Guide Caligula & Nero: Rome’s Worst Emperors

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C it seems that Nero wanted to control the Empire and he had Seneca and Burrus dismissed.

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Later he killed his mother as he grew tired of her constant efforts to dominate him and control the Empire. Nero murdered any senator who opposed him. His personal life was bizarre and he married one of his male slaves. Nero was passionate about the games and he personally participated in the Olympic games in Greece.

He at first performed his work in private but then publicly performed his work in Greece.

Caligula The Tyrant & Mad Roman Emperor Documentary

Nero also acted on the stage. This scandalized the Roman elite who considered actors to be little better than prostitutes. The sight of Nero acting was appalling to them. Nero was also paranoid about plots and he killed anyone he suspected of being a threat.

The Wackiest Roman Emperors

While Nero was very unpopular with the elites, he was popular with the poor. He reformed the judicial and taxation system and made it fairer. Nero also built gymnasiums and baths in Rome that were open to ordinary Romans. The population of Rome and elsewhere in the Empire revered the Emperor and saw him as their protector. Nero was also a lavish builder and some sources say that he left the treasury bankrupt while others argued that his spending was part of an economic policy to revive a stagnant economy. In 66 AD, a great fire destroyed much of Rome. It may have been accidental or arson.

Elites blamed Nero for the fire and he was accused of clearing Rome for his building projects. By 68 AD, Nero had begun to raise taxes and there were many reports of growing discontent among the elite. While in the east there was a major Jewish Revolt and the Romans had been expelled from much of Judea. This revolted was welcomed by the elites in Rome. However, he had alienated the elite and he was quickly abandoned.


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Nero was forced to flee with some of slaves but later committed suicide. He ordered on of his slaves to cut his throat. His low tax policy combined with his lavish spending had led to an economic recession. He had also alienated the elites in Rome and elsewhere. He had also failed to provide strong government as is evident in the revolt of Vindex in Gaul and the Jewish Revolt. In the aftermath of his death, unlike that of his unstable uncle Caligula, there was no living male who was a member of the Julian-Claudian line.

The Julian-Claudian family had killed many of their relatives and after the death of Nero, who had no sons, there was no legitimate claimant to the throne.

This left the army as the power broker and in the year after Nero's deaths, legions fought each other for control of the Empire. In that year four men, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian declared themselves emperor. Vespasian emerged as the victor and established the Flavian dynasty.

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The Julio-Claudian Emperors | Western Civilization

Nero ended the Julian-Claudian dynasty. His death left a power vacuum that destabilized the Empire and led to competing generals to fight a series of civil wars. The year 69 AD was important as it showed that the army could both make and unmake an emperor. He was actually a competent administrator, and he was aided by some very able men, including his tutor — the writer Seneca. However, he was also unquestionably a murderer, starting with his step-brother Britannicus, with whom he had been supposed to share power, and progressing through his wife Octavia, whom he deserted for his lover, Poppeaea, and then had executed on a trumped-up charge of adultery.

He then kicked Poppaea to death in a fit of anger while she was pregnant with his child. He undoubtedly persecuted Christians in large numbers, and his childish insistence on winning the laurels at the Olympic Games in Greece — whether or not he actually won, or indeed finished the race — brought the whole empire into disrepute. He was particularly suspicious of the senate and had a number of leading citizens executed for conspiracy against him, including 12 ex-consuls and two of his own cousins. He turned against philosophers, sending many of them into exile, and he arranged the judicial murder of the chief vestal virgin, having her buried alive in a specially constructed tomb.

Domitian was eventually brought down by a conspiracy arranged by his wife, Domitia, and was somewhat inexpertly stabbed by a palace servant. Commodus was indeed a passionate follower of gladiatorial combat, and himself fought in the arena, sometimes dressed as Hercules, for which he awarded himself divine honours, declaring that he was a Roman Hercules.

Vain and pleasure-seeking, Commodus virtually bankrupted the Roman treasury and he sought to fill it up again by having wealthy citizens executed for treason so he could confiscate their property. Soon, people began plotting against him for real, including his own sister. The plots were foiled, however, and Commodus set about executing still more people, either because they were conspiring against him or because he thought they might do so in the future.

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus was the son of the highly able and effective emperor Septimius Severus. Severus named his younger son, Geta, as co-heir with Caracalla, but the two quickly fell out and civil war seemed imminent until Caracalla averted this scenario by having Geta murdered. He certainly turned the surplus he inherited from his father into a heavy deficit.

Caracalla was a successful, if ruthless, military commander but he was assassinated by a group of ambitious army officers, including the Praetorian prefect Opellius Macrinus, who promptly proclaimed himself emperor. Elagabalus overthrew Macrinus and promptly embarked on an increasingly eccentric reign. His nickname came from his role as priest of the cult of the Syrian god Elah-Gabal, which he tried to introduce into Rome to universal consternation, even having himself circumcised to show his devotion to the cult.

Elagabalus deliberately offended Roman moral and religious principles, setting up a conical black stone fetish — a symbol of the sun god Sol Invictus Elagabalus — on the Palatine Hill and marrying the chief vestal, for which, under normal circumstances, she should have been put to death. It may seem unfair to include Diocletian in this group, since he is best known for the risky but sensible decision to divide the government of the Roman empire in two, taking Marcus Aurelius Maximianus as his co-emperor, each with a subordinate known as a Caesar, in a four-way division of power called the tetrarchy.

Diocletian was a good administrator, and managed to hold his divided command structure together at a time when the Roman empire was coming under increasing pressure from its enemies outside its boundaries. The last straw, after famine and bankruptcy, was a planned move to Egypt to live as a sun god. This triggered his murder in January 41 AD.


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As with all emperors, the horror stories may be the work of his enemies, but Nero has many to his name. He killed his mother so that he could remarry, by divorcing and then executing his first wife.


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  5. His second wife he kicked to death. Personal power was won with indiscriminate execution of enemies and critics, massive tax cuts and huge public entertainments. The deepening political divide in the U. But can we really look back at ancient civilisations and draw parallels with those that exist today? And can the lessons of the past really help us to tackle the challenges of the present? Watch Now. The nicest thing said of Commodus was that he was not wicked, but so stupid that he allowed wicked friends to take control of his reign.

    He portrayed himself as Hercules, the mythical Greek hero, in countless statues.

    Monstrous monstrous men

    His love of the games was such that he fought in them himself, becoming a ridiculous spectacle as he slaughtered ostriches, elephants and giraffes, and defeated human opponents who dared not beat him. He charged the state a massive fee for each appearance. The months of the year, the legions, the fleet, the senate, the imperial palace, and the citizens of Rome themselves were all named after him.