Those Wacky Emperors
49 BCE - 305 CE
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A somewhat irreverent survey of fifty-one men, from Julius Caesar through Diocletian, who held supreme power in the empire that owned the entire Mediterranean Sea for four hundred years.

As with many ancient coin collectors, I started off collecting Roman Imperial portrait coins. I purchased my first, a big bronze of a stern looking fellow named Philip I, on August 16, 1996. Soon, almost by accident, I had several Emperors nearly in sequence, and at some point I set a goal (also quite common) of building an unbroken sequence of Imperial portraits. Over time, the boundary I set for myself extended from Julius Caesar through the Tetrarchy of Diocletian.

On October 13, 1999, at 8:22:46 AM, I finally succeeded in filling the last hole, winning an auction for a well worn bronze of a pleasant looking fellow named Gordian II. He and his father had ruled in early 238 for a mere 22 days, and their coins tend to be elusive and expen$ive. In honor of filling the final hole in my sequence, I hereby present to you ... FORTY-NINE EMPERORS AND TWO IMPERATORS!

As the saying goes ... WEB SITES ARE NEVER FINISHED -- THEY'RE ABANDONED. But I'm not quite ready to abandon this one yet. Any critique of the site or its contents is appreciated. Please send comments to me at: the_garstangs@yahoo.com


For Beginning Roman History Buffs, I recommend ...
Chronicle of the Roman Emperors, by Chris Scarre
A reign-by-reign summary of the Emperors of the western Roman Empire, from Augustus through Romulus Augustulus. Packed with timelines, maps, and pictures.
Coinage and History of the Roman Empire, by David Vagi
A new two-volume set. Volume 1 is a summary of the lives and deaths of the people whose faces appear on Roman Imperial coinage. Volume two focuses on the coinage itself.


FIFTY-ONE ROMAN RULERS
To use the following table, click on the name or thumbnail coin image of the Imperator or Emperor to bring up his information page. Note that those who share a description box also share an information page; for instance, there is just one page for all six from the "Year of Six Emperors".

NOTE: This is still under construction. Feel free to poke around, but many pages are not complete yet. I'll remove this note when it's done.

THE IMPERATORS
JULIUS CAESAR
49 - 44 BCE
Elected "Dictator for Life" by the Senate, but certain Senators made sure that his reign wasn't very long.
MARC ANTHONY
43 - 33 BCE
Dealt with Caesar's assassins, then in turn was "dealt with" by Caesar's nephew.
JULIO-CLAUDIAN EMPERORS
AUGUSTUS
27 BCE - 14 CE
First and longest-reigning Emperor; by the time he died, the Romans took the Imperial system for granted.
TIBERIUS
14 - 37 CE
Augustus's poorly respected and unhappy heir got the job simply by outlasting all potential rivals.
CALIGULA
37 - 41 CE
The first of the "Mad Emperors", his name has become synonymous with perversion, cruelty, and excess.
CLAUDIUS
41 - 54 CE
Club-footed stutterer, believed to be an idiot, he did far better than anyone would have predicted.
NERO
54 - 68 CE
History is not kind to Nero, and rightfully so, but he fancied himself more of an artist than an Emperor.
CIVIL WAR
GALBA
68 - 69 CE
Rome had gotten into the habit of having a relative of Augustus as its emperor, but Nero was the last of these in a position to take the reins of empire. His suicide created a power vacuum that was briefly filled by three short-lived Emperors, who didn't do too much beyond proving that one didn't have to be of the Julio-Claudian family to be the supreme ruler of Rome.
OTHO
69 CE
VITELLIUS
69 CE
FLAVIAN DYNASTY
VESPASIAN
69 - 79 CE
On Nero's death, Vespasian headed back toward Rome from Judaea in an ultimately successful bid to become Emperor.
TITUS
79 - 81 CE
Vespasian's oldest son reigned through some major disasters (including the destruction of Pompeii), but was well liked.
DOMITIAN
81 - 96 CE
Domitian did not share the popular approval that his father and brother had enjoyed, and was ultimately poisoned.
ADOPTIVE EMPERORS
NERVA
96 - 98 CE
In ill health and not well respected, Nerva seemed unlikely to live long enough to die of natural causes; but he had an idea ...
TRAJAN
98 - 117 CE
A conqueror, Trajan extended the borders of empire to their largest extent.
HADRIAN
117 - 138 CE
Hadrian pulled back on troublesome frontiers and built walls. His one major war was in Judaea, inside Rome's boundaries.
ANTONINUS PIUS
138 - 161 CE
Adopted as an old man to raise Hadrian's young heirs, Pius reigned for more than 20 years, a much beloved Emperor.
MARCUS AURELIUS
161 - 180 CE
The chosen heirs of Hadrian had to wait 23 years to inherit. Verus (considered vain and self-indulgent) was content to live in his adoptive brother's shadow, leaving the running of the empire in Aurelius's capable hands.
LUCIUS VERUS
161 - 169 CE
COMMODUS
177 - 192 CE
The son of Marcus Aurelius fancied himself a "Roman Hercules", proving the evils of hereditary monarchy.
EMPIRE FOR SALE
PERTINAX
193 CE
Trying to clean up the mess left by Commodus proved hazardous to Pertinax's health. After murdering him, the Praetorians came up with a fun idea -- put the Imperial title on the auction block. Didius Julianus won, but found that winning it was easier than keeping it.
DIDIUS JULIANUS
193 CE
SEVERAN DYNASTY
SEPTIMIUS SEVERUS
193 - 211 CE
In claiming the purple, Severus showed that it could be as dangerous to be his friend as his enemy.
CARACALLA
198 - 217 CE
When brothers Caracalla and Geta planned on dividing the Empire, mom Julia Domna asked, "How will you divide your mother?" So they abandoned their plan, deciding instead to try resolving their differences through fratricide.
GETA
209 - 211 CE
MACRINUS
217 - 218 CE
After possibly participating in Caracalla's murder, Macrinus made one mistake -- he let Caracalla's mother live.
ELAGABALUS
218 - 222 CE
The High Priest of Syrian god Elagabal, he scandalized Rome with his religious and sexual excesses.
SEVERUS ALEXANDER
222 - 235 CE
Saved from his mad cousin by the Praetorians, he ruled for 13 years before falling victim to one of his own generals.
THE YEAR OF SIX EMPERORS
MAXIMINUS I
235 - 238 CE
These six emperors all have something in common: Each was officially recognized by the Roman Senate as being a certified Emperor of Rome. Five of the six have something else in common -- some time during the year 238, they died violently.

Having come to power by murdering his predecessor, Maximinus raised taxes enormously to pay his soldiers very well indeed, leading to an uprising in 238 that would see the death of himself and four other Emperors, and would leave the 13 year old Gordian III the sole and only Emperor of Rome.

Six years later, in a reprise of the death of Alexander, Gordian III would be murdered by one of his generals.

GORDIAN I
238 CE
GORDIAN II
238 CE
PUPIENUS
238 CE
BALBINUS
238 CE
GORDIAN III
238 - 244 CE
EMPIRE IN FREE-FALL
PHILIP I
244 - 249 CE
He was known for the magnificent celebrations he threw for Rome's 1,000'th birthday -- and little else.
TRAJAN DECIUS
249 - 251 CE
After a victory, his troops proclaimed him Emperor and compelled him to march against Philip.
TREBONIANUS GALLUS
251 -253 CE
When Decius fell in battle against the Goths, Gallus was proclaimed Emperor. His reign, though short, was miserable.
AEMILIAN
253 CE
Proclaimed Emperor by his troops, he lasted three months before his troops killed him to avoid facing Valerian.
BOTTOM AND REBOUND
VALERIAN I
253 - 260 CE
Valerian and son started putting the pieces of empire back together, making progress against invaders to the east and west. But Valerian is best remembered as the only emperor to die in foreign captivity, and Gallienus as the emperor who couldn't keep large chunks of the Empire from seceding.
GALLIENUS
253 - 268 CE
CLAUDIUS II
268 - 270 CE
The most prestigious of Gallienus's murderers, Claudius II "Gothicus" was well liked, but died of plague after a short reign. His brother Quintillus took over for him, but committed suicide when he learned that the soldiers preferred Aurelian.
QUINTILLUS
270 CE
AURELIAN
270 - 275 CE
A strong leader, Aurelian stabilized the empire, reclaiming the breakaway eastern and western provinces.
TACITUS
275 - 276 CE
After Aurelian's murder, Tacitus came out of retirement to don the purple. He had some military successes, but died mysteriously. His half brother, Florianus, became the new emperor -- briefly. One historian described him as the emperor "... who did nothing worth remembering."
FLORIANUS
276 CE
PROBUS
276 - 282 CE
Aurelian's general, he rescued Aurelian's gains from the chaos that threatened to erase them on his murder.
CARUS
282 - 283 CE
The dynasty of Carus and sons started with a successful rebellion against Probus and a glorious campaign of conquest into Persia. But Carus died under odd circumstances; soon, so did Numerian. Diocletian, commander of the bodyguard, accused the Praetorian Prefect, Aper, of murder and executed him. Diocletian was then hailed as Emperor in opposition to Carinus. We'll never know who would have won, because Carinus was murdered by a jealous husband.
NUMERIAN
283-284 CE
CARINUS
283-285 CE
TETRARCHY OF DIOCLETIAN
DIOCLETIAN
284 - 305 CE
Diocletian reformed Rome's tottering monetary system and government. He raised trusted general Maximianus to rule beside him. In a test of his vision, they abdicated simultaneously in 305. Sadly, the new government was not strong enough to long survive the absence of its founder.
MAXIMIANUS
285 - 305 CE

 


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