27 BC to 395
Rome, Mediterranean Sea in Europe, Northern Africa, and Western AsiaThe Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of ancient Rome. As a polity, it included large territorial holdings around the Mediterranean Sea in Europe, Northern Africa, and Western Asia ruled by emperors.
Octavian, the grandnephew and adopted son of Julius Caesar, had made himself a central military figure during the chaotic period following Caesar's assassination. In 43 BC at the age of twenty, he became one of the three members of the Second Triumvirate, a political alliance with Marcus Lepidus and Mark Antony.
On 16 January 27 BC the Senate gave Octavian the new titles of Augustus and Princeps. Augustus is from the Latin word Augere (meaning to increase) and can be translated as "the illustrious one". It was a title of religious authority rather than political authority. His new title of Augustus was also more favorable than Romulus, the previous one which he styled for himself in reference to the story of the legendary founder of Rome, which symbolized a second founding of Rome.
Augustus renounced his consulship in 23 BC, but retained his consular imperium, leading to a second compromise between Augustus and the Senate known as the Second Settlement. Augustus was granted the authority of a tribune (tribunicia potestas), though not the title, which allowed him to call together the Senate and people at will and lay business before it, veto the actions of either the Assembly or the Senate, preside over elections, and it gave him the right to speak first at any meeting.
The Illyrian tribes revolted and had to be crushed, and three full legions under the command of Publius Quinctilius Varus were ambushed and destroyed at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in AD 9 by Germanic tribes led by Arminius.
The early years of Tiberius's reign were relatively peaceful. Tiberius secured the overall power of Rome and enriched its treasury. However, his rule soon became characterized by paranoia. He began a series of treason trials and executions, which continued until his death in 37.
He left power in the hands of the commander of the guard, Lucius Aelius Sejanus. Tiberius himself retired to live at his villa on the island of Capri in 26, leaving the administration in the hands of Sejanus, who carried on the persecutions with contentment.
The Caligula that emerged in late 37 demonstrated features of mental instability that led modern commentators to diagnose him with such illnesses as encephalitis, which can cause mental derangement, hyperthyroidism, or even a nervous breakdown (perhaps brought on by the stress of his position).
In 41, Caligula was assassinated by the commander of the guard Cassius Chaerea. Also killed were his fourth wife Caesonia and their daughter Julia Drusilla. For two days following his assassination, the senate debated the merits of restoring the Republic.
Claudius was a younger brother of Germanicus and had long been considered a weakling and a fool by the rest of his family. The Praetorian Guard, however, acclaimed him as emperor. Claudius was neither paranoid like his uncle Tiberius, nor insane like his nephew Caligula, and was, therefore, able to administer the Empire with reasonable ability.
He believed himself a god and decided to build an opulent palace for himself. The so-called Domus Aurea, meaning golden house in Latin, was constructed atop the burnt remains of Rome after the Great Fire of Rome (64). Nero was ultimately responsible for the fire. By this time Nero was hugely unpopular despite his attempts to blame the Christians for most of his regime's problems.
Servius Sulpicius Galba, born as Lucius Livius Ocella Sulpicius Galba, was a Roman emperor who ruled from AD 68 to 69. He was the first emperor in the Year of the Four Emperors and assumed the position following Emperor Nero's suicide. Galba's physical weakness and general apathy led to him being selected over by favorites. Unable to gain popularity with the people or maintain the support of the Praetorian Guard, Galba was murdered by Otho, who became emperor in his place.
Marcus Otho was Roman emperor for three months, from 15 January to 16 April 69. He was the second emperor of the Year of the Four Emperors. Inheriting the problem of the rebellion of Vitellius, commander of the army in Germania Inferior, Otho led a sizeable force that met Vitellius' army at the Battle of Bedriacum. After initial fighting resulted in 40,000 casualties, and a retreat of his forces, Otho committed suicide rather than fight on, and Vitellius was proclaimed emperor.
Aulus Vitellius was Roman Emperor for eight months, from 19 April to 20 December AD 69. Vitellius was proclaimed emperor following the quick succession of the previous emperors Galba and Otho, in a year of civil war known as the Year of the Four Emperors. His claim to the throne was soon challenged by legions stationed in the eastern provinces, who proclaimed their commander Vespasian emperor instead. War ensued, leading to a crushing defeat for Vitellius at the Second Battle of Bedriacum in northern Italy. Once he realized his support was wavering, Vitellius prepared to abdicate in favor of Vespasian. He was not allowed to do so by his supporters, resulting in a brutal battle for Rome between Vitellius' forces and the armies of Vespasian. He was executed in Rome by Vespasian's soldiers on 20 December 69.
The Revolt of the Batavi took place in the Roman province of Germania Inferior between AD 69 and 70. It was an uprising against the Roman Empire started by the Batavi, a small but militarily powerful Germanic tribe that inhabited Batavia, on the delta of the river Rhine. They were soon joined by the Celtic tribes from Gallia Belgica and some Germanic tribes.
On 18 September 96, Domitian was assassinated in a palace conspiracy involving members of the Praetorian Guard and several of his freedmen. On the same day, Nerva was declared emperor by the Roman Senate. As the new ruler of the Roman Empire, he vowed to restore liberties that had been curtailed during the autocratic government of Domitian.
Nerva's brief reign was marred by financial difficulties and his inability to assert his authority over the Roman army. A revolt by the Praetorian Guard in October 97 essentially forced him to adopt an heir. After some deliberation, Nerva adopted Trajan, a young and popular general, as his successor.
Upon his accession to the throne, Trajan prepared and launched a carefully planned military invasion in Dacia, a region north of the lower Danube whose inhabitants the Dacians had long been an opponent to Rome. In 101, Trajan personally crossed the Danube and defeated the armies of the Dacian king Decebalus at the Battle of Tapae.
Decebalus complied with the terms for a time, but before long he began inciting revolt. In 105 Trajan once again invaded and after a yearlong invasion ultimately defeated the Dacians by conquering their capital, Sarmizegetusa Regia. King Decebalus, cornered by the Roman cavalry, eventually committed suicide rather than being captured and humiliated in Rome.
Failure to nominate an heir could invite chaotic, destructive wresting of power by a succession of competing claimants – a civil war. Too early a nomination could be seen as an abdication, and reduce the chance for an orderly transmission of power. As Trajan lay dying, nursed by his wife, Plotina, and closely watched by Perfect Attianus, he could have lawfully adopted Hadrian as heir, by means of a simple deathbed wish, expressed before witnesses; but when an adoption document was eventually presented, it was signed not by Trajan but by Plotina, and was dated the day after Trajan's death.
Early in 117, Trajan grew ill and set out to sail back to Italy. His health declined throughout the spring and summer of 117, something publicly acknowledged by the fact that a bronze bust displayed at the time in the public baths of Ancyra showed him clearly aged and emaciated. After reaching Selinus (modern Gazipaşa) in Cilicia, which was afterward called Trajanopolis, he suddenly died from edema, probably on 11 August.
Hadrian relieved Judea's governor, the outstanding Moorish general Lusius Quietus, of his personal guard of Moorish auxiliaries; then he moved on to quell disturbances along the Danube frontier. There was no public trial for the four – they were tried in absentia, hunted down, and killed. Hadrian claimed that Attianus had acted on his own initiative, and rewarded him with senatorial status and consular rank; then pensioned him off, no later than 120. Hadrian assured the senate that henceforth their ancient right to prosecute and judge their own would be respected. In Rome, Hadrian's former guardian and current Praetorian Prefect, Attianus, claimed to have uncovered a conspiracy involving Lusius Quietus and three other leading senators, Lucius Publilius Celsus, Aulus Cornelius Palma Frontonianus, and Gaius Avidius Nigrinus.
Prior to Hadrian's arrival in Britannia, the province had suffered a major rebellion, from 119 to 121. Inscriptions tell of an expeditio Britannica that involved major troop movements, including the dispatch of a detachment (vexillatio), comprising some 3,000 soldiers. Fronto writes about military losses in Britannia at the time.
A shrine was erected in York to Britannia as the divine personification of Britain; coins were struck, bearing her image, identified as BRITANNIA. By the end of 122, Hadrian had concluded his visit to Britannia. He never saw the finished wall that bears his name.
Coin legends of 119–120 attest that Quintus Pompeius Falco was sent to restore order. In 122 Hadrian initiated the construction of a wall, "to separate Romans from barbarians". The idea that the wall was built in order to deal with an actual threat or its resurgence, however, is probable but nevertheless conjectural.
In 123, Hadrian crossed the Mediterranean to Mauretania, where he personally led a minor campaign against local rebels. The visit was cut short by reports of war preparations by Parthia; Hadrian quickly headed eastwards. At some point, he visited Cyrene, where he personally funded the training of young men from well-bred families for the Roman military. Cyrene had benefited earlier (in 119) from his restoration of public buildings destroyed during the earlier Jewish revolt.
Antoninus Pius was next appointed by Emperor Hadrian as one of the four proconsuls to administer Italia, his district including Etruria, where he had estates. He then greatly increased his reputation by his conduct as proconsul of Asia, probably during 134–135.
Antoninus Pius acquired much favor with Hadrian, who adopted him as his son and successor on 25 February 138, after the death of his first adopted son Lucius Aelius, on the condition that Antoninus would, in turn, adopt Marcus Annius Verus, the son of his wife's brother, and Lucius, son of Lucius Aelius, who afterward became the emperors, Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus.
It was however in Britain that Antoninus decided to follow a new, more aggressive path, with the appointment of a new governor in 139, Quintus Lollius Urbicus, a native of Numidia and previously governor of Germania Inferior as well as a new man. Under instructions from the emperor, Lollius undertook an invasion of southern Scotland, winning some significant victories, and constructing the Antonine Wall from the Firth of Forth to the Firth of Clyde. The wall, however, was soon gradually decommissioned during the mid-150s and eventually abandoned late during the reign (early 160s), for reasons that are still not quite clear.
Marcus was effectively the sole ruler of the Empire. The formalities of the position would follow. The senate would soon grant him the name Augustus and the title imperator, and he would soon be formally elected as Pontifex Maximus, chief priest of the official cults. Marcus made some show of resistance: the biographer writes that he was 'compelled' to take imperial power.
It is possible that an alleged Roman embassy from "Daqin" that arrived in Eastern Han China in 166 via a Roman maritime route into the South China Sea, landing at Jiaozhou (northern Vietnam) and bearing gifts for the Emperor Huan of Han (r. 146–168), was sent by Marcus Aurelius, or his predecessor Antoninus Pius (the confusion stems from the transliteration of their names as "Andun", Chinese: 安敦).
In the spring of 168 war broke out on the Danubian border when the Marcomanni invaded the Roman territory. This war would last until 180, but Verus did not see the end of it. In 168, as Verus and Marcus Aurelius returned to Rome from the field, Verus fell ill with symptoms attributed to food poisoning, dying after a few days (169).
The first crisis of the reign came in 182 when Lucilla engineered a conspiracy against her brother. Her motive is alleged to have been the envy of Empress Crispina. Her husband, Pompeianus, was not involved, but two men alleged to have been her lovers, Marcus Ummidius Quadratus Annianus (the consul of 167, who was also her first cousin) and Appius Claudius Quintianus, attempted to murder Commodus as he entered a theater. They bungled the job and were seized by the emperor's bodyguard.
On 28 March 193, Pertinax was at his palace when a contingent of some three hundred soldiers of the Praetorian Guard rushed the gates (two hundred according to Cassius Dio). Sources suggest that they had received only half their promised pay. Neither the guards on duty nor the palace officials chose to resist them. Pertinax sent Laetus to meet them, but he chose to side with the insurgents instead and deserted the emperor.
After the murder of Pertinax on 28 March 193, the Praetorian guard announced that the throne was to be sold to the man who would pay the highest price. Titus Flavius Claudius Sulpicianus, prefect of Rome and Pertinax's father-in-law, who was in the Praetorian camp ostensibly to calm the troops, began making offers for the throne. Meanwhile, Julianus also arrived at the camp, and since his entrance was barred, shouted out offers to the guard. After hours of bidding, Sulpicianus promised 20,000 sesterces to every soldier; Julianus, fearing that Sulpicianus would gain the throne, then offered 25,000. The guards closed with the offer of Julianus, threw open the gates, and proclaimed him emperor. Threatened by the military, the senate also declared him emperor. His wife and his daughter both received the title Augusta.
Because Julianus bought his position rather than acquiring it conventionally through succession or conquest, he was a deeply unpopular emperor. When Julianus appeared in public, he frequently was greeted with groans and shouts of "robber and parricide." Once, a mob even obstructed his progress to the Capitol by pelting him with large stones.
Proclaimed emperor in 193 by his legionaries in Noricum during the political unrest that followed the death of Commodus, he secured sole rule over the empire in 197 after defeating his last rival, Clodius Albinus, at the Battle of Lugdunum. In securing his position as emperor, he founded the Severan dynasty.
Severus is famously said to have given the advice to his sons: "Be harmonious, enrich the soldiers, scorn all others" before he died on 4 February 211. On his death, Severus was deified by the Senate and succeeded by his sons, Caracalla and Geta, who were advised by his wife Julia Domna. Severus was buried in the Mausoleum of Hadrian in Rome. His remains are now lost.
The current stability of their joint government was only through the mediation and leadership of their mother, Julia Domna, accompanied by other senior courtiers and generals in the military. The historian Herodian asserted that the brothers decided to split the empire into two halves, but with the strong opposition of their mother, the idea was rejected, when, by the end of 211, the situation had become unbearable. Caracalla tried unsuccessfully to murder Geta during the festival of Saturnalia (17 December).
On April 8, 217, Caracalla was assassinated traveling to Carrhae. Three days later, Macrinus was declared Augustus. Diadumenian was the son of Macrinus, born in 208. He was given the title Caesar in 217, when his father became augustus, and raised to co-Augustus the following year.
However, his downfall was his refusal to award the pay and privileges promised to the eastern troops by Caracalla. He also kept those forces wintered in Syria, where they became attracted to the young Elagabalus. After months of mild rebellion by the bulk of the army in Syria, Macrinus took his loyal troops to meet the army of Elagabalus near Antioch. Despite a good fight by the Praetorian Guard, his soldiers were defeated. Macrinus managed to escape to Chalcedon but his authority was lost: he was betrayed and executed after a short reign of just 14 months. After his father's defeat outside Antioch, Diadumenian tried to escape east to Parthia, but was captured and killed.
Alexander Severus was adopted as son and caesar by his slightly older and very unpopular cousin, the emperor Elagabalus at the urging of the influential and powerful Julia Maesa — who was the grandmother of both cousins and who had arranged for the emperor's acclamation by the Third Legion. On March 6, 222, when Alexander was just fourteen, a rumor went around the city troops that Alexander had been killed, triggering a revolt of the guards that had sworn his safety from Elegabalus and his accession as emperor.
The running of the Empire during this time was mainly left to his grandmother and mother (Julia Soaemias). Seeing that her grandson's outrageous behavior could mean the loss of power, Julia Maesa persuaded Elagabalus to accept his cousin Alexander Severus as caesar (and thus the nominal emperor-to-be). However, Alexander was popular with the troops, who viewed their new emperor with dislike: when Elagabalus, jealous of this popularity, removed the title of caesar from his nephew, the enraged Praetorian Guard swore to protect him. Elagabalus and his mother were murdered in a Praetorian Guard camp mutiny.
His prosecution of the war against a German invasion of Gaul led to his overthrow by the troops he was leading, whose regard the twenty-seven-year-old had lost during the campaign. Alexander was forced to face his German enemies in the early months of 235. By the time he and his mother arrived, the situation had settled, and so his mother convinced him that to avoid violence, trying to bribe the German army to surrender was the more sensible course of action. According to historians, it was this tactic combined with insubordination from his own men that destroyed his reputation and popularity. Alexander was thus assassinated together with his mother in a mutiny of the Legio XXII Primigenia at Moguntiacum (Mainz) while at a meeting with his generals. These assassinations secured the throne for Maximinus. He died after a rule of 13 years.
Some young aristocrats in Africa murdered the imperial tax-collector then approached the regional governor, Gordian, and insisted that he proclaim himself emperor. Gordian agreed reluctantly, but as he was almost 80 years old, he decided to make his son joint emperor, with equal power. The Senate recognized father and son as emperors Gordian I and Gordian II, respectively. Their reign, however, lasted for only 20 days. Capelianus, the governor of the neighboring province of Numidia, held a grudge against the Gordians. He led an army to fight them and defeated them decisively at Carthage. Gordian II was killed in the battle, and on hearing this news, Gordian I hanged himself. Gordian I and II were deified by the senate.
Meanwhile, Maximinus, now declared a public enemy, had already begun to march on Rome with another army. The senate's previous candidates, the Gordians, had failed to defeat him, and knowing that they stood to die if he succeeded, the senate needed a new emperor to defeat him. With no other candidates in view, on 22 April 238, they elected two elderly senators, Pupienus and Balbinus (who had both been part of a special senatorial commission to deal with Maximinus), as joint emperors. Therefore, Marcus Antonius Gordianus Pius, the thirteen-year-old grandson of Gordian I, was nominated as emperor Gordian III, holding power only nominally in order to appease the population of the capital, which was still loyal to the Gordian family.
The situation for Pupienus and Balbinus, despite Maximinus' death, was doomed from the start with popular riots, military discontent and enormous fire that consumed Rome in June 238. On July 29, Pupienus and Balbinus were killed by the Praetorian Guard and Gordian was proclaimed sole emperor.
Gaius Julius Priscus and, later on, his own brother Marcus Julius Philippus, also known as Philip the Arab, stepped in at this moment as the new Praetorian Prefects Gordian would then start a second campaign. Around February 244, the Sasanians fought back fiercely to halt the Roman advance to Ctesiphon. The eventual fate of Gordian after the battle is unclear. Sasanian sources claim that a battle occurred (Battle of Misiche) near modern Fallujah (Iraq) and resulted in a major Roman defeat and the death of Gordian III.
The Carpi moved through Dacia, crossed the Danube, and emerged in Moesia where they threatened the Balkans. Establishing his headquarters in Philippopolis in Thrace, he pushed the Carpi across the Danube and chased them back into Dacia, so that by the summer of 246, he claimed victory against them, along with the title "Carpicus Maximus".
Overwhelmed by the number of invasions and usurpers, Philip offered to resign, but the Senate decided to throw its support behind the emperor, with a certain Gaius Messius Quintus Decius most vocal of all the senators. Philip was so impressed by his support that he dispatched Decius to the region with a special command encompassing all of the Pannonian and Moesian provinces. This had a dual purpose of both quelling the rebellion of Pacatianus as well as dealing with the barbarian incursions. Although Decius managed to quell the revolt, discontent in the legions was growing. Decius was proclaimed emperor by the Danubian armies in the spring of 249 and immediately marched on Rome.
Although Decius tried to come to terms with Philip, Philip's army met the usurper near modern Verona that summer. Decius easily won the battle and Philip was killed sometime in September 249, either in the fighting or assassinated by his own soldiers who were eager to please the new ruler. Philip's eleven-year-old son and heir may have been killed with his father and Priscus disappeared without a trace.
Battle of Abritus was fought between the Romans and a federation of Gothic and Scythian tribesmen under the Gothic king Cniva. The Roman army of three legions was soundly defeated, and Roman emperors Decius and his son Herennius Etruscus were both killed in battle.
In June 251, Decius and his co-emperor and son Herennius Etruscus died in the Battle of Abrittus at the hands of the Goths they were supposed to punish for raids into the empire. According to rumors supported by Dexippus (a contemporary Greek historian) and the thirteenth Sibylline Oracle, Decius' failure was largely owing to Gallus, who had conspired with the invaders. In any case, when the army heard the news, the soldiers proclaimed Gallus emperor, despite Hostilian, Decius' surviving son, ascending the imperial throne in Rome. This action of the army, and the fact that Gallus seems to have been on good terms with Decius' family, makes Dexippus' allegation improbable. Gallus did not back down from his intention to become emperor, but accepted Hostilian as co-emperor, perhaps to avoid the damage of another civil war.
Since the army was no longer pleased with the Emperor, the soldiers proclaimed Aemilianus emperor. With a usurper, supported by Pauloctus, threatening the throne, Gallus prepared for a fight. He recalled several legions and ordered reinforcements to return to Rome from Gaul under the command of the future emperor Publius Licinius Valer