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Princeps (first citizen) was the original official title of a Roman Emperor. It was first given to the Emperor Augustus in 23 BC, who wisely saw that use of the title imperator or dictator would create resentment amongst Roman Senators and other influential men, who had earlier demonstrated their disapproval with the assassination of Julius Caesar. Also, while Augustus had political and military supremacy, he needed the assistance of his fellow Romans to manage the Empire.

Other official Roman titles used for the office of emperor included imperator, Augustus, Caesar, dominus, and basilleus. The word Emperor itself is derived from the Roman title Imperator, which was a military title, until Julius Caesar began to use it during his dictatorship.