Auctoritas is a Latin word and is the origin of English "authority". While historically its use in English was restricted to discussions of the political history of Rome, the beginning of phenomenological philosophy in the twentieth century changed the use of the word substantially.

In ancient Rome, "Auctoritas" referred to the general level of prestige a person had in Roman society. And, as a consequence, their clout, influence, and ability to rally support around one's will.

Etymology and origin

According to French linguist Emile Benveniste, "auctor" (which also gives us English "author") is derived from Latin augeō ("to augment"). The "auctor" is "is qui auget", the one who augments the act or the juridical situation of another. [J.B. Greenough disputes this etymology of "auctor" - but not the sense of foundation and augmentation - in "Latin Etymologies", "Harvard Studies in Classical Philology", Vol. 4, 1893.]

"Auctor" in the sense of "author", comes from "auctor" as founder or, one might say, "planter-cultivator". Similarly, "auctoritas" refers to rightful ownership, based on one's having "produced" or homesteaded the article of property in question - more in the sense of "sponsored" or "acquired" than "manufactured". (See "Hannah Arendt On Auctoritas" below.) This "auctoritas" would, for example, persist through an "usucapio" of ill-gotten or abandoned property.

In the private domain, those under tutelage (guardianship), such as women and minors, were similarly obliged to seek the sanction of their "tutors" ("protectors") for certain actions. Thus, "auctoritas" characterizes the "auctor": The pater familias "authorizes" - that is, validates and legitimates - his son's wedding "in prostate". In this way, "auctoritas" might function as a kind of "passive counsel", much as, for example, a scholarly authority.

Political meaning in Ancient Rome

Politically, "auctoritas" was connected to the Roman Senate's authority ("auctoritas patrum"), as opposed to potestas or imperium (power) , which were held by the magistrates or the people. In this context, "Auctoritas" could be defined as the juridical power to authorize some other act.

The 19th-century classicist Theodor Mommsen describes the "force" of "auctoritas" as "more than advice and less than command, an advice which one may not safely ignore." Cicero says of power and authority, "Cum potestas in populo auctoritas in senatu sit." ("While power resides in the people, authority rests with the Senate.")

A popular translation is 'the ability to make people do what you want, just by being who you are.'

Auctoritas principis

After the fall of the Republic, during the days of the Roman Empire, the Emperor had the title of princeps ("first citizen" of Rome) and held the "auctorictas principis" — the supreme moral authority — in conjunction with the imperium and potestas — the military, judiciary and administrative powers.

Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt considers "auctoritas" a reference to founding acts as the source of political authority in Ancient Rome. She takes foundation to include (as "augeō" suggests), the continuous conservation and increase of principles handed down from "the beginning" (see also pietas). According to Arendt, this source of authority was rediscovered in the course of the 18th-century American Revolution (see "United States of America" under Founding Fathers), as an alternative to an intervening Western tradition of absolutism, claiming absolute authority, as from God (see Divine Right of Kings), and later from Nature, Reason, History, and even, as in the French Revolution, Revolution itself (see La Terreur). Arendt views a crisis of authority as common to both the American and French Revolutions, and the response to that crisis a key factor in the relative success of the former and failure of the latter.

Arendt further considers the sense of "auctor" and "auctoritas" in various Latin idioms, and the fact that "auctor" was used in contradistinction to - and (at least by Pliny) held in higher esteem than - "artifices", the artisans to whom it might fall to "merely" build up or implement the author-founder's vision and design.

Giorgio Agamben

Philosopher Giorgio Agamben suggests a relationship between the Roman "auctoritas", Max Weber's "charismatic power", and Carl Schmitt's theoretical/ideological basis for the Nazi "Führertum" doctrine. Agamben compares "auctoritas" to the "Führer" (who embodies "nomos empsuchon" or "living law") in their relationship to the observance of "gramma" (written law).


See also

*Roman law
*Constitution of the Roman Republic


*Cicero, "De Legibus" (1st century BC)
*Giorgio Agamben, "State of Exception" (2005)
*Hannah Arendt, "Between Past and Future", Chapter 3, Section IV. (1968)
*Hannah Arendt, "On Revolution", Chapter 5, Section 2. (1965)
*Theodor Mommsen, "Römisches Staatsrecht", Volume III, Chapter 2. (1887)
*William Smith, "A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities". (1875, 1890 editions)

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  • Auctoritas — ist ein römischer Wertbegriff und spielte in der Politik der römischen Republik (aber auch danach) eine bedeutende Rolle. Die beste Umschreibung ist Würde, Ansehen, Einfluss. Die auctoritas wirkte überall dort als regulierende… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Auctoritas — principis Monarchie romaine 753 – 509 av. J. C. République romaine 509 – 27 av. J. C. Empire romain 27 av. J. C. – 476 Empire byzantin 395 – 14 …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Auctoritas — Saltar a navegación, búsqueda En Derecho romano se entiende por auctoritas una cierta legitimación socialmente reconocida, que procede de un saber y que se otorga a una serie de ciudadanos. Ostenta la auctoritas aquella personalidad o institución …   Wikipedia Español

  • Auctoritas —   [lateinisch zu augere, auctum »mehren«, »erweitern«] die, bei den Römern v. a. das auf Herkunft, Alter, Amt und Leistung beruhende Ansehen eines Mannes und sein Einfluss im Unterschied zur Amtsgewalt (Potestas), ferner das Gutachten sowie die… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • AUCTORITAS — in veterib. aliquot Inscript. apud Gruterum, 355.1.387.3. Scaligero est S. C. nondum receptum. In Chartis Regiis atque apud alios Scriptores recentiores passim, Diploma Regis, Imperatoris Pontificisque Romani notat. Sed et Auctoritates Principum… …   Hofmann J. Lexicon universale

  • Auctorĭtas — (lat.), 1) Gewährleistung; daher 2) (röm. Recht), Gewährleistung wegen der Entwährung (Evictio); 3) das übertragene Recht an erstandenen Gegenständen, s. Auction; 4) A. aeterna, ein Recht, das durch keine Verjährung (s.d.) verloren werden konnte; …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • auctoritas — index authority (power), consequence (significance), credibility, patronage (power to appoint jobs), sanction (permission) …   Law dictionary

  • auctoritas —    (s.f.) Uso della lingua orientato alla consuetudo storicamente fissata nella tradizione letteraria (gli autori noti: i classici), spesso con cretizzantesi in un giudizio di condanna dell uso empirico attuale della lingua. autorita, analogia,… …   Dizionario di retorica par stefano arduini & matteo damiani

  • auctoritas — /oktorstss/ In the civil law, authority. In old European law, a diploma, or royal charter …   Black's law dictionary

  • auctoritas — Authority …   Ballentine's law dictionary

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