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The honor of being called pater patriae was conferred by the Roman Senate.
It was first awarded to Roman general Marcus Furius Camillus in 386 BC, who for his role in the aftermath of the Gallic siege of Rome was considered a second founder of the city, in succession to Romulus.
The Senate voted the title to Caesar Augustus in 2 BC, but being neither important for the ruler's legitimacy nor for his legal powers, it did not become a regular part of the imperial honors, contrary to Imperator, Caesar, Augustus, princeps senatus, pontifex maximus and tribunicia potestas. According to the historian Suetonius, Augustus' successor, Tiberius, was offered this title, but refused it.
The Senate eventually conferred the title on many Roman emperors, often only after many years of rule, or if the new emperor was particularly esteemed by the senators, as in the case of Nerva. As a result, many of the short-lived Emperors never received the title.
The honor was subject to the approval of the honored, who could decline it. Tiberius did so and Nero did so when first offered the honor during the first year of his reign, on account of his youth, though he later accepted when the honor was conferred on him for a second time. It was traditional for the honored, in a proper sign of humility, to defer the honor for some time once conferred. Hadrian deferred for eleven years, for example.
Chronological list of Patres Patriae
- Romulus, 753 BC (as the legendary founder of Rome)
- Marcus Furius Camillus, 386 BC (for his role in the aftermath of the Gallic siege of Rome
- Marcus Tullius Cicero, 63 BC (for his role in the suppression of the Catilinarian conspiracy)
- Gaius Julius Caesar, 45 BC (for having restored the Pax Romana in the 40s BC after the civil wars)
- Augustus, February 5, 2 BC
- Caligula, 37
- Claudius, January, 42
- Nero, 55
- Vespasian, 70
- Titus, June, 79
- Domitianus, September 14, 81
- Nerva, September, 96
- Trajan, 98
- Hadrian, 128
- Antoninus Pius, 139
- Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, 166
- Commodus, 177
- Septimius Severus, 193
- Caracalla, 199
- Macrinus, June, 217
- Elagabalus, July, 218
- Gordian III, May, 238
- Probus, July, 276
- Diocletian, November 20, 284
- Maximian, April 1, 286
- Constantine I, 307
- Suetonius • Life of Tiberius
- Anthony Birley. "Marcus Aurelius: A Biography". Yale University Press: New Haven, CT, 1987, p. 57.