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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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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(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.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


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
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
As we celebrate the anniversary of Edsa Revolution, let us be wary of the different ways dictators can take ahold of our societies.
Only 12 per cent of dictators leave office after losing an election.
Although it lacks a theoretical base and is free of attempts at psychologising of any kind, the best part of the book is its breezy and readable summary of the dictators' lives and their literary progeny useful, as I cannot imagine anybody in their right mind getting down to seriously read such insufferable books as literature.
Let us briefly compare these theoretical predictions with the different responses of the Arab dictators mentioned above.
It is a painful for me that PPP supported black law of dictators yesterday which is a big question on their democratic credentials, he observed.
One of the most potent factors that impel a dictator to political power is an appeal to their spirit of "nationalism" or "patriotism."
After dictators oversee the deep settling of their systems into place and after they transcend the unpleasant period when people call still call them "dictators," well, that's when the good days begin for them.
Two essays about West African dictators focus on the conditions that created them and objects associated with them.
Like dictators, national heroes are quite sure that food for the masses and their children is as vitally important as fodder for cattle.
He denied the role was an attack on Arabs and said the only people offended by it would be "dictators and fans of dictatorship".
Are they tyrants, dictators, maniacs, monsters, too?
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.