8

The word "Emperor" seems a bit hard to pin down in Latin when looking for a constant expression to use, because of its multiple synonyms that seem to have been employed frequently throughout history. I would like to know which you all think should be used for modern translations. For example, if I ever tried to translate the title of "Emperor of Mankind" from the Warhammer 40K universe, should I do it as Imperator gentis humanae/humanae universitatis or as Augustus or as Caesar? None of these seem obvious choices to me. The Adumbratio doesn't help matters much because it gives all theee options, as seen here:

756 emperor ► Caesar, ris m. (esp. of those tracing descent to ancient Roman emperors) ¶ DANTE Vulg. El. 330: "illustres heroes Federicus Caesar et benegenitus eius Mandfredus." 1652TURS. 223, of Byzantine emperor. EGGER R.A. 145: "in regionibus imperatori Germanico subiectis, quem haud raro Caesarem Latine vocabant." ► imperâtor, ôris m. ¶ SUET. TAC. DANTEMonarchia 403 et saepe. 1726 Wolff 12, of Chinese emperor. ► Augustus, i m. ¶ 1652 TURS. 209, of a Western European made Byzantine emperor after the Fourth Crusade: "Balduinus Latinus Augustus." Idem 212, of the Byzantine emperor: "Graecus Augustus." ► Cf. rector gentium ¶ c.1300 MARCO POLO A 371: "Et ipse, scilicet magnus Kaan, est melior rector gentium et bellorum quam sit in mundo."

756 emperor: empress ► imperâtrix, îcis f. ¶ Cic., of a female military commander. c.1300 MARCO POLO A 370, of Kublai Khan: "Ipse habet semper quatuor mulieres quas tenet pro suis uxoribus ... et istae vocantur imperatrices." Marron, P.H., Ad Fontes Bellaqueos (Fontainebleau) in laeto de gravidâ Gallorum Imperatrice nuntio (Paris, 1810), of French Empress Marie Louise. ► Caesarissa, ae* f. ¶ 1688 DUCANGE Comn. 417, of a Byzantine empress.

756 emperor: imperial ► Caesareus, a, um ¶ DANTE Ep. 436, of Holy Roman Empire: "sacratissimi Caesarei principatûs ... vicario generali." EGGER S.L. 57, of Holy Roman Empire. ►Caesariânus, a, um ¶ 1652 TURS. 251; 366. ► Augustâlis, e ¶ 1652 TURS. 203, in reference to Byzantine Empire. 1652 TURS. 258, of Holy Roman Emperor: "Pius IV pontifex ... Ferdinando Caesari Augustales titulos dedit." ► Augustânus, a, um ¶ 1652 TURS. 259, of the imperial diet, or Reichstag: "cum Augustanis comitiis de religione agendum foret." ► dominicus, a, um ¶ Cod. Just.

What do you guys think is most appropriate here? Again, as my example suggested, I am talking about a word to employ that translates to "Emperor" that is not specifically referencing the Roman Emperors.

What will help:

  1. If the answer contains examples of modern translations of the word Emperor, showing what is more ubiquitously used
  2. If the answer contains historical precedence of what was seen as the general term for the expression

EDIT: I used Warhammer 40K simply to exemplify a use that is completely detached from the historical Roman equivalent. That's the general context I'm thinking of. Another example I could have used was the Emperor of China or Japan. Or the Emperor Beyond the Sea in Narnia.

3
  • 2
    Related: latin.stackexchange.com/questions/6137/…
    – cmw
    Jun 28, 2023 at 3:49
  • 3
    I find the premise of this question a little confusing: English "emperor" comes from Latin "imperator" (as I'm sure you know). Are you looking for a translation for the English word "emperor" (which already has a connection to the Romans) or do you want a word that means something similar? My simple point is that Warhammer already has a reference to Romans built in by using the English word "emperor."
    – brianpck
    Jun 28, 2023 at 19:22
  • @brianpck Emperor comes from imperator yes, but Humanity also comes from humanitas, but humanitas is considered a bad Latin translation for Humanity, something like gens humana being preferred. I don't think English equivalences are good enough to settle such things. We'd need to see what is the established way of translating expressions and when it comes to the title of Emperor the dictionaries seem to give a lot of options without giving a most used one.
    – Victor BC
    Jun 28, 2023 at 19:43

2 Answers 2

6

There are some excellent answers here, and many great comments, but I am going to add my piece to the mix.

You may be overthinking this. The English word "emperor" does not come directly from classical Latin, but rather from medieval and early modern Neo-Latin. That is because the modern concept of emperor derives most recently from the Holy Roman Emperor (imperator Romanorum or imperator Germanorum), who titled himself the Emperor of the Romans or the Emperor of the Germans, and from the British Empire, whose emperor was Indiae Imperator or Indiae Imperatrix, according to Parliament. (The title was created for Queen Victoria, the Empress of India.)

All of which is to say that the Latin word for the modern concept of "Emperor" is Imperator.

Oh, and for what it's worth, Vicipaedia gives Iaponiae Imperator for emperor of Japan.

I humbly suggest imperator generis humani as the answer to your question.

8
  • 1
    Your answer is very good because it cites Neo-Latin sources. Is there an actual preference for imperator in contrast with caesar and augustus in neo-latin documents?
    – Victor BC
    Jun 29, 2023 at 1:10
  • I haven't seen caesar nor augustus used so in neo-latin documents, but then I have not seen all neo-latin documents. You can look up on Wikipedia articles about Holy Roman Empire, or Emperor of India, or indeed "Maria Teresa" to find examples of imperator.
    – Figulus
    Jun 29, 2023 at 1:55
  • @cmw would you like to interact with this? I think Figulus made a very good argument for a modern translation being imperator, given it seems to be the go to translation for this modern concept of someone who is hierarchically superior to a King" in a peerage system.
    – Victor BC
    Jun 29, 2023 at 16:40
  • 1
    @VictorBC I think it's fine if you want an ordinary word to translate "emperor," but I thought you specifically wanted one "that is completely detached from the historical Roman equivalent." The Holy Roman emperor was seen as a continuation of the Roman emperor, and therefore it is not detached from the historical Roman equivalent. That's why I want back to the Persian empire (and the Persian "emperors" did rule over minor rulers, but they were still called kings). If you want something Medieval, by all means, imperator is fine.
    – cmw
    Jun 30, 2023 at 23:50
  • What I meant was a word that was generic, not something related to Rome in itself. Like if you were talking about some random unrelated emperor (as with my example of the Emperor beyond the Sea in Narnia). Given that the British Empire seems to have used Imperator, and from what I see other Empires were described with imperator in Latin, it seems it's a good neo-Latin expression for it.
    – Victor BC
    Jul 1, 2023 at 0:01
11

Another example I could have used was the Emperor of China or Japan.

I'm going to lean more heavily on this one and suggest that none of your above options are ideal. Instead, you should go with plain ol' rex, or, if you'd like to emphasize the more imperial nature of the throne, rex regum.

An emperor in English is essentially one who rules an empire, i.e. a ruler (rex, regina) who rules over other rulers (ergo rex regum or regum rex). Meanwhile, imperator, Augustus, and Caesar are all tied up with particularly Roman ruling ideology. It became the accepted nomenclature for European powers because of their (real or supposed) continuation of Roman ruling power, which they used to legitimize their own reigns. For those too far removed, at some point the words just stuck as terms they adopted, but the chief emperor of western Europe in the Middle Ages was the Holy Roman Emperor.

The best analogue the Romans actually had before the Augustan period was the Persian empire, and in both Greek and Roman sources, they were simply reges. Even in Aulus Gellius, e.g., the Persian emperor Darius was simply Asiam...tenebat imperio rex Darius.

If they wanted to emphasize that ruler's hegemony over other rulers, they would adopt the Semiticism rex regum (vel vice versa), although this phrase in Latin literature more often applied to Agamemnon, because of its use in Homer.

That said, Suetonius does use it for the Parthians (Caligula 5), who were in the Roman mind the continuation of the Persians.

For your specific example "Emperor of Mankind," I would borrow the title from Jupiter, who is rex omnium deorum et hominum, giving you:

Rex Omnium Hominum

11
  • 2
    @VictorBC I don't think it's right to go through English here. The Japanese terms (for which 天皇 doesn't reeally mean 'emperor') don't neatly map onto the English, because they're specific to Japan, not anywhere else. They certainly don't map onto Latin neatly. But also, the emperor was indeed theoretically above the shogun and daimyos. In translating, you'll never get a one-to-one correspondence here because they're completely different traditions.
    – cmw
    Jun 28, 2023 at 19:50
  • 3
    If a Roman were to write about the situation in Medieval Japan, rex would likely be the person at the top, as that's the person at the top in societies they're familiar with. The shogun maybe would be the imperator, the daimyo could be domini, etc.
    – cmw
    Jun 28, 2023 at 19:51
  • 2
    In Medieval Europe, whose Latin is a second language, and who were more familiar with Medieval feudalism, they would choose different words still.
    – cmw
    Jun 28, 2023 at 19:52
  • 3
    @VictorBC Well, individual cases will vary. You may want to bring up a new question targeting Japanese specifically from a modern or medieval perspective, as that will alter things. It should be helpful to keep in mind that Jupiter, that king of all gods and everything, is rex, as is the Persian king, who ruled over many minor rulers in an empire that dwarfs Japan, so if the title is lacking, it's not because of the word "emperor," but because the Japanese system is sui generis.
    – cmw
    Jun 28, 2023 at 20:18
  • 2
    @VictorBC I can also add in later about imperator (used for Roman emperors) and caesar (used in Kaiser, Tsar) if no one gets to talking about that part. Explaining it might help illuminate my choice for rex. I can think up a few additional adjectives that might be helpful as well.
    – cmw
    Jun 28, 2023 at 21:07

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.