A republic is a state that is not a monarchy, while an emperor is clearly a monarch, so how is it that the Centauri Republic in Babylon 5 has an emperor?

This isn't a question of accuracy but of intended meaning. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea, is in fact a quasireligious hereditary military dictatorship, but there is a veneer, however thin to support the claim that it is a democratic socialist republic.

The Centauri Republic seems to be a constitutional monarchy, with a fairly strong crown, and makes no pretense of being otherwise. The monarch is clearly identified as being a monarch.

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    +1. This annoyed me a lot back then. :-) Commented Sep 8, 2014 at 8:14
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    Why is China allowed to call itself, "The People's Republic of China" and North Korea allowed to call itself, "Democratic People's Republic of Korea"?
    – jpmc26
    Commented Sep 8, 2014 at 19:32
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    @jpmc26 - because there is no "how do you call yourself" police?
    – Davor
    Commented Sep 9, 2014 at 6:12
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    You're right that this is a rather glaring flaw. The thing is, JMS is American, and here, "republic" is usually assumed to mean representative gov't, whereas internationally it means gov't without a monarch. JMS seems clearly to have had the Romans (among others) in mind, and probably thought "Roman Republic...Centauri Republic--sounds good, and matches the politics." But if so, he goofed there, because when the Romans started having emperors, that was the end of the Roman Republic. But realistically, he can't be an expert on everything, so I've tried to cut him some slack on it.
    – peyre
    Commented Aug 25, 2015 at 5:05
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    Well, both Rome and France are examples of states that had republics and then had emperors. While Wikipedia seems to classify "empire" and "republic" as exclusionary states, I think I remember reading that the term "republic" continued to be applied for some time to the Roman state even after it became ruled by emperors (Edit: I see DVK has already mentioned the Romans).
    – wyvern
    Commented Aug 30, 2015 at 7:09

7 Answers 7

  1. First of all, it can fit a theoretical definition:

    From B5 Wikia:

    The actual day to day business of running the republic is mostly handled by the Centaurum, which officially acts in an advisory capacity to the Emperor and the Royal Court and in theory has no power of law and can only override the Emperor with a three quarter majority vote by its members

    Due to the fact that a parlament in practice (even if not in theory) can override the Emperor, it somewhat fits - with some winking, nodding, and particular-point-of-view - the modern political-science-theoretical definition of the Republic ("a form of government in which power resides in the people", as per Merriam-Webster).

  2. Second, while "in modern times the definition of a republic is also commonly limited to a government which excludes a monarch" (from Wikipedia, and you can see the evolution of the term there), etymologically, Romans themselves sometimes imbued the word with a different meaning:

    While Bruni and Machiavelli used the term to describe the states of Northern Italy, which were not monarchies, the term res publica has a set of interrelated meanings in the original Latin. The term can quite literally be translated as "public matter".... It was most often used by Roman writers to refer to the state and government, even during the period of the Roman Empire.

  3. Also, history knows both examples of:

    • monarchies that were considered Republics (e.g. Kingdom of Axum, Dutch, modern British Empire)

      Please note that the British Empire comparison is VERY relevant, since J. Michael Straczynski himself saw Centauri like the British:

      For a thousand years, the Centauri Republic was a force to be reckoned with. Like the English empire once upon a time, it held hundreds of planets in its control. It was a great military power. But slowly, as can happen, they grew content, and lazy, and gradually their own empire began to slip between their fingers. A world deciding to go rogue was troublesome, to be sure, but it's SO far away, and it's SUCH a bother to go take care of it, when we can easily get the same things from other places...let them go. They'll come crawling back sooner or later.

    • countries named "Republic" that were in fact monarchies, or at least had the power vested in a single ruler even if said ruler wasn't hereditary (e.g. totalitarian Stalin's USSR and Mao's PRC, or North Korea. Or, for that matter, Rome while it was transitioning from Republic to Empire - and many observers noted that Centauri are VERY much patterned on Rome, even more so than on ~1900 British Empire)

    As such, it's possible that Centauri was (mis)named in the same tradition.

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    USSR...good example Commented Sep 8, 2014 at 1:50
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    Don't forget the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
    – user8693
    Commented Sep 8, 2014 at 2:23
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    The British Empire never considered itself to be a republic; it was (and is) a constitutional monarchy.
    – Mike Scott
    Commented Sep 8, 2014 at 6:26
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    The Dutch would be a better example than the British. While technically a republic until the Napoleonic Wars, the stadtholders were in essence hereditary monarchs. Commented Sep 8, 2014 at 8:45
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    The name of a thing is not always a description of what it is- names can be steeped in tradition and preserved long after the thing they were describing no longer fits the name. Consider how may places have a "New Road" that is far from new. A republic that became an empire could have still call itself a republic for any number of reasons- to allude to humble origins, to recall the grand old days or to save on printing new stationery and rebranding the battle fleet.
    – glenatron
    Commented Sep 8, 2014 at 8:57

You are mistaken in your assumption about empires and republics being mutually exclusive categories. For example, Octavius (Augustus Caesar) was Emperor of the Roman Republic. While you might want to know how the emperor fits in within Centauri governance and society, the basic premise of your question is false.

Responding to peyre's excellent comment: From the current Wikipedia article on the Roman Empire:

Though the old constitutional machinery remained in place, Augustus came to predominate it. Although the Republic stood in name, contemporaries of Augustus knew it was just a veil and that Augustus had all meaningful authority in Rome. Since his rule ended a century of civil wars, and began an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity, he was so loved that he came to hold the power of a monarch de facto if not de jure.

So the early Roman Empire retained vestigial trappings of the Roman Republic. Critically, the overlap between 'empire' and 'republic,' is a liminal space, so understanding an 'emperor of the republic' should be couched in that light.

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    You're not wrong, but this answer doesn't address why the Centauri refer to themselves as a Republic. This probably would be better as a comment.
    – Valorum
    Commented Sep 7, 2014 at 22:45
  • Uh, no. Octavius's reign was the end of the Republic and the start of the Empire.
    – peyre
    Commented Aug 25, 2015 at 5:11
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    @peyre Thank you! See my edits.
    – Lexible
    Commented Aug 25, 2015 at 18:16
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    I have, thanks! I appreciate that you took my comment to heart--and that you didn't dismiss it out of hand or accept it at face value, but researched the question and responded with what you found. More online forum communities should work like this!
    – peyre
    Commented Aug 27, 2015 at 2:05
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    Who says the Centauri refer to themselves as a Republic? They have their own language, with their own word for their system of government. As Londo might say, "Republic is an inadequate word, but it is the nearest your human language has for our most ancient and civilized political system." Commented Mar 20, 2016 at 22:11

The word "republic" comes from latin "res publica", which litereally translates to "public affair" or "common good", and in the original sense it means that that all legitimacy of government comes from the public and all actions of it need to be in the interest of the public.

In does not state how government does this, how government is structured or constituted etc..., it just says something about the origin and the goal of government.

As a counterexample, some monarchs of medieval Europe based their legitimacy on God, regardless whether the people approved of it - that is not a republican government.

Another counteraxample would be someone reigning over others justified because he wants to have a statue built that looks like him, and not everyone approves of this - that is not a republican form of government.

However, if the people freely decides that the best way to rule them is by a single person, and that single person acts in a way to actually improve the common good, than this type of government is a monarchy(the how) and a republic(the origin and goal).

So, these terms are not contradictory, but rather two distinct aspects of a possible form of government.

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    This doesn't answer the question of why the Centauri call their state a Republic.
    – Valorum
    Commented Sep 8, 2014 at 9:44
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    @Richard: But it does...?!?
    – DevSolar
    Commented Sep 8, 2014 at 10:09
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    @DevSolar - No it doesn't. You're telling the OP that their question is flawed. It's a comment.
    – Valorum
    Commented Sep 8, 2014 at 10:32
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    @Richard: Yes, the OP's question is flawed in that "Republic" does not imply "Democracy" in any kind or form. No, that's not a comment, that's an answer.
    – DevSolar
    Commented Sep 8, 2014 at 10:43
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    @TylerH - I disagree. When you compare to DVK's answer (that notes that their Republic is actually a constitutional monarchy with a sovereign parliament) you can see the difference.
    – Valorum
    Commented Sep 8, 2014 at 15:13

I think it mirrors more the polish historical version of republic, see below:

Poland's name, Polska, is derived from the word Polanie or "people of the fields," the name of tribe that used to inhabit the area around Grodno and Poznań where the Polish state first arose. In time, this area and the surrounding region acquired the name Wielkopolska.

The country's official name is: Rzeczpospolita Polska. In English, this name is usually rendered as the Republic of Poland. Rzeczpospolita is a literal translation of the Latin term Res Publica in its meaning of a "public thing." In the Polish context, this is a term that applies to the state in which those who govern are chosen (elected) by its citizens for a specified period of time. It also corresponds to the English term: "Commonwealth."

More specifically, the current Polish state is referred to as III Rzeczpospolita, or Third Republic. This to distinguish it from the Royal Republic whose kings were elected for life from the 16th century on. The elections were by the vote of the nobility, or szlachta, which constituted some 15% of the population.

So the Centauri Republic could be a Royal Republic in the sense that the emperor is elected by the royal court / Centaurum. I think this is how Molari and Vir both get to be emperor.


Of course "The Centauri Republic" is an English translation of the Centauri name.

And obviously calling the Centauri ruler an emperor is either an English translation of unknown Centauri title(s) or else English speakers use emperor regardless of how accurately it translates the Centauri title, merely because English speakers classify him as an emperor equivalent.

In one episode it was said that the Centauri Republic was founded by the first Emperor.

So we would expect that the usual English language names "Centauri Republic" and "Centauri Emperor" were chosen by persons to whom it did not seem as paradoxical as it does to SOME, repeat SOME, members of Science Fiction and Fantasy stack Exchange.

What was the title of Napoleon Bonaparte from 1804 to 1807?

Napoléon, par la grâce de Dieu et les constitutions de la République, Empereur des Français


I may point out that the Roman realm could be called an empire in some sense even while the republican form of government still functioned, between 200 and 100 BC, for example. The English word empire is based on the Latin word imperium meaning authority for military, political, and judicial command.

When Rome ruled most of the Mediterranean region the Romans began to claim that they had been granted corporate imperium (or authority to command and rule) over the world by the gods. Thus the Roman realm could be called the Roman imperium over the world and over lesser men, which could be translated as the Roman Empire, even while the Roman Republic was still going strong.

And the Roman Republic continued to function for decades and centuries after the usual foundation date of the Roman Empire. One could say that the senate and the popular assemblies merely changed their voting habits to almost always vote in favor of the policies and candidates endorsed by the Emperor. The legal fiction which was gradually abandoned over centuries was that the Emperor was merely a senator with extremely great personal influence who was granted a number of ordinary and extraordinary powers, titles, honors, and positions, so that he was a super duper magistrate of the Republic.

The English word emperor is derived from the Latin imperator which basically meant a magistrate with imperium. Since the emperor was a super magistrate with more imperium than all the others combined, he could be called THE IMPERATOR, so it makes sense that "emperor", derived from imperator, is the English word for an emperor.

Furthermore, for centuries the only person in Europe called an emperor was the Holy Roman Emperor, who was thus often simply called the emperor. And in those same centuries the elected emperor had very little political power over territories within the empire that he was not the hereditary ruler of. So the empire functioned more like a federal republic with a very weak central government and a president who had the title of emperor. The later Holy Roman Emperors may have been more similar to heads of state of a republic than monarchs, just as the first Roman emperors were in theory republican magistrates with extraordinary powers. The title of emperor has usually been both far more exalted than king, and also less like a monarch than king.

Since the Roman Emperors claimed to be the rightful rulers of the whole world, and since the latest Roman Emperors were a lot like presidents of a very weak republic, one could combine those concepts and imagine a government with very loose and weak authority over the whole world which functions as a republic but whose president has the title of emperor to show that he is the overlord of the whole world.

And if you think about that concept for a while you will realize that at the present the Secretary General of the United Nations is vaguely similar to an emperor of Earth.

We might imagine that the Centauri colonized many planets and that most or all of the colonies eventually became independent and sometimes fought wars among themselves. And eventually the Centauri worlds decided to form a federal union which was stronger than the United Nations but probably much weaker than the United States.

And the president of that Centauri Union or Republic took a title meaning something like "All-ruler", "Ruler of Everywhere", "Master of All", "Centauricrat", etc. to show that he was the leader of the federal union of all the Centauri worlds. And because that title claimed so wide-spread rule it was translated into English as emperor since one of the main implications of emperor is ruler of everywhere.

Of course the misdeeds of Emperor Cartega show that the central government was now much stronger and the power of the emperor much greater than I suggest was originally the case. We can suppose that just as in US history the power of the central government grew compared to that of the states or planets, and the power of the president/emperor to control the Federal government also grew.


The original Latin term for Emperor was Imperator. The Imperator was not a monarch, it was an elected office by the Senate similar to a president but with much more powers. It wasn't until much much later (around the Middle Ages) that Emperor became synonimous with an unelected monarch who ruled over several kings or feudal lords. And the show does shows that the Emperor is elected by the Centaurum and the office is not hereditary (Cartagia was Turano's nephew, and Vir wasn't Londo's son). So technically despite the name it is a Republic (a system of power in which the law is the maximum authority and not the monarch, which would apply to many constitutional monarchies but is rarely use more for traditional reasons). Yes, the term Republic is often use as "everything that is nor a monarchy" but is technically incorrect, in any case is not the first case, some old Indian Sakia Republics are often mentioned as having a "king" (the king was appointed by a senate-like council).


The Archaic, antiquities definition of a Republic consisted of a group with a certain equality between its members. That could be interpreted in many ways. Equality among it's governing body? and no one else.

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