What is an Autocracy?

Augustus is said to have ruled the Roman Empire with an autocratic style.
Augustus is said to have ruled the Roman Empire with an autocratic style.

Different countries around the globe have different systems of government. Some countries have a democratic system in which the power is with the majority, while other countries have a system known as an oligarchy in which the powers are vested in a small group of people. However, some countries have a system of government known as autocracy in which the supreme powers are vested in one person. This person’s decisions cannot be subjected to any external legal restraint or regularized by any mechanism except through a coup d’etat. Autocracy can be exercised in several forms including absolute monarchies and dictatorship. The term “autocracy” is derived from Ancient Greek words “autos” meaning “self” and “kratos” meaning “power” or “strength.”

Comparison Between Autocracy and Other Forms of Government

Autocracy is considered synonymous with dictator, tyrant, or despot, though all the three terms had original and separate meanings. Autocracy is not also synonymous with military dictatorship or totalitarianism. A military dictatorship is whereby the military has complete control over an area whereas totalitarianism is whereby the government restricts the activities of the opposition parties. However, autocracy can either be a military dictatorship or totalitarian. Monarchy differs from autocracy because of its hereditary characteristics, although some monarchs are outright autocrats in their style of leadership. Historically, most monarchs ruled autocratically but gradually their powers diminished and a constitution introduced that gave people the powers to make decisions through their elected leaders.

Historical Examples of Autocracy

Roman Empire

When Augustus founded the Roman Empire, he kept the Roman Senate but reserved all the real powers for himself. Later in 180 AD, Commodus introduced the dictatorial rule. Other emperors such as Constantine and Diocletian ruled as autocrats and greatly strengthened the control of the emperor.

Aztec Empire

The Aztecs had a great and organized military that earned them a reputation of capturing prisoners and using them for sacrificial rituals. The priest supported the demand for human sacrifice and the nobility was mainly made up of warriors who had captured the most prisoners for the sacrifice. Thus, the Aztec Emperor was the sole rule of the emperor and also a religious figurehead.


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