Good and Bad Emperors, & the Pax Romana



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Good and Bad Emperors, & the Pax Romana

Now that the Roman government had slowly moved from republic to empire, the power in Rome rested with one person: the Emperor. The Senate and other parts of the republic had little to no ability to stop the power of the Emperor. This could be a good thing or a bad thing – depending on if your ruler was good or bad. Rome saw both during the next period of history.

The Augustan Age, when Octavian/Augustus ruled over Rome, was the beginning of the Roman Empire. He was a great leader, and Roman culture flourished under him. During this time, he created government programs like a police department and fire department. He encouraged a return to religious piety, and built new temples to honor the gods. There was also a great deal of famous literature developed during this time – the authors Horace, Ovid, and Virgil all lived during this time. Virgil’s Aeneid was one of the most famous epics of all time, and was similar to Greek literature.

After Augustus, there was a series of questionable emperors. Probably the worst emperor ever was named Caligula. When he took over, he was loved by everyone. He got extremely sick, however, and he became mentally unstable. Stories claim that he killed hundreds of people on whims, he had sexual relations with his sister, and he made his horse consul of Rome (like being President). Caligula was ultimately assassinated.

Nero, another bad ruler after Caligula, was known for misusing his political power as well. He also murdered anyone who disagreed with him. While there was a great fire in Rome in 64 CE, it was said that Nero “fiddled while Rome burned.” This story is not true, but many Romans believed Nero started the fire to clear land for his own palace. Nero was also mentally unstable and committed suicide in 68 CE.

After these terrible rulers, there was a stretch of 5 competent rulers. They were called the “Good Emperors”: Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, & Marcus Aurelius. None of these emperors were born in Rome – so they extended more rights to elite people in the empire who weren’t from Rome. This allowed them to keep better control of faraway places in the empire. These rulers also expanded Rome’s borders: Trajan stretched Rome to its largest borders ever. Hadrian tried to protect these borders by building walls, and is known for Hadrian’s Wall in Britain.

These emperors made the government and legal system the same throughout the empire. Because all of the laws were the same, the empire was a fairer place to live. This also kept everyone happy. The Good Emperors also increased trade in the empire. More goods were produced everywhere. And most importantly, the Roman Empire was in an ideal situation for trade. They could send goods by water across the Mediterranean Sea, but also built miles and miles of roads. While most goods were sent by water, Roman roads were also used across the Empire, and were very strong. Some Roman roads are still intact today.
1. When Rome went from a republic to an empire, political power went from ____________ to ____________.

2. What were some good things that happened during the Augustan Age?
3. Name something each of the following emperors did:

Caligula –

Nero –

Trajan –


Hadrian –

4. How were the good emperors able to keep control of large amounts of land in the Roman Empire?
5. How did the Roman Empire trade goods across such long distances?
6. Write a paragraph (at LEAST 5 sentences) explaining why an empire can be both a good and bad system of government. Use specific examples from the text.

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7. Using page 175 in your textbook, draw all the 4 different borders of Rome from 100 BCE-117 CE. Also label on the map: COUNTRIES - Britain, Spain, Italy, Greece. CITIES - Rome, Athens, Carthage, Alexandria.




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