Posted by: Jack Henry | October 24, 2019

Editor’s Corner: What’s in a name?

Hello, my friends! I am up visiting my dad and working from my parents’ home office. I brought a lecture series up from San Diego—DVDs and a book on ancient Rome and the emperors, because I like a little light entertainment. My dad and I had a blast going through the first two lectures and I learned something I thought was very interesting. Without delving into the entire history of the Roman Empire, I thought I would just share a little bit with you.

Basically, after the death of Julius Caesar, and then the battle of Actium, Octavius took charge–but did not want to appear to be taking over, because he didn’t want to end up killed like his predecessor. Part of his cleverness was to give those around him supposed power and the illusion of choice—yet in the end, they all came back to him for approval.

Another amazing move he made was in choosing his new name and titles: Augustus, Princeps Primitatis, Imperator, and Pater Patriae. Here’s where it gets interesting word-wise.

Title Definition Details
Augustus Exalted, venerable, respected derived from Latin augere "to increase" Often associated with religion and holiness.
Princeps Primitatis First citizen

c. 1200, "ruler of a principality" (mid-12c. as a surname), from Old French prince "prince, noble lord" (12c.), from Latin princeps (genitive principis) "first man, chief leader; ruler, sovereign," noun use of adjective meaning "that takes first," from primus "first"

Prince and principate are derived from this term.

People could interpret that this meant that he was just one of the citizens or “first among equals.”

There was enough ambiguity and people wanted to feel free and unencumbered by a king or dictator, so most looked at it as him calling himself “one of the guys.”

Imperator "absolute ruler," 1580s, from Latin imperator "commander-in-chief, leader, master," agent noun from stem of imperare "to command"

Emperor and empire are derived from this term.

When Octavius (now Augustus) was choosing terms, he had just won the battle of Actium and started bringing peace to the formerly warring factions of Rome. He chose this term as part of his win; he was inarguably the military leader, and commander-in-chief seemed only reasonable.
Pater Patriae “Father of the country.” Again, this could be looked at two different ways. In Ancient Rome, in the best-case scenario, fathers were known to love, protect, and take care of their children, and because of this they deserved respect and dignity.

In the worst-case scenario, fathers were ultimately in charge of the family and had the right to kill their children if they wanted to.

With his careful use of language and his choice of words, Augustus’ titles alone made people associate him with piety, citizenship, fearless military leadership, and fatherhood. It spread his “goodness” out over a lot of different areas that Romans cared about, and at the same time, allowed him to be one man in control of an empire. Many of his followers lacked his skills and talents, but that will be covered in the next few lectures we’ll watch. I hope this was as interesting to you as it was to me!

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

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