As you wander the beautiful streets of Rome some of the greatest monuments are named after great rulers of the past. Their buildings are still standing after 2,000 years and the names attached still evoke traces of the mighty Roman Empire - the Baths of Caracalla, Trajan's markets, the Arch of Titus, the Column of Marcus Aurelius. Who were these people? This journal is to put some flesh on the bones of these great monuments and to put the Roman Emperors into some kind of chronological order. For no set of rulers in the history of the world were as powerful, corrupt and downright fascinating as the Roman Emperors. Not the Russian Tsars, not the English medieval kings, not the Greek tyrants or the Ottoman sultans were as ambitious, dupliticous or just plain wicked as the Roman Emperors. And just in case the female sex was feeling superior - the women in the Imperial family were just as scheming and treacherous as the men.
Rome, as we all know, was a republic long before it was an Imperial Empire. About 600BC the aristocracy overthrew the monarchy and declared itself a republic. The republic was basically an aristocratic oligarchy where the offices of state were competed upon by a few powerful families, this was aimed to prevent the political dominace by one man. This worked well until a wolf went amongst the sheep in the guise of Julius Ceasar. He rose to become consul then the greatest Roman of them all with armies which he used to conquer Gaul, Britain and Spain. He used the armies to 'cross the Rubicon' and the republic became under the thumb of one man. His enemies assassinated him on the Ides of March and thus began the end of the republic and the start of the Empire...
Augustus (31BC to 14AD)
One of the most famous men in history. This was Ceasar's adopted nephew. When the civil wars started after Ceasar's murder Gaius Octavius, as he was known then, was still only 19. He threw in with Lepidus and Marc Anthony to destroy Caesar's enemies and the Roman world was divided between the three. But even that was too small for these giants and Marc Anthony threw in with Egypt's Queen Cleopatra. Civil war broke out anew until they were defeated at the battle of Actium in 31BC. Octavius was now sole master of the Roman world. He was a brilliant administrator and builder. Under him Rome entered its golden age with the entire empire overhauled and made profitable. In 27BC he was given the title Princeps or Imperator by the senate. Athough he paid homage to Roman democracy, he was in fact the first Emperor.
A very hard worker, he was unprepossing physically. If you have seen the film "Cleopatra", Roddy MacDowell looks almost identical to him. He was very short, often wearing lifts in his shoes, and spindly and wiry. His big problem was the imperial family. His daughter Julia was banished to a tiny island for excessive promiscuity. His wife Livia was his co-ruler. And accidents seemed to happen to those in the imperial succession - leaving her son Tiberius the only one available for the purple when Augustus died. Coincidence or a little astutely used poison?
History has misjudged Tiberius. Like most sons bullied by their mothers he was very sensitive to criticism. In later life this evolved into reclusiveness, mistrust and paranoia. But all in all he was an excellent soldier-emperor. Never too worried to go out with the troops, he felt more at home there then within the intrigues of Rome. And eventually retreated to Capri where he built a cliffside villa. Rome was ruled by his henchman Sejanus who inspired fear in the Senate. Tiberius, instead spent his time in debauchery on Capri with rumours of orgies and people being thrown from the cliff's. It was only when Sejanus threatened to take over the Emperorship then Tiberius moved against him. He and his children were murdered and blood flowed down the Senate steps at his fall from grace. Tiberius chose someone even worse to be his successor.
Something went seriously wrong with Caligula. He probably was a schizophrenic paranoiac. After the accession he fell ill and upon waking declared himself to be a god. He ruled as absolute dictator murdering Gemellus who was mean't to share the purple with him and instigating a reign of terror under his henchman Macro. To gain money from the senate he started treason-trials where the executed man left his fortune to the Emperor and even declared his racehorse to be a Roman senator. He had an affair with his sister Drusilla and the paranoia at court was so severe that most went in fear of their lives as his German guard would execute people on the spot. He was eventually assassinated by nobles in AD41.
Most famous for Robert Graves' masterpiece "I, Claudius" - he was a surprisingly effective Emperor. Probably suffering from cerebal palsy he had a pronounced stoop, dribbled, stammered and limped and fell asleep during court sessions. He was a good builder creating the great docks at Ostia and peace returned to the empire. He was, however, singularly unlucky with his wives. Caligula made him marry beautiful 15 year old Messalina whose adulteries which may be in their thousands. Only when she and Appius Silanus planned on making bid for the Emperorship did he act and she was executed in great scandal. He then married his niece the Lady Agrippina - one of the most wicked women in Rome. She waited until he aknowledged her son Nero's adoption then probably poisoned him with a plate of mushrooms.
Probably the most famous of the Emperor's. He is a good example of the hereditary system going horribly wrong. Nero's problem was that he didn't understand or care about the armies and senate of Rome. Matched with a personality that was moulded by sychophants and a murderous mother. He murdered his wife, co-ruler, second wife and mother in very bizzare fashions (one plot involved a ceiling to fall down on his mother). He only cared for the games of Rome or his own artistic ways (those that fell asleep at his recitals were banished)he fell fatally out of step with the people of his empire blaming the great fire of Rome on Christians and building the extravagant 'Golden House'. Abandoned by army, senate and people of Rome he committed suicide in AD68.
Following Nero became Vespasian whose two sons Titus and Domitian became Emperor's. Titus was an archetypecal soldier Emperor who had the misfortune of reigning during the Pompeii disaster and Domitian was an extreme paranoic eventually murdered by his wife and courtiers in an effort to save their own lives. Other Emperor's of note include Hadrian - famous for the great wall in Britain and one of a few homosexual emperor's, Marcus Aurelius who kept the German hordes at bay, Trajan who was the last to expand the empire with the destruction of the Dacians on his column and Commodus who was forgotten by the world until the film 'Gladiator' came out. Yes, he really did enter the arena, but in reality was not murdered by a fellow gladiator but by his own people, when he, like Caligula, thought he was a living god...