The first tyrannical ruler Rome had was Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, the last king of Rome. He was deposed in a rebellion because of his tyranny. The Romans decided to do away with the monarchy to prevent the return of tyranny and established the Roman Republic.

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During the period of the Roman Republic the term dictator had a very different meaning to the Romans. A dictator was an extraordinary executive officer of state with extraordinary powers who was appointed by the consuls (the heads of the Republic and the army) and was given a very specific mandate by a senatorial decree at times of emergency. His term of office was six months. His mandate was usually to lead the army when there was need to have a sole commander (usually the army was led by the two consuls) or to have man with better military leadership skills in charge of the army. Several times a dictator was appointed to preside over an election of other executive officers of state and one dictator was appointed to put down a rebellion. Apart from Sulla and Caesar (see below) no dictator used his extraordinary powers to overrule the ordinary institutions of the Roman Republic.

During the 482 years of the Roman Republic a dictator was appointed 88 times. Since some men were appointed as dictators name than once, in total 75 men were appointed as dictators. Apart from two men, all dictators resigned either before the six months were up, when their job specified in their mandate was done, or within the six months. The only two exceptions were Lucius Cornelius Sulla and Julius Caesar. Sulla was appointed for and indeterminate term of office in 81 BC to reform the Roman constitution. During this dictatorship he had several thousands of his political opponents executed or murdered. This had been unprecedented and gave the dictatorship a bad name. Caesar used the power he gained when he won his civil war to have himself appointed dictator four times. The first time he was dictator in order to preside over his own election as consul and resigned after 17 days (49 BC). The second time he was appointed dictator for one year (48 B) the third for ten years (46 BC) and the fourth for life (44 BC).

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