expectation of war with the Sabines and Latins. The consuls, at that time of emergency, being found unable to make levies among the plebeians, who had refused to enlist without a remission of their debts by the patricians, the Senate elected this officer, whom they invested with absolute and unbounded authority. The dictature was for a time confined to the patricians, but the plebians were afterwards admitted to share in it. The dictator remained in power for six months, after which he was again elected, if the state of affairs seemed desperate; otherwise he generally resigned before the allotted period had expired.
The dictatorship was on a par with even regal dignity, and armed with more than regal power, yet, unlike royalty, it was not held in hatred by the people. Amongst the insignia which distinguished this supreme and unusal functionary, were the purple robe, the curalc chair, caparisoned horses, and 20 lictors, bearing the faces with axes. The decision of peace and war resided with him: and the fortunes and lives of soldiers, citizens, and magistrates were alike subject ot his absolute government. During the dictature, the authority of all the other magistrates ceased, except that of the tribununes of the plebs; nor was any appeal allowed from the sentence of judgement of the dictator, until u.c.. 303 (B.C. 451), when the lex Duillia was passed, which provided that, thenceforward, no magistrate should be appointed, without his public acts being open to be appealed against before the people. This office so potent, so dignified, in the earlier periods of the republic, became at length odious to the Romans, form the despotic usurpations of Sulla, and of Julius Caesar; the former to glut the cruelty of his personal vengeance; and the latter to compass the schemes of his own boundless ambition.
When Caesar, therefore, not daring to assume the titles of Rex, and Dominus, accepted that of Imperator (see p. 155), he was not long in becoming Dictator; and in a short time afterwards Perpetual Dictator. That is to say, he received the dictature u.c. 705 (B.C. 49), M. Aemilius Lepidus (afterwards the triumvir) being pretor at the time, convened the people and procured that all-superseding power for Caesar, then absent from Rome, but who, quickly arriving there, entered upon the office; and having accomplished his object in taking it, laid down the name of dictator, retaining, however, not an atom less than all the authority of one. From that period we read on a chronological series of his coins-caes. DIC.-next DIC. ITER. then DIC. TER.-But why Dictator Tertium?- "Without doubt (says Schlegel, ad Morell.) he was named for the third time by the consul Lepidus, U.C. 709 (B.C. 45), after he had entered Rome in triumph, as conqueror from Africa." In like manner we read DIC. QVART. Dictator Quartum, because for the fourth time that office was offered to him, about 710 (B.C. 44), in which year he entered the city form Mount Albano, with the honours of an ovation. And it was during the same fourth dictatorship, that Caesar obtained from the Senate the right in perpetuity of wearing the laurel crown, according to Appianus and Dion; the latter of whom thus pursues the subject:-"In this year the fourth Dictatoship (quarta dictarura) was decreed to him, not merely for so long as the state of public affairs required, but for the term of his natural life, to govern and administer with dictatorial power." Thus on gold and silver coins, struck by his moneyers, L. Buca, and C. Maridianus, we find him called DICT. IN PERPETVO CAESAR, on others, DICT. IN PERPETVVM.- See Mintages of Caesar, pp. 155, 156, and 157 of this dictiionary.
And this office the Great Julius held to the day of his death; after which Mark Antony, as consul, obtained the passing of a law, which expressly and permanently abolished both the name and funtions of this powerful, but at length, to the public liberites, fatally dangerous, magistracy.