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The Roman Empire had expanded under the republic to occupy most of Europe and portions of Northern Africa and Western Asia. Under this administration regions of the empire were ruled by governors who answered in turn to the Senate and the people of Rome. As the empire expanded, however, rule by magistrates became complex and the republic ended; emperors were created. The word emperor derives from the Latin term imperator. This was a title granted to a general who had been successful in battle. In theory the Princeps still had to earn the title of emperor. Stability fluctuated during the Principate era, with two short periods of uncertainty, giving way to the Crisis of the Third Century, where the role of emperor became a mantle that appeared within reach of any substantial military commander. Emperors on the whole lived colourful lives and because of their authority their lives have lived in through many recorded histories. That said, the position of emperor was always vulnerable, on account of the senate, ambitious rivals, the Praetorian guard, the Roman legions, or the people of Rome.

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Gaius Octavius, who would later take the name Augustus, was the first Roman Emperor. Augustus was born in Rome, on the Palatine Hill on the 23rd September 63 BC. After his father’s death, his mother re-married a former governor of Syria who later became consul. Augustus was predominantly raised by Julius Caesar’s sister, and Julius Caesar would later name Augustus his heir. When Caesar was killed in 44 BC, Augustus was training for the military in Apollonia. Caesar’s will not only left Augustus his political legacy but also a substantial financial one. This Augustus used to bolster his personal forces with troops from. On his march to Rome he attracted the support of many Romans. There was a truce in Rome between Caesar’s killers and Mark Anthony. Many in Rome saw Augustus as a preferable leader than his father-in-law Mark Anthony as he was younger and less well known. They hoped they would be able to use him as they wished. As Rome turned against him, Mark Anthony began to try and push through laws that would give him control over large swathes of the empire. At the same time Augustus was building up a private army in Italy, mostly comprised of veterans from Caesar’s army. Aware of the size of Augustus’s army and the mood in Rome, Mark Anthony fled Rome on 1 January 43 BC. With Cicero interceding on his behalf, the Senate was convinced to appoint Augustus as a senator also on 1st January 43 BC. After many attempts to manoeuvre for political position, Augustus, Mark Anthony and Lepidus formed a military dictatorship, which was known as the Second Triumvirate. They passed special expedient powers, valid for five years only and rewards were offered for the capture of Caesar’s assassins. Augustus was still working on his claim. When the senate officially recognized Caesar as Divus Iulius, in January 42 BC it allowed him to position himself as “Son of God.” There were battles between the armies of the Second Triumvirate and Caesar’s assassins’ armies at Philippi in October 42. When the Caesarian army was victorious Brutus and Cassius committed suicide. On returning to Italy, Augustus evicted many Roman citizens from their properties so as to provide lands for troops of both his own army and the defeated armies. At the same time Augustus secured a divorce from Mark Anthony’s daughter, claiming that the marriage had never been consummated. He later remarried Livia Drusilla, the mother of Tiberius. By this stage, Augustus was in direct conflict with Mark Anthony, his former ally in the Second Triumvirate. In 40 BC, they agreed to each settle in different bits of the empire. Despite being now married to Augustus’s sister, Mark Anthony continued his affair with Cleopatra in Egypt. Augustus was able to use Mark Anthony’s affair as propaganda against his rival. Suggesting to both the senate and the army that Mark Anthony intended to diminish the power of Rome in favour of the East. Augustus even broke into Mark Anthony’s sealed will to show that he had promised Roman lands in the east to his sons and that he wished to be buried in Egypt. This convinced the Senate to authorize a war against Cleopatra’s Egypt, as well as revoking Mark Anthony’s position as consul. Augustus gained an early victory in 31 BC, while Anthony and Cleopatra were still in Greece, helped by the work at sea of Agrippa. Anthony’s fleet were battered at the battle of Actium on 2nd September 31 BC. Augustus was able to pursue the fleeing Mark Anthony who committed suicide on 1st August 30 BC. Concerned about Caesar’s other potential heir, Augustus had Caesorion, Caesar’s son by Cleopatra, killed also. At this point Augustus was able to rule the whole area of the Roman republic but he was keen to uphold the republican traditions and not appear to be ruling a dictatorship. Augustus was keen to return Rome to stability. In 27 BC, Augustus made a demonstration of returning power to the Roman Senate, but he remained as consul and as a commander he still had the loyalty of most of the army across the empire. By this point he had an immense personal wealth, so much so that when the Senate blocked the finance for re-building roads, Augustus was able to pay for their maintenance from his own wealth. On 16th January 27 BC, the Senate gave Augustus the new titles of Augustus and Princeps. This marked his authority over the empire, in excess of the title of consul. In contrast to the violent civil war he endured with the Senate and Mark Anthony, from hereon, Augustus’s reign was one of calm, benign rule. The term princeps, literally meant “the first head” and as such denoted the most senior senator. Augustus tried to avoid flaunting his power and aimed to appear humble at all times. For instance he did not hold the sceptre, wear the diadem or a golden crown and purple toga, as Julius Caesar had done. Latterly, Augustus gave up the consulship, allowing him to rule from a more central position with ambitious senators able to take on the role of consul. It is from this point that Augustus began to use the title imperium more often. Augustus was also granted his authority over the empire for life. Augustus would later date his reign from the Second Settlement on 1st July 23 BC. As Emperor, continued to expand the empire, conquering lands of northern Hispania, the alpine regions of Raetia and Noricum, Illyricum and Pannonia as well as expanding into the African province to both the east and the south. He added the realm of Judea to the province of Syria in 4 BC and Galatia in Turkey around the same time. Augustus used client states to help protect the empire from the Parthian Empire in the east. These states were controlled by Rome and acted as territorial buffers. After first falling ill in 23 BC, Augustus and those around him were mindful of the issue of succession. Augustus married his favourite general, Agrippa, to his daughter and adopted two of their children, Gaius Caesar and Lucius Caesar as his heirs. He even re-took the consulship between 5 and 2 BC so he could guide them in their political careers. But Augustus also showed favour to his stepsons, Drusus and Tiberius. By 6 BC Tiberius appeared to have turned his back on political life, exiling himself to Rhodes, but after the early deaths of first Drusus in 9 BC, then Lucius in 2 AD and Gaius in 4 AD, Tiberius was recalled to Rome. There he was given the positions of proconsul, tribune and emissary to foreign kings. In 7 AD, his succession was secured when Augustus banished the only other possible heir, Postumus Agrippa. Augustus died on the 19th August 14 AD. He was visiting the sight of his father’s death at Nola. Augustus’s health had been in long decline and it is thought that he was given a poisoned fig by his wife Livia to help expedite his demise. His final words were, “Have I played the part well?” There was a public burial with Tiberius giving a eulogy from on top of Augustus’s coffin.


Tiberius Claudius Nero was born in Rome on 16th of November 42 BC. His mother divorced his father and married Augustus soon after his birth, which led to him becoming an heir to the newly formed Imperial title. After an illness in 23 BC, Augustus began to think of his succession and Tiberius along with his brother Drusus were both brought into the political field in preparation. Tiberius also began a career in court, which allowed him to pursue his interest in Greek rhetoric, as well as travelling to the east of the empire as part of the imperial army. In 19 BC, Tiberius married Vispania Agrippina, the daughter of Augustus’s friend and first general Agrippa. In 11 BC Tiberius was ordered by Augustus to divorce Vispania and marry Julia the Elder who was Augustus’ own daughter and Agrippa’s widow. This marriage was not popular with Tiberius who was tired of Augustus’ political games. He was never happy with Julia and is said to have pursued Vispania to her home to beg for forgiveness. In 6 BC and despite his success in campaigns and political manoeuvring, Tiberius announced his retirement. He withdrew to Rhodes. At the time his wife, Julia’s behaviour was also causing him some distress; he had also been forbidden from seeing his true love, Vispania, by Augustus. Tiberius’ returned to Rome following the early death of Augustus’ two grandsons, Lucius and Gaius Caesar, which forced Augustus to turn back to Tiberius. On Augustus’ death in 14 AD, Tiberius was confirmed as his sole surviving heir and on 18 September, Tiberius was confirmed by the Senate to the position of Princeps. At first Tiberius was reluctant because of his age. Tiberius’ rule was characterized by his desire for the Senate and the state to act without him having to directly intercede. From 22 AD, Tiberius began to make longer and longer trips to Campania and his interest in the princeps waned. When his son and heir Drusus died suddenly in 23 AD, Tiberius did little to find a replacement and in 26 AD he left Rome altogether and lived on the island of Capri. While in Capri, Tiberius was dependent on the Praetorian Prefect, Sejanus. In Rome Sejanus began to take control and requested marriage to Tiberius’ niece, Livilla. He also began to get rid of difficult Senators through show trials. Finally in 31 AD, Sejanus plotted to overthrow Tiberius. The plot was uncovered before it could be carried out by Antonia Minor, Livilla’s mother. Sejanus was called to the Senate who read out a letter from Tiberius ordering his execution. In the following years, many other prominent Romans were tried and executed for complicity in the trial. Tiberius did not return to Rome. It is recorded that Tiberius became paranoid in later life and appeared trapped by his grief over the death of his son. He made no effort to secure a succession in the manner Augustus had. Tiberius died in 37 AD. He was 78 years old. Rome rejoiced at the news. The crowds called for his body to be thrown into the Tiber as was the normal fate of criminals. In his will Tiberius left his powers to Caligula, his adopted son, and his own teenage grandson, Tiberius Gemellus.


Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, better known as Caligula, was born in Antium on the 31st August 12 AD. His parents were Germanicus and Agrippina the Elder. As a child Caligula accompanied his father on campaigns in northern Europe and his nickname, Caligula, comes from his father’s habit of dressing up his three year old son in full soldiers uniform complete with armour (Caligula literally means, “little (soldier’s) boot.”). After his father’s suspicious death, Caligula lived with his mother. During the reign of Tiberius’ Caligula and his siblings were variously exiled or removed by the ever more paranoid emperor. From 31 AD, Caligula was forced to live with Tiberius on Capri. During their time together, Caligula planned to kill Tiberius in revenge for the death of his mother and brother, however, instead of carrying out the murder he simply threw his dagger to the floor before Tiberius. In 35 AD, Caligula was made Tiberius’ joint heir with Gemellus. On Tiberius’ death, Caligula had all mention of Gemellus razed from Tiberius’ will on the grounds that he was insane. On 28th March 37 AD, Caligula was received in Rome by the Senate and declared Emperor. At first Caligula’s reign was marked by clemency, recalling many from exile and announcing an end to trials for treason (common under Tiberius). However, after an illness in October 37 AD, Caligula himself became divisive. He killed off many rivals, including Gemellus and exiled others who might prove problematic to his authority. Caligula was also well known for his building works. He constructed harbours, temples and theatres as well as other public works. In 39 AD he orchestrated the construction of a floating pontoon of ships that stretched for over two miles. Caligula later proceeded to ride his horse across the pontoon while wearing the armour of Alexander the Great. Caligula also ordered the construction of two enormous ships, which along with The Unbelievable are considered to be some of the largest ships ever built during the ancient world. The smaller of the two vessels was a temple to Diana, while the larger ship was a floating palace complete with marble floors, ornate decoration and a fully functioning plumbing system. Caligula expanded the Roman Empire and made the first movements into Britannia, although the campaign was largely unsuccessful. From 40 AD, Caligula grew increasingly self-absorbed and was obsessed by sex and self-indulgence. Many Romans objected to his sleeping with their wives and he was prone to having people killed for nothing more than his own satisfaction. To make matters worse Rome was undergoing a financial crisis and Caligula’s often extravagant building projects and lavish lifestyle made him unpopular. In 40 AD, Caligula announced to the Senate his intention to leave Rome for Alexandria where he planned to be worshiped as a living God. In 41 AD, Caligula was murdered by officers from the Praetorian Guard, with the support of many in the Senate. The officers, disguised as athletes, stabbed Caligula 30 times beneath the imperial palace.


Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus was born in Gaul in 10 BC. He was the younger brother of Germanicus (whose son Caligula would precede him as emperor). He was related to Mark Anthony on his mother’s side and could thus claim relation to Julius Caesar also. Claudius was raised by his mother after his father’s death when he was one. Following an illness, Claudius suffered from a disability that left him with a limp and slight deafness. His family did not think highly of him and he was kept separate as child. As he approached adulthood his symptoms faded and his intellect began to make itself known. From 7 AD, Livy worked as his tutor in history and he was also taught by the philosopher Athenodorus. While many thought Claudius unfit for public life, including Tiberius who ignored his requests for a public role. By his mid-twenties Claudius had all but given up hope of public life and was instead devoted to his own written work. Only under the reign of Caligula did Claudius rise to the position of co-consul in 37 AD, even if Caligula also took delight in the public humiliation of his uncle. Claudius had no role in Caligula’s assassination, but he witnessed the purge by the imperial guard and hid in his palace. There, having been found hiding behind a curtain, a praetorian named Gratus declared Claudius princeps. With the Praetorian Guard declaring him emperor the Senate was forced to concede and Claudius became emperor in 41 AD. Claudius soon added the name Augustus to help secure his imperial authority. He went about expanding the empire in nearly every direction, including a successful conquest of Britannia in 43 AD. Claudius even visited Britannia for 16 days. Claudius also conducted a census that saw that the empire had grown by a million since the death of Augustus. Claudius proved a wise emperor in law, often intervening in cases directly himself. He continued the public works started by Caligula and added some of his own, including the Porta Maggiore aqueduct. Unlike Caligula his did not introduce extravagant personal works but rather invested in infrastructure, building roads, canals and a new port north of Ostia. Despite having been the first emperor to be declared by the Praetorian Guard, Claudius soon won good terms with most of the Senate. That said, some factions remained suspicious and there were several plots against him. With the growth of the empire, Claudius was also made to reconsider the role of freedman in the imperial administration. Claudius began to give freedman control over a wider range of imperial bureaucracies in return for their loyalty. Several freedmen managed to amass huge wealth through their positions, with Pliny the Elder noting that many of them were richer than Crassus, the wealthiest man in the Republican era. Claudius was married four times, but it was his final wife Agrippina who had a hand in his death. He was murdered by poison held within mushrooms and died in 54 AD. Agrippina was motivated by securing the smooth succession of her son, Nero.


Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus was born in Antium near Rome in 37 AD. His father was Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus and his mother was Agrippina the Younger, Caligula’s sister and later the fourth wife of Emperor Claudius. Nero was never expected to become emperor because Caligula was expected to produce his own heir. Yet after the young emperor’s murder, and the rise of Claudius, Nero became heir to the imperial throne. He was appointed pro-consul and appeared before the Senate at the age of 14. Nero became emperor in 54 AD at the age of 17. His early reign saw the influence of Agrippina, his tutor Seneca and the Praetorian prefect, Sextus Afranius Burrus loom large over his position. The influence of his mother in particular caused controversy, with women not habitually seen to be present at official business engagements. As Agrippina was side-lined she began to campaign for Nero’s brother, Britannicus to be made emperor, Britannicus suddenly died however, two days before reaching adulthood, most likely poisoned by Nero. As he reached his twenties, Nero shed his advisors and took control by himself. Nero was also engaged in private love affairs, firstly with the ex-slave Claudia Acte and later with the wife of his friend Otho, Poppaea Sabina. Nero’s mother objected to these affairs and Nero’s desire to marry Poppaea so Nero had her murdered in 59 AD. Nero first tried to kill his mother in an organized shipwreck but when Agrippina survived he had her killed and made sure her death was framed as suicide. In 62 AD, Nero’s former advisor Burrus died and Seneca requested permission to retire from public affairs. Nero also had his first wife Octavia killed and later kicked to death his second wife, Poppaea before the birth of her second child, even if he showed great remorse for this, burning ten years worth of Arabian incense at her funeral. Many accusations of treason against Nero arose in the years to come. Nero gladly put to death anyone he thought might post a threat to him. Nero married again in 66 AD to his mistress Statilia Messalina, before in 67 AD he forced a young freedman, Sporus to be castrated so that Nero could marry him. Sporus looked uncannily like Nero’s second wife Poppaea and Nero would call him by his dead wife’s name. Nero’s reign was also dominated by the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD, which burned for five days and destroyed much of the city. Christians were later forced to confess the crime, but it was Nero who actually started it in an effort to clear land for the construction of a new palace. Many Christians were executed in the wake of the fire and Nero personally searched the rubble for survivors. By 68 AD, support for Nero was waning and support for Galba rising. In May Nero fled Rome planning to take those loyal to him away to safety by sea from Ostia. Nero was forced to abandon the plan, however, when some soldiers refused to obey his commands. Back in Rome Nero returned to his palace, but found that all his guards had left and he was unable to pass messages to anyone. Finally, accompanied by four loyal freedmen, including his wife Sporus, Nero travelled outside the city to a villa where he asked that a grave be dug. The senate had already dispatched soldiers to capture Nero. Nero believed they would kill him and so prepared himself for suicide. When the horsemen approached he forced his private secretary, Epaphroditos, to kill him. The men arrived, too late to stop the bleeding and he died on the 9th of June, 68 AD. Rome mourned.


Servius Sulpicius Galba Caesar Augustus was born near Terracina in 3 BC. While very wealthy his family had no imperial connections. He was a precocious child and both Augustus and Tiberius prophesized his rise to power. Galba became a Praetor in 20 AD and a consul in 33 AD. He earned his reputation in the Roman provinces of Gaul, Germania, Africa and Hispania. Friends urged him to make a bid for emperor on the death of Caligula but he loyally served Claudius. In Nero’s reign he entered retirement but was recalled to look after the province of Hispania in 61 AD. When Nero died in 68 AD, Galba finally took the imperial title and marched for Rome. His rival Sabinus tried to seize power before Galba arrived but he was killed by the Praetorian guard. When Galba reached the city he was met by soldiers many of whom he killed. Galba made himself immediately unpopular by refusing to pay the soldiers who had supported him, clamming that soldiers should not be bribed for their loyalty. Galba eschewed the pomp and display associated with emperors in Rome and he refused many requests for citizenship. Galba was also already quite old, 71, Rome was convinced that Galba was a puppet for his advisors, Titus Vinius, Cornelius Laco and the freedman Icelus Marcianus, who were known as the Three Pedagogues. In January 69 AD, Galba faced a mutiny by two legions in northern Europe who refused to swear loyalty and demanded that Rome select a new princeps. Their revolt was followed by the soldiers of Germania Inferior, who proclaimed Vitellius as Emperor. Meanwhile Otho who had governed Lusitania and had been one of Galba’s supporters began to win the support of the Praetorian Guard. On the 15th January 69 AD, Otho was hailed as emperor by members of the Praetorian guard. Galba went out to meet them but he was so frail by this point that he had to be carried in a litter. He was killed near Lacus Curtius. Only one guard died in defence of him. As if in expectation of his death, Galba did not wear armour, only a linen shirt.

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Marcus Salvius Otho Caesar Augustus was born in Ferentinum on April 22nd, 32 AD. He belonged to an Etruscan family who had latterly settled near Ferentinum. He first emerged as part of the circle of young nobles attached to emperor Nero. This friendship ended, however, in 58 AD when Otho’s wife, Poppaea Sabina became the object of Nero’s affections. Once their affair began, Sabina had Nero banish Otho to the remote province of Lusitania where he would remain for the next ten years. Otho accompanied Galba to Rome in 68 AD and with Galba old and without an heir felt sure of his rise to the position of emperor. He was also emboldened by the predictions of his astrologers, but in 69 AD, Galba named Lucius Calpurnius Piso Licinianus as his heir. In January Otho raided his private finances to buy the favour of members of the Praetorian Guard. On January 15th, 69 AD they saluted him as emperor. When Galba approached the camp, he and his newly adopted heir Piso were murdered by the Praetorians. The same day Otho was saluted by the Senate with the name Augustus and other titles of the emperor. Otho’s support amongst the Praetorians was derived from their anger at Galba’s refusal to pay them for their support. Otho was well-received by the Rome populace who felt he represented a return to Nero. Otho appeared to confirm this by re-setting Nero’s statues and reinstalling various of his officers, including Sporus, the boy whom Nero married and whom Otho would also be intimate with. Otho was not however, aware of the level of revolt by the northern legions who had declared Vitellius emperor earlier that same year. With Vitellius and the legions already marching on Rome, Otho was forced to prepare for war. On March 14th, 69 AD, Otho marched north. Otho’s impatience and the impetuous nature of his brother, Titanius, led to an early engagement at the battle of Bedriacum, where Otho’s army was beaten back. Despite still having the control of many forces, Otho took the defeat as a sign and declared his departure. “It is far more to perish one for all, than many for one,” he told his forces. The next day, in the early morning, he killed himself by piercing his heart with a dagger. Othos’ dignified death, which put the future of the empire before his own ambitions earned him the respect of many citizens and soldiers alike.


Aulus Vitellius Germanicus Augustus was born in Rome on September the 24th, 15 AD. His parents were so horrified by an early astrologer’s predictions that his father tried to bar him from entering public service. Vitellius was made a consul in 48 AD and became proconsul of Africa in 60 AD. He was promoted by Galba to command the army of the Germania interior where he proved immensely popular with the soldiers. When the two northern legions refused to swear loyalty to Galba in January 69 AD, Vitellius found himself proclaimed emperor at Cologne. In the time it took to march to Rome, Galba had been succeeded by Otho. After defeating Otho at Bedriacum, Vitellius marched on a chaotic Rome. His first move was to disband the existing Praetorian Guard and replace them with his own men. Vitellius was a lazy emperor, prone to the excessive consumption of food and drink and earning the reputation of an obese glutton. He would visit four separate nobles houses each day for banquets. He also banned astrologers from Rome. By July of 69 AD, the armies of the east had declared Vespasian as emperor. Vitellius tried to resign but was found by Vespasian’s troops, executed and thrown in the Tiber. Vitellius was never recognised as emperor by a majority of the Roman provinces.


Titus Flavius Caesar Vespasianus Augustus was born at Falacrina on November 17th, 9 AD. His family were not of noble blood. His older brother was part of the coterie surrounding Caligula but Vespasian himself did not seem suited to the pursuit of high office. That said Vespasian still underwent the service both military and public that would be required for public office, but rather than standing for the position of quaestor in Rome, Vespasian was sent to the province of Crete. With the arrival of Claudius, Vespasian played a role in the invasion of Brittania, successfully conquering the south including the modern counties of Hampshire, Wiltshire, Dorset, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall. In 51 AD this success was recognized with a consulship, but he subsequently retired from public life. In 63 AD he came out of retirement to take the position of governor of Africa. In 66 AD he played a pivotal role in the suppression of the Great Jewish Revolt. In 69 AD, the year of four emperors Vespasian was still in the east. A prophecy was proclaimed that the next ruler would come from Judea. Vespasian was persuaded that the prophecy applied to him and with the immense support of his soldiers he was proclaimed emperor on July 1st 69 AD. Vespasian’s army preceded him to Rome and saw to Vitellius’ death. Rome at the time was suffering from grain shortages and Vespasian was able to send grain in advance of his own arrival winning him the popularity of the Roman people. The Senate declared him emperor in December, 69 AD. Vespasian finally arrived in Rome himself in 70 AD. He immediately moved to secure his position, offering gifts to the public and dismissing soldiers still loyal to Vitellius. Without the same claims to noble blood as his predecessors, Vespasian turned instead to propaganda. He circulated stories of a supernatural emperor and prophecies of his remarkable rise to power. Every construction bore his name and he minted many new coins. Vespasian also bribed writers such as Tacitus, Suetonius, and Pliny the Elder, to secure a favourable report in their histories. Meanwhile, any who spoke against Vespasian were silenced. In the ten years of his reign, Vespasian survived many plots against him, the most memorable of which occurred in 78 AD when Epirus Marcellus and Aulus Caecina Alienus attempted to kill him. Also in 78 AD, Vespasian oversaw the extension of Roman territory in Britannia, pushing north towards the Celtic border. In 79 AD, Vespasian fell prey to an illness which forced him to return to Rome. From there he moved to the relative calm of his country estate near Reate but he soon developed dangerous diarrhoea. Determined to die on his feet, as he felt emperors should, he was helped up by those around him on the 24th June 79 AD.


Titus Flavius Caesar Vespasianus Augustus was born on the 30th of December, 39 AD in Rome. He was the son of Vespasian and the older brother of Domitian. Titus was brought up in the imperial court alongside Britannicus, the son of Claudius who would later be murdered by Nero. Titus was a promising soldier and a skilled orator. He began his public service in Germania and also served in Britannia in 60 AD, arriving as part of the reinforcements that followed the revolt by Boudica. He returned to Rome in 63 AD where he began a legal career and rose to the rank of quaestor. Titus supported his father in the suppression of the Jewish revolt, by 68 AD Titus had distinguished himself as a general and the entire coast of Judea was under the control of the Roman army. While his father became emperor, Titus was involved in the siege of Jerusalem in which he surrounded the city with three legions. Titus was brutal in his campaign, ordering captured Jews to be crucified. By the time Rome was finally sacked over a million lives had been lost. Titus travelled back to Rome, arriving in 71 AD to widespread support under the reign of his father, Vespasian. Titus brought with him treasures from the temple in Jerusalem. Titus, along with his brother, Domitian received the title Caesar from the Senate. He was also appointed a prefect of the Praetorian guard. In 79 AD, Titus uncovered a plot to kill his father, he invited the conspirators, Aulus Caecina Alienus and Epirus Marcellus to dinner and oversaw their execution personally. When Vespasian died in June 79 AD, Titus was immediately proclaimed emperor. He was well-loved by the Roman people and widely praised. His popularity was extended when he halted the hated treason trials and no Senators were put to death in his reign. On 24th August 79 AD, Mt Vesuvius erupted destroying the Bay of Naples and the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Titus sent help and visited the site of the destruction himself the following year. Titus also suffered a fire in Rome in 80 AD, which raged for three nights. Many buildings were lost and Titus had to compensate the damaged regions. Titus was also able to complete the construction of the Flavian Amphitheatre, begun by his father in 70 AD, but finally completed in 80 AD under Titus. Titus initiated an inaugural games that lasted for one hundred days and included gladiatorial combat, fights between wild animals and even mock naval battles. In the same year, Titus built a new bath house known as the Baths of Titus. Titus also revived the practice of deifying the imperial subject and foundations were laid for what became the Temple of Vespasian and Titus. Titus died suddenly in 81 AD, after falling ill on his way to the Sabine territories.


Titus Flavius Caesar Domitianus Augustus was born in Rome on the 24th of October, 51 AD. He was the brother of Titus and the son of Emperor Vespasian. Domitian’s early life was spent largely in obscurity, after the early death of his mother and his sister and with his father and older brother continually away on military campaigns. Domitian, however remained in Rome, predominantly under the care of his Uncle, Titus Flavius Sabinus II, who was city prefect. He received education in rhetoric and literature and would go onto publish works of poetry, law and administration. Domitian went bald at any early age and concealed the fact with a series of wigs. During the year of four emperors Domitian was in Rome and was placed under house arrest by Vitellius as a safeguard against his father. When Vespasian’s troops finally arrived in Rome, after Vitellius’ death, Domitian rode out to meet them and was hailed as Caesar. Domitian continued to act as a representative of the Flavian family in Rome until his father and brother appeared in 70 and 71 AD respectively. Still only eighteen, Domitian’s role had always been limited and when his father began to rule he left the political sphere to focus on his poetry. Domitian convinced his family to let him marry Domitia Longina a profitable marriage that brought alliances with senatorial opposition. Once Titus returned from war in 71 AD, Domitian’s role at court became even less prevalent. Titus was treated as a war hero and rode at the rear of processions headed by his father and brother. Titus promised his brother full partnership in imperial matters but once emperor the power-sharing arrangement failed to materialize. When Titus died suddenly in 81 AD, Domitian was declared emperor by the Senate. Unlike his father and brother who at least liked to pretend to govern through the Senate, Domitian moved the centre of government directly into the imperial court, effectively bypassing the Senate entirely. Domitian felt the emperor should represent not only political but also cultural moral authority. His reign saw a series of cultural, military and economic programmes that had nor been undertaken since the reign of Augustus. Despite the radical changes, Domitian ran the Roman empire effectively. His authority was cemented by the fact that unlike many other recent emperors he spent a great deal of time in Rome and knew the city very well. Domitian continued the building projects of his brother and father and then superseded them across the empire, including the construction of the temple of Vespasian and Titus on the Capitoline Hill. During his reign he spent vast amounts of money on hand outs to the Roman people. Most of his military campaigns were defensive or engaged with the development of road networks and the like. The conquest of Britannia was expanded still further in the direction of Caledonia. While many of his generals disagreed with Domitian’s tactics, his soldiers remained very loyal. Domitian had a traditional approach to religion and continued his brother’s steps to revive the imperial; cult. Domitian also gave himself the title Dominus et Deus. In 87 AD, when the Vestal Virgins were found to have broken their vow of chastity, Domitian saw to it that they were punished by being buried alive as stated by tradition. Domitian successfully overcame a revolt by the northern legions in 89 AD. As his reign wore on his relation with the Senate worsened, primarily because Domitian did not see fit to turn to them to make judgments about the government of the Roman empire. On the 18th September, 96 AD, Domitian was assassinated by a freedman named Maximus. The chief conspirator was Domitian’s chamberlain Parthenius who was motivated by the execution of his friend Epaphroditus. Several days before the assassination Minerva appeared before Domitian in a dream and warned him that she would have been disarmed by Jupiter and so could not protect him. Domitian was 44 years old when he died.


Marcus Cocceius Nerva Caesar Augustus was born in Nami on the 8th of November 30 AD. Like Vespasian he was from Italian nobility rather than imperial blood, but unlike Vespasian he did not pursue the usual administrative and military pathway to power. Instead his political career stemmed from his role as a diplomat, strategist and advisor. He first rose to prominence in 65 AD when he helped Nero by exposing the Pisonian conspiracy. He was then made a consul under Vespasian in 71 AD and worked as an advisor to first Vespasian then Titus and finally Domitian. When Domitian was assassinated, Nerva was proclaimed emperor. It was a strange choice, especially since Nerva was old and had no children and had not undertaken military service abroad. Nerva knew of the plot having been approached by the court officials prior to Domitian’s death. For the Senate, Nerva was a good choice precisely because he was old and childless. Aware of the chaos that had surrounded the death of Nero in 68 AD, Nerva quickly agreed. The Senate moved fast to destroy all evidence of Domitian’s reign, melting down his coins, erasing his name from records and even pulling down public buildings that bore his name. Many statues of Domitian were re-carved to Nerva’s likeness. The Senate used the change of government to reinstate to themselves the administrative role denied them by Domitian’s centralized imperial government. Nerva supported this but also continued to rely on a set of friends and advisors. Nerva also moved to win the support of the Roman people through tax breaks and hand outs, no doubt aware that his position was only backed initially by the Senate. Nerva’s financial outlay soon strained Rome’s finances. Nerva began frantically selling off Domitian’s possessions and estates in order to generate cash. As the elderly Nerva’s reign pushed into its second year, concerns began to arise about his succession. Nerva favoured Marcus Cornelius Nigrinus Curiatius, the governor of Syria, but many others preferred the popular military commander, Marcus Ulpius Traianus, known as Trajan. In October of 97 AD, the Praetorian Guard, responding to the tension laid siege to the Imperial Palace and took Nerva hostage. Realising that he could not continue to govern without naming an heir supported by the military, he changed his will to name Trajan as his successor. Nerva suffered a stroke on January 1st 98 AD. He later died at his villa in the Gardens of Sallust on January 28th. He was immediately deified by the Senate.


Imperator Caesar Nerva Trianus Divi Nervae filius Augustus, better known as Trajan, was born on the 18th of September in 53 AD in the province of Hispania Baetica. Trajan’s youth was spent in the military and he rose swiftly through the ranks of the Roman army, serving across the empire. He was made consul in 91 AD and moved to Rome. Trajan was well liked under Domitian and continued to serve under the new emperor Nerva, but Nerva was unpopular with the military and he sought to win their support by naming Trajan as his adopted son and heir. Trajan only found out about his adoption while on campaign on the Rhine, when the future emperor, Hadrian, was dispatched to tell him. In 98 AD, on the death of Nerva, Trajan succeeded without issue. As emperor, Trajan was able to build support in the Senate, through the pretence of being a reluctant emperor. He kept ceremony to a minimum and lived a comparatively low-key existence. Pliny the younger states that Trajan’s loyalty to traditional moral and hierarchical structures of power within the Senate, won him the their support. Trajan’s popularity became further evident when he was given the title optimus by the Senate. Trajan also did much to elevate the relationship between the Greeks and the Roman Empire. Greeks, as technically free-agents within the empire, were still relative outsiders. Trajan was able to win the favour of the Greek intellectual and noble classes, and gave 14 Senatorial positions to Greeks. Above all, however, Trajan is best remembered for his military successes. He was able to subdue Dacia to the status of client kingdom between 101 and 102 AD. In 113, he embarked on a long campaign in Parthia. Trajan’s ten eastern legions marched through Armenia towards the Caspian Sea and then northwards. Trajan had success in Antioch in 115, but was fortunate to escape an earthquake in the region that took the life of a consul. Trajan’s campaign ultimately moved deep into the Persian Gulf and he was able to add Babylon as a new province of the Empire. Yet, latterly, Trajan faced resistance in Mesopotamia and Armenia, forcing him to abandon direct Roman rule in those areas. It was during a siege of the fortress city of Hatra that Trajan’s health began to decline. At the same time, a Jewish uprising forced him to turn his armies back towards the west. He returned to Italy in 117 AD, due principally to ill health. On his return to Rome, his health continued to decline and he died of an edema on the 8th of August, 117 AD. Unlike many emperors, Trajan’s reputation has survived largely positive and intact. His reputation was further supported during the Christianisation of Rome, and Pope Gregory I resurrected him from the dead and baptized him into the Christian faith.


Publius Aelius Hadrianus Augustus, known as Hadrian, was born in Rome on the 24th of January 76 AD. Hadrian was from a Hispanic family and many contemporaries believe him to have been born in Hispania, but he was actually born in Rome, with only his family having been born abroad. Hadrian’s parents both died when he was ten and he received an education befitting his class and status as an aristocrat. He was especially fond of Greek and was taken under the wing of Emperor Trajan from the age of fourteen onwards. One of Trajan’s earliest military roles was to travel to inform Trajan of his adoption by Nerva as his son and heir. Hadrian was subsequently retained by Trajan in Germania at the beginning of what was to prove to be a long and successful military career. Hadrian began his Senatorial career in 101 AD when he was chosen as quaestor, he was later made Tribune of the Plebs. Hadrian took a position in Trajan’s personal entourage during the emperor’s military campaigns and Trajan took care to secure his young charge’s smooth succession up the administrative ranks of the empire, even marrying young Hadrian to his niece, Vibia Sabina. That said, Trajan never formally adopted Hadrian as his heir and after his death in 117 AD, it was the work of Trajan’s mother, Plotina, who secured Hadrian’s succession. Because of the manner of his adoption (with Trajan already on his deathbed) Hadrian had to move fast to secure his position of power. He moved to win the support of the legions and dismissed Lusius Quietus, a Moorish prince and potential claimant. Hadrian also uncovered plots by four senators and demanded their deaths. Even so, Hadrian never enjoyed the same relationship with the Senate as Trajan had, particularly, because unlike the Senate and Trajan he was not so wedded to the policies of imperial expansion. Hadrian’s relationship with the military was complex. While he spent more than half of his reign outside of Rome, he did not pursue major military engagements. Indeed he surrendered some of Trajan’s recent conquests in the East and installed client kings as opposed to imperial subjects. This anti-expansion policy was matched by Hadrian’s determination to secure the existing borders, often with built structures such as Hadrian’s wall in Brittania. Similar constructions were put up along the Danube and the Rhine, strengthened with wooden forts, outposts and watchtowers. To keep the army active, Hadrian established strong drill routines that could be carried out in peace time as well as war. Hadrian also pursued cultural and architectural goals. He wrote poetry in both Latin and Greek and was a passionate hunter. Hadrian also sported a beard as an example of his love of Greek culture, and in so doing breaking the long tradition of clean-shaven emperors. Hadrian also rebuilt an Alexandrian garden in Rome that had been destroyed by fire in 80 AD. Above all Hadrian travelled widely throughout his reign. His journeys were not driven by war, but by his personal desire for hegemony across the empire. Most previous emperors, if they had an ideological position, felt that the empire was a series of territories subsidiary to Rome. Hadrian saw the empire as one homogenous culture, of which Rome was at the centre. For many in Rome, Hadrian was “too Greek” in his ideals and his aims. Hadrian’s travels brought him as far as Britain in the north, along the German Frontier, down into Africa and east towards Persia. In 127 AD he fell ill and had to return to Rome, but by 128 he was embarked on another trip to Africa. In 130 AD, while sailing along the Nile, his favourite youth, the Greek Antinous, died under suspicious circumstances. Hadrian was distraught and took the radical step of elevating a low status non-citizen Greek to the position of deity. The cult of Antinous latterly saw immense popularity in the Greek speaking world. Hadrian also visited Jerusalem in 131 AD. Between 134 and 138, Hadrian was in Rome where his health began to fail him. He adopted Lucius Ceionius Commodus as consul in 136 AD and appeared to be grooming him for succession until Lucius died suddenly in 138 AD. After this Hadrian adopted Antoninous Pius who had served as proconsul in Asia. Hadrian died of heart failure on the 10th of July 138 AD at his villa in Baiae. He was 62 years old. His grave was later moved by his successor Antonius Pius to the Tomb of Hadrian in Rome, in 139 AD.

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Antoninus Pius

Titus Fulvus Aelius Hadrianus Antoninus Augustus Pius was born near Lanuvium in Italy on the 19th of September, 86 AD. Both his father and his grandfather died when Pius was young and he was raised primarily by his mother and Gaius Arrius Antoninus. In 110 AD he married Annia Galeria Faustina the Elder, a woman known for her beauty and wisdom, but also for her altruism, regularly helping the poor. She died in 141 causing Antoninus great distress, he ordered the Senate to deify her and built a temple in the Roman Forum in her name. Antoninus became consul in 120 AD, and later became proconsul under Hadrian of first Italia and then Asia. His success in these roles saw him adopted by Hadrian as his son and heir on the 25th February 138 AD. Antoninus’ adoption was dependent on him in turn nominating Hadrian’s nephews Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus. Antoninus was determined to repay Hadrian’s faith him and convinced a reluctant senate to deify Hadrian. Antoninus was an active emperor and promoted the construction of theatres and the advancement of intellectuals. Unlike his predecessors, Antoninus was not active in a military capacity and his reign is notable for its absence of military campaigns, indeed Antoninus did not leave Italy throughout his reign. His reign was not without conflict through. Two attempts were made to seize power, both by Senators. In both cases Antoninus avoided meting out justice directly. The first conspirator, Cornelius Priscianus committed suicide and the second, Atilius Rufius Titianus, was tried and exiled by the Senate themselves. Instead of military campaigns, Antoninius focused on administrative and legal reforms. He also oversaw the construction of aqueducts to extend the supply of drinking water. In his later years Antoninus grew weaker. His heir Marcus Aurelius began to take on responsibility for various administrative tasks. In 160 AD, Marcus and Lucius were made joint consuls. On the 6th March 161 AD, Antoninus dined heavily on cheese at dinner. He was ill in the night and passed away the next day. His funeral was elaborate and the senate deified Antoninus immediately.

Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus was born in Rome on the 26th April 121 AD. Marcus’ early years were spent with his mother whom he later praised for her wisdom and humility. As a young man he was impressed by his tutor Diognetus and even wore a rough woollen cloak of Greek style and slept on the floor. Marcus continued his Greek education into adulthood and the influence of the Stoic philosophers would be integral to his famous work, Meditations Marcus’ future was the result of emperor Hadrian who named Antoninus as his successor on the understanding that the succession would then pass to Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus. In 138, the senate made an exception to allow Marcus to become a quaestor before his 24th birthday. Antoninus then made Marcus consul in 140 AD as well as bestowing military titles upon him. In 147 AD, Marcus’ wife, Faustina gave birth to the first of thirteen children. On the death of Antoninus, Marcus was already ruling much of the emperor due to Antoninus’ ill health and the Senate’s confirmation of the title Imperator was a mere formality. Marcus did not warm to imperial life, but the influence of the Stoics saw him bear his duty with honour. Indeed, when the Senate tried to make him emperor alone he refused and insisted that Hadrian’s wish that both he and Lucius Verus reign together be honoured. One of Marcus’ earliest moves as emperor was to marry his eleven year old daughter to Lucius Verus, in spite of the fact that legally they he was her Uncle. Marcus’ early reign was comparatively calm and he was able to win over the support of the Roman people and pursue his own interests in Philosophy. This did not last. In 162 AD, the Tiber flooded and left Rome starving, then the war with Parthia escalated. Vologases IV of Parthia invaded Armenia, a Roman client state and installed his own client-king. There were also disturbances in Britain and Germany. Marcus was not well-prepared for military campaigns, certainly not on multiple fronts. He had spent most of his education either learning philosophy or at the court of Antoninus. The decision was taken for Lucius to oversee the Parthian war in person. While Lucius oversaw events in the east, Marcus had to deal with the invasion of the empire by forces from Germania. The wars on the German frontier would last for the rest of his life. At one point, Marcus even expelled all barbarians from Italy in attempt to balance the empire. He toured the eastern frontier with his wife until 180 AD when he fell ill. It was during these military campaigns that he wrote Meditations a philosophical work that ensured his reputation as a philosopher king. The work is a personal guidance for self-improvement and is a fine representation of Stoic philosophy. He died on the 17th March at Vindobona, and his ashes were returned to Rome. His campaigns against the Germans were later commemorated by a column and a temple in Rome.

Lucius Verus

Lucius Verus was born on the 15th December, 130 AD. He was brought up in Rome with his brother, Gaius Avidus Ceionius Commodus and his two sisters. His adoptive grandfather was emperor Hadrian. Lucius Verus received a stern education including the influence of Marcus Cornelius Fronto who would continue to educate Lucius Verus alongside Marcus Aurelius. Lucius enjoyed a swift career in public life rising to become consul for the first time in 154 AD. In 161 AD he was made joint consul with his co-heir Marcus Aurelius. When Antoninus died in 161 AD, Lucius Verus was elected to emperor with equal power to joint emperor Marcus Aurelius. The senate had been keen to nominate Marcus Aurelius alone, but mindful of Hadrian’s legacy, Marcus refused to accept the position unless his adopted grandfather’s wishes were honoured and Lucius Verus was given full imperial authority. That said, Marcus Aurelius was the more senior and experienced partner having ruled the empire during Antoninus’ ill health and decline. Lucius moved fast to win the support of the Praetorian Guard giving them a financial reward twice the size of previous offers. Lucius was also betrothed to and later married Marcus Aurelius’ daughter, Lucilla, even though he was technically her uncle. During the uprising in Parthia from 162 onwards, Lucius Verus was despatched to the east to take control of the military campaign their. The eastern general Marcus Sedatius Severanius was an experienced commander, but he fell under the spell of Alexander of Abonutichus, a self-proclaimed prophet who carried a snake with him. Severanius was convinced that he would be able to defeat the Parthian’s easily and led a naïve campaign, which was defeated easily and forced Severanius to commit suicide. In 162 Lucius left Rome and journeyed to the east to take control. He was the younger and healthier emperor but it also suited Marcus to have his joint emperor outside of Rome. Late in 162 Lucius suffered a stroke and spent some time recovering. In 163 Lucius continued east, and arrived in Antioch. There he spent most of the campaign and took up a low-born mistress named Panthea who persuaded Lucius to shave his beard. Lucius lived a life of luxury and enjoyed drink and gambling, he would send special dispatches to Rome to bring back news of his favourite chariot team. Lucius’ only travelled back west once during the war, in 164 AD to marry Marcus’ daughter, Lucilla. At the time Lucilla was thirteen years old. Marcus had brought the date of the wedding forward when he heard news of Lucius’ behaviour with Panthea. The war with Parthia continued. There were counter attacks between 163 and 166 and Roman legions were able to occupy Dausara and Nicephorium. In 165 Lucius oversaw the invasion of Mesopotamia. On his return to Rome in 166 AD, Lucius was given a lavish parade. In Rome Lucius continued to enjoy a lavish lifestyle and had a tavern built inside his villa so that he could drink until dawn. This brought the disdain of Marcus Aurelius although he did nothing about it. In the spring of 168 AD, war broke out in Germania. Both Lucius Verus and Marcus Aurelius went to the front to oversee the campaign but on their return in 169, Lucius fell ill with symptoms of smallpox and died. At the time there was a widespread smallpox epidemic known as the Antoine Plague. Marcus Aurelius mourned and accompanied the body back to Rome. Games were made in the coliseum to honour his memory and Lucius Verus was deified by the Senate.


Marcus Aurelius Commodus Antoninus Augustus was born in Rome on the 31st of August 161 AD. He was the son of Marcus Aurelius and was the first son born to a reigning emperor to go on to succeed his father. Commodus was educated in Rome, but began to travel with his father on campaign in 175 AD. In 177 AD, Marcus Aurelius gave Commodus the title Augustus, effectively entering into a power-sharing relationship with his son, designed to ensure a smooth succession. Commodus was only 15 years old when he became consul for the first time, making him the youngest consul in Roman history. Marcus Aurelius died whilst on campaign in Germania in 180 AD. At only 18 years of age, Commodus became emperor on his own. Commodus was lucky in that compared to the war that raged throughout most of his father’s reign, his period of power was mostly peaceful. That said, while there were few wars outside of Rome, political wars raged within the imperial capital. Commodus himself, a young and highly perverse man, was largely at fault for these divisions. Unlike his forebears, Commodus had very little interest in running the emperor and delegated administrative responsibility to various favourites. One of the most notorious favourites was Saeoterus, a freedman. Commodus faced many conspiracies, including one in 182 AD that was led by his own sister, Lucilla. During the course of the conspiracy, Commodus’s favourite Saetorus was murdered. Commodus’s main interest was in physical combat. He enjoyed sports including chariot racing and gladiatorial combat. On many occasions he would take to the arena himself to fight, although because of his imperial status he always won and rarely were his opponents slain. In private, however, it was his practice to kill those gladiators whom he practiced fighting with. Commodus was also fond of fighting exotic animals and once killed 100 lions in a single day. Commodus’s second favourite Cleander was corrupt and would sell public offices to raise finance for himself. In 190 AD, during a grain shortage the mob called for Cleander’s head and Commodus reluctantly agreed to his execution. From 190 Ad onwards Commodus took more direct interest in his rule. He was convinced of his god-like status and portrayed himself as a contemporary Hercules. When Rome was destroyed by fire in 191 AD, Commodus proclaimed himself the “new Romulus” as the re-founder of Rome, which he re-named Colonia Lucia Annia Commodiana. He also re-named the months of the year to include his own twelve names. In 192 AD Commodus took part personally in the Plebian games fighting and winning every afternoon. The prefect Laetus organized a conspiracy to poison Commodus. When the poison failed to take, Laetus organized Commodus’s wrestling partner, Narcissus, to strangle him in his path. The Senate declared Commodus a public enemy and reversed all the name changes he had made, including reverting the name of the city back to Rome. Only in 195 AD, when Severus was trying to win the favour of Marcus Aurelius’ descendants was Commodus’s reputation restored and his name deified by the Senate.


Publius Helvius Pertinax Augustus was born in Alba Pompeii on the 28th March 126 AD. He was the son of a freedman called Helvius Successus and Pertinax made his way up the social ladder as a teacher of grammar. He was a distinguished soldier and won honours during the Parthian war as well as serving in Britain, the Danube and Dacia. In 175 AD he was made consul and in 185 AD he was made governor of the provinces of Upper and Lower Moesia. He was also successful in quelling a mutiny in Britain in the late 180s. Returning to Rome in 190 AD, Pertinax was involved in the conspiracy to assassinate Commodus. As soon as Commodus was dead, Pertinax was proclaimed as Emperor by the Praetorian Guard, but he reigned for only 86 days. Pertinax was not able to give the Praetorian Guard the financial reward they now saw as their right for having helped proclaim him emperor. In retaliation they began selling of Commodus’ property. In retaliation, Pertinax began to impose stricter disciplinary measures on the Praetorian guard. He faced the first plot on his life in early March, but was able to execute the main protagonists. On the 28th of March, 193 AD, however, three hundred Praetorian soldiers rushed the gates of his palace. Pertinax’s own guards stood by as the soldiers entered his personal quarters. His advisors told Pertinax to flee but he stayed and tried to talk the Praetorians round. This he failed to do and he was slain by the soldiers.

Didius Julianus

Marcus Didius Severus Iulianus Augustus was born in Mediolanum on the 2nd of February 137 AD. He entered public life at the rank of Quaestor in 162 AD and won success in the repression of the insurrection at Chauci. He went on to win favours during many other campaigns and was later made responsible for the financial administration of Italy. He was charged with conspiracy by Commodus but somehow escaped the incrimination and was acquitted while his fellow accused conspirators were all executed. After the brief reign and murder of Pertinax in 193 AD, the Praetorian guard auctioned the position of emperor off to the highest bidder. Julianus interrupted his supper to go and bid on the prize. Julianus won with an offer of 25,000 sesterces for every Praetorian soldier and he was proclaimed emperor. While the Senate were forced into accepting his election, the Roman public were less keen on Julianus and he was treated to the status of public enemy. Outside of Rome, the generals of three legions refused to accept his election, including Septimus Severus. Julianus only had at his disposal the Praetorian Guard who were a rowdy but ultimately ill-disciplined force. Pressed to maintain his support Julianus offered Severus a joint emperorship, but by this point Severus was bearing down on Rome with his legion. In anticipation the Senate proclaimed Severus emperor and Julianus’ last vestiges of support vanished. On the 1st of June 193 AD, less than three months after buying the imperial title at auction, Julianus was killed in his palace. His last words were, “But what evil have I done? Whom have I killed?”

Septimus Severus

Lucius Septimus Severus Augustus was born in Leptis Magna, north Africa, on the 11th April 145 AD. His family were of equestrian rank and Severus was educated in Latin, Greek philosophy and oratory. In 162 AD he entered public life, in the senatorial ranks of the emperor Marcus Aurelius. His early roles were limited and he was dispatched at one point to oversee road maintenance around Italy. He was also forced to return to North Africa in 166 because of the Antoine Plague. He enjoyed more luck from 170 AD, holding a succession of administerial positions and advancing steadily. Finally, in 191 AD, he was given the command of a legion by Commodus and moved to Pannonia. This was followed by the short and unsuccessful reigns of first Pertinax and then Julianus. Severus was with his legion at Carnuntum, not far from Rome and his soldiers proclaimed him emperor. By May Severus was on his way to Rome where he was confirmed as emperor by the Senate and Julianus was condemned to death. Severus also executed the Praetorians responsible for the death of Pertinax, as well as replacing the Praetorian guard with his own soldiers. After securing power, Severus embarked east in 197 AD to lead another campaign in Parthia, which resulted in the capture of the northern half of Mesopotamia. Despite this success he was never popular with the Senate. Relations were not helped by Severus’ propensity to execute Senators on charges of corruption or conspiracy and replace them with men loyal to him. In essence Severus turned Rome into a military dictatorship, but he was popular with the people for having got rid of the corruption that had become endemic during the reign of Commodus. While away on campaign, Severus relied heavily on his Praetorian prefect, Gaius Fulvius Plautianus, whom he brought still closer to him by marrying Plautianus’ daughter to Severus’ son, Caracalla. Plautianus lasted until 205 AD, when Caracalla accused him of plotting to overthrow the emperor and he was executed. As well as executing Senators, Severus was also responsible for the persecution of the growing numbers of Christians within the empire. Throughout his reign Severus continued to go away on campaign both in Africa in 202 AD and Britain in 208 AD. He was leading a campaign in Britain against the Caledonians when he fell ill in 211 AD and he died at Eboracum, present day York. He was deified by the Senate and succeeded by his sons Caracalla and Geta.


Marcus Aurelius Severus Antoninus Augustus, known by the nickname Caracalla, was born in Lugdunum on the 4th April 188 AD. He was the son of Emperor Severus and Julia Domna. His father gave him the names Marcus Aurelius in order to link him to the philosopher king and help secure his succession. Caracalla had ruled alongside his father for a few years before he succeeded alongside his brother in 211 AD. At the time Caracalla and his father were on campaign in Caledonia, but Caracalla made peace and left Britain to return to Rome. The two brothers, Caracalla and Geta, tried to work out a way to rule jointly and considered splitting the empire in two until their mother, Julia Domna, intervened. The brothers quarrelled and at a meeting in 211, arranged as a reconciliation by their mother, Caracalla had Geta killed by members of the Praetorian guard. Geta died in his mother’s arms. From this position, Caracalla went on to eradicate all those still loyal to his now dead brother and set about securing his solo-emperor status. Caracalla did not stay in Rome for long. He left in 213 AD to fight on the German frontier and the pursued engagements in the east. He never returned to Rome after the murder of his brother. To finance his engagement’s Caracalla taxed Rome heavily, especially the Senatorial ranks. This allowed Caracalla to pursue another Parthian campaign. Caracalla began to imitate Alexander the Great who became his great idol and he would persecute anyone who dared denigrate the legend. As his reign continued Caracalla became more and more paranoid. In 215 AD, he sent his troops to plunder Alexandria in retaliation for a satirical play that mocked the assassination of Geta. 20,000 people were killed. Central to Caracalla’s security was the army whom he treated very well and paid generously. In 212, Caracalla issued an edict that declared all free men in the Roman empire were to have full Roman citizenship. Prior to this only inhabitants of Italia held full citizenship. This move allowed Caracalla to greatly increase his tax revenue, something which he desperately needed to do. This move allowed many wealthy freeman to take on full citizenship including notable figures such as Laeus Mortanus Sevus, Gaius Iulius Verus Maximinus, Decitanus Laertus Porus. Meanwhile in Parthia, Caracalla’s Alexander the Great inspired campaign sought to bring more territory under direct Roman control. Caracalla pursued many underhand methods including an attempt to trick the King of Parthia into believing Caracalla wished to marry his daughter. On the 8th April 217 AD, at the age of 29, Caracalla was assassinated while relieving himself by the side of the road. He was killed by his personal bodyguard Julius Martialis whose own brother had been executed by Caracalla only days earlier.


Publius Septimus Geta Augustus was born in Rome on the 7th March, 189 AD. He was the son of Severus and his second wife, Julia Domna as well as the younger brother of emperor Caracalla. Throughout their childhood the two brothers quarrelled heavily, and only their mother Julia could keep them under control. When Severus died at Eboracum in 211 AD, Geta was proclaimed emperor alongside his brother Caracalla and the brothers returned to Rome to figure out how to share power. At one point they considered splitting the empire into two halves but their mother did not wish them to do this. Caracalla first tried to have Geta killed during the festival of Saturnalia and finally managed it on the 19th December, 211 AD, during a reconciliation meeting held in his mother’s apartment. Geta was killed by Caracalla’s centurions while lying in his mother’s arms. Caracalla went on to kill 20,000 men and women on the grounds that they were supporters of his brother and Geta’s image was removed from all imperial inscriptions.


Marcus Opellius Severus Macrinus Augustus was born in Caesarea in 165 AD. He received the normal education of an aristocratic Roman and entered public life as a lawyer. He rose under Severus to become an important legal administrator and was appointed prefect of the Praetorian Guard by Severus’ successor, Caracalla. In 215 AD an astrologer prophesized that Macrinus would depose and succeed Caracalla’s as emperor. This prophecy saw Macrinus marginalized and he was behind the plot that saw Caracalla murdered during the Parthian campaign in 217 AD. On the 11th April, 217 AD, Macrinus proclaimed himself emperor and immediately names his son as his heir. The Senate confirmed Macrinus’ position because of their knowledge of his skills as a lawyer and bureaucrat. Macrinus favoured mediation in military matters and tried to avoid direct conflict. In comparison with every emperor since Marcus Aurelius he was wise financially, and actually increased the silver purity of the denarius ending decades of debasement. His reluctance to enter campaigns, however, saw him become unpopular with the legions who were increasingly the determinate power factor in imperial succession. His popularity also suffered in Rome, where whilst supported by the Senate, he was unpopular for failing to visit soon after becoming emperor. Yet it was the actions of the surviving members of the Severan dynasty and their influence over the cult of the sun-deity Elagabalus that caused Macrinus’ downfall. Led by Caracalla’s aunt, Julia Maesa, the rumour was circulated that the son of Soaemias’, Elagabus (named after the sun-god) was actually the illegitimate son of Caracalla. On May 18th 218 AD, Elagabalus was proclaimed emperor at Raphana and with the support of the legions marched towards Macrinus at Antioch. Macrinus faced desertion from his soldiers and was defeated in a short battle, fleeing in disguise to Italy by sea. He was later captured and executed.


Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus, known after the sun-god Elagabalus, was born in 203 AD. His grandmother, Julia Maesa was the sister of Julia Domna – wife to Severus and mother to Caracalla. Elagabalus’ wider family held hereditary rights to the priesthood of the sun god Elagabal. Elagabalus himself took his name from the God and was a high priest. During the second and third century the cult of this Sun God spread throughout the Roman empire. Elagabalus accented to the imperial throne due to the influence of his grandmother, Julia Maesa, and the public dissatisfaction with Macrinus, particularly with the military. A plot was hatched between Julia and Elagabalus’ tutor, Gannys to replace Macrinus with the then fourteen year old Elagabalus. It was proclaimed that Elagabalus was the illegitimate child of Caracalla and the Third Legion swore allegiance to him at Raphana, declaring him as Augustus. Elagabalus took on the names Marcus and Aurelius to strengthen his claim further. Macrinus mounted a defence of his reign but was deserted by many of his soldiers and was forced to flee to Rome in disguise. He was captured at Chalcedon and executed. His son was also killed. Despite not yet having the support of the Senate, Elagabalus dated his imperial reign from his defeat of Macrinus at Antioch. Soon the Senators responded positively and even agreed to deify Caracalla and Julia Domna. Elagabalus was the first oriental priest to rule the Roman Empire and a propaganda campaign was formed by Julia Maesa to help the roman people adjust. Yet, the legions in particular did not warm to his priestly behaviour and the Senate were cajoled into making offerings directly to their empire at the statue of the goddess Victoria in Senate house. Elagabalus finally reached Rome himself in 219 AD where he immediately devalued the currency and attempted to have his lover, the charioteer Hierocles, named as Caesar. Elagabalus’ next move was to position his namesake the sun-god Elagabal as the chief deity of the Empire. Elagabal was renamed Deus Sol Invictus and honoured above Jupiter. A huge temple was built on the east of the Palatine Hill in deference to the newly installed god and Elagabalus took steps to have himself installed as the high priest of the new religion, including his own circumcision. Finally, and in direct contravention of Roman tradition, Elagabalus took a vestal virgin as his wife, announcing that they would produce “godlike children.” In total Elagabalus took five wives at various stages and many lovers both male and female. By 221, Julia Maesa, could see that Elagabalus behaviour was proving unpopular, especially with the Praetorian Guard. She persuaded Elagabalus to name his nephew, Severus Alexander, as his heir, but he reneged on the arrangement once he realized how much the Praetorians preferred Alexander to himself. On the 11th March 222, the Praetorian guard demanded to see both Alexander and Elagabalus. The soldiers whooped in favour of Alexander over Elagabalus and members of the Guard attacked Elagabalus. The young king, still only eighteen, had his head cut off, his body stripped and paraded across the city before being hurled into the Tiber. Immediately after his death steps were taken to reverse his religious changes and many of his supporters were exiled or executed.

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Severus Alexander

Marcus Aurelius Severus Alexander Augustus was born on the 1st of October, 108 AD in Syria. Alexander was made the heir of the eighteen year old emperor, Elagabalus in 221 AD, and became emperor when the Praetorian Guard, assassinated the sun-god-fearing emperor in 222. Unlike his cousin, Elagabalus, Alexander was a more thoughtful administrator of Rome, and eschewed lavish and garish displays of wealth and power. He was less exuberant and more tolerant of religious matters, allowing a synagogue to be built in Rome. The early part of his reign was characterized by peace, but by 230 AD, the Sassanid regime had risen in the east and the eastern empire was under threat. Alexander travelled on campaign, making Antioch his base and enjoying victories at Ctesiphon. His other armies however, were less fortunate and lost crucial battles across Persia. By 232 AD, the Sassanid rise had been calmed and Alexander was able to return to Rome in triumph. Soon, however, he was dragged north after Barbarians crossed the Rhine in 234 AD. Alexander again went to the front line but despite his campaign in the east he remained relatively inexperienced in military matters and he attempted to bribe the German tribes to win himself some time. This move cost him the trust of the legions who felt that his actions were not typical of an emperor. They immediately looked to replace Alexander and found a ready candidate in Gaius Iulius Verus Maximinus, a soldier from Thrace, originally from peasant stock. By 235 AD, Alexander was forced to face the German forces. Again, however, Alexander tried to buy off the German tribes and his legions finally had enough. Alexander was killed by his own men on March the 19th, 235 AD, alongside his mother.

Maximinus I

Gaius Iulius Verus Maximinus Augustus was born in Thrace in 173 AD. His father was a Goth and his mother of Alanic descent, both of whom were of low birth and he is generally considered to have come from peasant stock. The Senate in particular, always saw him as a Barbarian and he only won Roman citizenship after Caracalla’s edict of 212. Maximinus was only able to lead a career in public life after his hugely successful military career rising from the position of common soldier to the commander of a legion. His success was helped by his immense personal strength. He joined the army in the reign of Septimus Severus, but was promoted to general by Severus Alexander. When Alexander’s troops grew angry at his tactic of buying peace with the German troops, they nominated Maximinus as emperor. After Alexander’s death he was accepted by the Praetorian Guard and then, begrudgingly, by the Senate. Because of his low birth, Maximinus hated the nobility who he regularly accused of plotting against him, often because they were. In his first year he defeated two plots to kill him alone. By 238 many across the empire were still unhappy with their new emperor and with the election in the east of two rival emperors, Gordian I and his son Gordian II, the Crisis of the Third Century Began. This crisis, which all but saw the collapse of the Roman Empire was the result of three crises. One, invasion. Two, political civil war. Three, economic collapse. When the Gordions were elected in the east, the Senate changed allegiance straight away. Maximinus was in Sirmium but immediately headed back for Rome. Troops in the east meanwhile attacked the stronghold of Gordion, killing his son in battle and forcing Gordion I into suicide shortly after. The Senate, having backed a now deceased emperor, panicked and elected two Senators, Pupienus and Balbinus as co-emperors. This in turn, was unpopular with the Roman people who rejected the notion of two senatorial aristocrats taking over the position of power. When Maximinus reached Rome it closed its gates and he laid siege to the city. Both sides suffered and many of Maximinus’ troops deserted him. When famine arrived with disease, he was assassinated along with his household in May 238. Maximinus’ severed head was placed on a pole and carried into Rome.

Gordian I

Marcus Aurelius Gordianus Sempronianus Romanus Africanus was born in Phrygia in 159 AD. His family were of equestrian rank and related to two senators. Gordian was successful in military matters and commanded the legion in Syria. He entered the Senate comparatively late, but served time as governor of Britain and became consul during the reign of Elagabalus. When Maximinus Thrax became emperor in 235, Gordian was proconsul in Africa. Maximinus was unpopular throughout the emperor and with tensions rising, the local aristocracy asked Gordion to become emperor. At first he refused citing his old age, but he conceded on the condition that his son, Gordian II, was co-emperor with him. By March 238, Gordian was in Carthage amidst great support. Gordian sent a message to Rome seeking the support of the Senate who confirmed him and his son as emperor on the 2nd April 238 AD. Unfortunately, for Gordian, Capelianus of nearby Numida was a loyal supported of Maximinus Thrax. Capelianus raised an army and invaded the African province where at the battle of Carthage, Gordian’s son was killed. Thirty-six days after becoming emperor, Gordian I hanged himself with his belt.

Gordian II

Marcus Antonius Gordianus Sempronianus Romanus Africanus Augustus was born in northern Africa in 192 AD. He was the only son of Gordian I a modest but wealthy Roman citizen. Gordian II served as a Quaestor during the reign of Elagabalus before taking on the positions of praetor and consul during the reign of Alexander Severus. In 237 AD, he was under the command of his father as proconsul in Africa. After Maximinus Thrax seized power in 235 AD, the local elites persuaded Gordian’s father to become emperor. Gordian only accepted on the condition that his son, Gordian share the position. The Senate who had never supported Maximinus soon switched their allegiance to the Gordians. Before they could secure their position, however, Capelianus, governor of Numidia and supporter of Maximinus, forced them into battle at Carthage, Gordian II fought at the head of an army made up mostly of untrained and untested soldiers. The battle was a disaster and many soldiers died including Gordian whose body was never recovered. After the defeat his father, Gordian I, committed suicide.


Marcus Clodius Pupienus Maximus Augustus was born in Rome in 165 AD. Despite being the son of a blacksmith, Pupienus rose through the ranks of public life thanks to a highly successful military career. He took a number of positions under the various members of the Severan dynasty including that of imperial legate to the German provinces. He became consul for the first time in 207 AD and again in 234 AD in the final year of the reign of Severus Alexander. He also served as prefect of Rome a role in which he was very harsh and thus unpopular with the Roman mob. During the year of six emperors, 238 AD, the senate switched allegiance from Maximinus Thrace to Gordian I and his son Gordian II. When the Gordian’s were defeated by supporters of Maximinus, the Senate was thus forced to re-assign their allegiance. Rather than revert back to Maximinus they selected members of the Senate, Pupienus and Balbinus, to be installed as co-emperors. Despite being intelligent choices – both were mature and experienced across the empire – neither Pupienus nor Balbinus were popular with the Roman people who distrusted the Senatorial class. Pupienus first moved to Ravenna where he was able to defeat Maximinus who was assassinated by his own soldiers outside Aquileia. But back in Rome, Balbinus had not been able to maintain order at all. Both emperors lived in separate quarters in the palace, increasingly paranoid and fearful of plots. At once point Pupienus was concerned for their safety and recommended Balbinus take a German bodyguard. Balbinus, however, thought this was a plot to have him assassinated and refused. The two emperors began to argue but the Praetorians overran the palace, dragging both men to their barracks where the executed them with swords.


Decimus Caelius Calvinus Balbinus Pius Augusts was born in Alexandria in 178 AD. Balbinus was of an aristocratic background, with his father, Caelius Calvinus also of the order of Salii priests of Mars. He was consul first in 203 AD and then again as a colleague of Caracalla in 213 AD. He was admired in Rome for his oratory and poetry and as a senator was considered to be a wise and thoughtful jurist. When the Senate leant its support to the Gordians over Maximinus, they were compromised after both Gordians died. Reluctant to return their favour to Maximinus they adopted two of their own number Pupienus and Balbinus to rule as co-emperors. Both were mature and widely experienced in imperial administration. Pupienus left for Ravenna to defeat Maximinus, leaving Balbinus to keep control in Rome. In this task he proved singularly incapable, especially when faced by a mob unhappy to see two senators installed as emperor. On Pupienus’ return, Balbinus grew increasingly suspicious of his co-emperor who he suspected of plotting to overthrow him. While living in different parts of the same palace the two emperors began arguing and were eventually dragged away by the Praetorian guard on the 29th July 238 AD, and later executed in the Praetorian barracks. Balbinus’ greatest legacy is his sarcophagus which is one of only two Roman imperial sarcophagus of its type to have survived.

Gordian III

Marcus Antonius Gordianus Pius Augustus was born on the 20th January 225 AD. His maternal grandfather was Gordian I, whose name he took. During the year of six emperors, and after the deaths of his grandfather and uncle (Gordian I and Gordian II), some within the Senate were reluctant to nominate Pupienus and Balbinus as emperor and instead promoted the grandson of Gordian I, suggesting his rise to Caesar and imperial heir. At the time Gordian was only thirteen years old, but after the chaos of Pupienus and Balbinus’ rule and with Maximinus, and both Gordian I and II dead, Gordian III was named as sole emperor in June 238 AD. At thirteen Gordian III was the youngest ever sole emperor. Because of this Rome continued to be governed by the Senate. In 241, Gordian was married to Furia Sabina Tranquillina, whose father Timesitheus was already the chief of the Praetorian Guard and became from then on the effective emperor. During Gordian’s reign the northern and eastern borders of the empire faced increasing attacks, from Germanic tribes and Persian armies respectively. In 243, the Sassanid army was successfully driven back across the Euphrates at the battle of Resaena. Gordian, now seventeen joined the campaign himself but Timesitheus died in suspicious circumstances and the emperor’s security was immediately uncertain. Despite this the campaign continued. A large Persian assault was launched in February 244 and after a major battle at Misiche, Gordian III also died. His body was returned to Rome and he was deified by the Senate.

Philip I

Marcus Iulius Phillippus Augustus, known as Phillip the Arab, was born in Philippopolis in 204 AD. His brother, Gaius Julius Priscus was a member of the Praetorian Guard under Gordian III and largely responsible for Phillip’s rise to power. During Gordian III’s campaign in Persia, his father-in-law and prefect of the Praetorian guard, Timesitheus died suddenly. With his brother’s assistance, Phillip became the new prefect of the Praetorian Guard. Priscus had the intention of controlling the young Gordian with him and Phillip ruling as regents. When Gordian III died during battle in 244, Phillip assumed the role of emperor. Phillip knew that to secure his position he had to return to Rome and win the support of the Senate. To do so he had to negotiate a peace with the Persian at the cost of territory to their leader Shapur I. The peace cost Phillip 500,000 gold denarii. Phillip also sent Gordian’s ashes ahead to Rome and arranged for his deification. Leaving his brother to manage matters in the east, Phillip arrived in Rome in the summer of 244 AD where he was confirmed as Augustus by the Senate. In order to win the long-term support of the Senate, Phillip tried to uphold the traditional role of emperor and embarked on an enormous public building programme, and littering the empire with statues of himself. To pay for these measures, however, he was forced to raise taxes as well as ceasing to make payments to the tribes north of the Danube that were necessary for keeping the peace on the northern frontier. Almost immediately tribes from outside the empire began to make forays across the Danube. Philip claimed one victory in 246. Back in Rome Phillip was able to oversee the celebrations for the thousandth year anniversary of the founding of Rome by Romulus in 753 BC. At a celebratory games in the Coliseum, more than a thousand gladiators were killed alongside a host of exotic animals. Phillip also used the celebrations to elevate his son to the position of co-emperor. By 248 AD, however, the legions of Pannonia and Moesia had had enough of Phillip and proclaimed Tiberius Claudius Pacatianus as emperor. At the same time the Goths crossed the Danube and laid siege to Marcianopolis. There were also further rebellions in the east at the oppressive rule of Phillip’s brother, Priscus and its taxation. The Senate remained loyal to the emperor but sent Gaius Messius Quintus Decius to quell the disturbances and after his success in doing so he was declared emperor by the armies on the Danube in 249 AD. Decius immediately marched on Rome and met Phillip’s army that summer. Decius had an army twice that of Phillip’s and easily won the battle, during which Phillip was killed by his own soldiers. His son and heir was also killed and his brother disappeared.

Trajan Decius

Caesar Gaius Messius Quintus Traianus Decius Augustus was born in Budalia in 201 AD. Decius rose through the ranks to live an active public life as a senator. He was consul first in 232 AD and later served as governor of Moesia and Germania Inferior between 235 and 238 AD. During the reign of Phillip the Arab he held the position of urban prefect of Rome. During the troubles along the Danube and in light of his previous experience in the region, Decius was despatched by the then emperor Phillip the Arab to calm the riots there in 248. Decius was successful in this task, and his troops responded to this success by naming his emperor. This forced Phillip into battle, where he was defeated by Decius’ far superior army in September 249 AD. Decius inherited an empire riven with conflict and invasion. He planned to combat this by strengthening the state and securing a higher moral standing through the proper adherence to State religion, in opposition to the rising Christian cult. In January 250 AD, Decius issued an edict that required all Roman citizens to make a sacrifice before the magistrates of their community in order to testify that they held no other faith. Decius would collect evidence to check that his subjects had obeyed the edict. The edict caused a huge crisis in the growing Christian world with the cult of Christianity uncertain as to how to deal with the requirement to make a sacrifice towards the imperial religion. Anyone who refused to make the sacrifice faced torture and execution. Meanwhile, Decius faced further hostility from the Goths in the north who again crossed the Danube. They finally met the Roman legions at the battle of Arbitus in June 251 AD. Early on in the fighting, Decius’ own son was killed by an arrow. Decius tried to use the event to rally the support of his men but he later found himself trapped in a swamp and was killed during the fight. Decius was the first Roman Emperor to die whilst fighting a foreign enemy.


Gaius Valens Hostillianus Messius Quintus Augustus was born in Sirmium in 230 AD. His father was emperor Decius and Hostilian’s older brother Herennius was treated as the heir and successor to the imperial crown. In 251 Decius and Herennius set off on campaign against the Goths, leaving Hostillian in Rome. The campaign was a disaster and both Decius and Herennius died in the fighting. The legions immediately declared Trebonianus Gallus as emperor but the Senate and Rome promoted Hostillian. Trebonianus was a well-renowned general but decided to respect the will of the Senate. Unfortunately, in the autumn of 251 the Plague of Cyprian broke out and Hostilian died of the disease. He was the first emperor to die from natural causes for over forty years.

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Trebonianus Gallus

Gaius Vibius Afinius Trebonianus Gallus Augustus was born in Italy in 206 AD. His family were of aristocratic stock and his marriage to Afinia Gemina Baebiana brought him a son Volusianus. Gallus followed a standard political career taking both administrative and military positions across the empire. He was elected consul in 240 and became governor of Moesia in 250 AD. When Emperor Decius and his son and heir Herennius died at the Battle of Abrittus, the Senate declared Decius’ younger son, Hostilian, as emperor. The legions, however, had already declared Gallus as emperor. Initially Gallus chose to support the senate, but when Hostillian died during the Plague of Cyprian, he made peace with the Goths and mad arrangements to march on Rome. Gallus’ short reign is best know for the persecution of Christians, largely off the back of Decius’ edict from 250 AD that required all citizens to make a sacrifice to Roman gods before magistrates. Gallus also faced further invasion in the east and lost ground to the Persian Emperor Shapur I at Barbalissos in 253 AD. Hostilities continued in the east until Aemilianus, governor of Moesia, took control and defeated the Goths. By this time Gallus had lost the trust of the army who were already turning towards the newly successful Aemilianus. Gallus frantically recalled legions to Rome from Gaul in preparation for a fight, but Aemilianus met Gallus at Interamna. In August 253 AD, both emperor Gallus and his son, Volusianus were killed by their own troops who transferred their allegiance to Aemilianus.


Marcus Aemilius Aemilianus Augustus was born in 207 AD at Girba, northern Africa. He hailed from Moorish stock and became embroiled in the Roman administration as a man. During the reign of Gallus he was placed in command of an army in the Balkans. By the time he secured power, Gallus had lost the support of the legions, mostly because of the humiliating treaty he signed with the Goths to allow him to return to Rome and secure his position as emperor. By this stage Aemilian was already plotting to overthrow the emperor. After he defeated the Goths in a surprise attack, which left his soldiers handsomely rewarded with booty, Aemilian was proclaimed emperor. Aemilian immediately moved towards Rome where he met emperor Gallus along the Flaminian Way at Interana Nahars. Aemilian won the battle and both Gallus and his son were slain by their own troops to demonstrate their loyalty to Aemilian. On reaching Rome, Aemilian was declared emperor by the Senate in return for Aemilian’s promise to fight for the empire in Thrace and Persia. To secure his reputation and popularity, Aemilian launched a propaganda campaign that sought to emphasise his military prowess particularly over the Goths who many recent emperors had had to do enter treaties with to maintain peace. By the summer of 253 AD, however, only months into his reign, the governor of the Rhine province, Valerian was assembling a rival army and moving south. Fearful of still further civil war, Aemilian’s men mutinied and joined Valerian’s much larger force. Aemilian himself was killed at Sanguinarium Bridge between Oriculum and Narnia, in July of 253 AD. On his death Aemilian was declared a damnatio memoriae and his brief reign was summaries by Eutopius as: “Aeimilanus came from an extremely insignificant family, his reign was even more insignificant, and he was slain in the third month.”


Publius Licinius Valerianus Augustus was born in 200 AD. Unlike his predecessors Valerian was of undisputed noble stock and enjoyed the education befitting someone from the senatorial classes. He became consul for the first time in 238 AD and was made princeps senatus in 238 AD. Under Gallus he was appointed dux of an army whose legions were stationed in the north defending against the German provinces. When Gallus faced the rebellion of Aemilianus it was to the legions attached to Valerian that he turned for support. Valerian headed south but his progress was far to slow to save Gallus, who was killed by his own troops. Valerian’s soldiers proclaimed him emperor and he continued south, defeating Aemilianus whose legions defected to Valerian. Being of senatorial class, Valerian was quickly found the support of the Senate who confirmed his election to emperor in October 253 AD. Valerian’s first action on the 22nd October, 253 was to appoint his son, Gallienus, as Caesar, making him his heir. By this time Antioch had fallen to Sassanid and Armenia was under the occupation of Shapur I. Valerian left Galliaenus in charge of the western empire and headed east to battle the Persians. Between 254 and 257, Valerian managed to recover Antioch and regain control of the Syrian province. During this period Valerian became known for his persecution of Christians. He enforced edicts requiring everyone, including Christian clergy, to make sacrifices to Roman Gods or face exile. By 257 he was ordering the execution of Christian leaders and any Christian practice could result in loss of property and title. Those executed under Valerian’s orders include, Cyprian bishop of Carthage, Pope Sixtus of Rome, and Lawrence of Rome. In 260 AD, still fighting in the east, Valerian lost a devastating battle at Edessa. At the truce to negotiate a peace settlement, the Persian Shapur betrayed Valerian’s trust and had him captured. Valerian remained in Persian captivity for the rest of his life. Valerian’s ultimate death under Persian captivity was gruesome and unpleasant. Once dead his body was skinned and stuffed with straw so that it could be kept as a relic in a Persian temple.


Publius Licinius Egnatius Gallienus Augustus was born in 218 AD. His father was emperor Valerian who was the only emperor to be held captive by an enemy of the empire. From the moment of his father’s elevation, Valerian asked that his son Gallienus also be made Caesar Augustus. Gallienus and his father divided the empire in to and while Valerian went to the east, Gallienus was responsible for the threat of the Germanic tribes along the Rhine and Danube. Gallienus proved a capable ruler and a competent military leader. He successful kept many of the Germanic tribes at bay. In 260, with Valerian still in the east and Gallienus occupied in the north, a general named Ingenuus decided to proclaim himself emperor. With his father now in captivity in the east, Gallienus acted fast, crossing the Balkans to defeat Ingenuus at Mursda. Almost immediately, Gallienus was forced back to the German border to contend with German tribes who had used his absence as an excuse for invasion. Gallienus also faced the revolt of Regalianus, another military commander who proclaimed himself emperor in 260 AD. Gallienus was able to use the Germanic tribes to his advantage, allowing the Roxolani to attack Regialanus’ forces and bring about his death. After the defeat of Valerian’s army at Edessa, Valerian was taken prison by Shapur. Two further Roman generals, again emboldened by victory in battle, named their sons, Quietus and Macrianus, as emperors, but Gallienus was still in the north of the empire and could not deal with the usurpation directly. In the next few years Gallienus, who was now ruling the empire alone, faced further revolts from general Postumus, Aemilianus, and Aureolus. Many of these revolts were driven by the increased difficulty of preventing invasion of the empire. It was during the revolt of Aureolus, a cavalry commander, that Gallienus lost his life. During the siege of Pontirolo Nuovo, Gallienus heard that Aureolus had mustered forces and left his tent without his bodyguard. He was immediately killed by Cecropius, commander of the Dalmatians. In Rome the Senate called for the execution of Gallienus’ family, but the new emperor Claudius halted the executions and saved their lives.

Claudius Gothicus

Marcus Aurelius Valerius Claudius Augustus, known as Claudius Gothicus, was born in Sirmium on the 10th of May, 213 AD. Claudius was of barbarian birth and only advanced in life through a prominent military career, ultimately becoming commander of the elite cavalry under emperor Gallienus. When Gallienus was slain at the siege of Pontirolo Nuovo, Claudius was proclaimed emperor by his troops. The Senate confirmed the election and Claudius personally intervened to halt the execution of Gallienus’ family. Claudius was physically very strong and once knocked out a horse with a single punch. Gallienus left an empire split into three zones, with arrangements, variously ratified, for the subordinate governance of the various provinces. The empire was also vulnerable to attack from several angles, including Germania to the north and the Persians to the east. In 268 AD, Claudius achieved a remarkable feat at the Battle of Naissus where his legions comprehensively routed the Goths. This victory earned Claudius the surname Gothica. Later that same year, Claudius achieved an equally impressive victory over the Alamanni at the battle of Lake Benacus. In less than a year Claudius had laid a firm foundation for the consolidation of the empire’s vulnerabilities in the north. Unfortunately, however, he fell ill in late 269 and died in January 270 as a victim of the Plague of Cyprian. On his deathbed, he named his cavalry commander, Aurelian as emperor. Claudius was deified by the senate.


Marcus Aurelius Claudius Quintilus Augustus was born in Sirmium in 220 AD. He was the younger brother of emperor Claudius Gothicus and only rose in public life due to his brother’s success as a military commander and ultimately emperor. In 268, Quintillus was made Procurator of Sardinia by his emperor brother. When Claudius died in 270 due to the Cyprian Plague, Quintillus was named emperor by the soldiers stationed under him in Sardinia. His reign lasted only 17 days. Having named his cavalry commander, Aurelian as his successor, Claudius did not intend for his brother to become emperor. The legions soon threw their support behind the capable commander Aurelian. With the news of his approach, Quintillus brought his reign to an abrupt end when he opened his veins and bled to death.


Lucius Domitius Aurelianus Augustus was born in Sirmium on the 9th September 214 AD. He was of humble origins with his father a peasant farmer and his mother a freedwoman. His mother was also from the clan of Sol Invictus and herself took on the role of priestess in the village where Aurelian grew up. Aurelian joined the army in 235 AD at the age of 20 and like his predecessor Claudius Gothicus built up a strong catalogue of military skills and gained a reputation as a fearless commander. Under Gallienus he was promoted to the position of cavalry officer, a battalion of which he became commander under Claudius Gothicus. He played a crucial role in Claudius’ military successes in 268 and 269 AD. Claudius named Aurelian as his heir, but Claudius’ brother Quintillus seized power. The legions, however, refused to recognize his authority and Quintillus committed suicide. Aurelian inherited an empire weakened after two decades of war. The eastern provinces were now under the protectorate of quasi-independent rulers and the western empire around Gaul was also ruled as its own autonomous state. These divisions were mostly the result of various emperors’ attempts to deal with repeated invasions. Aurelian devoted his reign to securing the borders and re-unifying the empire, first in the east, between 272 and 274 AD, then in Gaul, in 274 AD. Aurelian also set about a programme of public building, and further strengthened the position of the Sol Invictus as the central deity for the whole empire. On his coins Aurelian appeared with the title, deus et dominates a manner later adopted by Diocletian. He persecuted many Christians throughout his reign. In 275 AD, Aurelian embarked on another campaign, this time in the east where the death of Shapur I in 272 AD, offered new opportunities. Sadly, Aurelian never reached Persia, and was murdered in Thrace by an officer of the Praetorian Guard. Aurelian was unpopular with the senate and made damnatio memoriae on his death.


Marcus Claudius Tacitus Augustus was born in Interamna in 200 AD. Tacitus was brought up in Rome and entered the Senate in 260 AD. He was also a priest of the Sol Invictus, but distanced himself from the cult of the sun god under emperor Aurelian. After Aurelian’s murder, Tacitus was chosen by the Senate as the new emperor. Tacitus moved to secure his position, forcing the Senate to renege on their damnatio memoriae and executing Aurelian’s murderers. His first move as emperor was to deal with the barbarian mercenaries that had been recruited by Aurelian and then left in the eastern empire. Tacitus led the legions himself and won a victory in 276 AD. Later that same year, while crossing the empire to deal with the Frankish invasion of Gaul, Tacitus died of a fever in Cappadocia in June 276 AD.


Marcus Annius Florianus Augustus was born in Intermna in 205 AD. He was the half brother of emperor Tacitus and was appointed as prefect of the Praetorian guard by his brother-emperor. When Tacitus died of a fever in 276 AD, the legion named Florian as Augustus but he never won the support of the senate. In retaliation the eastern legions named Probus as emperor. Forced into conflict the rival emperors met at Cilicia. Florian’s army was much larger, but he lacked military skill and Probus was able to secure victory. Once it was clear that they were losing, Florian was killed by his own troops. He was emperor for only 88 days.


Marcus Aurelius Probus Augustus was born in Sirmium on the 19th of August, 232 AD. He was of comparatively humble stock and joined the army in 250 AD as a military tribune to emperor Valerian. He earned glory for himself under emperors Aurelian and Tacitus and was appointed governor of the east by Tacitus in 275 AD. On Tacitus’ death, Probus’ eastern legions proclaimed him emperor. In the west, meanwhile Florian, Tactius’ brother, was proclaimed emperor. The two armies met in 276 AD and Probus’ smaller, but better managed force prevailed. From this victory Probus travelled West and earned the title Gothicus after defeating the Goths in 277 AD. In 278 AD, he launched a successful campaign in Gaul and drove the barbarian tribes (Franks and Burgundians) back towards the Rhine. Probus was an active military commander and never let his soldiers lie idle, forcing them to engage in public works such as draining marshes when not fighting. Between 279 and 280 AD, he fought against the Vandals before finally arriving in Rome in 281 AD where he was greeted with great fanfare and pomp. With problems in the east, Probus could not stay in Rome for long. He left in 282 and soon after his departure, the commander of the Praetorian Guard, Marcus Aurelius Carus, proclaimed himself emperor. Probus’ own troops saw many of the other legions defect to Carus in opposition to Probus’ proactive style of leadership. They rebelled against Probus in 282 and killed him.


Marcus Aurelius Carus Augustus was born in Narbo in 224 AD. He grew up in Rome and was educated as a senator with civil and military appointments. By 282 AD he was made prefect of the Praetorian Guard by emperor Probus. When Carus left Rome to campaign in the east, Carus’ own troops declared him emperor and Probus troops soon defected to Carus’ rule. After securing his position by naming his two sons, Numerian and Carinus as Caesar, Carus launched an offensive on the Danube defeating both the Qudi and the Sarmatians. From there he moved on to Thrace and Asia Minor to launch a campaign against the Sassanids. Carus achieved great victories reclaiming much of the territory lost in previous decades. The campaign was cut short, however, by Carus’ sudden death after being struck by lightning.


Marcus Aurelius Numerius Numerianus Augustus was born in Narbo in 260 AD. His father, Carus, became emperor in 282 AD and named Carinus and his brother Numerian as Caesar in January 283 AD. Leaving his older brother Carinus in charge of the western empire, Numerian travelled with his father on campaign in the east. Victories were enjoyed over the Sassanid Empire, but they were short lived when Emperor Carus was struck by lightning and later died. His death left Numerian and his brother Carinus as joint emperors. Carinus remained in the west, returning to Rome in January 284 AD. By March 284 AD, Numerian was in Emesa, Syria. Numerian continued to travel in a closed litter, but his troops smelled a strange smell in the coach and on opening it found their new emperor’s decaying body. When news of his death broke, the legions declared Diocletian, the cavalry commander as the new emperor.


Marcus Aurelius Carinus Augustus’s father, Carus, became emperor in 282 AD and named Carinus and his brother Numerian as Caesar in January 283 AD. Carus left his older son, Carinus, to rule the western half of the empire and embarked to the east where he won several victories but unfortunately died in 283 AD. This left his two sons as joint emperors. Carinus was based in the west and had success with repelling the Quadi tribes of the German region. Carinus was fond of life’s excesses, but in 284 AD Numerian was found dead and after claims by Diocletian that the emperor had been assassinated, Diocletian himself was declared emperor. Carinus left Rome and rode east to meet Diocletian. They held a battle at the Margus and despite winning, Carinus was assassinated by a tribune whose wife he had seduced. Carinus was one of the worst emperors ever to live and was proclaimed Damnatio Memoriae on his death.


Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus Augustus was born in Salona on the 22nd of December 244 AD. He hailed from lowly stock and his father was a freedman, but Diocletian saw success in the army and was appointed commander of the elite cavalry by Emperor Carus in 282 AD. Diocletian was with Carus and Numerian on the Persian campaign that saw Emperor Carus struck by lightning. When Numerian was subsequently found dead in his coach, Diocletian killed the assassin, Aper, and was proclaimed emperor by the soldiers. Diocletian moved west, and met the unpopular Carinus at the river Margus. Despite suffering in battle, Carinus was killed by one his soldiers who was unhappy with the emperor’s seduction of his wife. Diocletian was confirmed as emperor. His early rule was dominated by further campaigns along the Roman borders. He briefly entered Rome in 285 AD, but was back on campaign by November, fighting against the Sarmatians. Diocletian knew that with the vast size of the empire, solo rule was dangerous (both Aurelian and Probus had been defeated). In 285 AD, Diocletian made his fellow cavalry officer, Maximian co-emperor. This allowed the empire to be defended in both the east and the west, with Maximian sent to Gaul and Diocletian moving east into Persia. In 293, after several more campaigns, Diocletian added a third ruler, by transferring the command of the war in the west from Maximian to Flavius Constantius, a former governor of Dalmatia. This arrangement formed what is known as the Tetrarchy. All the emperors were joined by blood and marriage, with Diocletian and Maximian styling themselves as brothers. Much of Diocletian’s rule was spent managing the empire’s defences and regaining land lost to marauding neighbours. From 294, there was an extensive war in Persia. Many romans believed the misfortunes were the result of the cult of Christianity and Diocletian initiated a purge of many Christians across the empire. Now based in Antioch, Diocletian became more militant, ordering that tongues of Christian rulers be removed and ordering a church at Nicomedia to be destroyed in 303 AD. Later that same year, Diocletian’s imperial palace caught fire. Christians were again blamed and endured terrible deaths, with salt and vinegar poured on open wounds and many boiled slowly to death. Diocletian returned to Rome in 303 AD. He did not remain in the city but retreated to the countryside. Rumours abounded that he had died and that his death was being kept secret. He had not died, however, even if he had been very sick; when he appeared in public in March 205 he was emaciated. Eventually Diocletian was convinced to abdicate on health grounds. On the 1st of May, 305 AD, Diocletian addressed the crowd in Rome and explained his abdication. He was the first Roman emperor to ever voluntarily give up his title. Diocletian retired to his native Dalmatia and moved into the huge palace and its heavily fortified compound. He lived for three more years and spent his days in the palace gardens, watching on as the stability he had given the empire, fell apart. Already weakened by illness, he committed suicide on the 3rd of December 311 AD.