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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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.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 ?
The human rights organizations denounced in a statement what they described as "the [offensive] insult of the right of - Tunisian and Arab peoples in getting rid of - dictatorial and corrupt governments, as well as their right to build democratic regimes that express their free wills."
A trial of a few perpetrators, however, following the overthrow of the May dictatorial rule in April 1985 revealed that torture had been practiced on the victims in response to "orders of higher ranking security officers" (Al-Ayyam, 1986).
All non-BJP parties want to get rid of Hitler kind dictatorial regime of Narendra Modi government."
The PSA has been seen as an dictatorial act, which was largely used for detaining timber-smugglers before the start of mass uprising in 1989, but now it is used to book Kashmiris, mostly boys, after labeling them as stone pelters.
'Time has come to rid the country of this dictatorial legislation with a legislation of a democratic government.
Senate President Aquilino 'Koko' Pimentel III backed President Rodrigo Duterte's 'dictatorial' style of leadership, saying the latter 'can and should do it' within the executive branch.
During dictatorial regime newspapers were published containing only blank paper' she said this while inaugurating painting exhibition in Lok Virsa Museum here Friday.
"From heroin to Kalashnikov cultures, dictator Zia sown the seeds of extremism and terrorism in the country to sustain his dictatorial and cruel rule," he stated as Pakistani masses observe 37thanniversary of the Black Day.
Jalali blasted Washington's practical support for dictatorial regimes in the region, and noted, "The West's allies in the region are exercising dictatorship and that is not acceptable to the region, because Muslim nations want to have a role in the fate of their state."
Quite clearly Mr Payne does not understand the meaning of the word autocratic, which is defined as all-powerful or dictatorial.
It is essential for us to realize that maintaining our constitutional structure and principles is not merely a legal nicety but an absolute necessity if we are to be governed by the "rule of law" rather than dictatorial whim.
How can he be so naive and dictatorial to ignore public opinion?He needs to be reminded that it was the public who put his New Labour in office in the first place.