27 BC – 117 AD
The Emperor Augustus 27 BC – 14 AD
The first and perhaps greatest of the Roman emperors, Augustus ended a bloody civil war, ruled with wisdom and power, and united and kept peace in Rome for many years.
Augustus was born with the name “Octavian.” Well educated in philosophy, rhetoric, and military skills as a boy, he was adopted by his uncle Julius Caesar and became his heir. When Caesar was assassinated, Octavian raised an army to claim his inheritance and avenge his uncle’s murder. At the battle of Actium in 31 BC, he defeated the last of his opponents, Mark Anthony, and took control of Rome.
To legitimate his power, the Senate named him Imperium proconsulare maius infinitum in 23 BC, which gave him control over the provinces and the army. He saw taking control as the only way to sustain the empire. Even though it was a nominally a republic, he ran it as an autocracy. He acted in the name of the Senate, and the Senate reflected his will to keep people satisfied that the government was working together.
Augustus also kept the people satisfied with their leader and proud of Rome. He built temples to encourage and place importance in Roman religion. He was a patron of the arts, gladly spending money to improve the artwork of Rome, and encouraged the wealthy class to do the same. To improve the moral climate of the empire, Augustus tried to revive the traditional Roman religion. He also tried to fortify the traditional Roman family by established laws which punished adultery and required marriage and the remarriage of widows.
To more effectively govern the empire, he developed an imperial civil service. To more effectively govern the city of Rome, he divided it into 14 wards, and organized a bureaucracy to control them. The Urban cohorts were his police force for the wards, and either senators or Augustus himself served as ward leaders.
The military was probably the focal point of his leadership. He had a great military mind, and used his military strength well. He organized the military with himself at the head, and used it to control the frontier regions of the Roman empire as well as invade new countries. Among his claims made include Spain, Gaul, Egypt, and Armenia. He also signed a peace treaty with Parthia, showing he used wisdom as well as aggression.
Augustus died with honor, and was remembered well by his people. He gave Roman control to his stepson Tiberius for he had no other living male offspring. He was a great leader for the Roman empire. His wisdom and intelligence benefited the people of his empire, for he was a strong as well as fair ruler.
The Emperor Tiberius 14 AD – 37 AD
The second Roman emperor (A. D. 14-37), b. 16 November, 42 B. C., d. 16 March, A. D. 37. He was the son of Tiberius Claudius Nero and Livia. By the marriage of his mother with Emperor Augustus he became the latter’s stepson, and was adopted by Augustus in A. D. 4. In the year 10 he was appointed coregent with Augustus. Hard and secretive by nature and embittered by the neglect with which his step- father allowed him to be treated, he did not arouse personal enthusiasm, and until recently was described by historians as a bloody tyrant. It is only during the last sixty years that he has been more fairly judged, and at present the opinion begins to prevail that he was a genuine Roman, a ruler faithful to his duties, just, wise, and self-contained. In his internal policies especially he is one of the most distinguished of all Roman emperors. Like Augustus he reformed and improved every department of the government, and promoted in every direction the prosperity of the empire of which Augustus had laid the foundation.
He developed imperial power by declining to have his authority renewed from time to time by the Senate, as Augustus had done. The strong opposition which grew up against him was due to his taciturn and domineering disposition, and to the influence of the prefect of the guard, Ælius Sejanus, who alone possessed his confidence. The persecutions and executions for lese-majesty, which rapidly increased during the second half of his reign, and the gloom which pervaded Rome induced Tiberius to leave the capital altogether in the year 26 and to live partly in Campania and partly on the Island of Capri. Before this date the question as to the succession to the empire had led to a terrible family tragedy. By his first marriage Tiberius had a son called Drusus, while his second marriage with the immoral Julia, daughter of Augustus, was childless. After the death of his nephew Germanicus (A. D. 19), whom he had been obliged to adopt at the command of Augustus to the exclusion of his own son, he hoped to secure the succession for Drusus. A low intrigue was formed against this plan, in which the wife of Drusus, Livilla, who had illicit relations with Sejanus, took part. In the year 23 Drusus was poisoned by Sejanus and Livilla. However, when in 31 Sejanus formed a conspiracy to secure the throne for himself, Tiberius was warned at the last moment and had Sejanus executed. Tiberius spent his last years in constantly increasing seclusion, misanthropy, and cruelty on the Island of Capri, where it is said he abandoned himself to debauchery. However, these reports are at least coloured by prejudice and have not been satisfactorily proved. Neither is it probable that Tiberius was murdered.
The ministry and death of John the Baptist and of Jesus Christ occurred during the reign of Tiberius. According to St. Luke (iii, 1), St. John the Baptist was called by God, in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius, to prepare the way for Christ as His precursor. Shortly before his death Tiberius recalled the procurator Pontius Pilate from Judea. Tertullian (Apologeticum, v, xxi), from whom Eusebius and Orosius take the story, relates that Tiberius received a report concerning Christ and that he called upon the Senate to place Christ among the gods. The Senate rejected the request; Tiberius then threatened the accusers of the Christians with punishment. The narrative is not worthy of belief, still it is probable that Tertullian knew a document that professed to be a report of Pilate.
The Emperor Caligula 37 – 41 AD
All classical accounts of Gaius “Caligula” (12-41) agree that he possessed elements of madness, cruelty, viciousness, extravagance and megalomania. He is described as a coarse and cruel despot with an extraordinary passion for sadism and a fierce energy. He could get extremely excited and angry. Caligula was tall, spindly, pale and prematurely bald. He was so sensitive about his lack of hair that it was a capital crime for anyone to look down from a high place as Caligula passed by. Sometimes he ordered those with a fine head of hair to be shaved. He made up for lack of hair on his head by an abundance of body-hair. About this too he could be equally sensitive; even the mention of “hairy goats” in conversation was dangerous. He used to grimace, which he practised in front of a mirror, and he was an impressive orator. An interesting detail is that his real nature was only gradually revealed. His great-uncle, the Emperor Tiberius (42 BC -37 AD), once said: “There was never a better slave nor a worse master than Caligula.”
Caligula was originally called Gaius. He grew up in a camp as a favourite of his father’s soldiers. The troops nicknamed him “Caligula” after the child-size military boots he wore in camp. From the Emperor Augustus he inherited ambition and sensuality as well as the family affliction epilepsy. He was caught in bed with his sister Drusilla before he came of age. His famous father Germanicus (15 BC – 19 AD), his mother Agrippina the elder (14 BC-33 AD) and all his brothers were either killed or starved to death by order of the suspicious Emperor Tiberius and his ambitious Praetorian Prefect, Sejanus. During his adolescence, Caligula was a virtual prisoner of Tiberius. By then Tiberius had largely withdrawn from active government and retreated to the island of Capri, where Caligula kept him company and tried to play the part of a dutiful and upright young man. However, he could not fool Tiberius, who described him as a ‘serpent’. Capri was ideally situated as a fortress and a refuge where Tiberius was free from fears of conspiracy and assassination.
According to the Roman historians Tacitus and Suetonius, at Capri Tiberius felt at liberty to indulge in all kinds of prolonged tortures and sexual perversities until he fell ill in March AD 37 and subsequently collapsed into a coma. The court officials thought he had died and began to congratulate Caligula on his accession, when Tiberius awoke. It is said that the Emperor was smothered with his bedclothes by Caligula’s chamberlain, Macro. Thus Caligula came to power. In the first months Caligula’s reign was mild and his policies showed some political judgement. Even then, Caligula took much pleasure in attending punishments and executions and he preferred to have them prolonged.
In May his grandmother Antonia, who might have been a good influence, died. In October Caligula fell seriously ill, and after his recovering Caligula seems to have changed for the worse. In a few months he entirely exhausted the treasury, which Tiberius had filled by years of economizing. In 38, while having an affair with Macro’s wife, he accused Macro of being her pimp and ordered him to commit suicide. Tiberius’ grandson and heir, Tiberius Gemellus, once drank a cough medicine that Caligula mistook for an antidote to poison. When accused, the youth replied: “Antidote – how can one take an antidote against Caesar?” Soon afterwards Tiberius Gemellus was murdered. It became a capital crime not to bequeath the Emperor everything. In 39 Caligula revived Tiberius’ treason trials. People suspected of disloyalty were executed or driven to suicide.
A supervisor of games and beast-fights was flogged with chains before Caligula for days on end, and was not put to dead until Caligula was offended by the smell of the gangrene in his brain. On one occasion, when there weren’t enough condemned criminals to fight the tigers and lions in the arena, Caligula ordered some spectators to be dragged from the benches into the arena. Another time, Caligula decided to proclaim his mastery of the sea by building a three mile long bridge of boats across the Bay of Naples. He crossed them on horseback, wearing the breastplate of Alexander the Great. Thus he claimed that, like the god Neptune, he had ridden across the waters. He gave his horse, Incitatus, jewelled necklaces, a marble stable with furniture and a staff of servants to itself and made it a priest of his temple and even proposed to make it a senator. Caligula loved dressing up and used to dress in rich silk, ornamented with precious stones and he wore jewels on his shoes. Pearls were dissolved in vinegar, which he then drank, and he liked to roll on heaps of gold. Like his nephew, Nero (37 AD-68 AD), Caligula appeared as athlete, charioteer, singer and dancer.
To increase his revenues Caligula introduced all possible forms of taxation and rich people who had involuntary willed him their estates were murdered. Once, when a supposedly rich man had finally died, but turned out to have left no money, Caligula commented: “Oh dear, he died in vain.” Caligula even opened a brothel in his palace where Roman matrons, their daughters and freeborn youths could be hired for money. Caligula was irresistibly attracted by every pretty young woman whom he did not possess. He even committed incest with his own three sisters. He would carefully examine women of rank in Rome and whenever he felt so inclined, he would send for whoever pleased him best. He debauched them and left them like fruit he had tasted and thrown away. Afterwards, he would openly discuss his bedfellow in detail. His first wife, Julia Claudilla, died young. In the first year of his reign Caligula attended a wedding and ran off with the bride, Livia Orestilla, whom he divorced after a few days. He soon tired of his rich third wife, Lollia Paulina, too. He made the older Milonia Caesonia (±5-41) his fourth wife in 38, when she was already pregnant.
The sensual and immoral Caesonia was an excellent match for him. Caesonia gave birth to a daughter, Julia Drusilla, whom Caligula considered his own child, because “she was so savage even in childhood that she used to attack with her nails the faces and eyes of the children who played with her”. Whenever Caligula kissed the neck of his wife or mistress, he used to say: “This lovely neck will be chopped as soon as I say so”. In addition, Caligula had sexual relations with men like the pantomime actor Mnester, Valerius Catullus and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus. Lepidus was married to Caligula’s favourite sister Drusilla and also engaged in affairs with Caligula’s other sisters. Meanwhile, Caligula forced Drusilla to live with him as his wife, following the practice of the Egyptian pharaohs. It was said that when Drusilla became pregnant, Caligula couldn’t wait for the birth of their god-like child and disembowelled her to pluck the unborn baby from her womb. True or not, Drusilla died and Caligula had her deified. The next year Caligula had Marcus Aemilius Lepidus murdered.
In addition, he had his sisters Livilla and Agrippina the younger (to the right), Nero’s mother, exiled to an island and confiscated their possessions. Caligula demanded that he be worshipped as a god. Caligula’s self-indulgence in his supposed divinity deteriorated his insane behaviour. He was convinced that he was entitled to behave like a god. Thus, he set up a special temple with a life-sized statue of himself in gold, which was dressed each day in clothing such as he wore himself. As a sun god he courted the moon. He claimed fellowship with the gods as his equals, identifying himself in particular with Jupiter, but also with female gods like Juno, Diana or Venus. Standing near the image of Jupiter, Caligula once asked the actor Apelles whether Jupiter or Caligula were greater. When Apelles hesitated, Caligula had him cut to pieces with the whip, praising his voice as he pled for mercy, remarking on the melodiousness of his groans. He justified himself by saying: “Remember that I have the power to do anything to anyone.” Caligula’s behaviour, a splitting of emotions and thoughts, is nowadays diagnosed as schizophrenia. The absolute power that Caligula enjoyed strengthened and developed the worst features of his character. His grandmother, Antonia, and his favourite sister, Drusilla, who could both have had a restraining influence on him, died during the first year of his reign.
In his youth – as a favourite of the soldiers – he must have been thoroughly spoilt. The near-extinction of his family and the subsequent fear for his own life during his adolescent years will surely have marked his personality. However, Caligula’s madness could have been organically influenced, because it was said to have become apparent after a serious illness which he had suffered in October 37. If this disease was encephalitis, then it could very likely have been a contributory factor to the bizarre features of his behaviour, for encephalitis can cause a marked character change and give rise to impulsive, aggressive and intemperate activity, similar in its symptoms to those of schizophrenia. In addition, Caligula had inherited epilepsy. Some forms of epilepsy have symptoms similar to those of both schizophrenia and the post-encephalitic syndrome. At times, because of sudden faintness, Caligula was sometimes hardly able to move his limbs, to stand up, to collect his thoughts or to hold up his head. He suffered severely from sleeplessness, never sleeping for more than three hours a night and even for that length of time he did not sleep quietly; he was terrified by strange manifestations.
After a 4-year-reign the Praetorians stabbed Caligula to death when he left the theatre. His fourth wife was stabbed to death too, while their infant daughter’s head was smashed against a wall. One of the conspirators was Cornelius Sabinus, whose wife had been debauched and publicly humiliated by Caligula. Another conspirator was Cassius Chaerea, who hated Caligula, because he had remorselessly imitated his high, effiminate voice. Suetonius wrote that Caligula’s reign of terror had been so severe that the Romans refused to believe that he was actually dead.
The Emperor Claudius 41 – 54 AD
Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus was born in 10 BC to Nero Claudius Drusus and his wife Antonia. Although he came from a royal blood line, his family had a very low opinion of his abilities and often ignored him. Labeled an invalid from birth because of physical disabilities including partial paralysis, stammering, slobbering, and limping, he was the last person his family thought would inherit the throne and serve as Roman Emperor. An outcast in his home environment, Claudius turned to the study of history to occupy his time. He authored various works about orthographic reform of the Roman alphabet and a work defending Cicero, a republican politician and orator. Claudius also enjoyed playing dice games.
Claudius’ rise to power came after Emperor Gauis (Caligula), his nephew, was unexpectedly murdered on January 1, AD 41. Claudius became heir to the throne, to many a Roman’s dismay. The soldiers, courtiers, freedman, and foreigners were his main support although the senatorial aristocracy also offered to back the new emperor. Many Romans sought to have Claudius assassinated because of his cruel and ruthless discussions and actions with members of the senate and knighthood. It is thought by some that he even executed senators on occasion. Despite this conflict Claudius did respect these agencies and gave new opportunities to them both. Claudius’ reign is marked with an expansion of the Roman Empire. He invaded and conquered Britain in AD 43 and captured Camulodunum. There he started a colony of veterans and built client-kingdoms to protect the small populated land. Claudius also took over North Africa and annexed Mauretania, where he established two provinces as well. Around AD 49 he also annexed Iturea and allowed the province of Syria to control it, trying not to come into conflict with the Germans and the Parthians.
In the area of civil administration he encouraged urbanization. The judicial system improved under his reign and he favored the modern extension by individual and collective grants in Noricum. Claudius also made many administrative innovations. He increased his control over finances and province administration and gave jurisdiction of fiscal matters to the governors under him in the senatorial provinces. Claudius’ personal life was wrought with conflicts that ultimately led to his undoing. He married three times. His first wife, Boudicca, started a revolt, and his second wife had a strong sexual appetite that led her to conspiracy and ultimately, her execution. Claudius’ third time was not a charm either.
He decided to stay within the family and married his niece, Aggripina. She was very influential over Claudius to the point where he adopted her son Nero. Then she fed Claudius a dinner containing poisonous mushrooms which killed him. Her main motive was that her precious son, Nero, might inherit the throne. Although Claudius was generally thought of as a weak leader and was labeled, even by his own family, as someone not worthy to rule; he made notable contributions to the development of the Roman empire. He conquered and colonized Britain, established provinces in North Africa, and he urbanized and innovated his civil administration. He died an unnecessary and tragic death at the hand of his own wife.
The Emperor Nero 54 – 68 AD
The last emperor of the Julio-Claudian line was born in 37 C.E. as Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus. His father died when he was very young, and his mother Agrippina, after a short-lived marriage to a man she is suspected of poisoning, married her uncle, Emperor Claudius. Agrippina convinced Claudius to accept her son as his heir, to the exclusion of Claudius’s own son, Brittanicus. Agrippina poisoned Claudius so that Nero might become emperor. Nero took the throne in 54 C.E., and his first five years of rule were exemplary. He abolished capitol punishment, outlawed the shedding of blood in the arenas, reduced taxes, and even allowed slaves to take cruel masters to court. He took a great interest in the arts, sponsoring many poetry competitions.
Nero’s exemplary rule ended with the murder of his mother. After attempting on numerous occasions to poison and drown her, he finally managed to have her stabbed to death. Nero told the Senate that she was killed because of her plots against him, and they accepted it without question. A few years later, Nero had his wife Octavia killed so that he could marry his mistress, Poppaea. He later kicked Poppaea to death when she complained about him coming home late. Many people began criticizing the emperor, but he ignored most of it.
After the death of his mother, Nero felt the need to express his hidden talents as an artist. He became a singer and a poet, and needed to be accepted as such so badly that he organized a band of people whose sole function was to clap after his performances. Publicly he was considered to be atrocious in both fields, but audiences turned out in great numbers for his stage appearances.
In 64 C.E., a fire swept through Rome, burning for a week and destroying a large portion of the city. Nero did try to rebuild the city, but in addition, he took fifty hectares of land for himself to build a new palace–the Domus Aurea. Although he was not actually in Rome when the fire started, he is suspected of being behind it anyway. According to some sources, when he found that he did not have enough land to build his palace, he set fire to the city a second time. It is at this point that he is said to have “played his fiddle [lyre] while Rome burned.” To avert suspicion, he blamed the fires on the Christians and proceded to kill them in horrendous ways.
Meanwhile, Nero’s enemies grew in number. The Senate resented his confiscation of their property. The people were being taxed to death to fund the rebuilding of the city and the construction of the emperor’s palace. The army felt neglected when Nero went on a tour of Greece to display his artistic talents instead of visiting the soldiers in the field. Several conspiracies against Nero were instigated. Eventually, his Praetorian guard turned on him and the Senate sentenced him to death. Nero fled Rome and eventually committed suicide.
The Emperor Galba 68 – 69 AD
Galba was declared emperor by the Praetorian Guard in June AD 68 after having been invited by Vindex, the governor of Gallia Lugdunensis, to replace Nero. Galba took the title of Caesar and along with Otho, the governor of Lusitania, marched towards Rome and entered the city in October to assume his new position. Galba experienced threats from others who had also rose in revolt against Nero and wanted a share in the powers of Rome for themselves. These men were Nymphidias Sabinus who professed himself to be the son of the emperor Gaius and therefore had a claim to the principate, and Clodius Macer who refused to recognize Galba and decided to raise his own legion. Galba had both men executed. Galba had the reputation for being an honest, but suspicious administrator.
However, Galba’s reign did not lost long for he failed to pay the donative to the soldiers which he had promised them. The soldiers on the Rhine rose up against him in January AD 69 and, having offended Otho by having Lucius Calpurnius Piso adopted as his successor, Otho organized a conspiracy against Galba among members of the Praetorian Guard who murdered him.
The Emperor Otho 69 AD
Otho (Marcus Salvius Otho) was one of Nero’s closest friends and confidants, making him a powerful figure. Otho’s imperial favor wavered when he took too strong a liking to Nero’s mistress, Poppaea, and was “banished” to Lusitania as governor. Out of revenge (and in hopes of great personal gains) Otho assisted Galba in overthrowing Nero. When Galba became emperor he infuriated Otho by adopting Piso as heir. Otho then had Galba assassinated, and was declared emperor. Fortune did not favor Otho, however, because he was immediately faced with Vitellius’ army (which had declared Vitellius emperor) and was marching to Rome. Otho was quickly defeated; he then put his affairs in order and committed suicide.
The Emperor Vitellius – 69 AD
Vitellius (Aulus Vitellius) was well liked by Caligula, Claudius, and Nero. Occasionally he governed fairly, but his many vices usually got the best of him. When Galba became emperor, Vitellius’ legions declared Vitellius emperor, partially out of despise for Galba and partially out of fondness for Vitellius. Upon learning of Galba’s death, Vitellius gathered up other legions who had refused to pledge allegiance to Galba and marched to Rome to meet Otho’s army. When Otho committed suicide, Vitellius was sole emperor. His cruelty and debauchery quickly alienated several legions who declared themselves in favor of Vespasian. Vespasian marched on Rome–his army found Vitellius, tortured him in public, and then killed him, thus ending the civil war and beginning the Flavian rule.
The Emperor Vespasian 69 AD – 79 AD
Titus Flavius Sabinus Vespasianus was born in AD 9 at Reate, north of Rome. His father Flavius Sabinus was a tax-collector and held equestrian rank. His mother, Vespasia Polla, belonged to an equestrian family, and her brother managed to become senator. Vespasian and his brother Sabinus both also managed to follow in their uncle’s footsteps and become senators.
In AD 39 Vespasian married Flavia Domitilla. It was not necessarily a good match for a man seeking a high-flying career. Flavia was not even a full Roman citizen. And had been the mistress of a Roman equestrian in Tripolitania. It appears their marriage was truly one inspired by love, rather than political ambitions. Flavia and Vespasian did have three children together. Though she died long before Vespasian was to become emperor. And he would still remember her with great affection when he came to power.
During the reign of Tiberius Vespasian was a military tribune in Thrace and then went on to serve as praetor in Crete and Cyrene. In AD 40 Vespasian was made praetor under Caligula and under Claudius he enjoyed patronage of the powerful minister Narcissus.
During the invasion of Britain during AD 43-47 Vespasian commanded a legion (the II ‘Augusta’), and distinguished himself with military successes in the south and southwest of England. In particular he made himself a name with the effective use of ‘artillery’ when assaulting heavily defended positions fortified by earthworks, and had been responsible for taking the Isle of Wight.
This success led to Vespasian’s election of consul for AD 51, and in AD 63 he was proconsul of Africa, his administration winning much praise. This praise was won largely due to Vespasian not following the usual course of milking the province for his own financial gain. In turn however, he did suffer private financial problems and only avoided bankruptcy with help from his brother Sabinus.
Though in AD 66, as a member of Nero’s imperial entourage in Greece, the gritty down-to-earth soldier Vespasian committed the ultimate sin by either walking out or falling asleep during the course of one of Nero’s recitals. He fell from grace and fled to some obscure country town, hiding in fear of his life.
But in AD 67 he was offered a province and an army command of three legions by Nero. If the emperor was mad and wanted to see Vespasian dead, he needed him now. The Jewish rebellion of AD 67 called for a commander who knew of ways to oust the Jews from their walled cities. Someone had obviously reminded the emperor of Vespasian’s record against the defensive earthworks in Britain.
At the age of fifty eight Vespasian headed for Judaea, directed the reduction of Jotapata in the north and began the preparations for the siege of Jerusalem.
On hearing of Nero’s death Vespasian formally recognized the accession of Galba.
When news arrived of Galba’s murder in early AD 69, Vespasian was prompted to consider rebellion. He had on his side the governor of Syria, Gaius Licinius Mucianus. At first the two had not got along well, mainly due to Mucianus resenting that Vespasian’s military command had been given higher status by Nero than his governorship, but now they both needed allies to weather the crisis following the death of two emperors.
After Otho’s suicide in April AD 69 they formed plans to take action. They both acknowledged Vitellius’ accession, but meanwhile secretly enlisted the support of Tiberius Julius Alexander in Egypt. Mucianus had no sons of his own to be his heirs. Alexander was only of equestrian rank – and a Jew. Neither therefore could be considered as potential emperors. Vespasian though had two sons, Titus and Domitian, was of senatorial rank and had held the consulship. All three agreed, that he should be their candidate for the throne.
On 1 July, Alexander commanded the legions in Egypt to swear an oath of allegiance to Vespasian. Within two weeks the armies in Judaea and Syria had followed that example. The plan was that Mucianus would lead twenty thousand men into Italy, with Vespasian remaining in the east, where he could control the all-important Egyptian grain supply to Rome. Though by late August the Danubian armies also declared themselves for Vespasian.
Antonius Primus, commander of the Sixth Legion in Pannonia, and Cornelius Fuscus, imperial procurator in Illyricum, now led the Danube legions in a rapid descent on Italy.
They commanded a relatively modest force of five legions, perhaps 30’000 men, which was only half of what Vitellius had at his disposal in Italy.
The Second Battle of Cremona began on 24 October AD 69 and ended the next day in complete victory for Primus and Fuscus. On 17 December AD 69 an army sent to fight Primus and Fuscus defected to them at Narnia, leaving the way free to Rome.
When Vitellius learned of this he tried to abdicate and Vespasian’s elder brother Titus Flavius Sabinus, city prefect of Rome at the time, attempted to take control of the city. But he and his supporrters were attacked by Vitellius’ soldiers and killed.
Two days later, on 20 December, the army of Primus and Fuscus fought its way into Rome against a determined defence. The following day the senate confirmed Vespasian as emperor. Mucianus arrived soon after. Until Vespasian’s arrival Mucianus ruled on his behalf alongside the emperor’s younger son Domitian who had been in Rome throughout the troubles.
Vespasian now headed for Rome, leaving his son Titus behind to capture Jerusalem, and arrived at Rome in October AD 70. He was almost 61 but he was still fit and active. Soon after Titus in Palestine brought an end to the Jewish revolt (although the siege of Masada continued until AD 73) and in the north Cerealis defeated the Gallo-German uprising at Augusta Trevivorum. In effect Vespasian, an old military veteran, was the man who could finally deliver peace to the empire.
Vespasian possessed insight and the sense of how to maintain peace, too. Though the destruction of Jerusalem and the retaliation against the Jews were carried out with unnecessary severity, and restrictions were placed on some of their practices, Jews were excused from Caesar-worship.
Vespasian’s relationship with the senate was a mixed one. He attended the meetings of the senate and consulted the senators with great care. But day he chose to date his accession was not 21 December AD 69, when the senators had recognized him, but 1 July AD 69 when he had first been acclaimed emperor by his troops. In short, he respected the senate for its ancient tradition and dignity, but he made it evidently clear that he knew the true power to lie with the army.
On his son Titus’ return to Rome from Palestine in AD 71, Vespasian formally made him his associate in government, granting him the title of Caesar, and appointed him commander of the imperial guard, a sound move considering the role teh praetorians had plaid in establishing and overthrowing previous rulers.
Also in in AD 71 he instituted the first salaried public professorship when he appointed Quintilian (AD 40-118) to a chair of literature and rhetoric. He also exempted all doctors and teachers of grammar and rhetoric from paying taxes Under Vespasian, too, a new class of professional civil servants was created, drawn largely from the business community.
In AD 73-74 Vespasian, like Claudius had done before him, revived and occupied the office of censor together with his son Titus in order to have control over membership to the senate.
With the empire devastated by civil war, Vespasian needed to steeply increase taxation to cover the empire’s vast costs. These measures soon earned him an undeserved reputation for meanness and greed. Though Vespasian was keen to lead by example and led a life free of extravagances and luxury in order not to further burden the provinces with the cost of his imperial office.
Vespasian in any case appreas not to have had a taste for extravagant living. He was a brilliant and tireless administrator, with a gift, so often lacking in his predecessors, of picking the right man for a job. His usual daily routine while emperor was as follows. He would rise early, even when it was still dark. He would perahsp read letters and official reports, before letting in his friends, puting on his shoes and got dressed. After dealing with any other business he would then perahps go for a drive in a chariot. Later he would share a bed with a concubine, of whom he had several to take the place of his dead mistress, Caenis. After that he was usually in his best mood, so his staff was eager to approach him with any requests or problems at that time.
Vespasian was indeed noted for mildness and a healthy sense of justice. For example, he helped Vitellius’ daughter to find a suitable husband and even provided her with the dowry.
At first Vespasian relied on Mucianus as his principal aide and advisor. Though from when Mucianus died ca. AD 76 he began more and more to rely on his elder son Titus. It was clearly understood by all that Titus would succeed his father to the throne.
Such dynastic plans led to some hostility, particularly among senators who still objected to the hereditary principle being applied to the creation of emperors. In particular since the the hereditary lineage of the Julio-Claudians had led to disaster.
The most dangerous of such objections came to light in AD 79 when a plot against Vespasian’s life two eminent senators, Eprius Marcellus and Caecina Alienus, was uncovered. Titus was fast to act and neither of the two conspirators survived. Not long afterwards Vespasian fell ill, withdrew to his summer retreat at Aquae Cutiliae in the Sabine mountains and died on 24 June AD 79.
Vespasian died of natural causes and, according to the historian Suetonius, with great dignity. Even on his deathbed his humour still showed in a final jest, ‘Vae, puto deus fio’ (‘Woe, I think I’m turning into a god.’)
The Emperor Titus 69- 71 AD
Titus was Vespasian’s elder son. Distinguished as a military tribune in both Britain and Germany, he took over direction of the war in Judaea when his father became emperor in AD69. He shared in imperial power throughout the reign of Vespasian and natural disasters such as the eruption of Vesuvius and the destruction of Pompeii did not damage his reputation.
The Emperor Domitian 81 – 96 AD
Insistent on his official honors, from his praenomen of imperator and dynastic title Caesar to that of Germanicus, which he assumed in AD 83, Domitian’s tribunician power, acclamations as imperator, and number of consulships are fastidiously indicated, until there is virtually no room left on the coin to record them all. That same year, the coinage of Domitian also settles into one of four main reverse types, all in praise of Minerva, the goddess whom Domitian most revered. The younger son of Vespasian, Domitian succeeded to the throne upon the premature death of his brother Titus in AD 81, the year after the great fire. Known for his building program, he magnificently restored the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, plating the doors with gold and gilding the bronze tiles of the roof, and completed work on the Arch of Titus, and the Temple of Vespasian and Titus.
He also had much of the Palatine Hill leveled for the construction of the imperial palace. Domitian had claimed for himself the title of “Germanicus” in AD 83 to recognize his victories in Germany. (That same year, Agricola defeated the Caledonian tribes at Mons Graupius but was recalled because the emperor had become jealous of his military success.) He elevated the silver content of the coinage to that of Augustus, only to devalue it again in AD 85, when it was realized that imperial revenue suffered as a result Domitian inaugurated the Ludi Capitolini (Capitoline Games) in AD 86 and also celebrated the Ludi Saeculares (Secular Games) in AD 88, which last had been celebrated by Augustus a century before (traditionally calculated to be 110 years).
That year, too, a legion on the Rhine rebelled and, although the insurrection quickly was suppressed, it marked a recognized shift in Domitian’s reign. Already suspicious, he became more ruthless and increasingly at odds with the Senate. There were conspiracies and scandal, as well, when Domitian, who had made himself censor for life with responsibility for public conduct and morals, had an open affair with his niece Julia, who later died of an abortion. In AD 96, Domitian was assassinated as part of a palace conspiracy involving his own wife.
Declared Damnatio memoriae by the Senate, Suetonius relates that it bitterly decreed that “all inscriptions referring to him must be effaced, and all records of his reign obliterated.” In a bizarre footnote, Procopius conveys a story in his Anecdota or “Secret History” (c. AD 550) that presumably was invented to explain the appearance of a smashed statue of Domitian that had been pieced back together again. “…the Senate passed a decree that not even the name of this emperor should remain in inscriptions, nor any statue or portrait of him be preserved. Cerainly from the inscriptions everywhere in Rome, and wherever else his name had been inscribed, it was chiselled out, as can still be seen, leaving all the rest intact; and nowhere in the Roman Empire is there a single likeness of him except for a solitary bronze statue, which survived in the following way.
Domitian’s consort was a woman of good birth, and highly respected, who had herself never done the least wrong to any man alive, or approved a single one of her husband’s actions. So she was very highly esteemed, and the Senate at this time sent for her and invited her to ask for anything she liked. She made only one request–that she might take Domitian’s body and bury it, and set up a bronze statue of him in a place of her own choosing.
The Senate agreed to this; and the widow, wishing to leave to later generations a monument to the inhumanity of those who had carved up her husband, devised the following plan. Having collected Domitian’s flesh, she put the pieces together carefully and fitted them to each other; then she stitched the whole body together and showed it to the sculptors, asking them to make a bronze statue portraying the tragic end of the dead man.
The artists produced the statue without loss of time; and the widow took it and erected it in the street that leads up to the Capitol, on the right-hand side as you go there from the Forum: it showed the appearance and the tragic end of Domitian, and does so to this day.”
The Emperor Nerva 96 – 98 AD
The emperor Nerva made Trajan governor of Germania Superior and then adopted him as his heir in AD96. Trajan devoted his energy to changes in the administration and spent vast sums of money on major building projects such as the forum, Trajan’s column and the baths in Rome.
The Emperor Trajan 98 – 117 AD
Trajan was one of the more successful Roman emperors, and his accomplishments were many He was also the first emperor of non-Italian origins, born into a family that had been settled in Spain for generations. The first adopted emperor of the “Five Good Emperors”, Trajan did much to reaccustom the Senate to the Principate after Domitian’s tyrranny. He was a successful general, particularly in his Dacian campaigns in modern-day Romania. Some of Rome’s most splendid architectural remains are his–the Forum of Trajan and Trajan’s column. At his death he was suceeded by Hadrian, whom he had adopted.
117 AD – 338 AD
The Emperor Hadrian 117 – 138 AD
Hadrian, who came to power in 117 A.D. after the death of Trajan, was one of the greatest of the Roman emperors, the third in the line of the “Adoptive Emperors”. He was a successful general, under whom the Roman Empire reached its greatest extent. He was also an adventurer who loved travel and a talented architect who designed the Pantheon in Rome and his own villa outside Rome.
The Emperor Antonius Pius 138 – 161 AD
Most of his youth was spent at Lorium, which was only twelve miles from Rome. Later on he built a villa there, to which he would frequently retreat from the cares of the empire, and in which he died, in his seventy-fifth year. His early career was that usually followed by the sons of senatorial families. He entered public life while quite young and after exercising the office of prætor, became consul in 120, at the age of thirty-four. Shortly after the expiration of his consulate he was selected by Hadrian as one of the four men of consular rank whom he placed over the four judicial districts into which Italy was then divided. The duration of this office and its character cannot be decided with accuracy. Antoninus was afterwards proconsul in Asia, where his remarkable administrative qualities attracted the attention of the Emperor, who admitted him to the “Consilium Principis” on his return to Rome. After the death of Lucius Ælius Commodus Verus, Hadrian adopted Antoninus as his successor, on condition that he, in turn, would adopt as his sons and successors, M. Annius Verus (Marcus Aurelius) and Ælius Lucius Verus. On his adoption (25 February, 138) Antoninus changed his name to Titus Ælius Hadrianus Antoninus. He shared the imperial power with Hadrian until the death of the latter, 10 July, 138, when he became sole ruler. Historians generally speaking are unanimous in their praise of the character of Antoninus and of the success and blessings of his reign.
His conception of the duties of his office was high and noble, and his exercise of the almost unlimited power placed in his hands marked him as a man thoroughly devoted to the interests of humanity. In his private life and in the management of his court he followed true Stoic simplicity, entirely removed from excess or extravagance. His reign was unquestionably the most peaceful and the most prosperous in the history of Rome. No wars were undertaken, except those necessary to guard the frontiers of the Empire against invasion or to suppress insurrections. The conflicts with the Berbers in Africa and some of the German and Tauro-Scythinan tribes on the Danube were merely punitive expeditions to prevent further encroachments on Roman soil.
The short-lived insurrection in Egypt and that of the Jews in Armenia and Palestine were quickly suppressed. For years the Pax Romana prevailed over the entire Empire, and brought blessings and happiness to probably 150,000,000 people, whose interests and whose safety were safeguarded by an army of 350,000 soldiers. The only extension of the Roman territory in the reign of Antoninus was in Britain, where a new wall was built at the foot of the Caledonian mountains between the Forth and the Clyde, considerably farther north than the wall of Hadrian. The internal peace and prosperity were no less remarkable than the absence of war.
Trade and commerce flourished; new routes were opened, and new roads built throughout the Empire, so that all parts of it were in close touch with the capital. The remarkable municipal life of the period, when new and flourishing cities covered the Roman world, is revealed by the numerous inscriptions that record the generosity of wealthy patrons or the activity of free burghers. Despite the traditional hostility of Rome to the formation of clubs and societies, guilds and organizations of all conceivable kinds, mainly for philanthropic purposes, came into existence everywhere. By means of these associations the poorer classes were in a sense insured against poverty and had the certainty that they would receive decent burial.
The activity of the Emperor was not confined to merely official acts; private movements for the succour of the poor and of orphans received his unstinted support. The scope of the alimentary institutions of former reigns was broadened, and the establishment of charitable foundations such as that of the “Puellæ Faustinianæ” is a sure indication of a general softening of manners and a truer sense of humanity. The period was also one of considerable literary and scientific activity, though the general artistic movement of the time was decidedly of the “Rococo” type. The most lasting influence of the life and reign of Antoninus was that which he exercised in the sphere of law. Five great Stoic jurisconsults, Vinidius Verus, Salvius Valens, Volusius Mæcianus, Ulpius Marcellus, and Diavolenus, were the constant advisers of the Emperor, and, under his protection, they infused a spirit of leniency and mildness into Roman legislation which effectually safeguarded the weak and the unprotected, slaves, wards, and orphans, against aggressions of the powerful.
The entire system of law was not remodelled in the reign of Antoninus, but an impulse was given in this direction which produced the later golden period of Roman jurisprudence under Septimus Severus, Caracalla, and Alexander Severus. In religion Antoninus was deeply devoted to the traditional worship of the Empire. He had none of the scepticism of Hadrian, none of the blind fanaticism of his successor. Perhaps as a consequence superstition and the worship of new deities multiplied under his administration. In his dealings with the Christians Antoninus went no further than to maintain the procedure outlined by Trajan, though the unswerving devotion of the Emperor to the national gods could not fail to bring the conduct of the Christians into unfavourable contrast.
Very few indications of the Emperor’s attitude towards his Christian subjects are to be found in contemporary documents. The most valuable is that of the Christian Bishop Melito of Sardes (Eusebius, Hist. Eccles., IV, xxvi, 10). In his “Apology” to Marcus Aurelius he speaks of “letters” addressed by Antoninus Pius to the Larissæans, the Thessalonians, the Athenians, and to all the Greeks, forbidding all tumultuous outbreaks against the Christians. The edict found in Eusebius (op. cit., IV, 13) is now looked on by most critics as a forgery of the latter half of the second century. In the past, Tillemont, and in the present, Wieseler stand for its genuineness. “It speaks in admiring terms of the innocence of the Christians, declares unproved the charges against them, bids men admire the steadfastness and faith with which they met the earthquake and other calamities that drove others to despair, ascribes the persecutions to the jealousy which men felt against those who were truer worshippers of God than themselves.” This temper of mind was entirely in conformity with the spirit of the existing legislation as laid down by Trajan and interpreted by Hadrian: that extra-judicial action on the part of the people against the Christians should not be tolerated by the authorities.
The death of Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, which took place in 155 or 156, shows how a Roman proconsul, though he knew his duty, still permitted himself to be swayed by popular clamour. In the case of the proconsul Prudens (Tertull., Ad. Scap., ix) we see how ineffectual popular outcries were in the face of strong administration, and how efficiently the interests of the Christians were safeguarded, except in the case of actual evidence in an open court. There can be no doubt, however, that persecution did take place in the reign of Antoninus, and that many Christians did suffer death.
The pages of the contemporary apologists, though lacking in detail, are ample proof that capital punishment was frequently inflicted. The passive attitude of Antoninus had no small influence on the internal development of Christianity. Heresy was then rampant on all sides; consequently, in order to strengthen the bonds of discipline and morality, and to enforce unity of doctrine, concerted action was called for.
The tolerant attitude of the Emperor made possible a broad and vigorous activity on the part of the Christian bishops, one evidence of which is the institution of synods or councils of the Christian leaders, then first held on an extensive scale, and described at some length by Eusebius in his Church History. In this way, it may be said, the Emperor contributed to the development of Christian unity.
The Emperor Marcus Aurelius 161 – 180 AD
Marcus Aurelius, who assumed power in 161 A.D., was the fifth of the “Adoptive Emperors”, the Golden Age of the Empire under the emperors Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and himself. Unfortunately, Marcus Aurelius broke with the tradition of adopting the best man for the job, and passed the Empire on to his own son; the dynasty soon came to an end. Marcus ruled during difficult times; famine and plague hurt Rome within, and barbarians were pushing back the borders from without. Marcus Aurelius is best known as the philosopher-emperor who wrote down his “meditations” in Greek; they are among the best examples of Stoic philosophy which we have.
The Emperor Commodus 180 – 193 AD
Roman Emperor, born 161; died at Rome, 31 December, 192. He was the son of Marcus Aurelius and Anna Faustina, and was the first among the Roman emperors to enjoy the distinction of being born in the purple.
His reign, 180-193, was the turning-point in the greatness of Rome. Some historians have attempted to exonerate Commodus from the charge of innate depravity and to attribute the failure of his career to weakness of character and vicious associates. It is, however, undeniable that a condition, which resulted in the slow but inevitable destruction of the Roman power, was brought about by the lack of capacity and evil life of Commodus, coupled with the overcentralization in Roman administration by which, since the time of Augustus, the most absolute power in the State and religious affairs had been gradually vested in the person of the emperor.
Every stage in the career of Commodus was marked by greed and suspicion, producing, as might be expected in those times, wholesale confiscation and numerous murders. One result of his cruel policy was to divert attention for a time from the Christians and to lead to a partial cessation of persecution. No edicts were issued against the Christians who, though persecuted by the proconsuls in some provinces, enjoyed a period of respite and comparative immunity from pursuit.
There were many Christians at the court of Commodus and in the person of Marcia, the concubine or morganatic wife of the emperor, they had a powerful advocate through whose kind offices on one occasion many Christian prisoners were released from the mines in Sardinia. Commodus was murdered by strangling, one of the conspirators being Marcia. There is no evidence that the Christians were in any way connected with his death.
The Emperor Pertinax 193 AD
Roman Emperor (31 Dec., 192), b. at Alba Pompeia, in Luguria, 1 August, 126; d. at Rome 28 March, 193. A freedman’s son, he taught grammar at Rome before entering the army. Because of his military ability and his competence in civil positions, he was made prætor and consul. His services in the campaign against Avidius Cassius led Marcus Aurelius to give Pertinax the chief command of the army along the Danube, a position he filled with such distinction that Marcus Aurelius made him successively governor of Dacia and Syria. Commodus first made him commander-in-chief of the troops in Britain, then appointed him governor in Africa, and finally made him prefect of the city of Rome.
On account of a conspiracy against Commodus many innocent persons, including Pertinax, were banished. After the strangling of Commodus, Pertinax was proclaimed emperor by the soldiers at the suggestion of Lætus, prefect of the prætorian guard. Pertinax had himself elected as head of the State once more by the senators and revived the title “Princeps Senatus”; on the first day of his reign he assumed the title “Pater Patriæ”. Pertinax strove to restore order in the administration of the State. By selling at auction the costly furniture and plate of Commodus and by a frugal administration, before three months he was able to make gifts of money to the people and give to the prætorian guard the promised largess.
He also was able to resume public works. He separated public lands from those belonging to the emperor, endeavoured to bring about the resettling of deserted estates, to recall those arbitrarily banished, and to bring informers to trial. He refused the title of Augusta for his wife, or that of Cæsar for his son until he had earned the honour. When the prætorians saw that the emperor meant to restore the ancient discipline and when the prefect Lætus noticed that he strove to limit his own influence, he aroused the soldiers of the guard against the emperor.
After suppressing the revolt of the consul, Sossius Falco, Pertinax declined to put him to death, though the Senate had decreed his execution. Several prætorians were suspected of being members of the conspiracy; Lætus had these put to death without any trial and made the soldiers believe that it was done by imperial command.
The prætorians now resolved to depose Pertinax. One evening a mob of about two hundred soldiers went to the palace to murder the emperor. The latter came out to them without arms in the hope of quieting them by his personal influence. His words impressed the mutineers and they put their swords back in the scabbards, when suddenly a Tongrian cavalryman fell upon Pertinax and stabbed him in the breast. This incited the others who fell upon Pertinax; the emperor’s head was put on a lance and carried through the streets of the city to the camp.
Severus, the second successor of Pertinax, deified him.
The Emperor Didius Julianus 193 – 194 AD
Emperor of Rome (193-194). He was a native of central Italy, and during the reigns of Marcus Aurelius and Commodus had kept the Germans from invading Roman territory. In 192 he suppressed an outbreak of the Jews and Saracens. After the death of Pertinax the prætorian guards proclaimed Didius Julianus emperor; the troops in Britain elected Clodius Albinus; those on the Danube chose Lucius Septimius Severus; and the soldiers in Syria elected the governor of that province, Caius Pescennius Niger Justus. Septimius Severus advanced to Rome with the Pannonian legions.
Julianus was killed, and the senate acknowledged Severus. Severus now made Albinus practically a co-emperor. Forthwith he addressed himself against Pescennius Niger. The latter had many adherents at Rome. Moreover, Antioch, where the proclamation of the rival emperor had been issued, aspired to the same position as Rome. Pescennius gained the support of the petty Oriental rulers. In preparation for the advance of Severus he appointed the able proconsul of the Province of Asia, Asellius Æmilianus, as his chief of staff. The ports of Asia were closed; the passes over the Taurus mountains were fortified; and Byzantium was garrisoned.
Severus also had made far-reaching preparations. Troops were sent to Africa and the seasoned army of the Danube was brought together. The advance guards of the opposing armies met at Perinthus, the capital of Thrace. The soldiers of Severus were repulsed. Severus, however, proceeded with his main army across the Bosporus and by way of Candeto near Cyzicus. Here in 194 a battle took place in which Æmilianus was slain. Niger himself now hastened to the scene but was defeated near Nicæa, with the result that most of the cities of the Province of Asia came into the hands of Severus.
Niger fled to reach Antioch. The possession of this city was decided by a battle fought south of Issus in which Pescennius Niger was defeated. While making his escape to the Parthians he was overtaken and killed towards the end of 194. His severed head was exhibited by order of Severus before the besieged city of Byzantium.
Seveins mercilessly punished Niger’s adherents, whether private individuals or cities. Byzantium did not surrender until 196. Severus was also successful against the vassal states of the Parthians, Adiabene and Osrhoene. For the time being the Roman Province of Osrhoene was established.
The Emperor Septimus Severus 193 – 211 AD
Founder of the African dynasty of Roman emperors, b. at Leptis Magna in Africa, 11 April, 146; d. at York, England, 4 February, 211. Severus came from a family that had become Roman citizens. In his career as an official at Rome and in the provinces he had been favored by the Emperor Marcus Aurelius. In the reign of Commodus he was appointed legate of the fourth legion on the Euphrates; this gave him the opportunity to become acquainted with affairs in the East.
He married Julia Domna, a member of a priestly family of Emesa, who was the mother of Caracalla and Geta. When the Emperor Pertinax was killed by the mutinous soldiers at Rome, Severus, who was then governor of Upper Pannonia, was proclaimed emperor at Carnuntium by the legions on the Danube. The fact that the leaders of the troops in the eastern and western parts of the empire were at once ready to follow him is evidence that Severus himself had shared in the conspiracy against the dead emperor. Severus had clear political vision, still he cared nothing for the interests of Rome and Italy.
He nourished within himself the Punic hatred of the Roman spirit and instinct and furthered the provincials in every way. He was revengeful and cruel towards his opponents, and was influenced by a blindly superstitious belief in his destiny as written in the stars. With iron will he labored to reorganize the Roman Empire on the model of an Oriental despotism. The troops in the East had proclaimed as emperor the capable governor of Syria, Pescennius Niger; the legions in Britain, the governor Clodius Albinus. On the other hand the soldiers in Italy and the senators came over to the side of Severus; Julianus, the prefect of the Pretorian Guard, was executed.
Severus rested his power mainly upon the legions of barbarian troops; he immortalized them upon the coinage, granted them, besides large gifts of money and the right of marriage, a great number of privileges in the military and civil service, so that gradually the races living on the borders were able to force Rome to do their will. The Pretorian Guard was made into a troop of picked men from the provinces; in the first years of the emperor’s reign their commander was the shrewd Caius Fulvius Plautianus, who exerted a great influence over Severus.
After making careful preparation for the decisive struggle, and having secured his opponent in Britain by the bestowal of the title of Caesar, Severus entered upon a campaign against his dangerous rival Niger. He defeated Niger’s subordinate Ascellius AEmilius at Cyzicus and Niger himself at Issus. He then advanced into Mesopotamia, established the new Province of Osrhoene and the new legion called the Parthian. He divided several old provinces into smaller administrative districts. After this, while at Antioch, he declared war against Albinus and returned to Europe by forced marches. In 197 the decisive battle was fought with Albinus near Lyons in Gaul.
Albinus had under him the legions of Britain, Gaul, Germany, and Spain, yet in spite of severe losses Severus was the conqueror. Albinus was killed, his adherents were utterly destroyed in a bloody civil war, and their property was confiscated for the emperor. The common soldiers received the right of entering the Senate and the equestrian order. For the greater security of the imperial power the Parthian legion was garrisoned upon Mount Alba near Rome. Severus went to Asia a second time, traversed the countries on the Euphrates and Tigris, strengthened the Roman supremacy, and gave the natives equal rights with the Italians. He then went to Egypt where he granted the City of Alexandria the privilege of self-government.
During the reign of Severus the fifth persecution of the Christians broke out. He forbade conversion to Judaism and to Christianity. The persecution raged especially in Syria and Africa. In 203 Saints Perpetua and Felicitas and their companions suffered martyrdom at Carthage. The emperor returned to Rome for the celebration of the tenth year of his reign, erected the triumphal arch that still exists, and strengthened his hold on his hordes of mercenaries by constant gifts of money and the bestowal of favors detrimental to military discipline.
The Senate was replaced by the Consistorium principis, one of the members of which was the celebrated jurist Papinian. Although he had suffered for years from rheumatic gout, Severus went to Britain, where trouble had broken out, in order to give occupation to his sons, who were at deadly enmity with each other. He restored Hadrian’s Wall, and strengthened again the Roman power in Britain.
The Emperor Caracalla 198 – 217 AD
The son of the Emperor Septimus Severus, Caracalla was the second emperor of the Severan dynasty which arose from the ashes of the Antonines. At first, power was shared jointly with his brother, Geta, whom he soon murdered. The purges that followed left him unpopular with virtually all but the army. He is most famous for the grand bath complex he built in Rome. At the age of twenty-nine he was murdered by members of his bodyguard while on campaign in the East.
The Emperor Geta 209 – 212 AD
Publius Septimius Geta was the younger son of the emperor Septimius Severus. Geta’s rivalry with his older brother, Caracalla, culminated in Geta’s murder less than a year after Severus’ death. Tradition soon idealized this victim of fratricide as a gentle prince taken by treachery far too soon. Geta was born 7 March 189 in Rome, where his family was resident in between provincial governorships held by Severus under the emperor Commodus.
The boy was named after Severus’ father and was only 11 months younger than his brother, Caracalla. In the course of the civil wars that established Severus as emperor, Severus used the young Caracalla to solidify popular support by changing the older son’s name to connect the boy to the Antonine dynasty and by giving Caracalla the titles first of Caesar, then Augustus.
As Caracalla was increasingly being treated as the “heir,” Geta was being treated as the “spare.” Geta was given the title Caesar and publicly promoted as part of a close-knit, imperial family. The propaganda, however, was unable to hide completely the family’s dysfunctional relationships, especially the increasingly bitter rivalry developing between the now teenagers, Caracalla and Geta.
Severus decided to take his family out of Rome and on campaign in Britain to keep his sons busy. While Caracalla commanded troops, Geta was given civilian authority on the island. Geta was also given the title Augustus (more than a decade after his brother received it), which meant that Geta theoretically was co-emperor along with Severus and Caracalla. Geta’s increased authority did nothing to improve his relationship with Caracalla. Soon Severus’ health began to deteriorate, and ever more desperate pleas were made for his sons to get along.
Severus died 4 February 211 in York. Caracalla was 22 years old, Geta 21. The Roman world now had two brothers as joint emperors, a situation that recalled events of half a century earlier, when adopted brothers Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus officially shared the empire. Caracalla might well have been satisfied had Geta behaved like Verus, whose authority was more official than real and who deferred to his older sibling in political matters. Geta, however, saw his authority as being truly equal with that of his brother, and the two were barely on speaking terms during the long trip back to Rome.
Once in the city, the situation did not improve. Government ground to a halt as the two bickered on appointments and policy decisions. A later story even claimed the brothers were considering dividing the empire into two. By the end of the year Caracalla was being advised to have Geta murdered, and after at least one unsuccessful attempt at the start of the Saturnalia festival, Geta was killed in late December 211. One version of events claimed Geta was lured to come without his bodyguards to a meeting with Caracalla and their mother, Julia Domna, to discuss a possible reconciliation.
When Geta arrived, he was attacked by centurions. Wounded and bleeding, Geta ran to his mother and clinging to her, died. Caracalla said the murder came in response to his brother’s plottings, and the death started a bloody and violent purge of Caracalla’s suspected enemies. Geta’s memory was condemned, his name removed from inscriptions, his face removed from sculptures and paintings. Critics of Caracalla looked back wistfully at the murdered prince, who came to be described as a lamb devoured by his ferocious, lion-like brother.
Official restoration of Geta’s reputation came with the arrival of the emperor Elagabalus to Rome in 219, when Geta’s remains were translated into the Mausoleum of Hadrian to join those of his father and brother. The little reliable evidence about Geta’s personality does not seem to support the idealized picture of a gentle prince, but the shocking nature of his death at the instigation of his brother transformed Geta’s life into legend.
The Emperor Macrinus 217 – 218 AD
In 217 one of the praetorian praefects was a man called M. Opellius Macrinus. Born in Mauretania, he was basically a lawyer. (The emperors often delegated legal business brought before them to the praetorian praefects and in the early third century a number of the most important jurists [legal experts] were appointed to the job. In the fourth century the position was stripped of its military authority and became purely adminstrative.)
He came to fear for his life because a prophesy that he would become emperor was brought to Caracalla’s attention. In protecting himself, he fulfilled the prophesy. Taking advantage of Caracalla’s increasingly obvious incapacity he persuaded a discontented soldier to stab Caracalla to death. Four days later a council was held in the army, and Macrinus was selected as emperor. As praetorian praefect he was only of equestrian rank and never before had a non-senator become emperor.
He immediately assumed all the imperial titulature without the formality of senatorial consent, though as it turned out he showed himself more respectful of the senate than Severus or Caracalla had been. As a new emperor and a man of little personal prestige, he was in need military glory. Caracalla had already committed a large army to campaigining in Mesopotamia, and Macrinus fought an inconclusive battle with the Parthian king near Nisibis.
Both sides were apparently happy to come to terms and after somewhat protracted negotiations Macrinus agreed to buy peace from the Parthians (Dio says for 200,000,000 sesterces). This was obviously not a very glorious end to the war, and did little to improve Macrinus’ position. He further annoyed the troops by revoking the increase in pay for new recruits. It is surprising that Macrinus maintained himself as long as he did. For a whole year no one rose up in revolt.
Just as Severus had adopted himself into the family of Marcus Aurelius, Macrinus added “Severus” in front of his own cognomen and “Antoninus” in front of that of his nine-year-old son Diadumenianus, whom he created as Caesar. He also had Caracalla diefied as Antoninus Magnus. This posthumous adoption into the Severan dynasty did him no good, as trouble soon arose from the family of Severus’ in-laws. In April of 218 there was an eclipse (taken as a sign of the gods’ disfavor) and a comet (sign of a change in kings), and the family took advantage of these bad omens.
On May 16 Severus’ wife’s great nephew was proclaimed emperor at Raphaneae in Syria, the site of the camp of one of the legions of Syria. Other troops joined, and Macrinus, who was still in Antioch, sent his praetorian praefect at the head of loyal troops to put down the revolt. After a long battle of Immae, 24 miles from Antioch, the rebel troops prevailed. Macrinus fled in disguise toward Rome, and got as far as Calcedon in Asia Minor before being discovered. He was arrested and soon executed (as was his son) after only 14 months as emperor.
The Emperor Elagabalus 218 – 222 AD
The name adopted by Varius Avitus Bassianus, Roman emperor (218-222), born of a Syrian family and a grandnephew of Julia Domna, the consort of Emperor Septimus Severus. When Emperor Caracalla had fallen a victim to a conspiracy of his officers at Carrhæ in 217, the praetorian prefect, M. Opellius Macrinus, seized the reins of power. Empress Julia Domna committed suicide; her sister, Julia Mæsa, was exiled to Emesa with her daughters and her eldest grandchild, Avitus Bassianus.
The latter was appointed priest of the sun-god Elagabal, whose name he adopted. A report was then spread among the soldiers in Syria, that Elagabalus was a son of Caracalla, and by appointment the fifteen-year-old youth betook himself to the Roman camp in 218, and allowed himself to be elected emperor on 16 May by the soldiers. He received the official name of M. Aurelius Antoninus in recognition of the general desire to pay a tribute to the memory of the glorious Antonine.
A rising in favour of Macrinus failed, as well as his attempt to win over the soldiers and the inhabitants of Rome by bribery. An important battle fought on the borders of Syria and Phœnicia to the east of Antioch, was decided in favour of Heliogabalus; the troops of Macrinus, bribed by money and promises, joined the army of his opponent, while Macrinus himself was put to death during the flight. Heliogabalus lived in Rome as an oriental despot and, giving himself up to detestable sensual pleasures, degraded the imperial office to the lowest point by most shameful vices, which had their origin in certain rites of oriental naturalistic religion. His mother Soæmias and his grandmother Julia Mæsa, who also took part in the sessions of the Senate, exercised a controlling influence over Heliogabalus.
A conical, black, meteoric stone from Emesa served as the idol of the sun-god, which Heliogabalus married to the Syrian moon-goddess Astarte, introduced from Carthage, and whose high-priest became pontifex maximus of Rome. This led to the greatest religious confusion and disintegration among the pagans in the city, the Christians affording a marked contrast in the manner in which they maintained the integrity of their faith. Influenced by his grandmother, the emperor adopted his so far uncorrupted twelve-year-old cousin Aurelius Alexander, and assigned him the title of Cæsar.
The repeated attempts of Heliogabalus to encompass his cousin’s death were always frustrated by the soldiers. In a mutiny in favour of Alexander (11 March, 222) Heliogabalus was murdered, together with his mother.
The Emperor Severus Alexander 222 – 235 AD
Roman emperor, b. at Acco in Palestine, 208, murdered by his mutinous soldiers at Sicula on the Rhine. 235 (Sicklingen near Mainz). He was the son of Genessius Marcianus and Julia Mammaea, and was known in youth as Alexianus. When Elagabalus, his cousin and father by adoption, was murdered in 222, Alexander succeeded to the imperial throne. His education had been carefully conducted by Mammaea at Antioch, whither she invited, some time between 218 and 228, the great Christian teacher, Origen. Eusebius relates (Hist. Eccl., VI, xxi-xxviii) that she was “a very religious woman”, and that Origen remained some time with her, instructing her in all that could serve to glorify the Lord and confirm His Divine teachings.
It does not, however, follow that she was a Christian. Her son Alexander was certainly very favorable to the Christians. His historian, Lampridius, tells us several interesting details concerning this emperor’s respect for the new religion.
He placed in his private oratory (lararium) images of Abraham and Christ before those of other renowned persons, like Orpheus and Apollonius of Tyana (Vita Alex., xxix); he tolerated the free exercise of the Christian faith (“Christianos esse passus est”, ibid., xxii); he recommended in the appointment of imperial governors the prudence and solicitude of the Christians in the selection of their bishops (ibid., xiv); he caused to be adjudged to them (ibid., xlix) a building site at Rome that the tavern-keepers (cauponarii) claimed, on the principle that it was better that God should be in some way honored there than that the site should revert to such uses; he caused the famous words of Christ (Luke, vi, 31): “And as you would that men should do to you, do you also to them in like manner” to be engraved on the walls of the palace of the Caesars; he even cherished the idea of building a temple to Our Lord, but refrained when it was said to him that very soon all the other divinities would cease to be honored (ibid., xliii).
In spite of these signs of imperial goodwill, the Christians continued to suffer, even in this mild reign. Some writers think that it was then that St. Cecilia died for the Christian faith. His principal jurisconsult, Ulpian, is said by Lactantius (Inst. Div., V, ii) to have codified, in his work on the duties of a proconsul (De officio proconsulis), all anti-Christian imperial legislation (rescripta principum), in order that the magistrates might more easily apply the common law (ut doceret quibus oportet eos paenis affici qui se cultores Dei confiterentur). Fragments of this cruel code, from the seventh of the (ten) lost books of Ulpian on the proconsular office may yet be seen in the “Digests” (I, tit. xvi, xvii, tit. II, 3; xvliii, tit. IV, 1, and tit. xiii, 6).
The surname “Severus”, no less than the manner in which both he and Mammaea met their death, indicate the temper of his administration. He sought to establish at Rome good order and moral decency in public and private life, and made some use of his power as censor morum by nominating twelve officials (curatores urbis) for the execution of his wise dispositions. He seems to have been a disciple of the prevailing religious “syncretism” or eclecticism, established at Rome by his predecessor Elagabalus as the peculiar contribution of this remarkable Syro-Roman family to the slow but certain transformation of the great pagan Empire into a mighty instrument of Divine Providence for the healing of the moral ills that were then reaching fullness.
All historians agree as to his life, and the moral elevation of his public and private principles; Christian historians are usually of opinion that these elements of virtue were owing to the education he received under the direction of Origen.
The Emperor Maximinus 235 – 238 AD
Roman Emperor 235-8, son of a Goth and an Alanic mother. When the Emperor Septimius Severus was returning through Thrace in 202, Maximinus, a shepherd of enormous stature and strength, distinguished himself in a contest with the soldiers by such Herculean strength and bravery that the emperor enrolled him in the Roman body-guard. Refusing to serve under the worthless emperors, Macrinus and Heliogabalus, he withdrew from the army; but under the righteous Alexander Severus he was entrusted with the command of the newly raised Pannonian troops.
These, desiring a real warrior at their head instead of the youthful and timid Alexander, who was entirely subject to his mother Julia Mamaea, invested him with the purple at Mainz, in March, 235, at the same time proclaiming his son Maximus co-regent. The adherents of the former Syrian dynasty and of the senate tried unsuccessfully to overthrow him. Maximinus taking the field with great energy and persistence against the Germans across the Rhine, regained the district of the Agri Decumates and then waged successful war against the Sarmatians and the Dacians on the Danube.
Assuming the names of Germanicus and Sarmaticus, he proceeded with sentences of death and confiscation against the patrician Romans, who disliked him as a wild and uncultured barbarian; on the other hand he distributed the State revenues among the soldiers who were devoted to him. He had the bronze statues of the gods and their treasures melted down and coined; he plundered cities and temples, and caused so much discontent that a rebellion broke out in February, 238, among the peasantry in Africa. The procurator and octogenarian consul at Carthage were killed. M. Antonius Gordianus and his son of the same name, were made co-regent emperors.
The Roman senate willingly recognized them, because they promised, like the Antonines in former times, to govern according to its decisions; the people despising Maximinus, who had never once set foot in the capital of the empire, agreed with the senate. Maximinus was outlawed, and his death was rumoured, but he sent Capellianus, Procurator of Numidia, against the adherents of the Gordiani, and in the struggle, the younger Gordian lost his life whereupon the senior hanged himself in despair. Their reign had lasted little more than a month.
The senate now decided to elect two emperors with equal authority, M. Clodius Pupienus Maximus who was to exercise the military power de facto, and Decimus Caelius Balbinus who was to direct the civil government in the capital. The Romans dissatisfied with this arrangement, for they had expected great advantages from the rule of the African emperors, raised to the rank of Caesar the elder Gordian’s twelve year old grandson (afterwards Gordian III), then residing in Rome. Severe street fighting occurred in Rome between the veterans of Maximinus and the people. Owing to scanty commissariat Maximinus could only move his troops slowly from Pannonia.
Meanwhile the senate levied troops, constructed arsenals, and by creating twenty military districts, placed Italy in a satisfactory defensive position. When Maximinus arrived in Upper Italy, he could not at once cross the Isonzo on account of the floods and his attacks on the stronghold of Aquileia were repulsed. Under the foolish impression that his officers were the cause of his misfortunes, he had several of them executed, thereby arousing discontent among the soldiers, especially in the Second Parthian Legion whose wives and children were in the power of the Roman Senate at Albano.
A mutiny suddenly occurring, Maximin and his son were murdered. Pupienus, who hastened thither from Ravenna, rewarded the troops liberally and administered to them the oath of fidelity on behalf of the three senator emperors resident in Rome.