I understand that the emperors held their office not under the one title "emperor" but under several different titles, all the major magisterial positions of the Republic. So, how did all these titles get inherited by the heirs? Did the heirs inherit all of the tiles simultaneously after the death of the previous emperor? Also, what happened when the emperor did not have an heir, did the person who became emperor after that gain all those titles simultaneously? When exactly did the title "emperor" become an actual title?

One more question, why did the emperors adopt heirs? Did they understand that giving such high power to just anybody due to their relation to themselves was not an efficient way to choose an emperor?

  • The main difficulty with this question is that the nature of the Roman Empire and Emperor changed quite radically over time (as did inheritance). Judeo-Claudians (who were in a sense one family) only make a relatively small fraction of its lifetime. Lots of different things happened at different times. Nov 13, 2014 at 13:41

1 Answer 1


As for names and titles: The imperial family was hugely fueled by propaganda, especially by flaunting their pedigrees. This is perhaps most apparent in the Julio-Claudian period. The first tie they tended to claim was of course to Augustus Caesar, first emperor and son of the hero, Julius Caesar. This name was kept through many generations. Next, it was common to take on the name of a relative who was particularly well loved by the people. An example would be Germanicus, nephew of Tiberius and a famous general whose death was thought conspiratorial. Often in a case like that, an emperor used the name of some character "beloved by the people" to distance himself from a previous ruler who was disliked, and to strengthen ties to a certain branch of the family for many such reasons. If you look at period coinage you can see how their extended names are given to highlight relations and all. E.g. Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, was the name of Emperor Claudius, conqueror of Britain. On that note, names also were taken and given to boast of military conquest, like Germanicus (Germania) and Claudius' son, (Brittanicus). So you see, they chose most names for themselves. Titles? If you mean this as in political positions such as consul or imperator, then these were simply taken at the emperors will, offered by the senate to honour him, or given to another person to honor them. The emperor often naturally favoured those he liked, not always those who deserved it. Yes, a glorious military achievement might encourage an honour to be bestowed on you, but these things were often tools of flattery and boasting at the ruler's whim. A wiser man like Augustus might choose not to accept some titles and honours to show humility, and also not boast of and openly exercise the ones he possessed, so as not to intimidate the senate.

The same as with titles, heir adoption usually had little to do with giving a capable person a chance, but as a tool to tie oneself to a family, or to favour their fond ones. Claudius was even manipulated by his wife, Agrippina, to get her son from a previous marriage, Nero, in line for the throne. It's all pretty nasty and corrupt business.

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    So the short answer is "they weren't".
    – andy256
    Mar 26, 2014 at 9:28
  • But how exactly did the seat of the emperor get transferred to the next person? It seems that the emperorship was not officially a real seat. It was rather a large collection of titles.
    – user32134
    Mar 26, 2014 at 19:27
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    It was indeed an official seat. The 'titles' were more like honours as I mentioned, as they didn't actually bestow any more rights or responsibilities. He already had absolute power as princeps. Titles were like flattery. I know it all seems too casual, but that's what happens when one man has absolute power. He can throw around titles, adopt a preferred heir, assassinate whoever he doesn't want to inherit.
    – Duncan
    Mar 27, 2014 at 11:14
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    The eldest male of the family (and closest in relation) was first in line to step up. This is where adoptions and murders came in to shift around who gets in
    – Duncan
    Mar 27, 2014 at 11:16
  • My guess is that only a minority of Roman Emperors were the eldest male and closest in relation to their predecessor. Nov 13, 2014 at 13:39

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