Dominus (title)

Dominus is the Latin word for master or owner.[1] Dominus saw use as a Roman imperial title. It was also the Latin title of the feudal, superior and mesne, lords, and an ecclesiastical and academic title. The ecclesiastical title was rendered through the French sieure in English as sir, making it a common prefix for parsons before the Reformation, as in Sir Hugh Evans in Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor. Its shortened form Dom remains used as a prefix of honor for ecclesiastics of the Catholic Church, and especially for members of the Benedictine and other religious orders. The title was formerly also used as is, Dominus, for a Bachelor of Arts.[2]

Many romance languages use some form of the honorific Don, which derives from this term.[3] Further, the Romanian word for God, Dumnezeu, derives from this title through the Latin phrase "Domine Deus."[4]


The term derives from the Proto-Italic *dom-o/u-no- meaning "[he] of the house," ultimately relating to the Proto-Indo-European root *dem- meaning "to build," through domus.[1]

Roman imperial use

Originating from its use by slaves to address their masters, the title was sporadically used in addressing emperors throughout the Principate, usually in the form of excessive flattery (or political invective) when referring to the emperor.[5] As a title of sovereignty, the term under the Roman Republic had all the associations of the Greek Tyrannos; refused during the early Principate, it finally became an official title of the Roman Emperors under Diocletian.[2] Augustus actively discouraged the practice, and Tiberius in particular is said to have reviled it as sycophancy.[6] Domitian encouraged its use,[7] but none of the emperors used the term in any semi-official capacity until the reign of Aurelian in AD 274, where coins were issued bearing the inscription deus et dominus natus.[8]

However, under Diocletian the term dominus was adopted as part of the emperor's official titulature, forming part of Diocletian's radical reforms.[9] It's from this use that the term Dominate is sometimes used to refer to the period of Roman history beginning with the reign of Diocletian.[3]

English use

The feminine form Domina was a title formerly given to noble ladies who held a barony in their own right in old English Law. Many female honorifics used in modern English trace their roots back to this title, through the Anglo-French and still extant in modern French, dame and madame.[10] The most common are madam and its contracted form ma'am.[11][12] Another notable example is Dame, a more narrow equivalent to Sir used for recipients of chivalric honors.[13] (Damehood being the equivalent to the male knighthood.)[14]

Cambridge University continues to use both Dominus and Domina, abbreviated as Dnus. and Dna. respectively, for those who have achieved a BA,[15] and its derived term Don continues to see use in reference to professors, lecturers, and fellows at Oxford and Cambridge.[16][17]

See also


  1. De Vaan, Michiel (2008). "domus, dominus". Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the other Italic Languages. Leiden Indo-European Etymological Dictionary Series. Vol. 7. Leiden, Boston: Brill. p. 177179. ISBN 9789004167971.
  2. One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Dominus". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 8 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 405.
  3. Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Dominus" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 8 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 405.
  4. Niculescu, Alexandru. Despre numele lui Dumnezeu în limba română.
  5. Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. XI, The High Empire (2008) p. 82
  6. Shorter, D., Rome and her Empire (2014) p. 174
  7. Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. XI, The High Empire (2008) p. 81
  8. Watson, A., Aurelian and the Third Century (2004) p. 188
  9. Menne, I., Power and Status in the Roman Empire, AD 193–284 (2011) p. 21
  10. "Madame - Dictionnaire de l'Académie française, 9e édition". Dictionnaire de l’Académie Française. Retrieved 2 December 2021.
  11. "Definition of Madam". Dictionary by Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 2 December 2021.
  12. "Definition of Ma'am". Dictionary by Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 2 December 2021.
  13. "Definition of Dame". Dictionary by Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 2 December 2021.
  14. "How to get a Knighthood or Damehood". Awards Intelligence. 2016. Archived from the original on 25 October 2018. Retrieved 25 October 2018. A knighthood, and the female equivalent, a damehood, is an award given by The Queen to an individual for a major, long-term, contribution in any activity, usually at a national or international level.
  15. "Dominus/a". Cambridge University Library Glossary of Cambridge-related terminology. 29 April 2020. Retrieved 2 December 2021.
  16. "Oxford Glossary". University of Oxford. Retrieved 2 December 2021.
  17. "Don". Cambridge University Library Glossary of Cambridge-related terminology. 29 April 2020.
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