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Useful Notes: The Roman Empire
Senātus Populusque Rōmānus ("The Senate and People of Rome ")

Reg (leader of the People's Front of Judea): All right, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?
PFJ member: Brought peace?
Reg: Oh, peace—SHUT UP!

The Roman Empire succeeded The Roman Republic in the first century BC, precisely when being a subject for debate. It is generally thought to coincide with Augustus taking control of Rome and declaring himself Princeps in 27 B.C. The pretense of a Hereditary Republic lasted rather longer, but withered away.

At one time or another it covered part or all of the modern day countries of- well, here's a list.

Rome, in its own name, continued to exist for quite a long time. By the end of the 3rd century it had gotten so unwieldy that it needed co-emperors to handle everything; in 395, not long after Constantine embraced Christianity, the empire split into the Eastern and Western halvesnote . The Eastern side, which historians re-named the Byzantine Empire for conveniencenote , toiled on almost a thousand years longer, until Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople in 1453. (Despite the power of the Roman legion, evidently their training course did not cover defense against flightless furniture.) The Western empire collapsed in 476, ushering in The Dark Ages. Charlemagne took the name of "Rome" for his kingdom, the "Holy Roman Empire," in 800 AD, as did Tsarist Russia ("Tsar" being a linguistic evolution of "Caesar"). The most salient point here is that a "Roman" nation of some sort existed, on paper at least, for well over two thousand years.

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     Pax Romana 

"To plunder, to slaughter, to usurp, they give the lying name of empire; and where they make a desert, they call it peace."
Calgacus, chieftain of the Caledonians, in Agricola by Roman historian Tacitus

During its heyday, the Roman Empire maintained a level of peace and stability within its borders not often known to people living in those times. With its legions, a relatively enlightened ruling system, religious freedom (well, tolerance and syncreticism, at least), the Roman Empire held well enough (and people considered themselves sufficiently part of it) that an American would probably be quite at home there. In fact, there is are two separate terms for this in the modern context: Pax Britannica (for when The British Empire's influence moderated conflict and brought relatively free trade from 1815 to 1914) and Pax Americana.

The Pax Romana was based, to a large degree, upon the political nature of the empire. A great deal was direct empire: Rome had immediate authority over the lands surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. However, Rome's peace was the result of its Hegemonic Empire. Technically independent client nations surrounded it and participated in trade of goods, wealth, and (Roman) culture. In order to maintain control over these client states, Rome regularly sent lavish gifts to their rulers. In return, those rulers did everything they could to keep from antagonizing Rome. Not only did these client states not make war with Rome, they also served as buffers.

On the far side of the client states were barbarian tribes who, being nomadic (the horsemen of the desert) or seminomadic (the Germans to the North moved between different permanent sites depending on the season) and lacking such features of civilization as money and stone monuments, were indifferent to Romanization. They liked Rome's wealth but wanted nothing of its culture. The client states surrounding Rome absorbed the repeated incursions of barbarian raiders so that Rome wouldn't have to. This is why Augustus, after expanding the empire, told his successor to stop doing that: eliminate the clients and Rome has to deal with the barbarians herself.

Barbarians weren't the only problem. In the East, Rome had a potent enemy in the Iranian empires of Arsacid Parthia (247 BC - AD 224) and Sassanid Persia (224 - 651). The client states to the east were essentially shuffled back and forth between Rome and Parthia/Persia in a kind of hegemonic game of checkers, with each side more or less understanding that direct conflict between the two would be disastrous for both. Hence, the Kingdom of Armenia became a buffer kingdom in which the Persians chose who'd be king of Armenia, and that king would travel to Rome to gain the Emperor's approval and be crowned. This kept conflict at a minimum between the two empires for some time.

Although the Pax Romana specifically refers to a phenomenon in the Mediterranean world, the fact is that the period was marked by unusual peace across a solid belt across the Eurasian civilized world from the Atlantic to the Pacific, controlled by four great empires: Rome in the west; with Persia to its east; and then to Persia's east the Kushan and Gupta empires in Afghanistan and northern India; and to the east of both of those the Han Dynasty held not only the Chinese heartland but also the Tarim Basin in modern Xinjiang. This is arguably the first period of "proto-globalization,"note  as in this time, the influence of the four large empires (Rome, Persia, India, and China) made regular cross-Eurasian trade not merely a reality, but big business. Although restricted to luxuries—nothing else was worth shipping that far—there was unquestionably regular trade, with the Romans developing a taste for Eastern silk and spices, the Chinese developing an interest in Roman glassware, and everything in between. (The Han, by the way, sent an explorer to Rome, who left a fairly detailed report; they seem to have greatly respected Rome, seeing it as a Western mirror to themselves and calling it Daqin: Great China.) Ideas also travelled: Christianity made its way to India and Central Asia in this time, finding moderate purchase; late in the period, the Persian Manichaeism spread to Rome and China. At the same time, fighting was restricted to proxy wars at the fringes of the great empires. This period of peace ended, however, after plagues swept Rome and China in the third century. Rome managed to hang on for another two centuries, but only just (see below); the Han met their fate quicker.

     The Fall 

"It was luxuries like air conditioning that brought down the Roman Empire. With air conditioning their windows were shut, they couldn't hear the barbarians coming."
Garrison Keilor

Unfortunately, the hegemonic empire couldn't last. Although Rome's tribute to her client states paid for the necessary military service of facing barbarian incursions, it couldn't pay for the human cost of warfare. Further, as each client became more Romanized, the citizens thereof became increasingly vocal in their desire to become part of Rome and receive the benefits of Roman civilization directly. Eventually each client state was absorbed into the Roman empire and Rome had to bear the burden of defending her borders herself.

As is often the case with a stable, growing population and economy, Rome faced the difficulties of inflation and, sometimes, too much economic growth, leading to cycles of boom and bust. As the science of economics wouldn't be developed for a few millennia, Rome found herself unable to cope with the complexities of managing the marketplace. Since the environmental factors fueling Rome's population growth also fueled the populations of the barbarians surrounding the empire, it led to a perfect storm that gradually ate away at Rome and led to her downfall. This can be marked in several stages.

Stage 1 - Search and Destroy

Search and Destroy is a military strategy wherein you search out hostile forces, destroy them on their own territory, and then withdraw. This prevents them from doing any damage to your own infrastructure and minimizes all other injuries done. Imminent barbarian incursions would be neutralized before they even reached the borders. This is a costly form of defense, but ideal. It requires a great deal of manpower at the border, regular and maintained fortifications, constant scouting in hostile territory, and a mobile force capable of meeting the enemy. This is what Rome had along all of her borders, with her forces and fortifications deployed in accord with the terrain and density of hostile forces. The German woods required a great deal of manpower and effort; the African deserts could be more sparsely manned. Despite the expense and effort required, attempts to carry out this strategy were made even as late as 375, a hundred years before the Western Empire would fall. However, even before then, declining power forced Rome to increasingly rely on...

Stage 2 - Static Defense

Rather than meet the hostile forces on their own ground, Rome learned to accept meeting them at the border. Very often the empire built actual walls (for example, the Antonine Wall in Scotland and Hadrian's Wall further south in England), though the psychological effects of building such walls may have been known even then. It's likely that this shift was made not out of any strategic choice, but because Rome was losing the manpower to engage in more effective strategies, the reason generally being disease: the Antonine Plague struck in 165 and lasted 15 years, and the Plague of Cyprian began in 250 and lasted at least 20. Both of these are generally accepted to be outbreaks of smallpox, and they caused serious damage to both civilian populations (the Antonine Plague killed up to a third of the population in some areas), and to the army (the Antonine Plague at least is understood to have been spread by a legion returning from fighting in the Middle East).

Since it requires less manpower—which is now what the Romans had—static defense it was. Unfortunately, this kind of defense is both unimaginative and passive, and a breach may occur at any single spot on a very long border, as the enemy may concentrate his strength, while the defender has no choice but to guard the entire perimeter. Once a breach is made, an invading horde may raid and pillage a great distance before they are stopped, as military forces are concentrated on the border and it takes time to react to face them. What's more, such defenses are also a constant drain on the defender as they must also be maintained and manned at all times. Once the barbarians broke through, the repeated damage to infrastructure (roads, fortifications, farms) led directly to...

Stage 3 - Withdrawal

Toward the end of the empire's existence, Rome gradually gave up on more and more territory as undefendable. Repeated incursions by hostile forces destroyed the population, the buildings, and the land. By the time the city of Rome was sacked, the Empire`s territory in the West had shrunk to more or less that of modern Italy. Rome itself was sacked multiple times during the fifth century and is seen as the final coda on the death of the empire. The Eastern, or Byzantine, empire continued for another thousand years, having much more secure natural borders and making better use of natural resources. Further, the density of hostile barbarians was much less in Western Asia than in Northern Europe, at least until the rise of, variously, the Mongols and Islam. It was Muslim Turks who finally conquered Constantinople, destroying the last remnant of the empire. For a time, Byzantium reached out, claimed, and held onto a significant portion of the Western empire (including modern Italy) in the sixth century, but it, too, had to retreat from those claims.

     Crucifixion 

Centurion: What could be worse [than crucifixion]
Old Man: Could be stabbed.
Centurion: What?! It only takes a second; crucifixion lasts hours.
Old Man: Least it gets you out in the open air.
Centurion: You're weird mate.

The most famous person that this happened to was of course Jesus, but it happened to quite a lot of other people too. Another well-known example would be Spartacus. Everyone in his army that was taken prisoner after finally being defeated (about 6,000 people) were crucified at the same time, spread over about 200 km of the Via Appia (the Appian Way). Kinda similar to Jesus, there are claims that Spartacus either escaped, survived, or had a son that survived.

In terms of sheer nastiness, little matches crucifixion in the capital punishment field. It was designed to be as painful and humiliating as possible. The Romans themselves considered it so barbaric that Roman citizens usually couldn't be sentenced to crucifixion.

To go into further detail about crucifixion: five- to-seven-inch-long nails were driven into the wrists and ankles. How the nails were driven in depended on the shape of the cross, which was I, T, X, Y or the traditional cross shape. Then ropes are tied, so the Romans can pull up the cross. The ropes cut into the skin as the cross is raised. Then the person is essentially left to die. Times passes on, the person literally gets baked by the sun. Crows start to come and peck on the eyes on the hung, if that person has no family or friends to fend them off. The hung man must struggle with all of his might to get one tiny breath in, as his lungs are constricted. If he's lucky, he'll get a bitter tasting wine as a painkiller. In terms of waste removal, there was none. This further adds to the humiliation and infects any wounds below the waist. After that, there's not much left as the prisoner gets no food nor drink. Jesus lasted the good part of a day before passing on, but there are cases of men who lasted THREE DAYS of this. It's also where we get the word "excruciating", literally "from the cross."
  • Now imagine this happening to six thousand people at the same time, on the same road.

Quite where the nails went (or if they were even used) and what the person was supposed to die of are debated by historians (The Bible isn't too clear on the subject either, due to translation issues from the original Greek). The usual theory has been suffocation, but some experiments concluded otherwise- certainly exhaustion and dehydration would have occurred too. Jesus' seven traditional sayings on the cross i.e. "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" ("My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" in Aramaic) would have been very hard, though not impossible, to get out in these circumstances. In order to speed things up, the legs of the condemned might be broken. How long it took to die varied widely and there are cases of people surviving due to a reprieve.

Victims were crucified completely naked to add to the humiliation factor. Though it is perfectly understandable that religious art wouldn't depict it visually (especially given that it was done to disgrace the victims), there is no reason to believe Jesus was spared this token of humiliation.
  • Some have said that humiliation and shame was the main issue Jesus dealt with, as part of the separation from God.

All that is what happened if you got to the cross- you had to carry it there yourself and you were flogged with a rather nasty whip (with iron balls or sharpened sheep bones in) beforehand. There are cases of the flogging killing people. In fact, the flogging was actually intended as a mercy — the worse you were beaten before crucifixion, the sooner you would die on the cross.

     The Legion 

"I came, I saw, I conquered."

The Glory That Was Rome

The centerpiece of the Roman army, the Legion was and is justifiably famous. They were incredibly disciplined, on pain of death. Perhaps what they are most lauded for is not their ability to kill, but for their engineering.

The early imperial army was a two-tier institution, with citizen volunteers making up the legions, which fought as heavy infantry, and non-citizens recruited into the auxilia, which consisted of archers, cavalry, light infantry, and any other type of unit that could help the legions achieve their mission.

As time went on, the legions became smaller and more numerous, so that they could be deployed more easily. The quality of the equipment also deteriorated, but the legions remained a very effective fighting force almost until the very end of the western Empire. Units were classified as limitanei, or border units, and comitatenses, or mobile units.

In the east, the army was reorganized and was focused on heavy cavalry, emulating the Persians. Following the Arab invasions, the military was divided into an elite standing army, the tagmata, and local units raised from military districts, or themata, similar to the limitanei and comitatenses mentioned above. In the high middle ages, some troops were raised in a semi-feudal manner, and the Empire relied a lot more on mercenaries.

     Symbols of the Empire 

Senatus Populusque Romanus

The empire was rife with symbolism and iconography that has truly stood the test of time. Unfortunately, some are virtually never used because, almost without exception, Hitler co-opted them for his Nazi regime, tainting them perhaps beyond redemption. Roman symbols include:
  • The Aquila - An eagle with wings outstretched, a rallying standard for the armies. Also found on a great deal of stonework.
  • The double-headed eagle - Dating to the splitting of the empire, though the symbol is much older.
  • Eagles in general - As they are associated with Jupiter/Zeus and are a symbol of strength. Their status as "King of the Birds", combined with the special Roman relationship with birds in general (avian activity was the primary form of state omen-reading), gave them particular importance to the Romans.
  • The laurels and S.P.Q.R. - As seen at the top of the page, it stands for Senatus Populusque Romanus, the Senate and People of Rome. Still used as the municipal logo by the modern city of Rome.
  • The fasces - An axe, handle thrust through a bundle of reeds or sticks, the fasces was a symbol of authority. Originally a republican symbol of strength in unity (one reed or stick breaks, a bundle doesn't). It was resurrected by the fascists, specifically Benito Mussolini. So not everything was ruined by Hitler.
    • Not even Mussolini could ruin this one: the French and American republics, which intentionally attempted to recall Rome, used the fasces in their symbolism long before Mussolini. The French Fifth Republic still uses the fasces with an axe in its semi-official emblem, and the fasces are still found in many American symbols: the Seal of the Senate has crossed fasces with axes, while the Mace of the House and the armrests in the Lincoln Memorial are axeless fasces.
      • The fasces is also found in the symbol for the Swedish police and related agencies, as well as in many other nations.
  • The swastika - The symbol most indelibly associated with the Nazis (in the West), it is very ancient, going back to the neolithic, and global, having been found throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. It is related to the sun, as are most cross symbols.
  • Roman Salute - There is little evidence that actual Romans actually saluted each other by raising their right hands above their heads, palm facing downward. Nevertheless, the image was associated with Roman Republicanism (via paintings by J-L David, among others) and became popularized during the French Revolution and thereafter. It was adopted by many Americans (as Bellamy Salute), by Fascist Italy (the Roman Salute), Nazi Germany (the Nazi salute), and many other political movements, although, after World War 2, its popularity receded drastically.

     The Emperors 

"Two Caesars is one two many."
Augustus, ordering the death of Cleopatra's son (and supposedly Julius Caesar's bastard)

While the image of The Caligula may linger in the popular imagination, Roman emperors varied from good and competent to ineffectual to monsters. The early emperors, starting with Augustus, largely kept republican institutions in place, cultivating the image of what we would call a constitutional monarchy. However, all real power lay with the emperor, as he had the personal loyalty of the legionsnote . Later on, during the third century, the emperors dropped the pretense of being Just the First Citizen and openly embraced autocratic rule. Their personal force of bodyguards, the Praetorian Guard, had a large role in both selecting and displacing them.

Oh, and, just in case you did not know, Gaius Julius Caesar was not an emperor. He died almost 20 years before Rome became an empire, for that matter. It is true, though, that he played a critical role in helping Rome transition into an empire.

Julio-Claudian dynasty

Augustus(27 BC - 14 AD)

The founder of the Roman Empire and its first emperor. Extremely ruthless and Machiavellian with his political rivals, he was benevolent with the general public. He began the Pax Romana and is widely revered for bringing peace to the Empire.

Has his own page.

Tiberius (14 - 37)

The second emperor and Replacement Scrappy for Augustus and his intended heirs. Ruled the early Roman Empire competently enough, but was alienated from the Senate and constantly suffered personal tragedies.

Caligula (37 - 41)

Tiberius' great-nephew. Insane and tyrannical, but just how much is still hotly debated by historians to this day. Was extremely hated by the Senate, though popular with the lower classes for his antics. Had a very short reign of four years, before he was killed by a Bodyguard Betrayal.

Has his own article.

Claudius (41 - 54)

Caligula's uncle and Tiberius' nephew, already an older man when he became emperor. Is famous for a certain TV series, and for conquering Britain. Surviving his murderous family and eventually obtaining the imperial throne due to his Obfuscating Stupidity, he had a fairly successful reign. Poisoned by his wife (and niece) in 54.

Nero (54 - 68)

Caligula's nephew and the last descendant of Augustus' dynasty. Wrongly remembered as a fiddling Rome-burning lunatic, Nero was actually extremely popular during his lifetime. Was overthrown after a mutiny by the armies in Spain and Gaul. The first emperor who persecuted Christians, he was given a massive Historical Villain Upgrade after his death.

  • Adipose Rex: Towards the end of his reign.
  • Ancient Grome: Nero was a huge fan of everything Greek. He was obsessed with Greek theatre, poetry, music, and art—the Neronian age is sometimes called the "Silver Age" of Roman culture for a reason.
  • The Antichrist: Many of the early Christians thought he was the Antichrist.
  • Bi the Way
  • Domestic Abuser: He kicked his pregnant wife, Poppaea Sabina, in her belly. She died of a miscarriage.
  • Driven to Suicide
  • Everything's Louder With Bagpipes: Nero almost certainly didn't fiddle while Rome burned, but he was - according to the people who had to praise him or die, at least - a very accomplished bagpiper.
  • Foreign Culture Fetish: He was in love with Greek culture, and did all his songs and poems in Greek. Performed in the Olympic Games, despite their rules against non-Greek participation. But then again, he was the emperor.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: One of the real classic cases. He may have been a bad guy in many regards, but he wasn't remotely as evil as movies like Quo Vadis and Sign Of The Cross depict him.
    • It's mainly because he persecuted the Christians, who were seen as just an annoying cult at the time. But after Christianity took over, he was retconned into an evil supervillain.
  • Last of His Kind: The last Julio-Claudian emperor. The bloodline of Augustus and Julius Caesar ended with him.
  • Mad Artist
  • Momma's Boy: One of history's more disturbing examples.
  • Mother Makes You King: His mother Agrippina was the one who made him emperor, after murdering his uncle (and stepfather Claudius). And then he killed Mom.
  • Pretty Boy: In his younger years, before he grew fat and bloated.
  • Self-Made Orphan: He had his mother killed by his guards.
  • While Rome Burns: The most famous urban legend about him. Supposedly, he (at best) played his fiddle during the Great Fire of Rome, or (at worst) burned the city on purpose. In reality, Nero never did any of this, and did everything he could to help the homeless victims of the fire.
    • The most reliable source on the fire, Tacitus (who lived when it happened), states that Nero rushed back to the city to oversee the relief efforts, paying out of his own pockets quite generously.
  • Windmill Crusader

"The Year of the Four Emperors"

Galba (68 - 69)

The first of the short-lived "four emperors". Former governor of Spain, and made emperor by the legions of Gaul and Spain during their mutiny against Nero.

  • Body Horror
  • Bodyguard Betrayal: Died in the Forum Romanum when he was chopped to shreds by his bodyguards and his Number Two.
  • The Butcher: Famous for his cruelty when he was governor of Spain. When he was elected to Roman emperor, his first act was to round up the legions who'd been loyal to Nero and decimate them.
  • Disproportionate Retribution
  • Grumpy Old Man: He was seventy years old when he became emperor.
  • Hanging Judge: At least according to Suetonius.
    • ->"He sentenced a money-changer of questionable honesty to have both hands cut off and nailed to the counter; and crucified a man who had poisoned his ward. When this murderer complained that he was a Roman citizen, Galba recognized his status and ironically consoled him with: 'Put this citizen on a higher cross than the rest, and have his cross whitewashed'."
  • Red Right Hand: Galba suffered from gout, which made his hands and feet swollen to a huge size. He also had another Red Right Hand on his body—an enormous tumor which grew out of his belly, and he supposedly needed to wear special armor to restrain this growing tentacle-like mass of flesh.
  • The Usurper

Otho (69)

The second of the four. Once a close friend of Nero (and the ex-husband of Nero's wife), he was Galba's second-in-command until he killed the old man and took over.

  • Heroic Sacrifice: After a few small battles against the forces of Vitellius, and despite the urging of his troops to continue fighting, Otho stabbed himself in the chest in order to prevent the empire from falling into further civil war.
  • Hidden Depths: Although a metrosexual playboy and a party animal for most of his life, Otho showed a surprising competence and leadership skill when he became emperor.
  • Pretty Boy
  • Replacement Goldfish: Was a friend of Nero's, and promoted himself as a second Nero when he rose to power. The memory of Nero was still majorly popular with the Roman lower classes, so this was pretty good PR. Otho reinstated most of Nero's reforms, and even signed papers as "Nero".
  • The Starscream: He was this to Galba.

Vitellius (69)

The third (and worst) of the four. The governor of Germania, he launched his own rebellion against Galba and Otho. Was infamous for his gluttony and cruelty.

  • Adipose Rex: The fattest Roman emperor in history.
  • Fat Bastard: How he is remembered. Suetonius describes him as horrible and depraved, though it's more likely that he was simply a lazy emperor and out of his depth.
  • Humiliation Conga: Subjected to one by Vespasian, before he was publicly tortured to death.
  • I Was Quite a Looker

Flavian dynasty

Vespasian (69 - 79)

Former governor of Judea and last of the "four emperors". A very competent administrator and military leader. Defeated the Jewish Revolts and built the Colosseum. According to some, the Messianic Archetype prophecy referred to him.

  • Colonel Badass: Before he became an emperor in his old age.
  • Deadpan Snarker: His main trait. Vespasian is said to have dealed the snark even when he was sick and about to die. As he shat himself from diarrhea, he declared: "Oh, dammit — I think I'm becoming a god." (Ut puto, deus fio.)
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Vespasian's exit was classy: aware that he was breathing his last, he got someone to help him out of bed - so that he could die standing up.

Titus (79 - 81)

Vespasian's eldest son, who waged a successful war against the Jews early in his life, which would have long-lasting consequences for Christianity and Judaism.

Domitian (81 - 96)

Vespasian's younger son, who may or may not have killed his brother. Was a competent but authoritarian ruler, and deeply loathed by the Senate. One of the first emperors with a cult of personality.

Nervan-Antonine dynasty

Nerva (96 - 98)

An old childless Senator who was made emperor by the Senate but was unpopular with the army. Was the first of the "Five Good Emperors."

Trajan (98 - 117)

Widely considered to be the greatest Roman emperor since Augustus, his conquests increased the Roman Empire to its greatest extent.

Hadrian (117 - 138)

A peacemaker who pulled back from several areas conquered by Trajan. Traveled around the empire, and built the eponymous wall in Britain. Known for vehemently supporting Greek culture, almost to a bizarre degree.

Antoninus Pius (138 - 161)

Famous for doing nothing at all besides ruling competently for 22 years.

Marcus Aurelius (161 - 180)

Wisest of the emperors. Tried to live up to the ideal of the philosopher-king. A decent man and very competent ruler, though his reign was marked by wars and The Plague, which killed him too.

Commodus (177 - 192)

The son of Marcus Aurelius. Started the empire's long decline by being a spendthrift and useless ruler. May have gone slightly made before the end, renaming Rome to "Colony of Commodus" and pretending he was Hercules reborn.

"The Year of the Five Emperors"

Pertinax (193)

An elderly man elected by the Senate, but proved to be way too nice. Was betrayed and murdered by the Praetorian Guard (are we seeing a pattern here?).

Didius Julianus (193)

Famous only for buying the empire from the Praetorians, who auctioned off the throne after they'd killed Pertinax.

Pescennius Niger (193)

A general whose troops proclaimed him emperor in Syria, in response to the scandalous auction. Defeated by Septimius Severus in the next year.

Clodius Albinus (193)

A second general whose troops rebelled against Didius buying the throne, this time in Britain. He initially allied himself with Severus, who let him have the title "Caesar". Was eventually backstabbed by his "ally" Severus and killed in 197.

Severan dynasty

Septimius Severus (193 - 211)

Harsh but fair emperor and very competent general. Machiavellian master of the Xanatos Gambit. Since he was a military man who depended only on the army for support, the Senate finally slid into total irrelevance during his reign.

Caracalla (198 - 217)

Severus' eldest son. Expanded the Roman citizenship to all free people throughout the empire. Whatever ruling ability he may have had was totally overwhelmed by his constant violent rage.

Macrinus (217 - 218)

Not a member of the Severan dynasty. First non-politician to become an emperor, he killed Caracalla before the other way round would've happened. Didn't last long before Severus' family took back the throne.

Elagabalus (218 - 222)

Caracalla's cousin. A flamboyant Camp Gay teenager, at a time when Straight Gay or Bi the Way was the norm (some even claim him to be a Transsexual), he was so flamboyant that it led to extreme disapproval and his early demise.

Alexander Severus (222 - 235)

Another cousin of Caracalla and Elagabalus. Did his best, but was very dominated by his mother.

"The Soldier Emperors"

Maximinus Thrax (235 - 238)

The first of the so-called "Soldier Emperors", and also the first ruler who never set a foot into Rome. Started as a common barbarian soldier from Thrace, and never learned Latin properly. Also known by the nickname "Cyclops" because of his freakish size.

Philip the Arab (244 - 249)

Oversaw the celebration of the millennium since the foundation of Rome. As his cognomen implies, he was an ethnic Arab from the Syrian borderlands—a fact of which modern Syrians are quite proud; they put him on their 100-pound note. Very tolerant towards Christians.

Decius (249 - 251)

Persecuted the Christians and became infamous for it. Died in battle against the invading Goths.

Valerian (253 - 260)

First emperor to be captured by the enemy. Valerian's reign was easily the lowest point of Rome in the third century. Was taken alive by the Sassanid Persians and allegedly skinned, stuffed and put on display. Other accounts have him being forced to be King Shapur's footstool, whilst the more credible ones simply have him stuck in a tower for the rest of his life.

Gallienus (260 - 268)

Valerian's son, who didn't care much that his father became a POW. Is famous for doing absolutely nothing while the Roman Empire was attacked from all sides.

Claudius Gothicus (268 - 270)

Military man from the Balkans and competent ass-kicker. Defeated and almost exterminated the Goths.

Aurelian (270 - 275)

Reconquered the breakaway provinces of Gaul, and crushed the Palmyrene Empire under Queen Zenobia. He probably extended the Roman Empire's lifespan by two hundred years. He obtained the title of Restitutor Orbis, or restorer of the world.

Probus (276 - 282)

Oversaw the Roman withdraw to the Rhine and Danube rivers. Despite a reasonable competent campaign of military restoration, he was deposed and murdered in a revolt begun by disloyal Praetorians (again).

The Tetrarchy

Diocletian (284 - 305)

A true Magnificent Bastard who reorganized the empire and appointed three other co-emperors, creating what is called the tetrarchy. Declared himself a God Emperor, marking the point when the emperor's authority was absolute in theory as well as in fact. Persecuted the Christians, because he considered them a threat to Rome's stability. After he felt he had done all he wanted to do, he retired to the countryside and became a gardener.

Constantius Chlorus (306)

One of Diocletian's co-emperors. Father of an illegitimate son who would later become Constantine the Great. Best known for his tolerant stance towards Christians in his part of the empire.

Constantine the Great (306 - 337)

First tolerated, then favored Christianity. The first Christian emperor of Rome, being baptized just before his death. Moved the empire's capital away from Rome, to what would be called Constantinople. Not a pleasant fellow, he killed both his wife and his first son.

Constantine II (337-340)

Constantine's second (surviving) son. Squabbled with his brother Constans and died while fighting against him during a failed invasion of Italy.

Constantius II (337-361)

Second (surviving) son of Constantine. Credited with either masterminding the murder his male relatives after his father's death. The first emperor to actively discourage pagan practices and promote Christiantiy.note 

Julian the Apostate (360 - 363)

Tried to turn back the clock and reinstate the traditional Roman pagan religion, but Christianity had become far too established by then. Began a number of large reforms, only for them to be abandoned after his death.

Jovian (363-364)

Became emperor after Julian was killed in battle against the Persians. Jovian undid Julian's more anti-Christian policies, while maintaining tolerance for paganism. Died under mysterious after only eight months on the throne.

Valentian 1 (364-375)

Ruled in the west, with his brother Valens ruling the east. Valentinian restored the empire's flagging fortunes with military victories against various invaders. Died from a stroke brought on by yelling at enemy diplomats.

Valens (364 - 378)

One of Rome's stupidest rulers. Famous for losing the Battle of Adrianople, the most disastrous defeat in Rome's history, and getting himself killed.

Theodosian dynasty

Theodosius (379 - 395)

Last emperor to rule over east and west. Banned all religions except Christianity. Split the Empire after his death, the west going to Honorius and the east going to Arcadius.

Honorius (395 - 423)

Emperor of the Western Empire. Another imperial idiot. Most notable moment of his reign was the Sack of Rome in 410.

Majorian (457-461)

General who became emperor after the overthrow of Avitus. Notable for spending nearly all of his reign campaigning to regain lands the Empire had lost and doing a fairly successful job, reconquering most of Gaul and Hispania; his attempt to kick the Vandals out of Africa was thwarted by traitorous soldiers however. His attempts to curb practices putting a strain on the Empire drew the ire of both the aristocracy and magister militum Ricimer who had hoped to use Majorian as a puppet. As a result he was captured, tortured and finally executed by Ricimer with his death arguably ending any hope for the stability or survival of the Western Empire.

Romulus Augustulus (475 - 476)

A kid who was the puppet of his father Flavius Orestes, who himself had violently supplanted the previous emperor Julius Nepos. When Orestes denied the barbarian troops that had helped him to dethrone Nepos the promised rewards — specifically to grant them a third of Italy for settlement — he was in turn overthrown by the German general Odoacer, who deposed the puppet Romulus (but spared his life) and assumed the title "commander of Italy". Romulus is usually identified as the last emperor in the West, although some insist that Julius Nepos, who ruled in Dalmatia until 480, was the last one.note 

(For Emperors of the Eastern Empire after the Western's fall, see Byzantine Empire)

Trope Namer for:

  • The Emperor (from imperator, a military title literally meaning "commander" and usually bestowed upon victorious generals)
  • The Empire (and in the western tradition at least, also the Trope Codifier)
  • The Republic (from res publica, "[government is a] public affair")

Depictions in fiction

Anime and Manga
  • Thermae Romae, set in the reign of the emperor Hadrian (and in 21st century Japan).
  • Highlander: The Search for Vengeance has the back story of Marcus being a general of Rome who while conquering England destroys the heroes village. Later on we see the sacking of Rome.
  • Axis Powers Hetalia has the character of Grandpa Rome, dressed as a Roman general.

Comic Books
  • The Astérix series. Though Julius Caesar wasn't an emperor.
  • Alix is one of the two comics (the other being Astérix) translated to latin
  • Murena
  • Nero Fox (the "Jive-Jumping Emperor of Ancient Rome"), a Golden Age DC Comics Funny Animal character who was emperor of ancient Rome.
  • The Sandman issue 20, "August" in which an old Augustus spends an afternoon disguised as beggar in the streets of Rome

Film

Literature

Live-Action TV
  • I, Claudius, based on the novel by Robert Graves.
  • The miniseries Masada about the siege of the titular fortress at the end of the Jewish Revolts.
  • The Roman Mysteries: The TV adaptation of the book series.
  • The Doctor Who episodes "The Romans", "The Fires of Pompeii" and "The Pandorica Opens".
  • The BBC series of Horrible Histories has a 'Rotten Romans' segment every episode, sometimes focusing on Rome itself and other times on Roman Britain.
  • The HBO/BBC series Rome is all about the founding days of the empire.
  • Chelmsford 123 is a Britcom about the Roman occupation of Britain.
  • Plebs, an ITV sitcom set early in the reign of Augustus.

Theatre

Video Games

Western Animation
Punic WarsUsefulNotes/ItalyThe City State Era
Punic WarsUsefulNotes/EuropeYouth Hostel Plakias
The SphinxUsefulNotes/EgyptByzantine Empire
Tidally Locked PlanetImageSource/InternetVisual Novel
Punic WarsHollywood HistoryJewish Revolts

alternative title(s): The Roman Empire
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