With Augustus Caesar, we see the beginning of the Roman Empire period of history. In place of Senators and Consuls running everything, Rome now has Emperors. In chronological order they were:
Table of Contents
- 1 Julio-Claudian Dynasty (27 BCE - 68 CE)
- 2 Year of the Four Emperors (68-69)
- 3 Flavian Dynasty (69-95)
- 4 Nerva–Antonine Dynasty (96-192)
- 5 Year of the Five Emperors (192-193)
- 6 Severan Dynasty (193-235)
- 7 Crisis of the Third Century (235-306)
- 8 Constantine the Great 306-337
- 9 Theodosius I 379-395
- 10 References
Julio-Claudian Dynasty (27 BCE - 68 CE)
Considered a capable ruler, but achieved unpopularity when he retired to the small island of Capri, as rumours were circulated of abominable vices committed there, which appalled the people of Rome.
Apparently was quite insane, and was murdered by his servants.
Hardworking, capable administrator. He saw to the expansion of the western border with the annexation of South Britain. Died of poisoning by his wife, Nero, his adopted son's, mother.
Aside from killing his mother and his first wife, and various other abominations, he is probably best known for playing a violin at a time when Rome was in flames. What really seems to have done him end however, was a military disaster in 61 when a warrior queen by the name of Boadicea inflicted the Roman army with a number of defeats. The earthquake in southern Italy didn't exactly help either. He was declared a public enemy by Rome and was deposed, resulting in his suicide very soon after. This caused a power vacuum and the civil war of 68-69, finally stabilised by Vespasian.
Year of the Four Emperors (68-69)
Flavian Dynasty (69-95)
Seized power after the Year of the Four Emperors and set up his own dynasty. Considered a good emperor by most of the people.
North Britain annexed in 84.
Nerva–Antonine Dynasty (96-192)
Annexed Armenia, Assyria and Mesopotamia. The empire reached its maximum size during his reign.
Lost Trajan's territorial acquisitions along with North Britain. Had Hadrian's Wall constructed for the purpose of keeping North Britain separate from South Britain.
Antoninus Pius (138-160)
Marcus Aurelius (161-180)
Year of the Five Emperors (192-193)
The Year of the Five Emperors refers to the year 193, in which there were five claimants for the title of Roman Emperor. The five were Pertinax, Didius Julianus, Pescennius Niger, Clodius Albinus and Septimius Severus.
The year 193 opened with the murder of Commodus on New Year's Eve, 31 December 192 and the proclamation of the City Prefect Pertinax as Emperor on New Year's Day, 1 January 193. Pertinax was assassinated by the Praetorian Guard on 28 March 193. Later that day, Didius Julianus outmanoeuvered Titus Flavius Sulpicianus (Pertinax's father-in-law and also the new City Prefect) for the title of Emperor.
Flavius Sulpicianus offered to pay each soldier 20,000 sestertii to buy their loyalty (eight times their annual salary; also the same amount offered by Marcus Aurelius to secure their favours in 161). Didius Julianus however offered 25,000 to each soldier to win the auction and was proclaimed Emperor by the Roman Senate on 28 March.
However, three other prominent Romans challenged for the throne: Pescennius Niger in Syria, Clodius Albinus in Britain, and Septimius Severus in Pannonia. Septimius Severus marched on Rome to oust Didius Julianus and had him decapitated on 1 June 193, then dismissed the Praetorian Guard and executed the soldiers who had killed Pertinax.
Consolidating his power, Septimius Severus battled Pescennius Niger at Cyzicus and Nicea in 193 and then decisively defeated him at Issus in 194. Clodius Albinus initially supported Septimius Severus believing that he would succeed him. When he realised that Severus had other intentions, Albinus had himself declared Emperor in 195 but was defeated by Septimius Severus at the Battle of Lugdunum on 19 February 197.
Severan Dynasty (193-235)
Started by Septimius Severus ruling alone, it gets a little messy figuring out who is doing what as the members were not above sharing the rulership with each other.
In contrast to previous Italian ruling dynasties, the Severan dynasty were mostly of Near-Eastern (Phoenician, Syrian, Arab, Aramean) and North African (Libyan, Punic, Berber, Carthaginian) origins. It was thus the first non-Italian dynasty to rule over the Roman Empire (paternally, as there was some maternal Italian heritage, from Italian wives), paving the way for later non-Italian emperors who would rule the empire in the coming centuries.
Septimius Severus (193–211)
Lucius Septimius Severus was born to a family of Punic (Phoenician-Berber) equestrian rank in the Roman province of Africa proconsularis. He born in present-day Libya to a father of Punic origin and a mother of Italian origin. He rose through military service to consular rank under the later Antonines. Proclaimed emperor in 193 by his legionaries in Noricum during the political unrest that followed the death of Commodus, he secured sole rule over the empire in 197 after defeating his last rival, Clodius Albinus, at the Battle of Lugdunum.
Severus fought a successful war against the Parthians and campaigned with success against barbarian incursions in Roman Britain, rebuilding Hadrian's Wall. In Rome, his relations with the Senate were poor, but he was popular with the commoners, as with his soldiers, whose salary he raised. Starting in 197, the influence of his Praetorian prefect Gaius Fulvius Plautianus was a negative influence; the latter was executed in 205. One of Plautianus's successors was the jurist Aemilius Papinianus. Severus continued official persecution of Christians and Jews, as they were the only two groups who would not assimilate their beliefs to the official syncretistic creed.
The eldest son of Severus, he was born Lucius Septimius Bassianus in Lugdunum, Gaul. "Caracalla" was a nickname referring to the Gallic hooded tunic he habitually wore even when he slept. Upon his father's death, Caracalla was proclaimed co-emperor with his brother Geta. Conflict between the two culminated in the assassination of the latter. Reigning alone, Caracalla was noted for lavish bribes to the legionaries and unprecedented cruelty, authorizing numerous assassinations of perceived enemies and rivals. He campaigned with indifferent success against the Alamanni. The Baths of Caracalla in Rome are the most enduring monument of his rule. He was assassinated while en route to a campaign against the Parthians by a Praetorian Guard.
Younger son of Severus, Geta was made co-emperor with his older brother Caracalla upon his father's death. Unlike the much more successful joint reign of Marcus Aurelius and his brother Lucius Verus in the previous century, relations were hostile between the two Severid brothers from the very start. Geta was assassinated in his mother's apartments by order of Caracalla, who thereafter ruled as sole Augustus.
M.M. Opelius Macrinus was born in 164 at Caesarea, present-day Algeria, and was of Berber (native North African) origin. Although coming from a humble background that was not dynastically related to the Severan dynasty, he rose through the imperial household until, under the emperor Caracalla, he was made Prefect of the Praetorian Guard. On account of the cruelty and treachery of the emperor, Macrinus became involved in a conspiracy to kill him, and ordered the Praetorian Guard to do so. On April 8, 217, Caracalla was assassinated traveling to Carrhae. Three days later, Macrinus was declared Augustus.
His most significant early decision was to make peace with the Parthians, but many thought that the terms were degrading to the Romans. However, his downfall was his refusal to award the pay and privileges promised to the eastern troops by Caracalla. He also kept those forces wintered in Syria, where they became attracted to the young Elagabalus. After months of mild rebellion by the bulk of the army in Syria, Macrinus took his loyal troops to meet the army of Elagabalus near Antioch. Despite a good fight by the Praetorian Guard, his soldiers were defeated. Macrinus managed to escape ito Chalcedon but his authority was lost: he was betrayed and executed after a short reign of just 14 months.
M. Opelius Diadumenianus was the son of Macrinus, born in 208. He was given the title Caesar in 217, when his father became Emperor. After his father's defeat outside Antioch, he tried to escape east to Parthia, but was captured and killed before he could achieve this.
Born Varius Avitus Bassianus on May 16, 205, known later as M. Aurelius Antonius, he was a Syrian appointed at an early age to be priest of the sun God, Elagabalus, represented by a phallus, by which name he is known to historians (his name is sometimes written "Heliogabalus"). He was proclaimed emperor by the troops of Emesa, his hometown, who were instigated to do so by Elagabalus's grandmother, Julia Maesa. She spread a rumor that Elagabalus was the secret son of Caracalla. This revolt spread to the entire Syrian army (which, at the time, was swollen with troops raised by the Emperor Caracalla, and not fully loyal to Macrinus), and eventually they were to win the short struggle that followed by defeating Macrinus at a battle just outside Antioch. Elagabalus was then accepted by the senate, and began the slow journey to Rome.
His reign in Rome has long been known for outrageousness, although the historical sources are few, and in many cases not to be fully trusted. He is said to have smothered guests at a banquet by flooding the room with rose petals, and married one of the vestal virgins.
Later historians suggest Elagabalus showed a disregard for Roman religious traditions and sexual taboos. He replaced the traditional head of the Roman pantheon, Jupiter, with the Syrian deity of whom he was high priest, Elagabal. He forced leading members of Rome's government to participate in religious rites celebrating this deity, over which he personally presided. Elagabalus was married as many as five times, lavished favors on courtiers popularly thought to have been his lovers, employed a prototype of whoopee cushions at dinner parties, and was reported to have prostituted himself in the imperial palace. His behavior estranged the Praetorian Guard, the Senate, and the common people alike.
The running of the Empire during this time was mainly left to his grandmother and mother (Julia Soamias). Seeing that her grandson's outrageous behavior could mean the loss of power, Julia Maesa persuaded Elagabalus to accept his cousin Alexander Severus as Caesar (and thus the nominal Emperor to be). However, Alexander was popular with the troops, who viewed their new Emperor with dislike: when Elagabalus, jealous of this popularity, removed the title of Caesar from his nephew the enraged Praetorian Guard swore to protect him. Elagabalus had to beg the troops to let him live, and this humiliation could not last for long.
Alexander Severus (222–235)
Born Marcus Julius Gessius Bassianus Alexianus, Alexander was adopted as heir apparent by his slightly older and very unpopular cousin, the Emperor Elagabalus at the urging of the influential and powerful Julia Maesa— who was grandmother of both cousins and who'd arranged for the emperor's acclamation by the Third Legion.
On March 6, 222, when Alexander was just fourteen, a rumor went around the city troops that Alexander had been killed and this triggered his ascension as emperor. The eighteen year-old Emperor Elagabalus and his mother were both taken from the palace, dragged through the streets, murdered and thrown in the river Tiber by the Praetorian Guard, who then proclaimed Alexander Severus as Augustus.
Ruling from the age of fourteen under the influence of his able mother, Julia Avita Mamaea, Alexander restored, to some extent, the moderation that characterized the rule of Septimius Severus. The rising strength of the Sassanid Persian Empire (226–651) heralded perhaps the greatest external challenge that Rome faced in the 3rd century. His prosecution of the war against a German invasion of Gaul led to his overthrow by the troops he was leading there, whose regard the twenty-seven-year-old had lost during the affair.
His death was the epoch event beginning the troubled Crisis of the Third Century where a succession of short-reigning military emperors, revolting generals, and counter claimants presided over governmental chaos, civil war, general instability and great economic disruption. He was succeeded by Maximinus Thrax, the first of a series of weak emperors, each ruling on average only 2 to 3 years, that ended fifty years later with the Emperor Diocletian ordered split between the Eastern and Western Roman Empires.
Crisis of the Third Century (235-306)
With the assassination of Alexander Severus, the last of the Severan Dynasty, the means by which and who becomes ruler changes greatly. Prior to Maximinus Thrax, the emperors had always come from Noble or middle class plebian families. From this point onward a series of Emperors come out of the ranks of the Roman Army. The number of Emperors during this period is not only ridiculously numerous, but many never even last a full year. Nor was entirely unusual for there to be as many as four emperors reigning in a given year, each controlling a different part of the empire. It was not until 306, when Constantine I, was proclaimed Emperor that the Roman Empire finally began the process back to full reunification.
Emperors during the Crisis of the Third Century
|Portrait||Name||Birth||Succession||Reign||Death||Time in Office|
CAESAR GAIVS JVLIVS VERVS MAXIMINVS AVGVSTVS
|c.173 AD, Thrace or Moesia||Proclaimed emperor by German legions after the murder of Severus Alexander||March 20, 235 AD – June 238 AD||June 238 AD
Assassinated by Praetorian Guard
|3 years, 3 month|
CAESAR MARCVS ANTONIVS GORDIANVS SEMPRONIANVS AFRICANVS AVGVSTVS
|c. 159 AD, Phrygia?||Proclaimed emperor, whilst Pro-consul in Africa, during a revolt against Maximinus. Ruled jointly with his son Gordian II, and in opposition to Maximinus. Technically a usurper, but retrospectively legitimised by the accession of Gordian III||March 22, 238 AD – April 12, 238 AD||April 238 AD
Committed suicide upon hearing of the death of Gordian II.
CAESAR MARCVS ANTONIVS GORDIANVS SEMPRONIANVS ROMANVS AFRICANVS AVGVSTVS
|c. 192 AD, ?||Proclaimed emperor, alongside father Gordian I, in opposition to Maximinus by act of the Senate.||March 22, 238 AD – April 12, 238 AD||April 238 AD
Killed during the Battle of Carthage, fighting a pro-Maximinus army
CAESAR MARCVS CLODIVS PVPIENVS MAXIMVS AVGVSTVS
|c. 178 AD, ?||Proclaimed joint emperor with Balbinus by the Senate in opposition to Maximinus; later co-emperor with Balbinus.||April 22, 238 AD – July 29, 238 AD||July 29, 238 AD
Assassinated by the Praetorian Guard
CAESAR DECIMVS CAELIVS CALVINVS BALBINVS PIVS AVGVSTVS
|?||Proclaimed joint emperor with Pupienus by the Senate after death of Gordian I & II, in opposition to Maximinus; later co-emperor with Pupienus and Gordian III||April 22, 238 AD – July 29, 238 AD||July 29, 238 AD
Assassinated by Praetorian Guard
CAESAR MARCVS ANTONIVS GORDIANVS AVGVSTVS
|January 20, 225 AD, Rome||Proclaimed emperor by supporters of Gordian I & II, then by the Senate; joint emperor with Pupienus and Balbinus until July 238 AD.||April 22, 238 AD – February 11, 244 AD||February 11, 244 AD
Unknown; possibly murdered on orders of Philip the Arab
|100px||Philip the Arab (Philip I)
CAESAR MARCVS IVLIVS PHILLIPVS AVGVSTVS
with Philip II
|c. 204 AD, Shahba, Syria||Praetorian Prefect to Gordian III, took power after his death; made his son Philip II co-emperor in summer 247 AD||February 244 AD – September/October 249 AD||September/October 249 AD
Killed in battle against Trajan Decius, near Verona
CAESAR GAIVS MESSIVS QVINTVS TRAIANVS DECIVS AVGVSTVS
with Herennius Etruscus
|c. 201 AD, Budalia, Lower Pannonia||Governor under Philip the Arab; proclaimed emperor by Danubian legions and defeated Philip in battle; made his son Herennius Etruscus co-emperor in early 251 AD||September/ October 249 AD – June 251 AD||June 251 AD
Both killed in the Battle of Abrittus fighting against the Goths
CAESAR CAIVS VALENS HOSTILIANVS MESSIVS QVINTVS AVGVSTVS
|Rome||Son of Trajan Decius, accepted as heir by the Senate||June 251 AD – late 251 AD||September/October 251 AD
Natural causes (Plague)
CAESAR GAIVS VIBIVS TREBONIANVS GALLVS AVGVSTVS
|206 AD, Italia||Governor of Moesia Superior, proclaimed emperor by Danubian legions after Trajan Decius's death (and in opposition to Hostilian); made his son Volusianus co-emperor in late 251 AD.||June 251 AD – August 253 AD||August 253 AD
Assassinated by their own troops, in favour of Aemilian
CAESAR MARCVS AEMILIVS AEMILIANVS AVGVSTVS
|c. 207 AD Africa||Governor of Moesia Superior, proclaimed emperor by Danubian legions after defeating the Goths; accepted as emperor after death of Gallus||August 253 AD – October 253 AD||September/October 253 AD
Assassinated by his own troops, in favour of Valerian
CAESAR PVBLIVS LICINIVS VALERIANVS AVGVSTVS
|c. 195 AD||Governor of Noricum and Raetia, proclaimed emperor by Rhine legions after death of Gallus; accepted as emperor after death of Aemilian||October 253 AD – 260 AD||After 260 AD
Captured in Battle of Edessa against Persians, died in captivity
CAESAR PVBLIVS LICINIVS EGNATIVS GALLIENVS AVGVSTVS
|218 AD||Son of Valerian, made co-emperor in 253 AD; his son Saloninus is very briefly co-emperor in c. July before assassination by Postumus.||October 253 AD – September 268 AD||September 268 AD
Murdered at Aquileia by his own commanders.
CAESAR MARCVS AVRELIVS CLAVDIVS AVGVSTVS
|May 10, 213 AD/214 AD, Sirmium||Victorious general at Battle of Naissus, seized power after Gallienus's death||September 268 AD – January 270 AD||January 270 AD
Natural causes (Plague)
|1 Year, 4 Months|
CAESAR MARCVS AVRELIVS CLAVDIVS QVINTILLVS AVGVSTVS
|?, Sirmium||Brother of Claudius Gothicus, seized power after his death||January 270 AD – 270 AD||270 AD
Unclear; possibly suicide or murder
CAESAR LVCIVS DOMITIVS AVRELIANVS AVGVSTVS
|September 9, 214 AD/215 AD, Sirmium||Proclaimed emperor by Danubian legions after Claudius II's death, in opposition to Quintillus||September(?) 270 AD – September 275 AD||September 275 AD
Assassinated by Praetorian Guard
CAESAR MARCVS CLAVDIVS TACITVS AVGVSTVS
|c. 200, Interamna||Elected by the Senate to replace Aurelian, after a short interregnum||September 25, 275 AD – June 276 AD||June 276 AD
Natural causes (possibly assassinated)
CAESAR MARCVS ANNIVS FLORIANVS AVGVSTVS
|?||Brother of Tacitus, elected by the army in the west to replace him||June 276 AD – September? 276 AD||September? 276 AD
Assassinated by his own troops, in favour of Probus
CAESAR MARCVS AVRELIVS PROBVS AVGVSTVS
|232 AD, Sirmium||Governor of the eastern provinces, proclaimed emperor by Danubian legions in opposition to Florian||September? 276 AD – September/ October 282 AD||September/ October 282 AD
Assassinated by his own troops, in favour of Carus
CAESAR MARCVS AVRELIVS CARVS AVGVSTVS
|c. 230 AD, Narbo||Praetorian Prefect to Probus; seized power either before or after Probus was murdered||September/ October 282 AD – late July/ early August 283 AD||Late July/early August 283 AD
Natural causes? (Possibly killed by lightning)
CAESAR MARCVS AVRELIVS NVMERIVS NVMERIANVS AVGVSTVS
|?||Son of Carus, succeeded him jointly with his brother Carinus||Late July/early August 283 AD – 284 AD?||284 AD
Unclear; possibly assassinated
CAESAR MARCVS AVRELIVS CARINVS AVGVSTVS
|?||Son of Carus, succeeded him jointly with his brother Numerian||Late July/early August 283 AD – 285 AD||285 AD
Died in battle against Diocletian?
Constantine the Great 306-337
Constantine succeeded in re-uniting the Western Roman Empire in 312. In the process of bringing this about, he became involved with the activities of the early Christians. Because of a conversion that is believed to have occurred in connection with the Battle of Milvian Bridge he became openly supportive of Christianity. This ultimately lead to the Edict of Milan in 313 which fully legalized and legitimized the Christian Faith. Further deepening his involvement with the faith, in 314 he called the Council of Arles and later the First Council of Nicaea in 325.
Up until 320 Constantine shared rulership of the Roman Empire with Licinuis who ruled over the Eastern Roman Empire, and had shared in issuing out the Edict of Milan in 313. For reasons not understood, in 320 Licinius begain a new round of persecutions against the Christian Faith. This led to the Civil War of 324, which ultimately concluded with Constantine emerging as the sole ruler of the entire Roman Empire. A state of affairs that lasted until his death.
Theodosius I 379-395
He was the last Roman Emperor to rule over the entire original empire. After his death in 395, his sons permanently divided the empire into East and West.
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- Ball, Warwick (2001). Rome in the East: the transformation of an empire. London New York: Routledge. p. 412. ISBN 0-415-24357-2. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=StIqd8etrLoC&pg=PA412&dq=Whoopee+cushion+elagabalus&hl=en&ei=tZB-TOvsB5CTjAfQ05zzCg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CDAQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=whoopee&f=false. Retrieved on 7 December 2011.
- "The Crimes of Elagabalus" (15 September 2011). Literary Review. Retrieved on 7 December 2011.