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I am looking for examples of absolute rulers who voluntarily resigned their power. To get the ball going, here are two from Roman history:

On the other hand, Solon fails to make list as not being quite an absolute ruler, and the emperor-monks that were once common in Japan also do not fit as they resigned but retained a share of influence on the government nevertheless. Also, regents who faithfully turned over the realm to a king who grew up are to be excluded - I am looking for rulers in their own right, however that right was acquired.

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Possibly, Cincinnat and other Roman dictators before Sulla? Although I do not know to which extent their power was absolute. –  Anixx Dec 5 '12 at 16:57
@Anixx: The Roman dictators before Sulla were specifically appointed for 6 months so their resignation for automatic in a sense. IIRC, Sulla's dictatorship was not limited to a fixed term. –  Felix Goldberg Dec 5 '12 at 17:01
Do Stack Exchange moderators who stepped down count? ;P –  Yannis Rizos Dec 5 '12 at 18:05
@YannisRizos - On some of SE sites, they do (*cough*SFF.SE*cough*)... History.SE mods seem extremely non-dictatorial based on their meta feedback –  DVK Dec 6 '12 at 4:54
I wonder if it counts if somebode de-facto abandoned his position without doing it de-jure? –  Anixx Dec 6 '12 at 9:21

3 Answers 3

Ivan IV the Terrible of Russia had put another man, Simeon Bekbulatovich to the throne and retired to a monastery. But a year later he abandoned the idea and returned :-)

Do not know if this counts either for Ivan or for Simeon.

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Guess that counts for Ivan. Thanks for bringing up this dim episode in an unexpected context! –  Felix Goldberg Dec 6 '12 at 1:29
Wish I could abdicate my job and laze around in a monastery for a year... –  DVK Dec 6 '12 at 4:56

Cincinnatus is sort of the prototypical example. He was elected dictator of Rome in 458 BC to deal with a military emergency, and again the following year to deal with a plot against the republic. Both times he gave up dicatatorial powers as soon as the crisis had been dealt with, and went back to his farm.

This had a great influence on the founding fathers of the USA. The post of President was designed to be able to carry out a simliar role in an emergency. The post is designated as supreme commander of all US armed forces, and is allowed in times of military crisis to suspend Habeus Corpus. George Washington was often referred to as "Cincinnatus", and the city of Cincinnati, Ohio was named after him.

During the US Civil War, there was open debate about whether a similar dictator might be required. However, the powers given the President in the Constitution proved to be sufficient without taking such an overt step.

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As I said before to Anixx, the pre-Sullan Roman dictatorship was a regular office of state, given for a fixed term of 6 months. Therefore, a person resigning it was doing nothing but his duty. There was never the option of not resigning. It's true that men like Cincinnatus showed high civic sense by resigning immediately when the job was finished instead of strutting around with 24 lictors for 6 months - but it's not really the same kind of thing as a king or emperor giving up his throne and retiring to the village to grow cabbage. –  Felix Goldberg Dec 5 '12 at 23:23
@FelixGoldberg - Once you have supreme power, there is always the option of not resigning. –  T.E.D. Dec 6 '12 at 0:23
Well yes, but I want to keep the question precisely delineated. The 5th or 4th century BCE Roman dictator who didn't resign would have been an odd bird (and the Roman Republic would have found ways of dealing with him). I am interested in men (or women, perhaps?) who actualyl wielded supreme power and were not limited by anything or anybody - and then gave it up. –  Felix Goldberg Dec 6 '12 at 1:28
I have frequently heard opinions that Lincoln DID have dictatorial powers. Not entirely unfounded, IMHO, but my Civil War knowledge is poor. –  DVK Dec 6 '12 at 4:58
@DVK Lincoln was also elected for a term... –  Anixx Dec 6 '12 at 7:43

You may consider emperor Justin II who resigned due to progressing insanity.

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I guess he is a borderline case - him being mad puts a bit of a damper on the whole procedure. –  Felix Goldberg Jan 1 '13 at 17:14

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