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emperor[Lat. imperator=one holding supreme power, especially applied to generals], the sovereign head of an empire. In the Roman republic the term imperator referred to the chief military commander and was used only on the battlefield. It was first used continuously by Julius Caesar and was retained by his successor Augustus. It was then adopted by all succeeding Roman rulers as an official title. An emperor continuously ruled over the eastern segment of the Roman Empire, which became known as the Byzantine Empire, until the 15th cent. In the West, after the fall of the empire, the title was revived with the crowning of Charlemagne (800). Eventually the territory reigned over by the successors of Charlemagne became known as the Holy Roman Empire, which lasted until 1806. In 1721 the Russian czar Peter I adopted the title emperor, and his example was followed in the 19th cent. by the monarchs in Austria, France, Germany, and Great Britain (Indian Empire, 1877–1947). The title was also used by several rulers in the Americas—in Brazil from 1822 to 1889; in Mexico by Agustín de Iturbide and Maximilian; and in Haiti by Jean Jacques Dessalines and Henri Christophe. In a general sense the title has been used to describe a non-European ruler of considerable territory, e.g., the emperor of Japan and the emperor of Ethiopia. See also imperialismimperialism,
broadly, the extension of rule or influence by one government, nation, or society over another. Early Empires
Evidence of the existence of empires dates back to the dawn of written history in Egypt and in Mesopotamia, where local rulers extended their
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a monarchical title. In ancient Rome the word imperium initially referred to the supreme power (military, juridical, and administrative) of the highest magistrates, including consuls, praetors, and dictators. From the period of Augustus and his successors the title of emperor in the Roman Empire took on a monarchical character. Beginning with the reign of Diocletian, the Roman Empire was ruled by two emperors with the title of Augustus; their two co-rulers held the title of caesar. With the fall of the Western Roman Empire (476) the title of emperor was retained in the East, in Byzantium; in the West it was restored by Charlemagne (800) and later by the German king Otto I (from 962, the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire). Subsequently the title was adopted by the monarchs of certain other states, including the Russian emperor, beginning in 1721, and the Austrian emperor, from 1804. In European literature the term “emperor” is applied to the monarchs of a number of non-European states, such as the Chinese emperor (until 1911) and the Japanese emperor.