The Principate - Imperial Rome Timeline Part I

Timeline of the Period of the Principate

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The Principate vs the Dominate

Denarius of Julius Caesar
Silver denarius bearing the head of Julius Caesar as Pontifex Maximus, struck 44-45 B.C. G. Ferrero, The Women of the Caesars, New York, 1911. Courtesy of Wikimedia.

The period of Roman History we refer to as the Empire has two parts, early and late. The early period is the Principate; the later, the Dominate. The French terms for these two periods, le Haut Empire and le Bas Empire convey the idea that the Principate was the high period of empire.

Principate comes from a Latin word signifying someone who was first among equals, the Princeps or head of state, but someone who was still tied by the bonds of Roman law. To us looking back, we see the emperors as monarchs, hard to distinguish from kings, but there was a difference since the Princeps was acting for the good of and on behalf of Rome. Later, autocratic emperors were more elite and adopted protocols suited to eastern kings.

Before the start of the Principate, which begins with Octavian (aka Augustus), there were autocratic leaders in Rome who flouted the law. Julius Caesar was dictator, but he wasn't emperor or king.

1st Century B.C.

Kirk Johnson

1st Century A.D.

Bust of Tiberius (Tiberio Claudio Nerone)
Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

2nd Century

Roman portrait of the emperor Trajan
Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

3rd Century

Hulton Archive / Getty Images