Caesar (title)

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Retrato de Julio César (26724093101).jpg
Julius Caesar
The name Caesar became very popular in Italy during the Roman Empire after Caesar's Civil War.
PronunciationEnglish: /ˈszər/ SEE-zər
Classical Latin: [ˈkae̯sar]
Region of originRoman Empire
Other names
Variant form(s)Kaiser
Popularitysee popular names

Caesar (Latin: [ˈkae̯.sar]English pl. Caesars; Latin pl. Caesares; in Greek: Καῖσᾰρ Kaîsar) is a title of imperial character. It derives from the cognomen of Julius Caesar, the Roman dictator. The change from being a familial name to a title adopted by the Roman Emperors can be dated to about 68/69 AD, the so-called "Year of the Four Emperors".[dubious ]

Sole Roman Emperor

For political and personal reasons, Octavian chose to emphasize his relationship with Julius Caesar by styling himself simply "Imperator Caesar" (whereto the Roman Senate added the honorific Augustus, "Majestic" or "Venerable", in 27 BC), without any of the other elements of his full name. His successor as emperor, his stepson Tiberius, also bore the name as a matter of course; born Tiberius Claudius Nero, he was adopted by Caesar Augustus on 26 June 4 AD, as "Tiberius Julius Caesar". The precedent was set: the Emperor designated his successor by adopting him and giving him the name "Caesar".

The fourth Emperor, Claudius, was the first to assume the name "Caesar" upon accession, without having been adopted by the previous emperor; however, he was at least a member by blood of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, being the maternal great-nephew of Augustus on his mother's side, the nephew of Tiberius, and the uncle of Caligula. Claudius in turn adopted his stepson and grand-nephew Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, giving him the name "Caesar" in the traditional way; his stepson would rule as the Emperor Nero. The first emperor to assume the position and the name simultaneously without any real claim to either was the usurper Servius Sulpicius Galba, who took the imperial throne under the name "Servius Galba Imperator Caesar" following the death of the last of the Julio-Claudians, Nero, in 68 AD. Galba helped solidify "Caesar" as the title of the designated heir by giving it to his own adopted heir, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Frugi Licinianus.

Galba's reign did not last long and he was soon deposed by Marcus Otho. Otho did not at first use the title "Caesar" and occasionally used the title "Nero" as emperor, but later adopted the title "Caesar" as well. Otho was then defeated by Aulus Vitellius, who acceded with the name "Aulus Vitellius Germanicus Imperator Augustus". Vitellius did not adopt the cognomen "Caesar" as part of his name and may have intended to replace it with "Germanicus" (he bestowed the name "Germanicus" upon his own son that year).

Nevertheless, Caesar had become such an integral part of the imperial dignity that its place was immediately restored by Titus Flavius Vespasianus ("Vespasian"), whose defeat of Vitellius in 69 AD put an end to the period of instability and began the Flavian dynasty. Vespasian's son, Titus Flavius Vespasianus became "Titus Flavius Caesar Vespasianus".

Dynastic title

By this point the status of "Caesar" had been regularised into that of a title given to the Emperor-designate (occasionally also with the honorific title Princeps Iuventutis, "Prince of Youth") and retained by him upon accession to the throne (e.g., Marcus Ulpius Traianus became Marcus Cocceius Nerva's designated heir as Caesar Nerva Traianus in October 97 and acceded on 28 January 98 as "Imperator Caesar Nerva Traianus Augustus"). After some variation among the earliest emperors, the style of the Emperor-designate on coins was usually Nobilissimus Caesar "Most Noble Caesar" (abbreviated to NOB CAES, N CAES etc.), though Caesar (CAES) on its own was also used.

Late Empire

Crisis of the Third Century

The popularity of using the title Caesar to designate heirs-apparent increased throughout the third century. Many of the soldier emperors during the Crisis of the Third Century attempted to strengthen their legitimacy by naming heirs, including Maximinus Thrax, Philip the Arab, Decius, Trebonianus Gallus and Gallienus. Some of these were promoted to the rank of Augustus within their father's lifetime, for example Philippus II. The same title would also be used in the Gallic Empire, which operated autonomously from the rest of the Roman Empire from 260 to 274, with the final Gallic emperor Tetricus I appointing his heir Tetricus II Caesar and his consular colleague for 274.

Despite the best efforts of these emperors, however, the granting of this title does not seem to have made succession in this chaotic period any more stable. Almost all Caesars would be killed before or alongside their fathers, or at best outlive them for a matter of months, as in the case of Hostilian. The sole Caesar to successfully obtain the rank of Augustus and rule for some time in his own right was Gordian III, and even he was heavily controlled by his court.


On 1 March 293, Diocletian established the Tetrarchy, a system of rule by two senior Emperors and two junior sub-Emperors. The two coequal senior emperors were styled identically to previous Emperors, as Imperator Caesar NN. Pius Felix Invictus Augustus (Elagabalus had introduced the use of Pius Felix, "the Pious and Blessed", while Maximinus Thrax introduced the use of Invictus, "the Unconquered") and were called the Augusti, while the two junior sub-Emperors were styled identically to previous Emperors-designate, as Nobilissimus Caesar. Likewise, the junior sub-Emperors retained the title "Caesar" upon accession to the senior position.

The Tetrarchy was quickly abandoned as a system (though the four quarters of the empire survived as praetorian prefectures) in favour of two equal, territorial emperors, and the previous system of Emperors and Emperors-designate was restored, both in the Latin-speaking West and the Greek-speaking East.

After the Tetrarchy

The title of Caesar remained in use throughout the Constantinian period, with both Constantine I and his co-emperor and rival Licinius utilising it to mark their heirs. In the case of Constantine, this meant that by the time he died, he had four Caesars: Constantius II, Constantine II, Constans and his nephew Dalmatius, with his eldest son Crispus having been executed in mysterious circumstances earlier in his reign. In the event, Constantine would be succeeded only by his three sons, with Dalmatius dying in the summer of 337 in similarly murky circumstances.

Constantius II himself would nominate as Caesars his two cousins Constantius Gallus and Julian in succession in the 350s, although he first executed Gallus and then found himself at war with Julian before his own death. After Julian's revolt of 361, the title Caesar fell out of imperial fashion for some time, with emperors preferring simply to elevate their sons directly to the post of Augustus, as with Gratian. It would be revived only nearly three quarters of a century later when Theodosius II used it to mark his nephew Valentinian III before successfully installing him upon the western throne vacated by the boy's other uncle Honorius. Thereafter it would receive limited use in the Eastern Roman Empire, for example, in the designation of the future Leo II in the final months of his grandfather's life.

Byzantine Empire

The Roman emperor Constantine the Great, mosaic in Hagia Sophia, Constantinople

Caesar or Kaisar (Καῖσαρ) was a senior court title in the Byzantine Empire. Originally, as in the late Roman Empire, it was used for a subordinate co-emperor or the heir apparent, and was first among the "awarded" dignities. From the reign of Theodosius I, however, most emperors chose to solidify the succession of their intended heirs by raising them to co-emperors. Hence the title was more frequently awarded to second- and third-born sons, or to close and influential relatives of the Emperor: thus for example Alexios Mosele was the son-in-law of Theophilos (ruled 829–842), Bardas was the uncle and chief minister of Michael III (r. 842–867), while Nikephoros II (r. 963–969) awarded the title to his father, Bardas Phokas.[1][2] An exceptional case was the conferment of the dignity and its insignia to the Bulgarian khan Tervel by Justinian II (r. 685–695, 705–711) who had helped him regain his throne in 705.[2] The title was awarded to the brother of Empress Maria of Alania, George II of Georgia in 1081.

The office enjoyed extensive privileges, great prestige and power. When Alexios I Komnenos created the title of sebastokrator, kaisar became third in importance, and fourth after Manuel I Komnenos created the title of despot, which it remained until the end of the Empire. The feminine form was kaisarissa. It remained an office of great importance, usually awarded to imperial relations, as well as a few high-ranking and distinguished officials, and only rarely awarded to foreigners.

According to the Klētorologion of 899, the Byzantine Caesar's insignia were a crown without a cross, and the ceremony of a Caesar's creation (in this case dating to Constantine V), is included in De Ceremoniis I.43.[3] The title remained the highest in the imperial hierarchy until the introduction of the sebastokratōr (a composite derived from sebastos and autokrator, the Greek equivalents of Augustus and imperator) by Alexios I Komnenos (r. 1081–1118) and later of despotēs by Manuel I Komnenos (r. 1143–1180). The title remained in existence through the last centuries of the Empire. In the Palaiologan period, it was held by prominent nobles like Alexios Strategopoulos, but from the 14th century, it was mostly awarded to rulers of the Balkans such as the princes of Vlachia, Serbia and Thessaly.[2]

In the late Byzantine hierarchy, as recorded in the mid-14th century Book of Offices of pseudo-Kodinos, the rank continued to come after the sebastokratōr. Pseudo-Kodinos further records that the Caesar was equal in precedence to the panhypersebastos, another creation of Alexios I, but that Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos (r. 1259–1282) had raised his nephew Michael Tarchaneiotes to the rank of protovestiarios and decreed that to come after the Caesar; while under Andronikos II Palaiologos (r. 1282–1328) the megas domestikos was raised to the same eminence, when it was awarded to the future emperor John VI Kantakouzenos (r. 1347–1354).[4] According to pseudo-Kodinos, the Caesar's insignia under the Palaiologoi were a skiadion hat in red and gold, decorated with gold-wire embroideries, with a veil bearing the wearer's name and pendants identical to those of the despotēs and the sebastokratōr. He wore a red tunic (rouchon) similar to the emperor's (without certain decorations), and his shoes and stockings were blue, as were the accouterments of his horse; these were all identical to those of the sebastokratōr, but without the embroidered eagles of the latter. Pseudo-Kodinos writes that the particular forms of another form of hat, the domed skaranikon, and of the mantle, the tamparion, for the Caesar were not known.[5]

Ottoman Empire

Mehmed II and Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Gennadios.

"Caesar" is the title officially used by the Sasanid Persian to refer to the Roman and Byzantine emperors.[6][7]In the Middle East, the Persians and the Arabs continued to refer to the Roman and Byzantine emperors as "Caesar" (in Persian: قیصر رومQaysar-i Rum, "Caesar of the Romans", from Middle Persian kēsar). Thus, following the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the victorious Ottoman sultan Mehmed II became the first of the rulers of the Ottoman Empire to assume the title (in Ottoman Turkish: قیصر رومKaysar-i Rûm).

After the Fall of Constantinople, having conquered the Byzantine Empire, Mehmed took the title Kaysar-i Rûm, claiming succession to the Roman imperium.[8] His claim was that by possession of the city, he was emperor, a new dynast by conquest, as had happened previously in the Empire’s history.[when?][9] Contemporary scholar George of Trebizond wrote "the seat of the Roman Empire is Constantinople ... and he who is and remains Emperor of the Romans is also the Emperor of the whole world".[10]

Gennadius Scholarius, a staunch antagonist of the West because of the Sack of Constantinople committed by the Western Catholics and theological controversies between the two Churches, had been enthroned the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople-New Rome with all the ceremonial elements and ethnarch (or milletbashi) status by the Sultan himself in 1454. In turn, Gennadius II recognized Mehmed as successor to the throne.[11] Mehmed also had a blood lineage to the Byzantine Imperial family; his predecessor, Sultan Orhan I had married a Byzantine princess, and Mehmed may have claimed descent from John Tzelepes Komnenos.[12] Ottoman sultans were not the only rulers to claim such a title, as there was the Holy Roman Empire in Western Europe, whose emperor, Frederick III, traced his titular lineage from Charlemagne who obtained the title of Roman Emperor when he was crowned by Pope Leo III in 800, although he was never recognized as such by the Byzantine Empire.

In diplomatic writings between the Ottomans and Austrians, the Ottoman bureaucracy was angered by their use of the Caesar title when the Ottomans saw themself as the true successors of Rome. When war broke out and peace negotiations were done, the Austrians (Holy Roman Empire) agreed to give up the use of the Caesar title according to the Treaty of Konstantiniyye 1533 (though they would continue to use it and the Roman imperial title until the collapse of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806). The Russians who also claimed as the Third Rome were sanctioned by the Ottomans by giving orders to the Crimean Khanate to raid Russia numerous times.[13] The Ottomans would lose their political superiority to Holy Roman Empire in the Treaty of Sitvatorok in 1606 and to the Russians in the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca in 1774.


Title (and name)

The history of "Caesar" as an imperial title is reflected by the following monarchic titles, usually reserved for "emperor" and "empress" in many languages (note that the name Caesar, pronounced /szər/ in English, was pronounced [kaisar] in Classical Latin):

Afro-Asiatic languages:

  • Arabic: Qays'r قصر;قيصر Qas'r
  • Hebrew: Kesár‎ קיסר (male) & Kesarít קיסרית (female);



  • Armenian: կայսր Kaysr, and Armenian: կայսրություն Kaysrutiun meaning empire;


Austronesian languages:

Baltic languages:

Germanic languages:

Indo-Iranian languages:

Kartvelian languages

  • Georgian: კეისარი (Keisari)

Romance languages

  • Italian, Cesare, used as a first name.
  • Romanian, cezar as a common noun in certain contexts; Cezar, used as a first name.
  • Spanish, Portuguese and French, César: commonly used as first or second name.

Slavic languages:

  • Belarusian: Цар, царыца (transliterated as tsar, tsarytsa)
  • Bulgarian: Цар, царица (transliterated as tsar, tsaritsa);
  • Czech: Císař, císařovna;
  • Macedonian: Цар, царица (transliterated as tsar, tsarica)
  • Polish: Cesarz, Cesarzowa;
  • Russian: Царь, Царица, (transliterated as tsar, tsaritsa); however in the Russian Empire (also reflected in some of its other languages), which aimed to be the "third Rome" as successor to the Byzantine Empire, it was abandoned (not in the foreign language renderings though) as imperial style — in favor of Imperator and Autocrator — and used as a lower, royal style as within the empire in chief of some of its parts, e.g. Georgia and Siberia
    • In the United States and, more recently, Britain, the title "czar" (an archaic transliteration of the Russian title) is a slang term for certain high-level civil servants, such as the "drug czar" for the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and "terrorism czar" for a Presidential advisor on terrorism policy. More specifically, a czar refers to a sub-cabinet-level advisor within the executive branch of the U.S. government.
  • Serbo-Croatian: Car, carica (цар, царица)
  • Slovak: Cisár, cisárovná;
  • Slovene: cesar, cesarica or car, carica;
  • Ukrainian: Цісар, цісарева (tsisar, tsisareva), also Ukrainian: цар/царь, царина (archaic transliteration: czar & czarina), Tsar, tsaryna (modern transliteration)

Turkic languages:

  • Turkish: Kayser (historical), Sezar (modern). Kayser-i-Rûm "Caesar of [Constantinople, the second] Rome", one of many subsidiary titles proclaiming the Ottoman Sultan (main imperial title Padishah) as (Muslim) successor to "Rum" as the Turks called the (Christian) Roman Empire (as Byzantium had continued to call itself), continuing to use the name for part of formerly Byzantine territory (compare the Seljuk Rum-sultanate)

Uralic languages:

In various Romance and other languages, the imperial title was based on the Latin Imperator (a military mandate or a victory title), but Caesar or a derivation is still used for both the name and the minor ranks (still perceived as Latin).[citation needed]

There have been other cases of a noun proper being turned into a title, such as Charlemagne's Latin name, including the epithet, Carolus (magnus), becoming Slavonic titles rendered as King: Kralj (Serbo-Croatian), Král (Czech) and Król (Polish), etc.[citation needed]

However certain languages, especially Romance languages, also commonly use a "modernized" word (e.g., César in French) for the name, both referring to the Roman cognomen and modern use as a first name, and even to render the title Caesar, sometimes again extended to the derived imperial titles above.[citation needed]

Yoruba language:

Translation of the name Caesar first recorded in the first book translated to Yoruba, the bible. The Caesar in the bible refers to Emperor Augustus, who was referred to as Caesar. It was not used as a title for kings as it did not reach the language till the late 19th century and was not widely known till the 20th century. The main title for king was "Kábíyèsi", meaning one who cannot be questioned (Ká-bí-yò-èsi).


Oswald Spengler used the term, Caesarism, in his book, The Decline of the West.

List of holders

  • Titus (proclaimed caesar, 69 AD) (augustus 24 June 79–13 September 81)
  • Domitian (proclaimed caesar, 69 AD) (augustus 14 September 81–18 September 96)
  • Antoninus Pius (proclaimed caesar, 25 February 138 ) (augustus 10 July 138 – 7 March 161)
  • Marcus Aurelius (proclaimed caesar, 5 December 139) (augustus 7 March 161 – 17 March 180)
  • Lucius Verus (proclaimed caesar, 12 October 166) (augustus 7 March 161 – January/February 169)
  • Commodus (proclaimed caesar, 12 October 166) (augustus 27 November 176 – 31 December 192)
  • Caracalla (proclaimed caesar, 195/6) (augustus 4 February 211 – 8 April 217)
  • Geta (proclaimed caesar, 28 January 198) (augustus 4 February 211 – 2 February 212)
  • Diadumenian (proclaimed caesar, April 217) (augustus May – June 218)
  • Gordian III (proclaimed caesar, April 238) (augustus early August 238 – late January/early February 244)
  • Volusianus (proclaimed caesar, June? 251) (augustus late June/early August 251 – late July/early August 253)
  • Maximian (proclaimed caesar, 21 July 285 ) (augustus 1 April 286 – 1 May 305; end 306/early 307 – November 308)
  • Constantius I (proclaimed caesar, 1 March 293) (augustus 1 May 305 – 25 July 306)
  • Galerius (proclaimed caesar, 21 March 293) (augustus 1 May 305 – early May 311)
  • Valerius Severus (proclaimed caesar, 1 May 305) (augustus 25 July 306 – April 307)
  • Maximinus Daia (proclaimed caesar, 1 May 305) (augustus 1 May 310 – summer 313)
  • Maxentius (proclaimed caesar, 28 October 306) (augustus Apr? 307 – 28 October 312)
  • Constantine the Great (proclaimed caesar, 25 July 306) (augustus 25 July 306 – 22 May 337)
  • Crispus (proclaimed caesar, 1 March 317)
  • Licinius II (proclaimed caesar, 1 March 317)
  • Constantine II (proclaimed caesar, 1 March 317) (augustus 9 Sep. 337 – early April 340)
  • Constans (proclaimed caesar, 25 December 333) (augustus 9 Sep. 337 – 18 January 350)
  • Constantius II (proclaimed caesar, 8 November 324) (augustus 9 Sep. 337 – 3 November 361)
  • Constantius Gallus
  • Julian (proclaimed caesar, 6 November 355) (augustus 3 November 361 – 26/7 June 363)
  • Valentinian III (proclaimed caesar, 23 October 424) (augustus 23 October 425 – 16 March 455)
  • Majorian (proclaimed caesar, 1 April 457) (augustus 28 December 457 – 2 August 461)
  • Procopius Anthemius (proclaimed caesar, 25 March 467) (augustus 12 April 467 – 11 July 472)
  • Leo II (proclaimed caesar, October 473) (augustus January – November 474)

See also


  1. Bury 1911, p. 36. sfn error: multiple targets (2×): CITEREFBury1911 (help)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 ODB, "Caesar" (A. Kazhdan), p. 363. sfn error: multiple targets (2×): CITEREFODB (help)
  3. Bury 1911, pp. 20, 36. sfn error: multiple targets (2×): CITEREFBury1911 (help)
  4. Verpeaux 1966, pp. 134–136. sfn error: multiple targets (2×): CITEREFVerpeaux1966 (help)
  5. Verpeaux 1966, pp. 147–149. sfn error: multiple targets (2×): CITEREFVerpeaux1966 (help)
  6. Middle Persian: 𐭪𐭩𐭮𐭫𐭩‎ kysly (Inscriptional Pahlavi), kysl (Book Pahlavi), transcribed as kēsar
  7. Hurbanič, Martin (2019). The Avar Siege of Constantinople in 626: History and Legend (in English). Springer. p. 234. ISBN 978-3-030-16684-7.
  8. Michalis N. Michael; Matthias Kappler; Eftihios Gavriel (2009). Archivum Ottomanicum. Mouton. p. 10.
  9. Christine Isom-Verhaaren; Kent F. Schull (11 April 2016). Living in the Ottoman Realm: Empire and Identity, 13th to 20th Centuries. Indiana University Press. pp. 38–. ISBN 978-0-253-01948-6.
  10. Roger Crowley (2009). Constantinople: The Last Great Siege, 1453. Faber & Faber. pp. 13–. ISBN 978-0-571-25079-0.
  11. "Gennadios II Scholarios". Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved 13 July 2020.
  12. Norwich, John Julius (1995). Byzantium:The Decline and Fall. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 81–82. ISBN 0-679-41650-1.
  13. Halil, Inançik (2017). Kırım Hanlığı Tarihi Üzerine Araştırmalar 1441-1700: Seçme Eserleri - XI. ISBN 978-6052952511.
  14. Juan Signes Codoñer (23 March 2016). The Emperor Theophilos and the East, 829–842: Court and Frontier in Byzantium During the Last Phase of Iconoclasm. Routledge. pp. 121–. ISBN 978-1-317-03427-8.


  • Pauly-Wissowa – Realencyclopädie der Classischen Altertumswissenschaft
  • Bury, John B. (1911). The Imperial Administrative System of the Ninth Century – With a Revised Text of the Kletorologion of Philotheos. Oxford University Publishing.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Kazhdan, Alexander, ed. (1991). The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-504652-6. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  • Verpeaux, Jean, ed. (1966). Pseudo-Kodinos, Traité des Offices (in French). Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link) CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Bury, John B. (1911). The Imperial Administrative System of the Ninth Century – With a Revised Text of the Kletorologion of Philotheos. Oxford University Publishing.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Ferjančić, Božidar (1970). "Севастократори и кесари у Српском царству" [Sebastocrators and Caesares in the Serbian Empire]. Зборник Филозофског факултета. Belgrade: 255–269.
  • Kazhdan, Alexander, ed. (1991). The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-504652-6. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  • Verpeaux, Jean, ed. (1966). Pseudo-Kodinos, Traité des Offices (in French). Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link) CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)