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Autokratōr ( , lit. "self-ruler", "one who rules by himself") is a Greek epithet applied to an individual who exercises absolute power, unrestrained by superiors. In a historical context, it has been applied to military commanders-in-chief, and to Roman and Byzantine emperors as the translation of the Latin title imperator. Its connotations with Byzantine-style absolutism gave rise to the modern terms autocrat and autocracy. In modern Greek, it means "emperor", and the female form of the title is autokrateira ( , "empress").


The title appeared in Classical Greece in the late 5th century BC, and was used for generals given independent authority, i.e. a supreme commander (stratēgos autokratōr). In Classical Athensmarker, stratēgoi autokratores were generals endowed with autonomous power of command, i.e. they were able to make certain military and diplomatic decisions without prior consultation with the Athenian assembly. This was enacted when the general was expected to operate far from Athens, for instance during the Sicilian Expedition. Nevertheless, the generals remained accountable to the assembly for their conduct upon their return.
Similar practices were followed by other Greek states, such as Syracuse, where the post served as a power base for several of the city's tyrants. Stratēgoi autokratores were also appointed by various leagues to head their combined armies. Thus Philip II of Macedon was declared as hēgemōn and stratēgos autokratōr of the southern Greek states by the League of Corinth, a position later given to his son Alexander the Great as well.

In later times, with the rise of the Roman Republic, [stratēgos] autokratōr was used by Greek historians to translate different Roman terms: Polybius uses the term to translate the title dictator, while Plutarch uses it in its later sense as a translation of the victory title imperator. Autokratōr became entrenched as the official translation of the latter during the Roman Empire, where imperator became part of the title of the Roman emperors. As such it continued to be used in Greek translations from Latin until the adoption of the Greek title basileus by emperor Heraclius in 629. It was retained in archaic forms of address during ceremonies, and was revived (no later than the early 9th century) in the form of basileus [kai] autokratōr ( , "emperor and autocrat"), which then designated the senior of several ruling co-emperors, who held the actual power. In the Palaiologan period, this was extended to include the designated heir. The title is evidenced in coins from 912 on, in imperial chrysobulls from the 11th century on, and in numerous illuminated manuscripts. The term stratēgos autokratōr continued to be used in a literary context. The title is particularly prevalent in the 6th century, and re-appears in the 10th-11th centuries. Thus, for instance, Basil II installed David Arianites as stratēgos autokratōr of Bulgaria, implying powers of command over the other regional stratēgoi in the northern Balkans.

The Byzantine imperial formula was imitated among the Balkan Slavic nations, and, most notably, the emerging Tsardom of Russiamarker. Stefan Dushan claimed the title "basileus and autokratōr of the Serbs and Romans", while the Russian tsars, up to the fall of the Russian monachy in 1917, used the formula "Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias".


  1. Diodorus Siculus, XVI.89.1-3
  2. Diodorus Siculus, XVII.4.9; Arrian, Anabasis of Alexander, I.1.1-3
  3. Polybius, Histories, III.86.7

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