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originally a Roman magistrate appointed to rule the state in times of emergency; in modern usage, an absolutist or autocratic ruler who assumes extraconstitutional powers. From 501 B.C. until the abolition of the office in 44 B.C., Rome had 88 dictators. They were usually appointed by a consul and were invested with sweeping authority over the citizens, but they were limited to a term of six months and lacked power over the public finances. Dictators were held to strict account for their conduct in office. Lucius Cornelius Sulla and Julius Caesar abolished the limitations to dictatorship and governed unconstitutionally. The Romans abandoned the institution after Caesar's murder. Modern dictators have usually come to power in times of emergency. Frequently they have seized power by coup, but some, most notably Benito Mussolini in Italy and Adolf Hitler in Germany, achieved office by legal means and once in power overthrew constitutional restraints. In the USSR the "dictatorship of the proletariat" took the form of a concentration of power in the hands of the Communist party. Under Joseph Stalin it developed into a personal dictatorship, but after his death there emerged a system of collective leadership. Latin American nations have undergone many dictatorships, usually by military leaders at the head of a junta. See totalitarianismtotalitarianism
, a modern autocratic government in which the state involves itself in all facets of society, including the daily life of its citizens. A totalitarian government seeks to control not only all economic and political matters but the attitudes, values, and beliefs
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(1) In a number of Latin cities of ancient Italy an annually elected ruler who had unlimited power; also the head of the Latin League.

(2) In ancient Rome during the period of the Republic (fifth century B.C. to the second half of the first century B.C.) an official with extensive powers and responsibilities (magistrate). At times of extreme danger (internal disorders or threat of war), when it was deemed necessary to transfer power into the hands of one person, a dictator was appointed for a maximum of six months by the consuls upon resolution of the Senate. The dictator had absolute control over the entire state. An explanation for each dictator’s election was always added to his title (for example, a dictator who was elected in a time of military danger was called dictator rei gerundae causa, dictator to wage war).

Prior to the fourth century B.C., a dictator’s judicial decision could not be appealed to the popular assembly. Generally all officials, including the consuls, were subject to the rule of the dictator. Initially, the position of dictator was accessible only to patricians, but beginning in 356 B.C. plebeians could also be elected. Frequently a dictator was elected only for a brief term in order to carry out a single commission (for example, something of a religious nature). During the dictatorships of Sulla and Caesar, who were appointed without time limitations (dictator perpetuus), the position of dictator acquired a monarchical character. Dictatorship was abolished in 44 B.C. by Mark Antony.


a. a ruler who is not effectively restricted by a constitution, laws, recognized opposition, etc.
b. an absolute, esp tyrannical, ruler
2. (in ancient Rome) a person appointed during a crisis to exercise supreme authority
References in periodicals archive ?
He brings so much to The Dictators and has great musical knowledge.
These sorts of nicknames for such dictators -- so many of which mean "leader"-- are of course no coincidence, but rather purposefully selected choices.
According to reports, so many soldiers volunteered to join the firing squad to execute the hated dictator and his wife they had to draw lots.
They not only got the judiciary liberated but also ousted the dictator who had underestimated the rule of law, he concluded.
The dictators were clearly informed that the other (non-dictator) subjects had each been given the same $10 endowment and $5 show-up fee as the dictators.
Like dictators, national heroes are quite sure that food for the masses and their children is as vitally important as fodder for cattle.
More than 40 years after it was written, a remarkable three-woman team came together to resurrect "The Dictator.
No one minds the tables being turned on a dictator.
As dictators have the opportunity to extract high rents while they rule, the model assigns a high utility to the dictator for staying in power and remaining in the country.
Mubarak's trial had an important message for all the regional nations and dictatorial rulers, and it says that dictators are all destined to stand public trial at court," member of the parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission Seyed Ali Aqazadeh told FNA on Sunday.
Don't assume that dictators invariably possess greater wisdom than the leaders of a democracy informed by widespread public discussion and debate.
However, among hereditary dictators, cases like Kim Jong-il are far more common.