According to Wikipedia, the definition of a government minister is:

A minister is a politician who holds significant public office in a national or regional government, making and implementing decisions on policies in conjunction with the other ministers. Some ministers are more senior than others, and are usually members of the government's cabinet.

So, in many governments there are such titles as:

  • Education minister
  • Agriculture minister
  • Foreign minister
  • Prime minister

In other jurisdictions, the title secretary is used as a synonym or near-synonym:

  • Secretary of Interior
  • Secretary of State
  • Secretary of Commerce

So, my question: what is a Latin word that captures this sense of the words minister and secretary? Does a single word fully capture this type of government official? Or must I use different words to reflect the difference between secretary and minister, or between a Secretary of State (higher level) and a Forestry minister (lower level)?

I've consulted Traupman's Latin-English dictionary, and it offers administer for "minister" and administer, minister, or praefectus for the political meaning of "secretary." Is one more suitable than others?

This question inspired by How to describe ministers in Latin?

1 Answer 1


Traupman's book is great for a lot of things, but there are some things he seems just to have made up (as far as I can tell), and administer, minister seem to be among them. I think there's a sense of the subordinate in those words that doesn't mesh well with the meaning you're looking for. I'd go with præfectus here—

—unless you wanted to use archon, which was much more clearly the Athenian title for the position you're thinking of.

From Döderlein's Hand-Book of Latin Synonymes:

Servus, ancilla, famulus, and mancipium denote a servant who is not free, a slave; mancipium one who is free, or only in subordination.

And from Lewis and Short:

minister, tra, trum, adj. (gen. plur. ministrūm, Stat. S. 3, 1, 86) [a double comp. in form, from minus and comp. ending -ter, Gr. τερ-ος; cf.: magister, sinister], that is at hand, that serves, ministers (as an adj. only poet. and later): lumina (i. e. oculi) propositi facta ministra tui, that further, promote; promotive, or in a subst. sense, Ov. H. 21, 114: minister Grex, Sil. 11, 274: ardor, Lucr. 5, 297: ministro baculo, with the aid of a staff, Ov. Ib. 261.

Subst. minister, tri, m., an attendant, waiter, servant; also a priest's attendant or assistant; likewise an inferior officer, underofficial; hence, transf., an aider in a good or bad sense, a furtherer, promoter, helper, an abettor, accomplice: centum aliae (famulae), totidemque pares aetate ministri, Verg. A. 1, 705: Phrygius, the cup-bearer Ganymede, Val. Fl. 5, 691; Mart. 12, 15, 7: Falerni, a cup -bearer, Cat. 27, 1: ministri publici Martis, Cic. Clu. 15, 43: hostia Inter cunctantes cecidit moribunda ministros, Verg. G. 3, 488: ministri imperii tui, inferior officers, under-officials, Cic. Q. Fr 1, 1, 3: regni, an assistant in the regal government, a minister, Just. 16, 1, 3: infimi homines ministros se praebent in judiciis oratoribus, i. e. inform the orators what the law is, Cic. de Or 1, 45, 146: legum, a minister, administrator, id. Clu. 53, 198: sermonum, a mediator, negotiator, Tac. H. 2, 99: consiliorum suorum, Vell. 2, 129, 3: Tiberius Alexander ... minister bello datus, Tac. A. 15, 28: ministri ac servi seditionum, Cic. Fam. 1, 9, 13: ministri ac satellites cupiditatum, id. Verr 2, 3, 8, § 21; so, furoris alieni, agents, instruments, Lact. 5, 11: libidinis, Cic Lael. 10, 35: socii scelerum atque ministri, Lucr. 3, 61: Calchante ministro, with the help of Calchas, Verg. A. 2, 100: ministrum esse in maleficio, Cic. Clu. 22, 60: minister fulminis ales, i. e. the eagle, Hor. C. 4, 4, 1: calidae gelidaeque (aquae) minister, one who serves, Juv. 5, 63: me nemo ministro fur erit, by my aid, id. 3, 46.

  • +1. Wouldn't princeps be a literal translation of archon?
    – brianpck
    Commented Aug 6, 2016 at 1:58
  • 1
    +1. My understanding is that ministers are indeed subordinates. They serve the people/president/king/parliament/whatever; I believe that's why the Latin word minister was adapted to English and other languages in this sense. But this doesn't imply that minister is the best translation of "minister".
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Aug 6, 2016 at 7:59

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