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Roman Emperors

Click here for a list of Roman Emperors to AD 476.

The following can be found at and/or is adapted from

The Julio-Claudian Emperors (27 BC – 68 AD)

AUGUSTUS (27 BC - 14 AD)

In his will, Julius Caesar adopted his great-nephew Octavian and gave him the name Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus. He also left most of his fortune to the 18-year old youth. At the time of Caesar's murder, Octavian was serving in the army in Albania . When Octavian learned of Caesar's will, he hurried back to Rome . Octavian became extremely powerful due to his inheritance and was made Consul by the Senate.

Octavian joined with Mark Antony and Lepidus to form the Second Triumvirate. This plan was proposed by Mark Antony in an attempt to gain power for himself. The Roman world was soon divided between Octavian and Antony (Octavian forced Lepidus out and took his share). Things did not stay quiet for long however, as Mark Antony got involved with Cleopatra which infuriated the Romans. Octavian declared war against Cleopatra; and in 31 BC, Augustus' forces under Agrippa, defeated Antony and Cleopatra at Actium . Octavian was now master of the entire Roman world.

In Rome , Octavian was honored and gained total control by telling the Senate that he was giving up all of his titles and that the Senate could govern Rome . This was the last thing the Senate wanted as Rome needed a strong, fair, and popular leader to govern. Augustus knew this and in 27 BC, the Senate named Octavian Augustus which means "the majestic one, the sacred one, the blessed one."

Augustus was now the supreme ruler of Rome . He was then able to expand Rome by adding Egypt , Spain , Portugal , Gaul , Galatia , and Judea as Roman provinces. His stepson, Tiberius, extended Roman territories to the Danube and Rhine Rivers . Augustus also built and restored many of the public buildings in Rome which pleased the people.

Augustus solved the continued problems of governing by making the Roman state a one-man rule. He created a Roman peace called the Pax Romana that lasted for two centuries, until 180 AD During this period there was no major war and the economy prospered. To ensure that the rule of the empire stayed in the hands of the men of his choice, Augustus arranged his own successors to the throne by adopting them as his sons. When Augustus died (of natural causes), Tiberius succeeded him as emperor. All Roman emperors that followed continued this tradition which called for a stable succession to the throne and allowed for peace in Rome .

TIBERIUS (14 AD - 37 AD)

Augustus lived a long time, until 14 AD. When he died, hardly anyone could remember before he was in power, or all they remembered was killing and blood. His son-in-law (his daughter Julia's husband) Tiberius took over as First Citizen. Tiberius wasn't really a very good ruler (we call them emperors now, but they didn't call themselves that). He spent a lot of time swimming and having big parties. He left most of the work to his assistants. But still people thought that was better than civil war.

CALIGULA (37 AD - 41 AD)

Tiberius died in 37 AD, and his nephew Germanicus' son Gaius, who is often called Caligula, took over. Caligula wasn't too bad at first, but he seems to have suffered from mental illness. After a while he started doing things like trying to make his horse a senator, and trying to marry his sister. By 41 AD people decided he was too hard to deal with and his own guards killed him.

CLAUDIUS (41 AD - 54 AD)

Then Caligula's uncle Claudius took over. He did better than people expected. In his reign the Romans succeeded in conquering England and making it into another province. But Claudius' wife Agrippina poisoned him (according to the Roman historian Suetonius) with bad mushrooms, and he died.

NERO (54 AD - 68 AD)

In 54 AD, therefore, Claudius' stepson Nero took the throne. Nero was only 16, and his mother Agrippina really controlled politics through him (because women could not be tribunes or senators), until Nero was in his mid-20's. But then he decided he would rather rule on his own, and had his mother killed.

Nero may be best known for how he handled the Great Fire at Rome in 64 AD. People were blaming him for the fire, and so he rounded up a lot of Christians and had them burned alive as if the fire was their fault. Nero was also in charge for the executions of St. Peter and St. Paul .

After he killed Agrippina, Nero became unpopular, and in 68 AD the governor of Spain , Galba, revolted against him and marched his army toward Rome . When it was clear that he was going to lose, Nero killed himself. He was the last ruler from the family of Julius Caesar and Augustus.

The Age (96 - 180 AD)

NERVA (96 AD – 98 AD)

Nerva assumes the throne after the death of Domitian. He is appointed emperor by the Senate. He is an elderly and sickly man who rules for only 2 years and did not have the support of the military at the start of his reign but soon gained it through his appointment of Trajan as his successor as well as his increase of military pensions. He also increased the welfare payments to the masses. He died of natural causes in 98 AD.

TRAJAN (98 AD – 117 AD)

Trajan ruled for 19 years and is remembered as one of the most renowned and greatest of the Roman emperors. He was the first non-Italian emperor (the first emperor to come from a province), being born of Roman parents in Spain . He is best remembered for his military conquests and public works in Rome . He became a military hero after his defeat of a Germanic invasion. He extended the Roman frontier to its greatest extent by conquering and annexing Dacia (the region north of the Danube River ). He also fought the Parthians in the east and annexed Armenia , Mesopotamia , and part of Arabia to the Roman Empire . The Empire, as far as territory goes, reached its largest extent under Trajan, though some argue Trajan extended the empire too far, making it too large to properly manage. One of Trajan's many public works was the Column of Trajan in Rome , around which the story of Trajan's achievements in Dacia was carved on a spiral decoration. Trajan's good rule in Rome and abroad earned him the title of "Optimus Princeps" or "Best Ruler.” He died of a stroke while on a military campaign in the eastern provinces.

HADRIAN (117 AD – 138 AD)

Hadrian succeeded Trajan as emperor and ruled for 21 years. Like Trajan, he also was born in Spain . Unlike Trajan, however, he was a champion of the arts and culture who had been tutored by the Greeks and spent much of his time in scholarly pursuits. He is remembered for the codification of the Roman laws and reform of the provincial governments. He also consolidated the borders of the frontier and built many walls of fortification which still stand today. Hadrian's main goal was to stabilize the Roman Empire . Hadrian abandoned the newly conquered provinces in the east as they were difficult to hold and defend. He withdrew the eastern border of the Roman Empire back to the Euphrates River . He also strengthened the western boundaries by building defensive walls along the Rhine and Danube Rivers , as well as a wall in Britain which was named after him ( Hadrian's Wall ). Hadrian's Wall marked the northernmost boundary of the Roman Empire at the time. Hadrian dealt mainly with troubles in the provinces. He spent more than half of his reign outside of Rome traveling. He once bragged that he had visited every province during his reign. He finally suppressed the massive Judean revolt which culminated in the massacre of Masada . He died of natural causes after appointing Antoninus Pius as his successor.


Antoninus Pius ruled Rome for almost 25 years yet left less of a mark on the Empire than did any of his predecessors. A product of the Senate, he became one of the most beloved and honored of all Roman emperors. Under his reign the Pax Romana reached its height with little time being spent on war efforts or internal dissension. His main effort was centralizing the government and making it more effective. He soon gained the nickname "Pius" after his extraordinary compassion. He died after eating some bad cheese.


Marcus Aurelius ruled for 19 years and was the last of the "Five Good Emperors.” His death brought an end to the Pax Romana. He was known as the "philosopher-king" because he read so much and wrote his own book called "Meditations", which is a classic of the Ancient world. The irony of his reign was that it was dominated by barbaric invasions and natural disasters which plagued the empire.

During most of his reign, Marcus Aurelius was involved in defending the Empire against invaders from the north and the east. In addition, a plague struck the Empire, killing many. This led to a large number of Germans being admitted into the Empire as auxiliary soldiers to defend the frontiers. The results were that the Roman army was now made up of mercenaries who were not from Rome and were paid for their service. This caused Rome defensive and financial problems. More money was being spent on the army than was coming into the Empire. Thus, economic and political stability began to decline in the Roman Empire . Marcus Aurelius died after taking too much opium to kill the pain of cancer (some scholars claim it was a battle wound).

Division of the Empire and Christian Persecution

DIOCLETIAN (284 AD – 305 AD)

The Roman Emperor Diocletian came to power in 284 AD. He was an army general, and he felt that a lot of the empire's problems could be solved by not allowing so much freedom, but instead having everyone do the same thing, the right way (his way). First he was busy fighting the Germans and the Parthians and having civil wars, then for a while he was busy trying to fix the economy.

Diocletian saw that the vast Roman Empire was ungovernable by a single emperor in the face of internal pressures and military threats. He decided to split the Empire in half along a north-west axis just east of Italy , and created two equal Emperors to rule under the title of Augustus. Diocletian was Augustus of the eastern half, and gave his long time friend Maximian the title of Augustus in the western half.

By 301 AD, Diocletian had noticed that there were people who had different religions in the Roman Empire . Diocletian hated this idea. First of all, these people were different from him, which seemed disrespectful. Second, they might be making the gods mad. So they had to be stopped. First Diocletian got rid of the Manichaeans. Then (since that had gone pretty well), in 303 AD he began a big persecution of the Christians.

This didn't go as well. Diocletian's co-emperor in the West wasn’t very interested in killing Christians, so a lot of Eastern Christians just moved to the West. Also, even Diocletian didn't really want to kill a whole lot of people. He just wanted them to worship his gods. He didn't really know what to do with the people who said, “No!”  Even after Diocletian retired in 305 AD, his successor, Galerius, still persecuted the Christians, but still without getting rid of them.

Legalization of Christianity


Constantine had succeeded Constantius in 306 as ruler of the western half of the empire. He defeated, one by one, the other rival emperors. In 312 he defeated Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in Rome and became sole ruler of the western half of the empire. Constantine claimed that his victory in this battle was due to a miracle. Just before the battle, Constantine claimed he saw a flaring cross in the sky followed by the inscription: BY THIS S IG N, THOU SHALT CONQUER. The sign was the Christian XP (Chi-Rho) sign, which he put on the shields of his soldiers. In this way, Constantine became the first Christian emperor of the Roman Empire , although he was not baptized until the moment of his death. In 324 Constantine defeated his remaining rival in the East and became the sole ruler of the Roman Empire .

During his reign, Constantine initiated many measures favoring the Christians. In 313 he issued the Edict of Milan which legalized Christianity throughout the Empire. Imperial funds were used to subsidize the building of churches. In 325 Constantine tried to resolve a dispute between Christian factions at the Council of Nicea. This meeting produced the Nicene Creed which essentially converted the Roman Empire from paganism to Christianity.

When Rome was no longer capable of serving as the capital of the Roman Empire due to its distant location from its boundaries, Constantine founded a new capital. He built it on the Greek town of Byzantium , located on the Bosporus Strait , and renamed it Constantinople (modern day Istanbul ). These are Constantine 's two major contributions to the Roman Empire : conversion of Rome from paganism to Christianity and building a new capital at Constantinople . Constantine died of an illness and was baptized just before his death.

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