From Augustus (31BC) to the Fall of the Western Empire (476AD)
The Julio-Claudian and Flavian Dynasties
Augustus – Imperator Caesar Divi Filius Augustus (31BC-14AD)
Caesar Augustus (born Gaius Octavius; 23 September 63 BC – 19 August AD 14), also known as Octavian, was the first Roman emperor; he reigned from 27 BC until his death in AD 14. He is known for being the founder of the Roman Principate, which is the first phase of the Roman Empire, and is considered one of the greatest leaders in human history. The reign of Augustus initiated an imperial cult as well as an era associated with imperial peace, the Pax Romana or Pax Augusta. The Roman world was largely free from large-scale conflict for more than two centuries despite continuous wars of imperial expansion on the empire’s frontiers and the year-long civil war known as the “Year of the Four Emperors” over the imperial succession.
Tiberius – Tiberius Caesar Augustus (14-37)
Augustus was succeeded by Tiberius Claudius Nero Caesar (Born 42 B.C.), the son of Tiberius Claudius Nero and Livia. His mother obtained a divorce from Tiberius, and married Augustus. Tiberius had great military talent. He was a severe disciplinarian, and commanded the full confidence of his soldiers. As commander in Cantabria, Armenia, Rhaetia, Dalmatia, and Germany, he conducted his campaigns with success, and honour to himself. Returning to Rome in 7 B.C., he celebrated a triumph, and afterwards married Julia, the dissolute daughter of Augustus. This marriage proved to be the ruin of Tiberius, developing everything that was bad in his character, and making him jealous, suspicious, and hypocritical.
Augustus, not relishing the changes in his character, sent him to Rhodes, where he lived seven years in retirement. Through his mother’s influence, however, he was recalled in 2 A.D., and was afterwards appointed the Emperor’s successor. He ascended the throne at the age of fifty-six. A silent man, “all his feelings, desires, and ambitions were locked behind an impenetrable barrier.” He is said but once to have taken counsel with his officers. He was a master of dissimulation, and on this account an object of dislike and suspicion. But until his later years, his intellect was clear and far-seeing, penetrating all disguises.
Throughout his reign Tiberius strove to do his duty to the Empire at large, and maintained with great care the constitutional forms which had been established by Augustus. Only two changes of importance were made. First, The Imperial Guard, hitherto seen in the city only in small bodies, was permanently encamped in full force close to the walls. By this course the danger of riots was much lessened. Secondly, the old COMITIAS were practically abolished. But the Senate was treated with great deference. Tiberius expended great care on the provinces. His favourite maxim was, that a good shepherd should shear, and not flay, his sheep. Soldiers, governors, and officials of all kinds were kept in a wholesome dread of punishment, if they oppressed those under them. Strict economy in public expenses kept the taxes down. Commerce was cherished, and his reign on the whole was one of prosperity for the Empire.
Tiberius was noted especially for prosecutions for Majestas, on the slightest pretext. Majestas nearly corresponds to treason; but it is more comprehensive. One of the offences included in the word was effecting, aiding in, or planning the death of a magistrate, or of one who had the imperium or potestas. Tiberius stretched the application of this offence even to words or conduct which could in any way be considered dangerous to the Emperor. A hateful class of informers (delatores) sprung up, and the lives of all were rendered unsafe. The dark side of this ruler’s character is made especially prominent by ancient historians; but their statements are beginning to be taken with much allowance.
After a reign of twenty-three years, Tiberius died, either in a fainting fit or from violence, at the age of seventy-nine.
Livia, the mother of Tiberius, deserves more than a passing notice. She exercised almost a boundless influence on her husband, Augustus. She had great ambition, and was very cruel and unscrupulous. She managed to ruin, one after another, the large circle of relatives of Augustus, until finally the aged Emperor found himself alone in the palace with Livia and her son, Tiberius. All Rome execrated the Empress, and her son feared and hated her. She survived Augustus fifteen years, and died in 29. Tiberius refused to visit her on her death-bed, and was not present at her funeral.
Sejánus was the commander of the Praetorian Guard of Tiberius. He was trusted fully by the Emperor, but proved to be a deep-dyed rascal. He persuaded Livilla, the daughter-in-law of the Emperor, to poison her husband, the heir apparent, and then he divorced his own wife to marry her. He so maligned Agrippína, the widow of Germanicus and daughter of Agrippa and Julia, that Tiberius banished her, with her sons Nero and Drusus. In 26 he induced the Emperor to retire to the island of Capreae, and he himself became the real master of Rome. Tiberius at last finding out his true character, Sejánus was arrested and executed in 31. His body was dragged through the streets, torn in pieces by the mob, and thrown into the Tiber.
See The Life of Tiberius by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus.
Caligula/Gaius – Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (37-41)
Tiberius having left no son, the Senate recognized Gaius Caesar, son of Germanicus and Agrippína, grandson of Julia, and great-grandson of Augustus, as Emperor. He is better known as Caligula,—a nickname given him by the soldiers from the buskins he wore. He was twenty-five years of age when he began to reign, of weak constitution, and subject to fits. After squandering his own wealth, he killed rich citizens, and confiscated their property. He seemed to revel in bloodshed, and is said to have expressed a wish that the Roman people had but one neck, that he might slay them all at a blow. He was passionately fond of adulation, and often repaired to the Capitoline temple in the guise of a god, and demanded worship. Four years of such a tyrant was enough. He was murdered by a Tribune of his Praetorian Guard.
See The Life of Caligula by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus.
Claudius – Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (41-54)
A strong party was now in favour of returning to a republican form of government; but while the Senate was considering this question, the Praetorian Guard settled it by proclaiming CLAUDIUS Emperor. 151 Claudius was the uncle of Caligula and the nephew of Tiberius. He was a man of learning and good parts, but a glutton, and the slave of his two wives, who were both bad women.
His first wife, Messalína, was so notorious that her name has become almost a synonym for wickedness. His second wife, his niece Agrippína, sister of Caligula, was nearly as bad.
This woman had by her former husband, Domitius, a son, whom she induced the Emperor to adopt under the name of NERO. The faithless wife then caused her husband to be poisoned, and her son to be proclaimed Emperor.
At Rome the rule of Claudius was mild, and on the whole beneficial. In the government of the provinces he was rigorous and severe. He undertook the conquest of Britain, and in a campaign of sixteen days he laid the foundation of its final subjugation, which occurred about forty years later, under the noted general Agricola: It remained a Roman province for four hundred years, but the people never assimilated Roman customs, as did the Gauls, and when the Roman garrisons were withdrawn, they quickly returned to their former condition. However, many remains of Roman buildings in the island show that it was for the time well under subjection.
The public works of Claudius were on a grand scale. He constructed a new harbor at the mouth of the Tiber, and built the great aqueduct called the Aqua Claudia, the ruined arches of which can be seen to this day. He also reclaimed for agriculture a large tract of land by draining the Fucine Lake.
See The Life of Claudius by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus.
Nero – Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (54-68)
Nero was but sixteen years old when he began to reign. For two or three years he was under the influence of his tutor, Seneca, the author, and Burrhus, the Praefect of the Praetorian Guard, and his government was during this period the most respectable of any since the time of Augustus. His masters kept the young Emperor amused, and removed from the cares of state. But he soon became infatuated with an unscrupulous woman, Poppaea Sabína, for whom he neglected and finally killed his wife, Octavia.
It would be useless to follow in detail the crimes of Nero from this time. A freedman, Tigellínus, became his adviser, and was the real ruler of the Empire. He encouraged his master in all his vices and wickedness. Poppaea died from a kick administered by Nero in anger; Burrhus was disposed of; Agrippína, and Britannicus, the true heir to the throne, were murdered. The wealthy were plundered, and the feelings of his subjects outraged in every conceivable manner. The Emperor appeared in public, contending first as a musician, and afterwards in the sports of the circus.
The great fire of 18 July, 64, which destroyed a large part of the city, was ascribed to him, but without sufficient evidence; and the stories of his conduct during the conflagration are doubtless pure fictions. It was necessary, however, to fix the guilt on someone; so the Christians, then a small sect, made up chiefly of the poorer people, were accused of the crime, and persecuted without mercy. They were often enclosed in fagots covered with pitch, and burned alive.
In rebuilding Rome, Nero took every precaution against the recurrence of a conflagration. Broad regular streets replaced the narrow winding alleys. The new houses were limited in height, built partly of hard stone, and protected by open spaces and colonnades. The water supply was also carefully regulated.
In addition to rebuilding the city, Nero gratified his love for the magnificent by erecting a splendid palace, called the Golden House. Its walls were adorned with gold, precious stones, and masterpieces of art from Greece. The grounds around were marvellous in their meadows, lakes, groves, and distant views. In front was a colossal statue of Nero himself, one hundred and ten feet high. 153 Conspiracies having been formed in which Seneca and Lucan were implicated; both men were ordered to take their own lives. Nero’s life after this became still more infamous. In a tour made in Greece, he conducted himself so scandalously that even Roman morals were shocked, and Roman patience could endure him no longer.
See The Life of Nero by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus.
Galba – Servius Galba Imperator Caesar Augustus (68-69)
The Governor of Hither Spain, Galba, proclaimed himself Emperor, and marched upon Rome. Verginius, the Governor of Upper Germany, also lent his aid to the insurrection. The Senate proclaimed Nero a public enemy, and condemned him to death. He fled from the city and put an end to his life, June 9, 68, just in time to escape capture. His statues were broken down, his name everywhere erased, and his Golden House demolished. With him ended the Claudian line of Emperors.
Galba entered the city as a conqueror, without much trouble, but on account of his parsimony and austerity he soon became unpopular, and was murdered by his mutinous soldiers fifteen days after he reached Rome. He belonged to an old patrician family, and his overthrow was sincerely regretted by the better element in the city.
See The Life of Galba by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus.
Otho – Imperator Marcus Otho Caesar Augustus (69)
Otho, the first husband of Poppaea, and the leader in the insurrection against Galba, was now declared Emperor. No sooner did the news of his accession reach Gaul than VITELLIUS, a general of the army of the Rhine, revolted. Otho marched against the rebels, was defeated, and committed suicide after a reign of three months.
See The Life of Otho by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus.
Vitellius – Aulus Vitellius Germanicus Imperator Augustus (69)
Vitellius had been a good soldier, but as a ruler he was weak and incapable. He was killed after a reign of less than a year, during which he had distinguished himself by gluttony and vulgar sensuality.
See The Life of Vitellius by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus.
Vespasian – Imperator Vespasian Caesar Augustus (69-79)
The East now made a claim for the Emperor, and on July 1, 69, the soldiers who were engaged in war against the revolted Jews in Judaea proclaimed as Emperor their commander, Titus Flavius Vespasiánus. He left the conduct of the war in charge of his son Titus, and arrived at Rome in 70. Here he overthrew and put to death Vitellius. In the course of this struggle the Capitol was burned. This he restored, rebuilding also a large part of the city. In his own life Vespasian was simple, putting to shame the luxury and extravagance of the nobles, and causing a marked improvement in the general tone of society. He removed from the Senate many improper members, replacing them by able men, among whom was AGRICOLA. In 70 he put down a formidable rebellion in Gaul; and when his son Titus returned from the capture of Jerusalem they enjoyed a joint triumph. The Temple of Janus was closed, and peace prevailed during the remainder of his reign.
Jerusalem was taken in 70, after a siege of several months, the horrors of which have been graphically detailed by the Jewish historian Joséphus, who was present in the army of Titus. The city was destroyed, and the inhabitants sold into slavery. See [link_post post_id=”10235″]The Jewish War (Books 1-4)[/link_post], The Jewish War (Books 5-7).
Much money was spent on public works, and in beautifying the city. A new Forum was built, a Temple of Peace, public baths, and the famous Colosséum was begun, receiving its name from the Colossus, a statue of Nero, which had stood nearby.
On the whole, Vespasian was active and prudent in public affairs, frugal and virtuous in private life. The decade of his reign was marked by peace and general prosperity.
One of the ablest men of this age was Agricola (37-93). Born at Forum Julii in Gaul, he was made Governor of Aquitania by Vespasian in 73. Four years later he was Consul, and the next year was sent to Britain, which he conquered, and governed with marked ability and moderation, increasing the prosperity of the people and advancing their civilization. He remained in Britain until 85, when he was recalled. His life was written by his son-in-law, the historian Tacitus. See The Agricola by Gaius Cornelius Tacitus.
See The Life of Vespasian by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus.
Titus – Imperator Titus Caesar Vespasianus Augustus (79-81)
Vespasian was succeeded by his son Titus, who emulated the virtues of his father. He finished the Colosséum, begun by Vespasian, and built a triumphal arch to commemorate his victories over the Jews. This arch, called the Arch of Titus, was built on the highest part of the Via Sacra, and on its walls was carved a representation of the sacred candlestick of the Jewish temple, which can still be seen.
It was during this reign that Herculaneum and Pompeii were destroyed by an eruption of Vesuvius. In this eruption perished Pliny The Elder, the most noted writer of his day. His work on Natural History, the only one of his writings that is preserved, shows that he was a true student. His passion for investigation led him to approach too near the volcano, and caused his death.
See The Life of Titus by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus.
Domitian – Imperator Caesar Domitianus Augustus (81-96)
Domitian was the opposite of his brother Titus,—cruel, passionate, and extravagant. He was murdered after a reign of fifteen years, during which he earned the hatred and contempt of his subjects by his crimes and inconsistencies. In his foreign policy Domitian showed considerable ability. He added to the Empire that part of Germany which corresponds to modern Baden and Wirtemberg, and built a line of fortifications from Mentz on the Rhine to Ratisbon on the Danube. With him ended the line of the Flavian Emperors.
See The Life of Domitian by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus.
The Adoptive Emperors and the Antonine Dynasty
Nerva – Imperator Nerva Caesar Augustus (96-98)
Nerva was appointed by the Senate to succeed Domitian, and was the first Emperor who did not owe his advancement to military force or influence. He associated with himself Marcus Ulpius Trajanus, then in command of the army on the Rhine. Nerva ruled only sixteen months; but during that time he restored tranquillity among the people, conferring happiness and prosperity upon every class.
Trajan – Imperator Caesar Divi Nervae Filius Nerva Traianus (98-117)
Nerva was succeeded by Trajan, whose character has its surest guaranty in the love and veneration of his subjects; and it is said that, long afterwards, the highest praise that could be bestowed on a ruler was that he was “more fortunate than Augustus, and better than Trajan.” Trajan was a soldier, and, if he lacked the refinements of a peaceful life, he was nevertheless a wise and firm master.
He added to the Empire Dacia, the country included between the Danube and the Theiss, the Carpathians and the Pruth. This territory became so thoroughly romanized that the language of its inhabitant’s to-day is founded on that of their conquerors nearly eighteen centuries ago. It was in honour of this campaign into Dacia that the famous Column of Trajan, which still remains, was erected.
Trajan also annexed to the Empire Arabia Petraea, which afforded an important route between Egypt and Syria. His invasion of Parthia, however, resulted in no permanent advantage.
During the reign of Trajan the Roman Empire reached the summit of its power; but the first signs of decay were beginning to be seen in the financial distress of all Italy, and the decline of the free peasantry, until in the next century they were reduced to a condition of practical serfdom.
The literature of Trajan’s reign was second only to that of the Augustan age. His time has often been called the Silver Age. Its prose writers were, however, unlike those of the Augustan age, far superior to its poets. The most famous prose writers were Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, and Quintilian. The poets of this period were Juvenal, Persius, Martial, Lucan, and Statius, of whom the last two were of an inferior order.
Hadrian – Imperator Caesar Traianus Hadrianus Augustus (117-138)
Trajan was succeeded by his cousin’s son, Hadrian, a native of Spain. One of the first acts of Hadrian was to relinquish the recent conquests of Trajan, and to restore the old boundaries of the Empire. The reasons for this were that they had reached the utmost limits which could lend strength to the power of Rome, or be held in subjection without constant and expensive military operations. The people occupying the new conquests were hardy and warlike, scattered over a country easy of defence, and certain to strive constantly against a foreign yoke.
Hadrian displayed constant activity in travelling over the Empire, to overlook personally its administration and protection. He visited Britain, where he crushed the inroads of the Caledonians and built a fortified line of works, known as the Hadrian’s Wall or Picts’ Wall, extending from sea to sea. The remains of this great work are still to be seen, corresponding nearly to the modern boundary between England and Scotland. He also visited the East, where the Jews were making serious trouble, and completed their overthrow.
On his return to the city, the Emperor devoted himself to its adornment. Several of his works, more or less complete, still remain. The most famous of these is the Mausoléum (Tomb) of Hadrian, now known as the Castle of San Angelo.
Hadrian was afflicted with bad health, suffering much from diseases from which he could find no relief. On account of this, and to secure a proper succession, he associated with himself in the government Titus Aurelius Antonínus, and required him to adopt Marcus Annius Verus and Lucius Verus. In 138, soon after this arrangement was made, Hadrian died, leaving the Empire to Titus.
Antoninus Pius – Imperator Titus Aelius Caesar Hadrianus Antoninus Augustus Pius (138-161)
Antonínus, a native of Gaul, was fifty-two years old when he succeeded to the throne. The cognomen Pius was conferred upon him by the Senate on account of the affectionate respect which he had shown for Hadrian. He was a man of noble appearance, firm and prudent, and under him the affairs of state moved smoothly.
Marcus Aurelius – Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus (161-180)
On the death of Antonínus, Marcus Annius Verus succeeded him under the title of Marcus Aurelius Antonínus. The Moors made an invasion into Spain; the barbarians broke into Gaul; the army in Britain attempted to set up another Emperor; and the Parthians in the East were in an uneasy state. The Eastern war, however, ended favourably, and the Parthian king purchased peace by ceding Mesopotamia to Rome. But the returning army brought with it a pestilence, which spread devastation throughout the West. The Christians were charged with being the cause of the plague, and were cruelly persecuted. Among the victims were Justin Martyr at Rome, and Polycarp at Smyrna. The death of Lucius Verus in 168 released Aurelius from a colleague who attracted attention only by his unfitness for his position. The Emperor was thus relieved of embarrassments which might well have become his greatest danger. The remainder of his reign, however, was scarcely less unhappy. The dangers from the troublesome barbarians grew greater and greater. Rome had now passed the age of conquest, and began to show inability even to defend what she had acquired. For fourteen years Aurelius was engaged on the frontiers fighting these barbarians, and endeavouring to check their advance. He died at Vienna while thus occupied, in the fifty ninth year of his life (180). Peace was shortly afterwards made with the barbarians, a peace bought with money; an example often followed in later times, when Rome lacked the strength and courage to enforce her wishes by force of arms.
Marcus Aurelius was the philosopher of the Empire. His tastes were quiet; he was unassuming, and intent on the good of the people. His faults were amiable weaknesses; his virtues, those of a hero. His Meditations have made him known as an author of fine tastes and thoughts. With him ended the line of the good emperors. After his death, Rome’s prosperity and power began rapidly to wane.
Commodus – Aurelius Commodus Antoninus Augustus (180-192)
On the death of Aurelius, his son, Commodus, hastened to Rome, and was received by both the Senate and army without opposition. His character was the opposite of that of his good father. In ferocity and vindictiveness he was almost unequalled, even among the Emperors of unhappy Rome. By means of informers, who were well paid, he rid himself of the best members of the Senate. His government became so corrupt, he himself so notorious in crime, that he was unendurable. His proudest boasts were of his triumphs in the amphitheatre, and of his ability to kill a hundred lions with as many arrows. After a reign of twelve years his servants rid the Empire of his presence.
Pertinax – Imperator Caesar Publius Helvius Pertinax Augustus (193)
Pertinax, the Praefect of the city, an old and experienced Senator, followed Commodus. His reign of three months was well meant, but as it was not supported by the military it was of no effect. His attempted reforms were stopped by his murder.
Didius Julianus – Imperator Caesar Marcus Didius Severus Julianus Augustus (193)
The Praetorians now offered the crown to the highest bidder, who proved to be DIDIUS JULIÁNUS, a wealthy Senator. He paid about a thousand dollars to each soldier of the Guard, twelve thousand in number. After enjoying the costly honour two months he was deposed and executed.
InHe died at Eboracum (York), in Britain, while making preparations for a campaign against the Caledonians.
The Severan Dynasty
Septimius Severus – Imperator Caesar Lucius Septimius Severus Pertinax Augustus (193-211)
In the meantime several soldiers had been declared Emperor by their respective armies. Among them was Septimius Sevérus, an African, belonging to the army of the Danube.
Sevérus was an able soldier. He disarmed the Praetorians, banished them from Rome, and filled their place with fifty thousand legionaries, who acted as his bodyguard. The person whom he placed in command of this guard was made to rank next to himself, with legislative, judicial, and financial powers. The Senate he reduced to a nonentity. After securing the capital, Sevérus carried on a campaign against the Parthians, and was victorious over the rulers of Mesopotamia and Arabia. In 203 he erected, in commemoration of these victories, a magnificent arch, which still stands at the head of the Forum. He died at Eboracum (York), in Britain, while making preparations for a campaign against the Caledonians.
Caracalla – Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Severus Antoninus Pius Augustus (211-217)
Sevérus left two sons, both of whom he had associated with himself in the government. No sooner was he dead than they quarrelled, and the elder, Caracalla, murdered the other with his own hand in the presence of their mother.
Caracalla was blood-thirsty and cruel. After a short reign (211- 216) he was murdered by one of his soldiers. By him were begun the famous baths which bore his name, and of which extensive remains still exist.
Geta – Imperator Caesar Publius Septimius Geta Augustus (211)
Publius Septimius Geta was Roman emperor with his father Septimius Severus and older brother Caracalla from 209, when he was named Augustus like his brother, who had held the title from 198. Severus died in 211, and although he intended for his sons to rule together, they proved incapable of sharing power, culminating with the murder of Geta in December of that year.
Macrinus – Marcus Opellius Severus Macrinus Augustus (217-218)
Caracalla was succeeded by Macrínus, who reigned but one year, and was followed by Heliogabalus (218-222), a priest of the sun, a true Oriental, with but few virtues. His end was like that of his predecessors. The Praetorians revolted and murdered him.
Elagabalus – Imperator Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Pius Felix Augustus Proconsul (218-222)
Alexander Severus – Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Severus Alexander Pius Felix Augustus (222-235)
Alexander Sevérus was a good man, and well educated. But he endeavoured in vain to check the decline of the state. The military had become all powerful, and he could affect nothing against it. During his reign (222-235), the famous baths begun by Caracalla were finished.
The Time of Chaos
Maximinus Thrax – Imperator Caesar Gaius Julius Verus Maximinus Pius Felix Invictus Augustus (235-238)
Gaius Julius Verus Maximinus “Thrax” (“the Thracian”; c. 173 – 238) was Roman emperor from 235 to 238.
His father was an accountant in the governor’s office and sprang from ancestors who were Carpi (a Dacian tribe), a people whom Diocletian would eventually drive from their ancient abode (in Dacia) and transfer to Pannonia.Maximinus was the commander of the Legio IV Italica when Severus Alexander was assassinated by his own troops in 235. The Pannonian army then elected Maximinus emperor.
In 238 (which came to be known as the Year of the Six Emperors), a senatorial revolt broke out, leading to the successive proclamation of Gordian I, Gordian II, Pupienus, Balbinus and Gordian III as emperors in opposition to Maximinus. Maximinus advanced on Rome to put down the revolt, but was halted at Aquileia, where he was assassinated by disaffected elements of the Legio II Parthica.
Maximinus is described by several ancient sources, though none are contemporary except Herodian’s Roman History. He was a so-called barracks emperor of the 3rd century; his rule is often considered to mark the beginning of the Crisis of the Third Century. Maximinus was the first emperor who hailed neither from the senatorial class nor from the equestrian class.
Gordian I – Imperator Caesar Marcus Antoninus Gordianus Sempronianus Romanus Africanus (238)
Gordian I was Roman emperor for 22 days with his son Gordian II in 238, the Year of the Six Emperors. Caught up in a rebellion against the Emperor Maximinus Thrax, he was defeated by forces loyal to Maximinus, and he committed suicide after the death of his son.
Gordian II – Imperator Caesar Marcus Antoninus Gordianus Sempronianus Romanus Africanus (238)
Gordian II was Roman emperor with his father Gordian I in 238 AD, the Year of the Six Emperors. Seeking to overthrow Maximinus Thrax, he died in battle outside Carthage. Since he died before his father, Gordian II had the shortest reign of any Roman emperor, at 22 days.
Pupienus – Imperator Caesar Marcus Clodius Pupienus Maximus Augustus (238)
Marcus Clodius Pupienus Maximus (c. 168 – 238 AD) was Roman emperor with Balbinus for 99 days in 238, during the Year of the Six Emperors. The sources for this period are scant, and thus knowledge of the emperor is limited. In most contemporary texts he is referred to by his cognomen “Maximus” rather than by his second nomen (family name) Pupienus (Classical Latin: [puːpiːˈeːnʊs]).
Balbinus – Imperator Caesar Decius Caelius Calvinus Balbinus Pius Felix Augustus (238)
Decimus Caelius Calvinus Balbinus (died 238 AD) was Roman emperor with Pupienus for three months in 238, the Year of the Six Emperors.
Gordian III – Imperator Caesar Marcus Antonius Gordianus Pius Felix Augustus (238-244)
Gordian III was Roman emperor from 238 to 244. At the age of 13, he became the youngest sole emperor of the united Roman Empire. Gordian was the son of Antonia Gordiana and Junius Balbus, who died before 238. Antonia Gordiana was the daughter of Emperor Gordian I and younger sister of Emperor Gordian II. Very little is known of his early life before his acclamation. Gordian had assumed the name of his maternal grandfather in 238.
Philip the Arab – Imperator Caesar Marcus Julius Phillipus Pius Felix Invictus Augustus (244-249)
Philip the Arab was Roman emperor from 244 to 249. He was born in Aurantis, Arabia, in a city situated in modern-day Syria. After the death of Gordian III in February 244, Philip, who had been Praetorian prefect, achieved power. He quickly negotiated peace with the Persian Sassanid Empire and returned to Rome to be confirmed by the Senate. During his reign, the city of Rome celebrated its millennium.
Philip was betrayed and killed at the Battle of Verona in September 249 following a rebellion led by his successor, Gaius Messius Quintus Decius. Philip’s reign of five years was uncommonly stable in a turbulent third century.
During the late 3rd century and into the 4th, it was held by some churchmen that Philip had been the first Christian emperor; he was described as such in Jerome’s Chronicon (Chronicle), which was well known during the Middle Ages, in Orosius’ highly popular Historia Adversus Paganos (History Against the Pagans), and was presented as a Christian in Eusebius of Caesarea’s Historia Ecclesiastica (Ecclesiastical History). Modern scholars are divided on the issue.
Philip II – Marcus Julius Severus Philippus; (237 – 249)
Philip II, also known as Philip the Younger, was the son and heir of the Roman emperor Philip the Arab by his wife Marcia Otacilia Severa.
When his father became emperor in 244, the 7-year-old Philip was appointed caesar. In 247 he became consul, and was later elevated by his father to the rank of augustus and co-ruler. The thousandth anniversary of the founding of Rome occurred during their reign and great games and spectacles were planned for the celebration.
Ancient historians say that Philip the Arab and Philip II were both killed in battle by Decius in 249. Modern historians say that when news of Philip the Arab’s death reached Rome, Philip II was murdered by the Praetorian Guard at the age of twelve. Some argue that Philip II was sole ruler of the empire for the fall of 249.
Decius – Imperator Caesar Gaius Messius Quintus Traianus Decius Pius Felix Invictus Augustus (249-251)
Gaius Messius Quintus Traianus Decius, sometimes translated as Trajan Decius or Decius, was the emperor of the Roman Empire from 249 to 251.
A distinguished politician during the reign of Philip the Arab, Decius was proclaimed emperor by his troops after putting down a rebellion in Moesia. In 249, he defeated and killed Philip near Verona and was recognized as emperor by the Senate afterwards. During his reign, he attempted to strengthen the Roman state and its religion, leading to the Decian persecution, where a number of prominent Christians (including Pope Fabian) were put to death. In the last year of his reign, Decius co-ruled with his son Herennius Etruscus, until they were both killed by the Goths in the Battle of Abritus.
Trebonius Gallus – Imperator Caesar Gaius Vibius Trebonianus Gallus Pius Felix Invictus Augustus (251-253)
Gaius Vibius Trebonianus Gallus (206 – August 253) was Roman emperor from June 251 to August 253, in a joint rule with his son Volusianus.
Herennius Etruscus – Quintus Herennius Etruscus Messius Decius (251)
Herennius Etruscus was briefly Roman emperor in 251, ruling jointly under his father Decius. His father was proclaimed emperor by his troops in September 249 while in Pannonia and Moesia, in opposition to Emperor Philip the Arab. Decius defeated Philip in battle, and was then proclaimed emperor by the Roman Senate. Herennius Etruscus was elevated to Caesar in 250, then further raised to Augustus in May 251. When the Goths, under Cniva, invaded the Danubian provinces, Herennius Etruscus was sent with a vanguard, followed by the main body of Roman troops, led by Decius. They ambushed Cniva at the Battle of Nicopolis ad Istrum in 250, routing him, before being ambushed and routed themselves at the Battle of Beroe. Herennius Etruscus was killed in the Battle of Abritus the following year, alongside his father. After the deaths of both emperors, Trebonianus Gallus, who had been governor of Moesia, was elected emperor by the remaining Roman forces.
Aemilius Aemilianus – Imperator Caesar Marcus Aemilius Aemilianus Pius Felix Invictus Augustus (253)
Marcus Aemilius Aemilianus (c. 210 – September 253), also known as Aemilian, was Roman emperor for three months in 253.
Commander of the Moesian troops, he obtained an important victory against the invading Goths and was, for this reason, acclaimed emperor by his army. He then moved quickly to Roman Italy, where he defeated Emperor Trebonianus Gallus at the Battle of Interamna Nahars in August 253, only to be killed by his own men a month later when another general, Valerian, proclaimed himself emperor and moved against Aemilian with a larger army.
Valerian – Imperator Caesar Publius Licinius Valerianus Pius Felix Invictus Augustus (253-260)
Valerian was Roman emperor from 253 to spring 260 AD. He persecuted Christians and was later taken captive by the Persian emperor Shapur I after the Battle of Edessa, becoming the first Roman emperor to be captured as a prisoner of war, causing shock and instability throughout the Roman Empire. The unprecedented event and the unknown fate of the captured emperor generated a variety of different reactions and “new narratives about the Roman Empire in diverse contexts”.
Gallienus – Imperator Caesar Publius Licinius Egnatius Gallienus Pius Felix Invictus Augustus (253-268)
Publius Licinius Egnatius Gallienus was Roman emperor with his father Valerian from 253 to 260 and alone from 260 to 268. He won numerous military victories against usurpers and Germanic tribes, but was unable to prevent the secession of important provinces. His 15-year reign was the longest in half a century.
Born into a wealthy and traditional senatorial family, Gallienus was the son of Valerian and Mariniana. Valerian became Emperor in September 253 and had the Roman Senate elevate Gallienus to the ranks of Caesar and Augustus. Valerian divided the empire between him and his son, with Valerian ruling the east and his son the west. Gallienus defeated the usurper Ingenuus in 258 and destroyed an Alemanni army at Mediolanum in 259.
The defeat and capture of Valerian at Edessa in 260 by the Sasanian Empire threw the Roman Empire into the chaos of civil war. Control of the whole empire passed to Gallienus. He defeated the eastern usurpers Macrianus Major and Lucius Mussius Aemilianus in 261–262 but failed to stop the formation of the breakaway Gallic Empire under general Postumus. Aureolus, another usurper, proclaimed himself emperor in Mediolanum in 268 but was defeated outside the city by Gallienus and besieged inside. While the siege was ongoing, Gallienus was assassinated, stabbed to death by the officer Cecropius, as part of a conspiracy.
Claudius II – Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Claudius Pius Felix Invictus Augustus (268-270)
Marcus Aurelius Claudius “Gothicus”, also known as Claudius II, was Roman emperor from 268 to 270. During his reign he fought successfully against the Alemanni and decisively defeated the Goths at the Battle of Naissus. He died after succumbing to a “pestilence”, possibly the Plague of Cyprian that had ravaged the provinces of the Empire.
Quintillus – Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Claudius Quintillus Invictus Pius Felix Augustus (270)
Marcus Aurelius Claudius Quintillus (died 270) was a Roman emperor. He was a brother of Emperor Claudius Gothicus, whom he succeeded after Claudius’ death in 270. Quintillus’ claim to be emperor was challenged by Aurelian, who was proclaimed emperor by the legions he commanded. Quintillus’ reign lasted no more than six months. Different sources report his cause of death as murder by his own soldiers, in battle with Aurelian, or by suicide.
Aurelian – Imperator Caesar Lucius Domitius Aurelianus Pius Felix Invictus Augustus (270-275)
Aurelian was a Roman emperor who won an unprecedented series of military victories which reunited the Roman Empire after it had nearly disintegrated under the pressure of barbarian invasions and internal revolts. Born in modest circumstances, near the Danube River, he entered the Roman army in 235 and climbed up the ranks. He went on to lead the cavalry of the emperor Gallienus, until Gallienus’ assassination in 268. Following that, Claudius Gothicus became emperor until his own death in 270. Claudius’ brother Quintillus ruled the empire for three months, before Aurelian became emperor.
During his reign, he defeated the Alamanni after a devastating war. He also defeated the Goths, Vandals, Juthungi, Sarmatians, and Carpi. Aurelian restored the Empire’s eastern provinces after his conquest of the Palmyrene Empire in 273. The following year he conquered the Gallic Empire in the west, reuniting the Empire in its entirety. He was also responsible for the construction of the Aurelian Walls in Rome, the abandonment of the province of Dacia, and monetary reform, trying to curb the devaluation of the Roman currency.
Although Domitian, two centuries earlier, was the first emperor who had demanded to be officially hailed as dominus et deus (“master and god”), these titles never occurred in written form on official documents until the reign of Aurelian. His successes were instrumental in ending the crisis, earning him the title Restitutor Orbis (“Restorer of the World”).
Tacitus – Imperator Caesar Marcus Claudius Tacitus Pius Felix Augustus (275-276)
Marcus Claudius Tacitus was Roman emperor from 275 to 276. During his short reign he campaigned against the Goths and the Heruli, for which he received the title Gothicus Maximus.
Florianus – Imperator Caesar Marcus Annius Florianus Pius Felix Augustus (276)
Marcus Annius Florianus, also known as Florian, was Roman emperor from the death of his half-brother, Emperor Tacitus, in July 276 until his own murder in September of that year.
Florianus proclaimed himself emperor, with the recognition of the Roman Senate and much of the empire. However, the new emperor soon had to deal with the revolt of Probus, who rose up shortly after Florianus ascended the throne, with the backing of the provinces of Egypt, Syria, Palestine, and Phoenicia. Probus took advantage of the terrain of the Cilician Gates, and the hot climate of the area, to which Florianus’ army was unaccustomed, to chip away at their morale. Florianus’ army rose up against him and killed him.
Probus – Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Probus Pius Felix Invictus Augustus (276-282)
Marcus Aurelius Probus was Roman emperor from 276 to 282. Probus was an active and successful general as well as a conscientious administrator, and in his reign of six years he secured prosperity for the inner provinces while withstanding repeated invasions of barbarian tribes on almost every sector of the frontier.
After repelling the foreign enemies of the empire Probus was forced to handle several internal revolts, but demonstrated leniency and moderation to the vanquished wherever possible. In his reign the constitutional authority of the Roman Senate was fastidiously maintained, and the victorious Emperor, who had carried his army to victory over the Rhine, professed himself dependent on the sanction of the Senate.
Upon defeating the Germans, Probus re-erected the ancient fortifications of emperor Hadrian between the Rhine and Danube rivers, protecting the Agri Decumates, and exacted from the vanquished a tribute of manpower to resettle depopulated provinces within the empire and provide for adequate defense of the frontiers. Despite his widespread popularity, Probus was killed in a mutiny of the soldiers while in the middle of preparations for the Persian war, which would be carried out under his successor Carus.
Carus – Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Carus Pius Felix Invictus Augustus (282-283)
Marcus Aurelius Carus fought the Germanic tribes and Sarmatians along the Danube frontier with success. He died while campaigning against the Sassanid Empire and is believed to have died of unnatural causes. It was reported that he had been struck by lightning. He was succeeded by his sons Carinus and Numerian, creating a dynasty which, though short-lived, provided further stability to the resurgent empire.
Numerian – Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Numerianus Pius Felix Augustus (283-284)
Numerian was Roman emperor from 283 to 284 with his older brother Carinus. They were sons of Carus, a general raised to the office of praetorian prefect under Emperor Probus in 282.
Carinus – Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Carinus Pius Felix Invictus Augustus (283-285)
Marcus Aurelius Carinus was Roman emperor from 283 to 285. The elder son of emperor Carus, he was first appointed Caesar and in the beginning of 283, with the title of Augustus, he was appointed co-emperor of the western portion of the empire by his father. Official accounts of his character and career, which portray him as debauched and incapable, have been filtered through the propaganda of his successful opponent, Diocletian.
The Gallic Empire
Postumus – Imperator Caesar Marcus Cassianus Latinius Postumus Pius Felix Invictus Augustus (260-269)
Marcus Cassianius Latinius Postumus was a Roman commander of Batavian origin, who ruled as emperor of the splinter state of the Roman Empire known to modern historians as the Gallic Empire. The Roman army in Gaul threw off its allegiance to Gallienus around the year 260, and Postumus assumed the title and powers of Emperor in the provinces of Gaul, Germania, Britannia, and Hispania. He ruled for the better part of ten years before he was murdered by his own troops
Laelianus – Imperator Caesar Gaius Ulpius Cornelius Laelianus Pius Felix Augustus (269)
Laelian also incorrectly referred to as Lollianus and Aelianus, was a usurper against Postumus, the emperor of the Gallic Empire. His revolt lasted from approximately late February to early June 269.
Laelian declared himself emperor at Moguntiacum (modern-day Mainz in Germany) in February/March 269, after repulsing a Germanic invasion. Although his exact position is unknown, he is believed to have been a senior officer under Postumus, either the legatus of Germania Superior or the commander of Legio XXII Primigenia. Laelian represented a strong danger to Postumus because of the two legions he commanded (Primigenia in Moguntiacum and VIII Augusta in Argentoratum); Despite this, his rebellion lasted only about two months before he was executed, reputedly by his own soldiers, or by Postumus’ troops after a siege of Laelian’s capital. The siege of Moguntiacum was also fatal for Postumus; it is said he was slain when he refused to allow his troops to plunder the city following its capture.
Marius – Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Marius Pius Felix Augustus (269 -271)
Marcus Aurelius Marius was emperor of the Gallic Empire in 269 following the assassination of Postumus. Marcus Aurelius Marius first decision was in all likelihood to allow his troops to sack the city of Moguntiacum. Seeking to solidify his power base, he then moved to Augusta Treverorum (Trier). His reign lasted no more than two or three months before Postumus’ praetorian prefect Victorinus had Marius killed in the middle of 269, most likely at Augusta Treverorum.
Victorinus – Imperator Caesar Marcus Piavonius Victorinus Pius Felix Invictus Augustus (269-271)
Marcus Piavonius Victorinus was emperor in the Gallic provinces from 269 to 271, following the brief reign of Marius. He was murdered by a jealous husband whose wife he had tried to seduce.
Tetricus – Imperator Caesar Gaius Pius Esuvius Tetricus Felix Invictus Augustus (271-274)
Gaius Pius Esuvius Tetricus was the emperor of the Gallic Empire from 271 to 274 AD. He was originally the praeses (governor) of Gallia Aquitania and became emperor after the murder of Emperor Victorinus in 271, with the support of Victorinus’s mother, Victoria. During his reign, he faced external pressure from Germanic raiders, who pillaged the eastern and northern parts of his empire, and the Roman Empire, from which the Gallic Empire had seceded. He also faced increasing internal pressure, which led him to declare his son, Tetricus II, caesar in 273 and possibly co-emperor in 274, although this is debated. The Roman emperor Aurelian invaded in 273 or 274, leading to the Battle of Châlons, at which Tetricus surrendered. Whether this capitulation was the result of a secret agreement between Tetricus and Aurelian or necessary after his defeat is debated. Aurelian spared Tetricus, and even made him a senator and corrector (governor) of Lucania et Bruttium. Tetricus died of natural causes a few years after 274.
The Empire Restored
Diocletian – Imperator Caesar Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus Pius Felix Invictus Augustus (284-305)
Diocletian, nicknamed “Jovius”, was Roman emperor from 284 until his abdication in 305. He was born Gaius Valerius Diocles to a family of low status in the Roman province of Dalmatia. Diocles rose through the ranks of the military early in his career, eventually becoming a cavalry commander for the army of Emperor Carus. After the deaths of Carus and his son Numerian on a campaign in Persia, Diocles was proclaimed emperor by the troops, taking the name Diocletianus. The title was also claimed by Carus’s surviving son, Carinus, but Diocletian defeated him in the Battle of the Margus.
Maximian – Imperator Caesar Gaius Aurelius Valerius Maximianus Pius Felix Invictus Augustus (286-305, 307-308)
Maximian, nicknamed Herculius, was Roman emperor from 286 to 305. He was Caesar from 285 to 286, then Augustus from 286 to 305. He shared the latter title with his co-emperor and superior, Diocletian, whose political brain complemented Maximian’s military brawn. Maximian established his residence at Trier but spent most of his time on campaign. In late 285, he suppressed rebels in Gaul known as the Bagaudae. From 285 to 288, he fought against Germanic tribes along the Rhine frontier. Together with Diocletian, he launched a scorched earth campaign deep into Alamannic territory in 288, refortifying the frontier.
Constantius I – Imperator Caesar Gaius Flavius Valerius Constantius Augustus (305-306)
Flavius Valerius Constantius “Chlorus”, also called Constantius I, was Roman emperor from 305 to 306. He was one of the four original members of the Tetrarchy established by Diocletian, first serving as caesar from 293 to 305 and then ruling as augustus until his death. Constantius was also father of Constantine the Great, the first Christian emperor of Rome. The nickname Chlorus was first popularized by Byzantine-era historians and not used during the emperor’s lifetime. After his re-conquering of Roman Britain, he was given the title ‘Redditor Lucis Aeternae’, meaning ‘The Restorer of Eternal Light’.
Galerius – Imperator Caesar Galerius Valerius Maximianus Pius Felix Invictus Augustus (305-311)
Gaius Galerius Valerius Maximianus was Roman emperor from 305 to 311. During his reign he campaigned, aided by Diocletian, against the Sasanian Empire, sacking their capital Ctesiphon in 299. He also campaigned across the Danube against the Carpi, defeating them in 297 and 300. Although he was a staunch opponent of Christianity, Galerius ended the Diocletianic Persecution when he issued an Edict of Toleration in Serdica in 311.
Severus II – Imperator Severus Pius Felix Augustus (306-307)
Flavius Valerius Severus (died September 307), also called Severus II, was a Roman emperor from 306 to 307. After failing to besiege Rome, he fled to Ravenna. It is thought that he was killed there or executed near Rome.
Maxentius – Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maxentius Pius Felix Invictus Augustus (306-312)
Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maxentius was a Roman emperor, who reigned from 306 until his death in 312. Despite ruling in Italy and North Africa, and having the recognition of the Senate in Rome, he was not recognized as a legitimate emperor by his fellow emperors.
He was the son of former Emperor Maximian and the son-in-law of Emperor Galerius. The latter part of his reign was preoccupied with civil war, allying with Maximinus against Licinius and Constantine. The latter defeated him at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312, where Maxentius, with his army in flight, purportedly perished by drowning in the Tiber river.
Maxentius was the last emperor to permanently reside in Rome. He attempted to embellish, restore and improve the ancient capital, carrying out important building works, including the Temple of the Divine Romulus (dedicated to his deceased son), the Basilica of Maxentius, which was completed by Constantine, the villa and the circus of Maxentius.
Maximinus Daia – Imperator Caesar Galerius Valerius Maximinus Pius Felix Augustus (310-313)
Galerius Valerius Maximinus, born as Daza[i] (20 November c. 270 – c. July 313), was Roman emperor from 310 to 313 CE. He became embroiled in the Civil wars of the Tetrarchy between rival claimants for control of the empire, in which he was defeated by Licinius. A committed pagan, he engaged in one of the last persecutions of Christians, before issuing an edict of tolerance near his death.
Constantine – Imperator Caesar Flavius Constantinus Pius Felix Invictus Augustus (307-337)
Constantine I, also known as Constantine the Great, was Roman emperor from AD 306 to 337, the first one to convert to Christianity. Born in Naissus, Dacia Mediterranea (now Niš, Serbia), he was the son of Flavius Constantius, a Roman army officer of Illyrian origin who had been one of the four rulers of the Tetrarchy. His mother, Helena, was a Greek Christian of low birth. Later canonized as a saint, she is traditionally attributed with the conversion of her son. Constantine served with distinction under the Roman emperors Diocletian and Galerius. He began his career by campaigning in the eastern provinces (against the Persians) before being recalled in the west (in AD 305) to fight alongside his father in Britain. After his father’s death in 306, Constantine became emperor. He was acclaimed by his army at Eboracum (York, England), and eventually emerged victorious in the civil wars against emperors Maxentius and Licinius to become the sole ruler of the Roman Empire by 324.
Licinius – Imperator Caesar Gaius Valerius Licinius Pius Felix Invictus Augustus (308-324)
Valerius Licinianus Licinius (c. 265 – 325) was Roman emperor from 308 to 324. For most of his reign he was the colleague and rival of Constantine I, with whom he co-authored the Edict of Milan, AD 313, that granted official toleration to Christians in the Roman Empire. He was finally defeated at the Battle of Chrysopolis (AD 324), and was later executed on the orders of Constantine I.
The Heirs of Constantine
Constantine II – (337-340)
Constantine II was the son of Constantine the Great and co-emperor alongside his brothers, his attempt to exert his perceived rights of primogeniture led to his death in a failed invasion of Italy in 340.
Constans I – (337-350)
Flavius Julius Constans (c. 323 – 350), sometimes called Constans I, was Roman emperor from 337 to 350. He held the imperial rank of caesar from 333, and was the youngest son of Constantine the Great.
After his father’s death, he was made augustus alongside his brothers in September 337. Constans was given the administration of the praetorian prefectures of Italy, Illyricum, and Africa. He defeated the Sarmatians in a campaign shortly afterwards. Quarrels over the sharing of power led to a civil war with his eldest brother and co-emperor Constantine II, who invaded Italy in 340 and was killed in battle with Constans’s forces near Aquileia. Constans gained from him the praetorian prefecture of Gaul. Thereafter there were tensions with his remaining brother and co-augustus Constantius II (r. 337–361), including over the exiled bishop Athanasius of Alexandria. In the following years he campaigned against the Franks, and in 343 he visited Roman Britain, the last legitimate emperor to do so.
In January 350, Magnentius (r. 350–353) the commander of the Jovians and Herculians, a corps in the Roman army, was acclaimed augustus at Augustodunum (Autun) with the support of Marcellinus, the comes rei privatae. Magnentius overthrew and killed Constans. Surviving sources, possibly influenced by the propaganda of Magnentius’s faction, accuse Constans of misrule and of homosexuality.
Constantius II – (337-361)
After his father’s death, he was made augustus alongside his brothers in September 337. The brothers divided the empire among themselves, with Constantius receiving Greece, Thrace, the Asian provinces, and Egypt in the east. For the following decade a costly and inconclusive war against Persia took most of Constantius’s time and attention. In the meantime, his brothers Constantine and Constans warred over the western provinces of the empire, leaving the former dead in 340 and the latter as sole ruler of the west. The two remaining brothers maintained an uneasy peace with each other until, in 350, Constans was overthrown and assassinated by the usurper Magnentius.
Julian – (360-363)
Julian was Roman emperor from 361 to 363, as well as a notable philosopher and author in Greek. His rejection of Christianity, and his promotion of Neoplatonic Hellenism in its place, caused him to be remembered as Julian the Apostate in Christian tradition.
A nephew of Constantine, Julian was one of few in the imperial family to survive the purges and civil wars during the reign of Constantius II, his cousin. Julian became an orphan as a child after his father was executed in 337, and spent much of his life under Constantius’s close supervision. However, the emperor allowed Julian to freely pursue an education in the Greek-speaking east, with the result that Julian became unusually cultured for an emperor of his time. In 355, Constantius II summoned Julian to court and appointed him to rule Gaul. Despite his inexperience, Julian showed unexpected success in his new capacity, defeating and counterattacking Germanic raids across the Rhine and encouraging the ravaged provinces’ return to prosperity. In 360, he was proclaimed emperor by his soldiers at Lutetia (Paris), sparking a civil war with Constantius. However, Constantius died before the two could face each other in battle, and named Julian as his successor.
In 363, Julian embarked on an ambitious campaign against the Sasanian Empire. The campaign was initially successful, securing a victory outside Ctesiphon in Mesopotamia. However, he did not attempt to besiege the capital. Julian instead moved into Persia’s heartland, but he soon faced supply problems and was forced to retreat northwards while being ceaselessly harassed by Persian skirmishes. During the Battle of Samarra, Julian was mortally wounded under mysterious circumstances. He was succeeded by Jovian, a senior officer in the imperial guard, who was obliged to cede territory, including Nisibis, in order to save the trapped Roman forces.
Jovian – (363-364)
Jovian was Roman emperor from June 363 to February 364. As part of the imperial bodyguard, he accompanied Emperor Julian on his campaign against the Sasanian Empire and following the latter’s death, Jovian was hastily declared emperor by his soldiers. With the army exhausted, provisions running low, and unable to cross the Tigris, he sought peace with the Sasanids on humiliating terms. After his arrival at Edessa, Jovian was petitioned by bishops over doctrinal issues concerning Christianity. His return to Constantinople would be cut short by his death at Dadastana. Jovian reigned eight months.
Valentinian I – (364-375)
Valentinian I, sometimes called Valentinian the Great, was Roman emperor from 364 to 375. Upon becoming emperor, he made his brother Valens his co-emperor, giving him rule of the eastern provinces. Valentinian retained the west.
During his reign, Valentinian fought successfully against the Alamanni, Quadi, and Sarmatians. Most notable was his victory over the Alamanni in 367 at the Battle of Solicinium. His general Count Theodosius defeated a revolt in Africa and the Great Conspiracy, a coordinated assault on Roman Britain by Picts, Scots, and Saxons. Valentinian was also the last emperor to conduct campaigns across both the Rhine and Danube rivers. Valentinian rebuilt and improved the fortifications along the frontiers, even building fortresses in enemy territory.
He founded the Valentinianic dynasty, with his sons Gratian and Valentinian II succeeding him in the western half of the empire.
Gratian – (367-383)
Gratian was emperor of the Western Roman Empire from 367 to 383. The eldest son of Valentinian I, Gratian accompanied his father on several campaigns along the Rhine and Danube frontiers and was raised to the rank of Augustus in 367. Upon the death of Valentinian in 375, Gratian took over government of the west while his half-brother Valentinian II was also acclaimed emperor in Pannonia. Gratian governed the western provinces of the empire, while his uncle Valens was already the emperor over the east.
Gratian subsequently led a campaign across the Rhine, attacked the Lentienses, and forced the tribe to surrender. That same year, the eastern emperor Valens was killed fighting the Goths at the Battle of Adrianople, which led to Gratian elevating Theodosius to replace him in 379. Gratian favoured Nicene Christianity over traditional Roman religion, issuing the Edict of Thessalonica, refusing the office of pontifex maximus, and removing the Altar of Victory from the Roman Senate’s Curia Julia. The city of Cularo on the Isère river in Roman Gaul was renamed Gratianopolis after him, which later evolved to Grenoble.
In 383, faced with rebellion by the usurper Magnus Maximus, Gratian marched his army towards Lutetia (Paris). His army deserted him. He fled to Lugdunum and was later murdered.
Valentinian II – (375-392)
Valentinian II was a Roman emperor in the western part of the Roman empire between AD 375 and 392. He was at first junior co-ruler of his brother, was then sidelined by a usurper, and only after 388 sole ruler, albeit with limited de facto powers.
A son of emperor Valentinian I and empress Justina, he was raised to the imperial office at the age of 4 by military commanders upon his father’s death. Until 383, Valentinian II remained a junior partner to his older half-brother Gratian in ruling the Western empire, while the East was governed by his uncle Valens until 378 and Theodosius I from 379. When Gratian was killed by the usurper emperor Magnus Maximus in 383, the court of Valentinian in Milan became the center of Italy where several religious debates took place. In 383, Maximus invaded Italy, spurring Valentinian and his family to escape to Thessalonica where they successfully sought Theodosius’ aid. Theodosius defeated Maximus in battle and re-installed Valentinian in the West. However, Valentinian soon found himself struggling to break free from the control of general Arbogast. In 392, Valentinian was discovered hanged in his room under unknown circumstances.
Eugenius [usurper] – (392-394)
Eugenius (died 6 September 394) was a usurper in the Western Roman Empire (392–394) against Emperor Theodosius I. While Christian himself, Eugenius capitalized on the discontent in the West caused by Theodosius’ religious policies targeting pagans. He renovated the pagan Temple of Venus and Roma and restored the Altar of Victory, after continued petitions from the Roman Senate. Eugenius replaced Theodosius’ administrators with men loyal to him, including pagans. This revived the pagan cause. His army fought the army of Theodosius at the Battle of the Frigidus, where Eugenius was captured and executed.
Theodosius I – (379-395)
Theodosius I, also called Theodosius the Great, was Roman emperor from 379 to 395. During his reign, he succeeded in a crucial war against the Goths, as well as in two civil wars, and recognized the Catholic orthodoxy of Nicene Christians as the Roman Empire’s state religion. Theodosius was the last emperor to rule the entire Roman Empire before its administration was permanently split between two separate courts (one western, the other eastern).
The Division of the Empire – The West
Honorius – (395-423)
Honorius was the younger son of emperor Theodosius I and his first wife Aelia Flaccilla. After the death of Theodosius, Honorius ruled the western half of the empire while his brother Arcadius ruled the eastern half. In 410, during Honorius’s reign over the Western Roman Empire, Rome was sacked for the first time in almost 800 years.
Even by the standards of the Western Empire, Honorius’s reign was precarious and chaotic. His early reign was supported by his principal general, Stilicho, who was successively Honorius’s guardian (during his childhood) and his father-in-law (after the emperor became an adult).
Johannes [usurper] – (423-425)
Joannes or John was western Roman emperor from 423 to 425. On the death of the Emperor Honorius (15 August 423), Theodosius II, the remaining ruler of the House of Theodosius, hesitated in announcing his uncle’s death. In the interregnum, Honorius’s patrician at the time of his death, Castinus, elevated Joannes as emperor.
Valentinian III – (425-455)
Valentinian III was Roman emperor in the West from 425 to 455. Made emperor in childhood, his reign over the Roman Empire was one of the longest, but was dominated by powerful generals vying for power amid civil wars and the invasions of Late Antiquity’s Migration Period, including the campaigns of Attila the Hun.
He was the son of Galla Placidia and Constantius III, and as the great-grandson of Valentinian I (r. 364–375) he was the last emperor of the Valentinianic dynasty. As a grandson of Theodosius I (r. 379–395), Valentinian was also a member of the Theodosian dynasty, to which his wife, Licinia Eudoxia, also belonged. A year before assuming the rank of augustus, Valentinian was given the imperial rank of caesar by his half-cousin and co-emperor Theodosius II (r. 402–450). The augusta Galla Placidia had great influence during her son’s rule. During his early reign Aetius, Felix, and the comes africae, Bonifacius all competed for power within the western empire. Eventually Aetius would defeat Felix and Bonifacius. Aetius would go on to campaign against the many Germanic tribes invading the empire.
During Valentinian’s reign the Huns invaded the Roman Empire. Eventually Aetius would defeat the Huns at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains. Once the Huns returned, Pope Leo I and two other senators convinced Attila to leave. Valentinian himself killed Aetius, and in response Aetius’s bodyguards assassinated Valentinian. Valentinian’s reign was marked by the ongoing collapse of the western empire.
Petronius Maximus – (455)
Petronius Maximus (c. 397 – 31 May 455) was Roman emperor of the West for two and a half months in 455. A wealthy senator and a prominent aristocrat, he was instrumental in the murders of the Western Roman magister militum, Aëtius, and the Western Roman emperor, Valentinian III.
Maximus secured the throne the day after Valentinian’s death by ensuring the backing of the Senate and by bribing the palace officials. He strengthened his position by forcing Valentinian’s widow to marry him and forcing Valentinian’s daughter to marry his son. He cancelled the betrothal of his new wife’s daughter to the son of the Vandal king Genseric. This infuriated both his stepdaughter and Genseric, who sent a fleet to Rome. Maximus failed to obtain troops from the Visigoths and he fled as the Vandals arrived, became detached from his retinue and bodyguard in the confusion, and was killed. The Vandals thoroughly sacked Rome.
Avitus – (455-456)
Eparchius Avitus[i] (c. 390 – 457) was Roman emperor of the West from July 455 to October 456. He was a senator of Gallic extraction and a high-ranking officer both in the civil and military administration, as well as Bishop of Piacenza.
He opposed the reduction of the Western Roman Empire to Italy alone, both politically and from an administrative point of view. For this reason, as Emperor he introduced several Gallic senators in the Imperial administration; this policy, however, was opposed by the senatorial aristocracy and by the people of Rome, who had suffered from the sack of the city by the Vandals in 455.
Avitus had a good relationship with the Visigoths, in particular with their king Theodoric II, who was a friend of his and who acclaimed Avitus Emperor. The possibility of a strong and useful alliance between the Visigoths and Romans faded, however, when Theodoric invaded Hispania at Avitus’ behest, which rendered him unable to help Avitus against the rebel Roman generals who deposed him.
Majorian – (457-461)
Majorian was the western Roman emperor from 457 to 461. A prominent general of the Roman army, Majorian deposed Emperor Avitus in 457 and succeeded him. Majorian was the last emperor to make a concerted effort to restore the Western Roman Empire with its own forces. Possessing little more than Italy, Dalmatia, and some territory in northern Gaul, Majorian campaigned rigorously for three years against the Empire’s enemies. His successors until the fall of the Empire, in 476–480, were actually instruments of their barbarian generals, or emperors chosen and controlled by the Eastern Roman court.
Libius Severus – (461-465)
Libius Severus (died 465), sometimes enumerated as Severus III, was emperor of the Western Roman Empire from 461 to his death in 465. A native of Lucania, Severus was the fourth of the so-called Shadow Emperors who followed the deposition of the Valentinianic dynasty in 455. He ruled for just under four years, attaining the throne after his predecessor, Majorian, was overthrown by his magister militum, Ricimer. Severus was the first of a series of emperors who were highly dependent on the general, and it is often presumed that Ricimer held most of the de facto power during Severus’ reign
Anthemius – (467-472)
Procopius Anthemius (born circa 420, died 11 July 472) was western Roman emperor from 467 to 472.
Perhaps the last capable Western Roman Emperor, Anthemius attempted to solve the two primary military challenges facing the remains of the Western Roman Empire: the resurgent Visigoths, under Euric, whose domain straddled the Pyrenees; and the unvanquished Vandals, under Geiseric, in undisputed control of North Africa. Anthemius was killed by Ricimer, his own general of Gothic descent, who contested power with him.
Olybrius – (472)
Anicius Olybrius (died 2 November 472) was Roman emperor from July 472 until his death later that same year; his rule as Augustus in the western Roman Empire was not recognised as legitimate by the ruling Augustus in the eastern Roman Empire, Leo I (r. 457–474). He was in reality a puppet ruler raised to power by Ricimer, the magister militum of Germanic descent, and was mainly interested in religion, while the actual power was held by Ricimer and his nephew Gundobad.
Glycerius – (473-474)
Glycerius (fl. 470s) was Roman emperor of the West from 473 to 474. He served as comes domesticorum (commander of the palace guard) during the reign of Olybrius, until Olybrius died in November 472. After a four-month interregnum, Glycerius was proclaimed Western Emperor in March 473 by the magister militum (master of soldiers) and power behind the throne Gundobad. Very few of the events of his reign are known other than that during his reign an attempted invasion of Italy by the Visigoths was repelled, diverting them to Gaul. Glycerius also prevented an invasion by the Ostrogoths through gifts.
Julius Nepos – (474-475)
Julius Nepos (died 9 May 480), or simply Nepos, ruled as Roman emperor of the West from 24 June 474 to 28 August 475. After losing power in Italy, Nepos retreated to his home province of Dalmatia, from which he continued to claim the western imperial title, with recognition from the Eastern Roman Empire, until he was murdered in 480. Though Nepos’ successor in Italy, Romulus Augustulus (r. 475–476), is most often considered the last western Roman emperor, Nepos is regarded by some historians as the last western emperor, being the last widely recognised claimant to the position.
Romulus Augustulus [deposed] – (475-476)
Romulus Augustus (c. 461/465 – after 511), nicknamed Augustulus, was Roman emperor of the West from 31 October 475 until 4 September 476. Romulus was placed on the imperial throne by his father, the magister militum Orestes, and, at that time, still a minor, was little more than a figurehead for his father. After Romulus ruled for just ten months, the barbarian general Odoacer defeated and killed Orestes and deposed Romulus. As Odoacer did not proclaim any successor, Romulus is typically regarded as the last Western Roman emperor, his deposition marking the end of the Western Roman Empire as a political entity, despite the fact that Julius Nepos would continue to be recognised as the western emperor by the east. The deposition of Romulus Augustulus is also sometimes used by historians to mark the transition from antiquity to the medieval period.
The Division of the Empire – The East
Arcadius (383 – 408)
Arcadius was Roman emperor from 383 to 408. He was the eldest son of the Augustus Theodosius I (r. 379–395) and his first wife Aelia Flaccilla, and the brother of Honorius (r. 393–423). Arcadius ruled the eastern half of the empire from 395, when their father died, while Honorius ruled the west. A weak ruler, his reign was dominated by a series of powerful ministers and by his wife, Aelia Eudoxia.
Theodosius II (402 – 450)
Theodosius II was Roman emperor for most of his life, proclaimed augustus as an infant in 402 and ruling as the eastern Empire’s sole emperor after the death of his father Arcadius in 408. His reign was marked by the promulgation of the Theodosian law code and the construction of the Theodosian Walls of Constantinople. He also presided over the outbreak of two great Christological controversies, Nestorianism and Eutychianism.
Marcian (450 – 457)
Marcian was Roman emperor of the East from 450 to 457. Very little of his life before becoming emperor is known, other than that he was a domesticus (personal assistant) who served under the commanders Ardabur and his son Aspar for fifteen years. After the death of Emperor Theodosius II on 28 July 450, Marcian was made a candidate for the throne by Aspar, who held much influence because of his military power. After a month of negotiations Pulcheria, Theodosius’ sister, agreed to marry Marcian. Zeno, a military leader whose influence was similar to Aspar’s, may have been involved in these negotiations, as he was given the high-ranking court title of patrician upon Marcian’s accession. Marcian was elected and inaugurated on 25 August 450.
Leo I (457 – 474)
Leo I, also known as “the Thracian”, was Eastern Roman emperor from 457 to 474. He was a native of Dacia Aureliana near historic Thrace. He is sometimes surnamed with the epithet “the Great”, probably to distinguish him from his young grandson and co-augustus Leo II.
Ruling the Eastern Empire for nearly 20 years, Leo proved to be a capable ruler. He oversaw many ambitious political and military plans, aimed mostly at aiding the faltering Western Roman Empire and recovering its former territories. He is notable for being the first Eastern Emperor to legislate in Koine Greek rather than Late Latin. He is commemorated as a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church, with his feast day on 20 January.
Leo II (473 – 474)
Leo II was briefly Roman emperor in 474. He was the son of Zeno, the Isaurian general and future emperor, and Ariadne, a daughter of the emperor Leo I (r. 457–474), who ruled the Eastern Roman empire. Leo II was made co-emperor with his grandfather Leo I on 17 November 473, and became sole emperor on 18 January 474 after Leo I died of dysentery. His father Zeno was made co-emperor by the Byzantine Senate on 29 January, and they co-ruled for a short time before Leo II died in November 474. The precise date of Leo’s death is unknown.
Zeno (474 – 475 & 476 – 491)
Zeno was Eastern Roman emperor from 474 to 475 and again from 476 to 491. Domestic revolts and religious dissension plagued his reign, which nevertheless succeeded to some extent in foreign issues. His reign saw the end of the Western Roman Empire following the deposition of Romulus Augustus and the death of Julius Nepos, but he was credited with contributing much to stabilising the Eastern Empire.
In ecclesiastical history, Zeno is associated with the Henotikon or “instrument of union”, promulgated by him and signed by all the Eastern bishops, with the design of solving the monophysite controversy. The Henotikon was widely unpopular and eventually abandoned under Justin I.
Anastasius I Dicorus (491 – 518)
Anastasius I Dicorus was Eastern Roman emperor from 491 to 518. A career civil servant, he came to the throne at the age of 61 after being chosen by the wife of his predecessor, Zeno. His reign was characterised by reforms and improvements in the government, finances, economy, and bureaucracy of the Empire. He is noted for leaving the empire with a stable government, reinvigorated monetary economy and a sizeable budget surplus, which allowed the Empire to pursue more ambitious policies under his successors, most notably Justinian I. Since many of Anastasius’ reforms proved long-lasting, his influence over the Empire endured for many centuries.
Justin I (518-527)
Justin I was the Eastern Roman emperor from 518 to 527. Born to a peasant family, he rose through the ranks of the army to become commander of the imperial guard, and when Emperor Anastasius died he out-maneouvered his rivals and was elected as his successor, in spite of being almost 70 years old. His reign is significant for the founding of the Justinian dynasty that included his eminent nephew Justinian I and three succeeding emperors. His consort was Empress Euphemia.
Justinian I (527-565)
Justinian I , also known as Justinian the Great, was the Byzantine emperor from 527 to 565.
His reign is marked by the ambitious but only partly realized renovatio imperii, or “restoration of the Empire”. This ambition was expressed by the partial recovery of the territories of the defunct Western Roman Empire. His general, Belisarius, swiftly conquered the Vandal Kingdom in North Africa. Subsequently, Belisarius, Narses, and other generals conquered the Ostrogothic kingdom, restoring Dalmatia, Sicily, Italy, and Rome to the empire after more than half a century of rule by the Ostrogoths. The praetorian prefect Liberius reclaimed the south of the Iberian peninsula, establishing the province of Spania. These campaigns re-established Roman control over the western Mediterranean, increasing the Empire’s annual revenue by over a million solidi. During his reign, Justinian also subdued the Tzani, a people on the east coast of the Black Sea that had never been under Roman rule before. He engaged the Sasanian Empire in the east during Kavad I’s reign, and later again during Khosrow I’s reign; this second conflict was partially initiated due to his ambitions in the west.