Primus inter pares is a Latin phrase that means "first among equals," with "first" meant in the sense of being highest in importance or honor. It refers to the most senior person among a group of people with the same office, rank, or title, or to the dominant person in a group of people who are nominally equal but regard one of their members as their leader or most important member. Many organizations have a person or position with this status, either officially or unofficially.
Many government officials are considered primus inter pares today, and others still retain titles that allude to the idea. On the United States Supreme Court, the chief justice is considered the court's senior member and has greater administrative authority than the eight associate justices, but all nine justices have an equal vote in the court's decisions. The political title prime minister originally meant that its bearer was the foremost minister of a ruling monarch, and so merely primus inter pares among government ministers or the cabinet rather than head of government, though in most modern cases this is no longer an accurate description of a prime minister's status or power. Meetings of the Federal Council of Switzerland are presided over by the president of the confederation, an office that is held for a term of one year and customarily rotates among the Federal Council's seven members. Despite his or her position as the president of the Swiss government's highest executive body, the president of the confederation is not the head of state; instead the Federal Council holds that title collectively.
The clerical hierarchies of many religious organizations have a position whose holder is considered primus inter pares. In the Eastern Orthodox church, which is composed of a number of autocephalous, or self-headed, Orthodox churches in full communion with each other, the patriarch of Constantinople is considered the foremost official of the Orthodox faith and bears the title of ecumenical, or universal, patriarch. However, he has direct authority only over the Orthodox church of Constantinople. The other autocephalous Orthodox churches govern themselves, and their bishops or patriarchs are not appointed by the ecumenical patriarch or under his authority. In the Catholic church, the dean of the College of Cardinals presides over the college and summons it to the papal conclave to elect a new pope when the previous pope dies or abdicates, but has no authority over the other cardinals.
In the ancient Roman Republic, the primus inter pares of the Senate was called the princeps senatus, first of the Senate. The title was bestowed every five years by the censors, Roman legal officials responsible for holding public morals upon a member of the Senate who held the respect of his peers and a reputation for integrity and public service. The princeps senatus originally had no powers or privileges aside from the right to speak first on topics brought before the Senate, but he enjoyed great prestige. Later, the title of princeps senatus, or simply princeps, was adopted by the first Roman emperor, Augustus, in order to maintain the legal fiction that he was merely the foremost citizen of a still-intact republic and not an autocrat.