World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Dignitas (Roman concept)


Dignitas (Roman concept)

Dignitas is a Latin word referring to a unique, intangible, and culturally subjective social concept in the ancient Roman mindset. The word does not have a direct translation in English. Some interpretations include "dignity", which is a derivation from "dignitas", and "prestige" or "charisma".

With respect to ancient Rome, dignitas was regarded as the sum of the personal clout and influence that a male citizen acquired throughout his life. When weighing the dignitas of a particular individual, factors such as personal reputation, moral standing, and ethical worth had to be considered, along with the man's entitlement to respect and proper treatment.


  • Origins 1
  • Personal significance 2
  • Influence on conflict 3
  • Changing definition 4
  • Combination of dignitas and otium 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7


Authors who had used dignitas extensively in their writings and oratories include Cicero, Julius Caesar, Tacitus, and Livy. The most prolific user was Cicero, who initially related it to the established term auctoritas (authority). These two words were highly associated, with the latter defined as the expression of a man's dignitas.

Personal significance

The cultivation of dignitas in ancient Rome was extremely personal. Men of all classes, most particularly noblemen of consular families, were highly protective and zealous of this asset. This is because every man who took on a higher political office during the Roman Republic considered dignitas as comprising much more than just his dignity. It referred to his "good name" (his past and present reputation, achievement, standing, and honor). Most politicians were prepared to kill, commit suicide (as in a famous case of Marcus Antonius), or go into exile in order to preserve their dignitas.

Influence on conflict

The personal significance of one's dignitas had encouraged several conflicts in ancient Rome. Florus claimed that the stubbornness of Cato the Younger had driven Pompeius Magnus to prepare defenses in order to build up his dignitas. Cicero wrote that Caesar valued his status so greatly that he did not want anyone to be his equal in dignitas. Aulus Hirtius had written that Marcus Claudius Marcellus, who was one of the instigators of Caesar’s recall from Gaul, had attempted to build all of his own reputation on his success on turning people’s feelings against Caesar. Whether the exact term was used much during these times is unknown; however, the concept of dignitas was certainly influential and worth fighting for.

Changing definition

Over the course of ancient Roman history, dignitas had never taken on all of the aforementioned descriptions simultaneously. The term took on different meanings over time, adjusting for the gradually changing viewpoints of society, politicians, and the various authors.

Years after Caesar's death, his heir Augustus rejected the contemporary meaning of dignitas. Augustus found the related term auctoritas to be a suitable alternative.

In 46 BC, Cicero cited the ambiguous nature of the concept of dignitas. He wrote, "And so I have, if loyal feeling for the state and winning good men's approval of those loyal feelings is all that dignitas amounts to; but if in dignitas you include the power of translating those loyal feelings into action or of defending them with complete freedom, then ne vestigium quidem ullum est reliquum nobis dignitatis [not even a trace is left to us of our dignity]."

Combination of dignitas and otium

When paired with the term otium, the word dignitas took on a different meaning. Cicero did not consider himself worthy of having dignitas alone because he felt that—by turning his back on the Roman public—he had neglected the duty of one whose life had normally exemplified the concept. He then altered the definition to mean "[lifetime] impact," to better describe his unique status. By this time, Cicero's political life had ended, and he labeled his past political influence as his dignitas, and his present standing as otium.

See also


  • Balsdon, J.p.v.d. "Auctoritas, Dignitas, Otium." The Classical Quarterly ns 10 (1960): 43-50.
  • Cicero, Ad Familiares 4.14
  • Cicero, Epistulae Ad Familiares. J. Paul Leonard Library, San Francisco. Cicero, Epistulae ad familiares. San Francisco State University. 18 May 2007
  • Radin, Max. "Roman Concepts of Equality." Political Science Quarterly 38 (1923): 262-289.
  • Ridler, Vivian. "Dignitas." Oxford Latin Dictionary. 1 vols. London: Oxford UP, 1968.
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.