AD 14 - 37 (born 42 BC - died AD 37)
Full Name – Tiberius Claudius Nero Caesar
Imperial Name – Tiberius Caesar Augustus
Tiberius Claudius Nero was born on 16 November 42 B.C. Both parents were scions of the gens Claudia which had supplied leaders to the Roman Republic for many generations.
When at last the old Augustus died it was a matter of course that the senate, still the nominal governing body, should petition Tiberius to accept the succession, and that he should do so with some reluctance. His reign abounds in contradictions. Despite his keen intelligence, he allowed himself to come under the influence of unscrupulous men who, as much as any actions of his own, ensured that Tiberius's posthumous reputation would be unfavorable; despite his vast military experience, he oversaw the conquest of no new region for the empire; and despite his administrative abilities he showed such reluctance in running the state as to retire entirely from Rome and live out his last years in isolation on the island of Capri.
The soldiery was loyal to him, the representatives of the great families had neither experience of rule nor military position. Hence his accession went unchallenged.
As under Augustus the empire at large enjoyed peace and prosperity, showing no signs of general disaffection. The provincial system worked under Tiberius, as it had under Augustus, much better than under the old senatorial system.
No little insight and resolution were needed to face imperial problems as Tiberius dealt with agitators, vested interests and upholders of aristocratic tradition, all of whom were united in denouncing him as evil and corrupt.
Though much of Tiberius' bad image in history is due to his own doing. The responsibility for the vicious rule of his administrator Sejanus, the head of the praetorian guard, ultimately lay with the emperor who had chosen him for the job. So too Tiberius' treason laws created an air of terror in Rome. The introduction of a large network of paid informers under Tiberius only further increased the feeling of oppression.
Along the Rhine the troops would no doubt have hailed Germanicus to be the new emperor instead of the despised Tiberius, if only they could have won their champions' consent. But Germanicus remained loyal. His heart was instead set on the conquest of Germany, where he indeed did succeed in inflicting a heavy defeat on Arminius.
Tiberius though conscientiously followed the advice of Augustus in seeking to extend the empire any further and recalled Germanicus from Germany, in AD 17 instead dispatching him to the east. Many saw this as an act of jealousy by the emperor at the time, envious of his general's popularity. While in the east, Germanicus died in circumstances which gave rise to rumours that his death had been designed by Tiberius, and his memory was cherished as a victim of the emperor's jealousy.
In AD 26 Tiberius retired to the island of Caprae (Capri) where he, according to rumour, lived a life of debauchery, leaving Rome in the hands of his praetorian prefect Sejanus.
Though Sejanus, having concentrated the praetorian guard in one camp, whereas before they had been scattered across Rome, was a brutal tyrant, who sought to eventually rid himself of Tiberius and become emperor himself.
Though Sejanus' intentions became apparent to Tiberius and he was stripped of his power and executed in AD 31. The fall of Sejanus served only to relieve the nightmare, not to end it. The Sejanus affair appears to have greatly depressed Tiberius. A close friend and confidant had betrayed him; whom could he trust anymore? His withdrawal from public life seemed more complete in the last years. Letters kept him in touch with Rome, but it was the machinery of the Augustan administration that kept the empire running smoothly. For six more years Tiberius remained at Caprae. He also became all but paranoid in his dealings with others and spent long hours brooding over the death of his son, Drusus, which had now been revealed to him as the work of his "friend" Sejanus; all who were implicated, he had executed in barbaric fashion. As a result, no measures were taken for the succession, beyond vague indications of favor to his nephew Gaius (Caligula).
Tiberius died quietly in a villa at Misenum on 16 March A.D. 37. He was 78 years old. There are some hints in the sources of the hand of Caligula in the deed, but such innuendo can be expected at the death of an emperor, especially when his successor proved so depraved. The level of unpopularity Tiberius had achieved by the time of his death with both the upper and lower classes is revealed by these facts: the Senate refused to vote him divine honors, and mobs filled the streets yelling "To the Tiber with Tiberius!" (in reference to a method of disposal reserved for the corpses of criminals).
AD 37 - 41 (born AD 12 - died 41)
Full Name: Gaius Caesar Germanicus
Imperial Name: Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus
Gaius was born on 31 August, A.D. 12, probably at the Julio-Claudian resort of Antium (modern Anzio), the third of six children born to Augustus's adopted grandson, Germanicus, and Augustus's granddaughter, Agrippina. As a baby he accompanied his parents on military campaigns in the north and was shown to the troops wearing a miniature soldier's outfit, including the hob-nailed sandal called caliga, whence the nickname by which posterity remembers him. Shortly before the fall of Tiberius's Praetorian Prefect, Sejanus, in A.D. 31 he was summoned to join Tiberius at his villa on Capri, where he remained until his accession in A.D. 37. In the interim, his two brothers and his mother suffered demotion and, eventually, violent death.
When Tiberius died on 16 March A.D. 37, Gaius was in a perfect position to assume power, despite the obstacle of Tiberius's will, which named him and his cousin Tiberius Gemellus joint heirs. (Gemellus's life was shortened considerably by this bequest, since Gaius ordered him killed within a matter of months.) Backed by the Praetorian Guard, Gaius asserted his dominance. He had Tiberius's will declared null and void on grounds of insanity, accepted the powers of the Principate as conferred by the Senate, and entered Rome on 28 March amid scenes of wild rejoicing. His first acts were generous in spirit: he paid Tiberius's bequests and gave a cash bonus to the Praetorian Guard, the first recorded donativum to troops in imperial history. He honored his father and other dead relatives. Finally, he recalled exiles and reimbursed those wronged by the imperial tax system. His popularity was immense.
The ancient sources are practically unanimous as to the cause of Gaius's downfall: he was insane. The writers differ as to how this condition came about, but all agree that after his good start Gaius began to behave in an openly autocratic manner, even a crazed one. Outlandish stories cluster about the raving emperor, illustrating his excessive cruelty or disrespect toward tradition and the Senate. The sources describe laughable military campaigns in the north, the building of a pontoon bridge across the Bay at Baiae, and the plan to make his horse a consul. Modern scholars have pored over these incidents and come up with a variety of explanations: Gaius suffered from an illness; he was misunderstood; he was corrupted by power; or, accepting the ancient evidence, they conclude that he was mad. The best explanation both for Gaius's behavior and the subsequent hostility of the sources is that he was an inexperienced young man thrust into a position of unlimited power, the true nature of which had been carefully disguised by its founder, Augustus. Gaius, however, saw through the disguise and began to act accordingly. This, coupled with his troubled upbringing and almost complete lack of tact led to behavior that struck his contemporaries as extreme, even insane.
Gaius's reign is too short, and the surviving ancient accounts too sensationalized, for any serious policies of his to be discerned. During his reign, Mauretania was annexed and reorganized into two provinces, Herod Agrippa was appointed to a kingdom in Palestine, and severe riots took place in Alexandria between Jews and Greeks. These events are largely overlooked in the sources, since they offer slim pickings for sensational stories of madness. Two other episodes, however, garner greater attention: Gaius's military activities on the northern frontier, and his vehement demand for divine honors. His military activities are portrayed as ludicrous, with Gauls dressed up as Germans at his triumph and Roman troops ordered to collect sea-shells as "spoils of the sea."
The conspiracy that ended Gaius's life was hatched among the officers of the Praetorian Guard, apparently for purely personal reasons. It appears also to have had the support of some senators and an imperial freedman. On 24 January A.D. 41 the Praetorian Guard caught Gaius alone in a secluded palace corridor and cut him down. He was 28 years old and had ruled three years and ten months.
Whatever damage Tiberius's later years had done to the carefully crafted political edifice created by Augustus, Gaius multiplied it a hundredfold. His reign highlighted an inherent weakness in the Augustan Principate, now openly revealed for what it was -- a raw monarchy in which only the self-discipline of the incumbent acted as a restraint on his behavior. That the only means of retiring the emperor was murder marked another important revelation: Roman emperors could not relinquish their powers without simultaneously relinquishing their lives.
AD 41 - 54 (born 10 BC - died AD 54)
Full Name: Tiberius Claudius Nero Germanicus
Imperial Name: Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus
As news of Caligula's assassination spread, the senate gathered in haste, several of them ready to press their own claims to the succession, other urged that the moment had come to restore the republic.
Though the praetorian guard had its own ideas as to who should take the throne. Claudius, Caligula's feeble uncle, had been dragged from his hiding place in the palace to the praetorian camp, where he was promptly hailed as emperor, and then marched back to the senate, who had no choice but to confirm their decision.
But the soldiers had chosen better than they knew. Claudius had spent his life as the almost forgotten, half-witted brother of the great Germanicus. But now in office he proved extremely conscientious. His intentions were excellent, and his political theory, if derived wholly from books, was intelligent. He was 'the wisest fool' in Rome, but he kept his wisdom for the state, while his domestic follies made him a figure of contempt to his contemporaries and ridiculous to posterity.
Claudius was already fifty years old when he began his reign (AD 41- 54). Throughout the period the empire enjoyed general prosperity and there were few complaints from the provinces. Claudius held firmly to the belief that the existing border was to be maintained but not extended. Within the empire the practice of extending full Roman citizenship to favored communities was actively developed. But the main achievement of the reign of Claudius was the organized conquest of the south of Britain.
Had Claudius stayed true to Augustus' advice not to expand the empire, this was the one time he broke with it. Was it either to prove himself worthy to his contemporaries in a bid to shake off his image as a half-wit, or simply because the threat of a largely unknown kingdom off the coast of Gaul was too serious to go unchecked, Claudius in AD 43 sent forth a giant invasion force under the command of Aulus Plautius.
Claudius himself took the field at one time and the entire expedition was resounding military success.
But unhappily the feature of Claudius' reign most annoying to the public of the time, was the influence of freedmen (Freed Slaves), for the most part Greeks, who won his confidence, and by the successive wives who plotted against him while they fooled him as they pleased.
In AD 48 Claudius finally rid himself of Messalina, a wife who had disgusted Roman society with her constant betrayal and ridicule of her husband, until alas his eyes had been opened to the fact. The place vacated by Messalina was secured by the emperor's ambitious niece, Agrippina the younger, sister of Caligula. Right from the beginning Agrippina set out to see her son Nero become heir to the imperial throne. Alas Claudius was persuaded to adopt Nero as his own son. Nero being three years the senior to Claudius' own son Britannicus meant that Agrippina had achieved her ambition.
But then as signs became apparent that Claudius was inclining to Britannicus rather than Nero Agrippina sought the advice with a certain Locusta, a woman of not only a shady, if not evil reputation, but also a known expert in poisons.
Claudius died suddenly. Nero, not Britannicus, succeeded him.
AD 54 - 68 (born AD 37 - died 68)
Full Name: Claudius Nero Caesar (born Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus)
Imperial Name: Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus
When he became emperor, Nero was a young man who enjoyed the theater, music and horse racing. His dominating mother, Agrippina, quickly poisoned Nero’s main rival, Claudius’ son, Britannicus.
Nero started well. He ended secret trials and gave the Senate more independence. He banned capital punishment, reduced taxes and allowed slaves to sue unjust owners. He provided assistance to cities that had suffered disasters, gave aid to the Jews and established open competitions in poetry, drama and athletics.
However, like Caligula before him, Nero had a dark side. His impulses began as simple extravagance. Before long, however, stories were circulating that he liked to wander the streets, murdering innocent people at random.
Relations between mother and son grew worse and Nero decided to kill her. He invited her to travel by boat to meet him at the seaside resort where he was staying. When their reunion was over, Agrippina left for home. She was never meant to get there, but the murder attempt failed and Agrippina swam to safety. Annoyed that his plot had failed, Nero abandoned subtlety and sent some soldiers to complete the job. He claimed that his mother had been plotting against him, but fooled nobody. Rome was appalled. Matricide – the murder of one’s own mother – was among the worst possible crimes.
Worse was yet to come. The Great Fire of Rome lasted for six days and seven nights. It destroyed or damaged 10 of Rome’s 14 districts and many homes, shops and temples.
Nero offered to house the homeless, but it was too late. A rumor had spread of Nero’s behavior during the fire: although he hadn’t fiddled while Rome burned, he had been singing. He then sought to recover his popularity with the mob by illuminating his gardens with a public display of burning Christians, on the pretence that they had set fire to Rome.
Roman sentiment was especially scandalized when the emperor gloried in taking personal part in public competitions which to Roman eyes were fit only for Greeks, or freedmen, as well as the shamelessness of his vices and extravagances.
With Nero’s mother dead the emperor was beyond anyone’s control. Rome was now victim to the arbitrary desires of a mad tyrant: there was only one solution.
In 65 AD, one plotter, a freed slave named Epicharis, found a dissatisfied officer who had access to the emperor. She secretly asked him to kill Nero. Instead, the officer betrayed Epicharis and she was captured. Rather than give up the names of her fellow plotters, she killed herself. Not knowing who was involved, Nero redoubled his guard and unleashed terror on Rome. Huge numbers of people were executed or forced to kill themselves. But Rome had had enough. A revolt in the northern territories quickly spread and the Senate declared Nero a public enemy. This meant that anyone could kill him without punishment.
Terrified, Nero fled to the country with his few remaining slaves and killed himself. Without any heirs, the Roman Empire now had no leader. With the ultimate prize up for grabs, rival generals began moving their troops towards Rome and civil war.
AD 69 - 79 (born AD 9 - died 79)
Full Name: Titus Flavius Vespasianus
Imperial Name: Imperator Vespasian Caesar Augustus
Born in AD 9, near the end of the reign of Augustus, Titus Flavius Vespasianus was raised an equestrian in the turbulent political environment of Tiberius' reign. By the reign of Caligula Vespasian had been a military tribune, a quaestor, an aedile and a praetor, in which capacity he impressed Caligula by calling for games to honor his 'victories' in Germania
When Claudius looked to Britain for imperial expansion, Vespasian, with his imperial ties, became a natural choice as a Legate in the campaign. When the arrangements were made and the crossing made in AD 43, Vespasian served Aulus Plautius with distinction. According to Suetonius, he fought thirty battles with the enemy, subjugated two powerful tribes, took more than twenty towns, and the island of Vectis (Isle of Wight). His reputation as a master of siege warfare would eventually become a major factor in securing later positions of prominence. For his successus in the conquest of Britain, he received the triumphal regalia from Claudius, 2 preisthoods and eventually the honorable position of Consul.
Thus with the fall of Vitellius came the end of the first crisis of the Roman empire. With it was revealed the fundamental weakness from which the empire could never completely escape. So long as the troops held to their allegiance their emperor was an incredibly powerful figure. Once an emperor was firmly established with general consent he needed not to fear revolt unless he made himself intolerable. But the settlement of the succession lay with the soldiery and primarily with the praetorians, in their camp at Rome.
Vespasian arrived in Rome to take power in AD 70, having been represented in Rome by his younger son Domitian until his arrival.Vespasian's men were loyal. There was no possible rival on the scene. Rome only craved for the anarchy to end so Vespasian's formal recognition as emperor was a foregone conclusion. Vespasian was a practical man. Like Marius he was of the people, an in no way ashamed of the fact.
He had been fighting, commanding troops organizing and administrating for thirty years, hence he knew the system by personal experience. More so, he was a shrewd judge of character and knew the empire form end to end.
In the same year, in September AD 70, Jerusalem finally fell to Titus, Vespasian's' elder son who had taken charge of the Jewish campaign, as his father had left for Rome. The great Temple of Solomon was razed, the Jews were driven out of their homeland and dispersed.
Also in AD 70 a short lived rebellion in Germany, led by Gallic legionary officer Civilis. It is noteworthy as it proved just how well Vespasian had restored order in such short a time. Unlike during the previous time of civil strife, rebellions now had little chance of prospering.
The vices and extravagances of Roman society held no attraction for the gritty soldier.
His hard-headed shrewdness was the best possible answer to the corruption of the times, making decency more fashionable than indecency. Vespasian indulged in no violence and restored law and public confidence.
He was well served in the men he appointed and his public works were directed to the dignity of state and the welfare of the people. Most popular being the beginning of the construction of the Flavian Amphitheater (Coliseum). Meanwhile his expenditure was economical and put the state treasury back on a sound footing.
Vespasian was not picturesque, but he was effective and he gave the empire, and above all the heart of the empire, Italy, that peace and order which had been to rudely shaken during the civil war.
"he (Vespasian) had a slight illness in Campania, and returning at once to the city, he left for the country where he spent the summer every year. There, while his illness got worse, he nevertheless continued to perform his duties as emperor, even receiving embassies as he lay in bed. Taken on a sudden with such an attack of sickness that he all but swooned, he said: "An emperor ought to die standing," and while he was struggling to get on his feet, he died in the arms of those who tried to help him, on the ninth day before the Kalends of July (June 23, AD 79) at the age of sixty-nine years, one month, and seven days."
AD 79 - 81 (born AD 39 - died 81)
Full Name: Titus Flavius Vespasianus
Imperial Name: Imperator Titus Caesar Vespasianus Augustus
Titus Flavius Vespasianus, the same namesake as his father, was born December 30, AD 39 in Rome under relatively modest circumstances. His mother, Domitilla was of moderate station, the daughter of a treasury clerk, while Vespasian's star was soon to be on the rise under the administration of Claudius. While Vespasian became entrenched with Claudius, Titus too helped nurture the relationship. He developed a close friendship with Claudius' son Britannicus that would last until the prince's death/murder in AD 55. The rise of Nero would force the Vespasianus family to distance themselves from the Claudian faction but Britannicus memory was preserved through Titus years later in statues erected in his honor
The early stages of the future emperor's career are rather murky, but he did serve in the early 60's AD in both Germania and Britannia (2 provinces in which Vespasian had also served.) Dio Cassius tells us of Titus' valor in saving Vespasian's life while in Britain, but this seems an unlikely bit of propaganda. It does, however, help to illustrate the general level of fondness that both historian and citizenry seemingly held for Titus. By the mid 60's AD, Titus was back in Rome, certainly advancing his career in the typical methods for a young Roman
Upon completion of the Jewish Wars and his eventual return to Rome, Titus was groomed as Vespasian's obvious successor and undertook important administrative tasks. In AD 71 he celebrated a joint triumph with his father in celebration of the Jewish victory. He knew too that his role as heir was secure with Vespasian once commenting that 'either my son shall be my successor, or no one at all.' In June of AD 79, that prophecy was realized, and upon Vespasian's death, Titus was immediately confirmed as the new emperor.
After the disaster with Vesuvius, Titus reacted quickly, visiting the area in person and confiscating properties of heirless victims for distribution to the disenfranchised. But, despite Titus' relatively short reign, this was not to be the only disaster he faced. While still in Campania a destructive fire broke out in Rome, devastating the poorer quarters for 3 days. Again Titus responded quickly, dipping deep into the treasury to provide relief and assistance to the victims. Despite these expenditures, Titus (according to Dio Cassius) proved to be fiscally sound, "In money matters, Titus was frugal and made no unnecessary expenditure," and left the treasury in much the same state as he found it, with a healthy surplus.
Whatever reasons for Titus' seemingly popular status among the masses (the Colosseum and disaster relief) and the ancient historians (a far better alternative to Domitian), his reign was cut tragically short. While it was the charisma of Vespasian that ended the civil war following Nero's death, it was Titus who continued the policies that strengthened the legions and the provinces, while legitimizing an alternative rulling order in a post Julio-Claudian Roman world. Additionally the reign of Titus, and his untimely early death, followed by the unpopular reign of his brother, led the Emperors that followed into a path of chosen selective and adoptive succession, rather than dynastic rule. The so-called '5 Good Emperors' must certainly be given credit for their own actions, but understanding the contributions of the transitional period of Vespasian and Titus is vital to understanding the development of the following period.
Unfortunately the reign of Titus lasted only a short 26 months. During this time he fought varying illnesses, and according to the descriptions of Suetonius, faced several bouts of depression. Considering the pressures of the positions, coupled with the disasters that accompanied it, his health concerns are not surprising. In the end repeated treatments of cold baths (alleviation of fever) indicate the possibility that it was simple influenza or even a brain tumor (which may cause related symptoms) that ended his life prematurely. At the age of 41, on September 13 AD 81, Titus passed (without a child heir) and left the mantle of government to his brother Domitian.
AD 81 - 96 (born AD 51 - died 96)
Full Name: Titus Flavius Domitianus
Imperial Name: Imperator Caesar Domitianus Augustus
It was suggested that Domitian dedicated himself to further studies in the arts while Titus gained military glory in Judaea before returning to Rome as a hero primary heir to Vespasian. However, while Domitian clearly took a secondary role to that of Titus, he did serve as Consul 6 times during his father's reign and was not completely removed from imperial politics. After Titus took over from Vespasian in AD 79, there is some speculation that the brothers maintained an unhealthy relationship, but there is really nothing other than rumor and innuendo to support this. Regardless, there is little mention of Domitian's activities in government or elsewhere during the reign of Titus, but he clearly was marked as 'Caesar' or heir (as Titus did not have sons of his own). When Titus died possibly of a brain tumor just two years later Domitian eagerly went to the Praetorians and had himself declared the next emperor. Among his first acts was to support his brothers deification and to finish the triumphal arch honoring Titus' victory in Judaea.
Domitian's reign began with certainly as much promise as those of his father and brother before. He proved to be an excellent manager of imperial government and took a hand's on approach to running the system. His Imperial court did consist of important members from the Senatorial body, future emperors Nerva and Trajan included, but relied more so on Equestrians and especially freedmen, virtually replacing all functions of the Senate. This style of rule and his quite public disdain for the Senate as a governing body would lead to his poor reputation in the historical record by the ancient writers. Additional, mostly unfounded accusations of Christian persecutions, would add to the perception of Domitian as a tyrant, but quite contrary to popular opinion, he was quite capable as leader of the Empire.
Beyond this, Domitian was also an ambitious builder. The fire from AD 80 (during the reign of Titus) as well as damage still left over from the great fire of AD 64 (Nero), left Rome with plenty of opportunity for improvement. The fourth level to the Colosseum and numerous temples were all erected under Domitian's reign. Domitian offered frequent and elaborate public shows, always with an emphasis on the innovative: gladiator contests held at night; female combatants and dwarves; food showered down upon the public from ropes stretched across the top of the Amphitheater. Thus did the emperor seek to underscore not only Rome's importance but also his own and that of the Flavian regime.
When Domitian came to power he did so with a great family pedigree of military success. Vespasian had proven himself in Britain, Germania and the east while Titus experienced similar conditions and continued his father's work in Judaea. Much like the reign of Claudius, who needed the conquest of Britain to legitimize himself, Domitian felt the need to prove his own military prowess. At the outset Domitian sought military glory, but his participation in frontier campaigns achieved little.
Domitian excited less terror but hardly less disgust in his latter years than Nero. Rome endured him with growing anxiety and displeasure, but only one serious revolt was ever attempted against him. Lucius Antoninus Saturninus who was in command of two legions along the Rhine, tried to follow the example of Galba, but was quickly overthrown by another officer.
The only effect of the rebellion was to increase the suspicion and fears of the emperor and intensify the worst traits of his character.
Bad as he was, no one wanted a renewal of the armed contests for the position of emperor.
However, a major plot against Domitian, including the praetorian prefects, several senators and even the emperor's wife, succeeded and the hated emperor was assassinated.
AD 96 - 98 (born AD 30 - died 98)
Full Name: Marcus Cocceius Nerva
Imperial Name: Imperator Nerva Caesar Augustus
Although short, the reign of Marcus Cocceius Nerva (A.D. 96-98) is pivotal. The first of the so-called "Five Good Emperors," Nerva is credited with beginning the practice of adopting his heir rather than selecting a blood relative. Nerva could claim eminent ancestry on both sides of his family. On the paternal side, his great-grandfather, M. Cocceius Nerva, was consul in 36 B.C.; his grandfather, a distinguished jurist of the same name, accompanied Tiberius on his retirement to Capri in 26 A.D. On his mother's side an aunt, Rubellia Bassa, was the great-granddaughter of Tiberius. In addition, a great-uncle, L. Cocceius Nerva, played a part in the negotiations that secured a treaty between Octavian and Antony in 40 B.C
Under the reign of Nero, Nerva (in his early to mid 30's) was seemingly instrumental in foiling the conspiracy of Piso (attempted assasinaton of Nero) and was handsomely rewarded for it. Nerva, having had a statue erected in the imperial palace as part of the reward, also did not suffer with Nero's downfall. In the turmoil following the 'Year of the Four Emperors' circa AD 68 and 69, Nerva emerged as a leading member of Vespasian's court. Nerva maintained an advisory position throughout the Flavian reigns of Vespasian, Titus and Domitian. The deaths of other senators and close court advisors during Domitian's 'reign of terror' pushed surviving members of his court into action. By September 18, AD 96 Domitian was murdered by members of his own household staff. There was no member of the Flavian house, much less one form the Julio-Claudian, left to succeed him. For once there was no ambitious general at the gates, and the senate could execute its constitutional authority.
So for the first time the senate made its own choice and the day Domitian was murdered appointed Marcus Cocceius Nerva Emperor. Nerva had proven to be a capable senator, one with political connections and an ability to negotiate. Moreover, he had no children, thereby ensuring that the state would not become his hereditary possession.
Upon taking office, Nerva made immediate changes. He ordered the palace of Domitian to be renamed the House of the People, while he himself resided at the Horti Sallustiani, the favorite residence of Vespasian. More significantly, he took an oath before the senate that he would refrain from executing its members. He also released those who had been imprisoned by Domitian and recalled exiles not found guilty of serious crimes. Nerva attempted to pattern his governing style after that of Augustus. He attempted to include just enough Senatorial involvement to provide for a smooth relationship, but like most emperors, trusted his own immediate staff for the bulk of imperial administration. In a gesture of social goodwill, he created the 'alimentary institutions', which were essentially child welfare payments directed to the urban poor and collected through interest payments on state loans to landowners. In essence, this social welfare system allowed for growth in landownership while the proceeds were used in an attempt to level the economic classes.
Militarily, the emperor was hampered by a complete lack of formal education or experience. Minor victories by Trajan in Pannonia may have helped boost a non-existent record, but it was the Nerva's surprising plan of succession that provided true imperial security. , Nerva used the occasion of a victory in Pannonia over the Germans in late October, 97 to announce the adoption of Marcus Ulpius Traianus, governor of Upper Germany, as his successor. Nerva's public announcement of the adoption settled succession and allowed no time to oppose his decision. Trajan's long history of loyalty and service to the empire as well as the overwhelming support of the legions made him perhaps the only legitimate choice for a stable continuation of Imperial rule. Nerva's legacy was the brilliance of his plan of succession. Trajan not only came to power with a military pedigree that would be put to full use over the next few decades, but whose overall effective rule has been arguably deemed second only to Augustus as greatest of the Roman Emperors.
AD 98 - 117 (born AD 53 - died 117)
Full Name: Marcus Ulpius Nerva Traianus
Imperial Name: Imperator Caesar Divi Nervae Filius Nerva Traianus
Trajan's father, of the same name as his son, was the first in the family line to obtain a Senate seat and rose as high as the consulship in the chaotic period following Nero's death (around AD 70). Having served under Vespasian in Judaea, the Trajanus family rose rapidly along with Vespasian's ultimate accession to the throne. Trajan followed the path set by his father, but did so with a definite emphasis on the military.
With the death of Domitian and accession of Nerva in AD 96, Trajan's ultimate fate began to unfold. Though Nerva was popular with Roman aristocracy, he was not a favored choice of the Legions. Trajan, a life long soldier of considerable reputation became the catalyst that would secure Nerva's reign and provide for a smooth transition of power between the Flavians and the so-called '5 Good Emperors'. He maintained an air of familiarity with his men and came to be endeared by them. However, his authority was unquestionable and his familiarity with provincial administration thanks to his father's and his own long terms of service abroad, provided a firm foundation for imperial governing.
In January of AD 98, word arrived that Nerva had died and Trajan was confirmed as the next Roman Emperor butTrajan remained away from the capitol city. Instead, Trajan remained in Germania and along the Danubian border provinces to make arrangements for his future invasions. Fortifications were inspected and expanded, loyalty of legions secured, military roads constructed and by AD 99 the time had come to make his grand entrance at Rome. He re-affirmed the vow by Nerva that no Senator would be harmed and applied the Augustan principals of the principate. Trajan was considerate and mindful to Republican tradition making sure that the position of emperor appeared again like that of a first citizen among peers rather than a despot that ruled at his own whims. He ruled with an outward lack of political ambition and it endeared him to both the masses and the aristocracy. Coupled with his abilities as a general and conqueror, he would come to be loved as a model of Roman virtue and dignity.
In pursuit of his aggressive military policies, Trajan carried the Roman army across the Danube in the campaigns of AD 101-106. When Trajan returned to Rome in AD 106, he did so with a vast treasure, and provided a triumph that was unrivaled in the long history of Rome. 123 straight days of gladiatorial games were held, including fights between as many as 10,000 pairs of gladiators and the death of 11,000 animals. With his popularity among the people and the aristocracy at an unrivaled peak, even embassies from as far away as India came to Rome to pay respects to the man who was commonly becoming regarded as the greatest Emperor since Augustus, if not the greatest of all.
Trajan sponsored imperial building projects that touched all corners of the empire. Included in the more grand of these projects was the Markets of Trajan which were the Roman equivalent of a modern shopping mall, and the imperial baths which used the foundations of Nero's Domus Aurea (Golden House). Shipping throughout the empire was increased through port expansion including that of Ostia (Rome's harbor on the Tiber and the Mediterranean.
Trajan carried the Roman army over the Euphrates in AD 114-117. In 114 he attacked the enemy through Armenia and then, over three more years, turned east and south, passing through Mesopotamia and taking Babylon. He then is said to have reached the Persian Gulf but lamented that he was too old to go further in Alexander's footsteps.
The territories, however, which had been handily won, were much more difficult to hold. Uprisings among the conquered peoples, and particularly among the Jews in Palestine, caused him to gradually resign Roman rule over these newly-established provinces as he returned westward. The revolts were brutally suppressed. In mid 117, Trajan, now a sick man, was slowly returning to Italy when he died on August 9, having designated Hadrian as his successor while on his death bed. Trajan, who had held the same level of power as such predecessors as Domitian, wielded it with far less strict authority and won the admiration of both the masses and aristocracy. Trajan's greatness was recognized for centuries to come. Each successive emperor was blessed with the prayer 'felicior Augusto, melior Traiano', or (may he be) 'more fortunate than Augustus and better than Trajan.'
AD 117 - 138 (born AD 76 - died 138)
Full Name: Publius Aelius Traianus Hadrianus
Imperial Name: Imperator Caesar Traianus Hadrianus Augustus
Trajan was the cousin to Hadrian's father and with the father's death in about AD 86 Trajan became joint guardian of the young future emperor, As he and his wife had no children of their own, they certainly helped fill a role as surrogate parents, though there was no official adoption. Hadrian was in Rome as a teenager and with the backing of Trajan, one of Domitian's key legionary commanders, he followed a rapid and customary rise through the military. By the age of 20 Hadrian was serving his first of three consecutive military tribunates. With the assassination of Domitian in AD 96, the accession of Nerva and the adoption of Trajan as his heir, Hadrian quickly found himself thrust into the heart of imperial politics.
When Trajan became emperor, Hadrian held several posts of military importance throughout his reign. When Trajan began his campaign against the Parthians (circa AD 114), Hadrian was eventually appointed to a key eastern command. With Hadrian serving as governor of Syria in AD 117 Trajan's failing health forced him to abandon the war, leaving Hadrian in command of the east. While en route to Rome, Trajan's health worsened and he died on August 8 of 117, appointing Hadrian as his heir on his death bed.
Hadrian would prove to be an effective yet completely different sort of leader. Not only would he immediately give up some of Trajan's territorial gains in order to bring the empire's borders more in line with the Augustan policy of using natural defenses, he would soon embark on an ambitious journey throughout the empire to inspect military dispositions, quell revolts and catalogue the affairs of Rome's provinces.
Hadrian's eventual arrival in Rome was greeted with Senatorial hostility. As such, Hadrian focused on measures to increase his popularity with the masses. Building and restoration of public works throughout the empire was conducted on an unprecedented scale and Hadrian was an enormous patron of the arts and literature. Perhaps the most important achievement of Hadrian's reign was the reformation of the legal system.
In AD 121, Hadrian left Rome on an extended tour beginning to the north in Gaul.
From Germania, Hadrian continued north to Britannia where the matter of a defined controllable border was an ultimate concern. Despite previous efforts to bring the far north under Roman control (under Agricola during the reign of Domitian) the logistical problems of asserting dominance over the scattered highland tribes made such efforts impractical. As northern Britain lacked a naturally defensible position, Hadrian ordered the situation remedied by the building of a massive wall to separate Rome from barbarian. Hadrian's Wall was built by legionaries in a massive effort that spanned eight years (AD 122 - 130).
Hadrian traveled through one province after another, visiting the various regions and cities and inspecting all the garrisons and forts. Some of these he removed to more desirable places, some he abolished, and he also established some new ones. He personally viewed and investigated absolutely everything, not merely the camps, but also the private affairs of every one, both of the men serving in the ranks and of the officers themselves, - their lives, their quarters and their habits, - and he reformed and corrected in many cases practices and arrangements for living that had become too luxurious. These views of Hadrian stem from an historian who lived a century after the emperor's reign. He appears as a conscientious administrator, an inveterate traveler, and a general deeply concerned for the well-being of his armies, and thus of the empire.
In addition to Hadrian's great provincial travels, and corresponding centralization of imperial government, Hadrian was an unrivaled patron of the arts and literature. Despite his extensive military background, certainly stemming from his relationship as a ward of Trajan, Hadrian was a student of Greek philosophy, culture and the arts. In addition to his studies abroad, he was a writer (his autobiography is unfortunately lost) a poet and an architect of some note.
When Hadrian returned to Rome in 136 from the east with its great responsibilities of the Jewish War, his health had deteriorated markedly. He was now 60 years old, lonely and despondent. The empress Sabina had died, Antinous was gone, few remained to whom he felt close. He therefore began to contemplate a successor. Hadrian adopted Aurelius Fulvius Boionius Arrius Antoninus, who would become known simply as Antoninus, was a man only 10 years Hadrian's junior. Hadrian took the adoption a step further, however, naming Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus (Lucius Verus) and Marcus Annius Verus (Marcus Aurelius) as joint heirs to Antoninus. Perhaps he feared the conspiracy that could grow in the absence of imperial stability or perhaps he was simply trying to ensure the quality administration of the empire, but whatever his reasoning these actions saw to that continued stability for the next 40 - 50 years. Hadrian died at the age of 62, after a lengthy reign of 21 years, on July 10, 138 AD at his villa in Baiae.
AD 138 - 161 (born AD 86 - died 161)
Full Name: Titus Aurelius Fulvius Boionius Arrius Antoninus Pius
Imperial Name: Imperator Titus Aelius Caesar Hadrianus Antoninus Augustus Pius
Antoninus was born in September, AD 86 in the city of Lanuvium very near Rome. Despite his family heritage originating from Narbonensis (the southern coast of Gaul), his grandfather (Titus Aurelius Fulvus) had risen to the consulship twice and his father (Aurelius Fulvus) had served once in the same capacity. To further cement the prestige and aristocratic lineage of his family the future emperor's maternal grandfather Arrius Antoninus had also served two consulships. Antoninus' rise under Hadrian continued with an appointment as one of four consular administrators of Italy, which included the territory encompassing Hadrian's own estates. By the early 130's AD, Antoninus' Senatorial career reached its pinnacle, when he was appointed governor of the prestigious province of Asia Minor. While the relationship between Hadrian and Antoninus is largely unknown, the course of the relationship took a decided and unexpected turn with the death of Hadrian's heir Lucius Ceionius Commodus in AD 138. Antoninus' position as a distinguished and respected proconsular Senator made him an attractive alternative, an alternative that would prove invaluable to uninterrupted succession and Hadrian's legacy (including his deification). Hadrian named Antoninus as his second choice for adopted heir with the condition that he in turn adopt his own nephew Marcus Aelius Aurelius Verus (later Marcus Aurelius) and the son of Hadrian's first named heir Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus (later Lucius Verus). Antoninus succeeded Hadrian at the age of 51 years old, likely not having been expected to reign for long (hence partly explaining the desire for him to succeed Hadrian with pre-determined heirs in place). Despite his complete absence of military experience (at least as far as the historical record provides) Antoninus would rule the empire for 23 prosperous and largely peaceful years. Unlike his predecessors, Antoninus governed the empire almost exclusively from the city of Rome. A career politician and aristocrat, Antoninus seemed to be "at home" within reach of Senatorial peers and launched a reign consisting of conservative fiscal policy, diplomatic appeasement rather than aggression and continued social welfare programs. While Trajan and Hadrian built such great monuments as Trajan’s Column, the Markets, the Pantheon, etc., Antoninus focused primarily on finishing the works of Hadrian (his Mausoleum for example) and making repairs to previously established public works. The Colosseum, the Graecostadium, the ports at Caeita and Tarracina, the bath at Ostia and an aqueduct at Antium, among roads and temples were all works that saw restoration under Antoninus. Antoninus seems to have held solid popularity with all three important elements of Roman politics: the aristocracy (Senate and Equestrian classes), the populace and the legions. In the case of the people, Antoninus won popularity through both traditional methods and his own generosity. A famine induced shortage of wine, oils and grain was alleviated using purchases from his own private funds and distributed to the people. Laws were passed introducing new public protections for slaves and freedmen as well as giving limited rights to women in cases of arranged marriage. A new alimenta (a form of social program) was introduced in honor of his passed wife Faustina (the Faustinianae) which provided funds to care for orphaned or destitute girls. Like most previous emperors elaborate games were provided to entertain the masses. Great varieties of animals were displayed in these affairs including elephants, tigers, rhinoceroses, crocodiles and hippopotami. In addition to the famine which he alleviated through his own donations, Antoninus won great respect and popularity for his reaction to various natural disasters. The collapse of some stands in the Circus Maximus, earthquake damage in Rhodes and Asia, destruction from fire in Rome, Narbo, Antioch and Carthage were all repaired, again through his own private funds. According to the Historia Augusta, Antoninus was widely respected both within and without the empire, reporting that “No one has ever had such prestige among foreign nations as he, for he was ever a lover of peace, even to such a degree that he was continually quoting the saying of Scipio in which he declared that he would rather save a single citizen than slay a thousand foes.”
At the age of seventy, having reigned for 23 stable and prosperous years, Antoninus Pius died in AD 161. As he was much loved, his death was mourned throughout all fabrics of Roman society. Succession (as planned years before by Hadrian) was peaceful and without incident. Antoninus’ adoptive sons Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus took up mantle of authority in an unprecedented sharing of imperial power. Despite the lack of glorious conquests often associated with periods of greatness, Antoninus’ reign should be admired and revered for its noted lack of scandal, corruption and military disaster.
AD 161 - 180 (born AD 121 - died 180)
Full Name: Marcus Annius Aurelius Verus (also Marcus Aurelius Antoninus)
Imperial Name: Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus
Marcus Aurelius (originally Marcus Annius Catilius Severus) was born in Rome on April 26, AD 121 into a distinguished and wealthy family originating from Hispania. His great grandfather, Marcus Annius Verus was the first in the family to gain a Senate seat while also reaching the office of praetor. His grandfather was much revered by the Flavians (Vespasian, Titus and Domitian) and had been enrolled as a Patrician in addition to serving a rare three consulships. His father, also Marcus Annius Verus, died young when the future emperor was only about 3 years old leaving the young Marcus to be raised by his esteemed grandfather.
Though the nature of affiliation between the young Marcus and Hadrian is unknown, it is clear that Hadrian took an early interest in the boy's education. The emperor enrolled Marcus as an equestrian as early as his 6th year and saw to his advanced education. Marcus was apparently so devoted to academic pursuits and his demeanor so serious and honest that Hadrian affectionately dubbed him 'Verissimus' meaning most truthful (which was later dropped with his "coming of age" around 15 years old and changed to Verus). His tutors were among the finest of the day. Based on his education alone Marcus was clearly marked for imperial service of some sort by Hadrian, and this was reaffirmed when Hadrian named his first heir to the empire in AD 136.
In AD 161, after a long and largely peaceful reign, Antoninus Pius died, leaving the 40 year old Marcus Aurelius to take his place. The Senate clearly favored the mature Marcus over his 31 year old joint heir Lucius Verus, who had an almost Neronian reputation for personal indulgence, and attempted to name Marcus as sole emperor to replace Antoninus. Marcus Aurelius however insisted on following the wills of both Hadrian and Antoninus by having his adopted brother Lucius Verus secured as ‘co-emperor’. He married his daughter Lucilla to Verus to further cement the relationship in AD 164.
With the death of Antoninus, Vologaesus III king of Parthia may have viewed the establishment of a Roman diarchy as a sign of weakness. Compounding this issue may have been the fact that neither of the two emperors had acquired any military experience whatsoever. Whatever the case may have been, Vologaesus seized a perceived moment of Roman weakness and installed his own candidate upon the Armenian throne. Some five years of hard campaigning were needed before Parthia would submit to the terms by which she surrendered her claim to Mesopotamia and Armenia.
Lucius Verus and Marcus Aurelius were both honored with the titles Armeniacus and Parthicus, as Verus returned to Rome to celebrate a triumph. However, with the return of his army came a terrible plague (presumably smallpox) which spread throughout the empire. Of its potentially 5 million victims over the course of the next 15 years its most notorious victim in the early stages was likely Lucius Verus himself. After both he and Aurelius had personally marched north to investigate Germanic incursions along the Danube, they found the plague was spreading rapidly among the legions. Returning to Italy in AD 169, Verus fell ill and at the age of 38 years the junior emperor died.
Now from the north had come a far greater threat to the empire's stability, indeed existence, than that of Parthia had been. These first campaigns were punctuated by the death of Verus in 169, leaving Marcus as sole emperor. And so began the most difficult period of his life.
Early in 169, the Marcomanni and Quadi, Germanic Tribes, crossed the Danube, penetrated the intervening provinces, and entered Italy. The culmination of their onslaught was a siege of Aquileia. The effect upon the inhabitants of the peninsula was frightful. This was the first invasion of Italy since the late second century B.C. Perhaps more vivid in the collective imagination was the sack of Rome by the Gauls in 387, when the city was saved only by the payment of ransom.
Year after year of campaigning should follow of which the emperor would not spare himself, however much he disliked it, since he understood it part of his duty. Though he was under no illusion as to his own very mediocre abilities as a general, and trusted more in the military judgement of his officers than in his own. The military campaigns proved successful, but in the spring of 180 the campaign was not finished when he was struck down by sickness, and died in AD 180, worn out by his labours, sixty years of age.