Hail Caesar!: Roman Empire’s Top 5 Emperors

When I think of Roman Emperors, that image of Michael Palin addressing the people of Jerusalem is stuck in my mind..I can’t take them seriously anymore! Aside from the comical genius of the Monty Pythons team, it should be noted that there were a lot more emperors of Rome than just ‘Julius Caesar’.

The Roman Empire was vast at its peak and its influence is still felt today in our forms of military, government, and society in general. Ruled over for a time by emperors, the Empire had periods of greatness and periods of decline. This list looks at five of the emperors who have left their mark on history.

Can’t mention Palin and NOT show you what I mean 😀



Hadrian was an emperor of the Roman Empire from the years 117-138. He was a powerful ruler committed to strengthening the empire. Hadrian oversaw several important building projects, including the Temple of Venus and Roma and Hadrian’s Wall.

Hadrian had a good mind for military strategy, but had not actually fought much and didn’t care for war. He abandoned the conquest to include Mesopotamia in the Empire, which Trajan had started, and managed to avert rebellion in Iran with peace negotiations. He did keep the army in tact, well-supplied, and well-trained. Hadrian actually increased their training, personally inspected them, and even ate and slept amongst the soldiers.

Hadrian’s policy was to maintain peace through strength. In this attitude, he built a series of fortifications and walls all around the empire along strategic areas like the Danube and Rhine rivers. The most famous of these is Hadrian’s Wall, an 80-mile wall that spans the entire latitudinal width of Britain from sea to sea. The Roman army had been fighting the Celtic people of Britain for some time, and the wall served to keep the Celts north of Roman territory.

The Roman Empire was at it’s peak territorial size under the conquests of Trajan and kept in tact under the ruling of Hadrian.

hadrians wallhadrian empire



Nero used the office of emperor to suit his desire for an opulent lifestyle, and had absolutely no care for the welfare of the people. He never trusted his mother, Agrippina, rightly so, and tried to kill her by having her ship sunk. This didn’t work, and he simply ordered her executed. He routinely executed anyone close to him, whom he did not trust, always under mysterious circumstances, because he feared the Praetorian Guard.

He managed to reign for 15 years in this way, killing anyone who dissented. He was accused of treason beginning in 62, and simply executed the accusers, several dozen of them.

The Great Fire of Rome, in AD 64, has given rise to the legend that Nero fiddled while Rome burned. This is not true. He was away in Antium (Anzio), and returned to Rome to try to have the fire put out. He even paid for this out of his own pocket.

He did help out the survivors tremendously, letting them stay in the palace until homes were rebuilt, feeding them, etc. But the fire largely destroyed the city center, and Nero had a large part of this destruction rebuilt as his Domus Aurea. This was his gift to himself, a gigantic palatial garden complex of 100 to 300 acres, for which he heavily taxed the citizens throughout the Empire.

The city wanted a scapegoat, so Nero blamed the fire on the Christians, and they were terribly persecuted. He had many arrested, impaled, and burned to death as torches to light his gardens in the Domus Aurea. He is said to have breathed in the stench and laughed heartily, then turned to his lyre and sung his own songs.

The taxes irritated the populace sufficiently to begin revolts in various provinces, until by 68, Nero was no longer loved, but hated by all. His Guards deserted him in the palace, and he fled to a nearby villa, where a messenger appeared to tell him that the Senate had declared him a public enemy, whom they would beat to death. He had a grave dug, while he repeated, “What an artist dies within me!”

Then he stabbed a dagger into his throat and bled to death. It is believed by most scholars that Nero is the Great Beast whose number is six hundred and sixty six referred to in the Bible.

fire of rome

Fire of Rome



Bring on the Trumptets (Bam da da daaa da daaa) I think we have our crazy award winner!!!.

crazy caligula

Little Boots” took the throne on the death of his second cousin Tiberias, something of a great Uncle to him. Some say Caligula ordered the head of the Praetorian Guard to smother him with a pillow.

Upon his ascension, everyone in the Empire rejoiced. For the first seven months or so, he was loved by all. He paid handsome bonuses to the military, to get them on his side, and recalled many whom Augustus and Tiberias exiled.

But he became very sick in October of 37, and the disease has never been pinned down. Philo blames it on his extravagant lifestyle of too much food, wine, and sex. After the disease passed and Caligula made a full recovery, he had turned into one of the most evil men in human history. Some Jewish, Christian and Muslim historians of centuries afterward even considered that Caligula might have been possessed by a demon.

He has been accused of the most awesomely disgusting, insane, luridly depraved crimes against humanity and morality, and I’m is sorry to say that the accusations are all absolutely true.

He began ordering the murders of anyone who had ever crossed him, or even disagreed with him on mundane matters. He had a very good memory. He exiled his own wife, and proclaimed himself a god, dressing up as Apollo, Venus (a goddess), Mercury and Hercules. He demanded that everyone, from senators to Guards to guests and public crowds, refer to him as divine in his presence.

When he was a boy, a seer told him that he would never be emperor until he walked on water. So he built a pontoon bridge across the Bay of Naples, put on the breastplate of Alexander the Great, and paraded night and day across the Bay.

He attempted to instate his favorite horse, Incitatus (“Galloper”), as a priest and consul, and ordered a beautiful marble stable built for him, complete with chairs and couches on which Incitatus never sat.

Once, at the Circus Maximus, the games ran out of criminals, and the next event was the lions, his favorite. He ordered his Guards to drag the first five rows of spectators into the arena, which they did. These hundreds of people were all devoured for his amusement.

A citizen once insulted him to his face in a fit of rage, and Caligula responded by having him tied down, and beaten with heavy chains. He made this last for 3 months, having the man brought out from a dungeon and beaten, until Caligula and the whole crowds that gathered were too offended by the smell of the man’s gangrenous brain, whereupon he was beheaded.

Caligula’s favorite torture was sawing. The sawblade filleted the spine and spinal cord from crotch down to chest, and the victim was unable to pass out due to excess blood to the brain.

He also relished chewing up the testicles of victims, without biting them off, while they were restrained upside down before him.

He had another insulter, and his entire family, publicly executed one after another in front of a crowd. The man and wife were first, followed by the oldest child and so on. The crowd became outraged and began to disperse, but many stayed in morbid fascination. The last of the family was a 12 year old girl, who was sobbing hysterically at what she had been forced to watch. A member of the crowd shouted that she was exempt from execution as a virgin. Caligula smiled and ordered the executioner to rape her, then strangle her, which he did.

He was finally murdered by the Praetorian Guard and some senators, leaving the Circus Maximus after the games. His body was left in the street to rot, and dogs finally ate it. He had ruled for 4 years.

I’m going to leave you with a Caligula quote and story. (Note, the story is quite possibly untrue)

caligula fear me

caligula poseidon



This guy had a chip on his shoulder!!

Diocletian reigned at the end of the Crisis of the Third Century, and though he significantly stabilized and improved the Empire’s military and economy, he will forever be remembered as the worst persecutor of Christians in history.

He issued several edicts in 303 removing all rights from Christians until they converted to the Roman religion. Of course, the Christians refused, and from 303 to 311, at least 3,000 were martyred. At first, those who refused were simply imprisoned, but it was not long before they were executed by both crucifixion and beheading. Christian churches were sought all over the Empire and burned to the ground, looted, and even Christian senators were stripped of their jobs, imprisoned and executed.

When the persecution did not seem to be working, as the Christians simply went into hiding and continued to spread their religion, Diocletian advocated their torturous and entertaining executions in the Circus Maximus and Colosseum, and this was the time when most Christians were thrown to the lions, much to the delight of the Roman citizens who worshiped Roman gods.

The murders did not truly stop until Constantine’s rise to absolute power in 324.

diocletian palace

Persecution aside, if you ever go to Croatia and you are in the city of Split…I strongly recommend a visit to Diocletian’s Palace. 



Constantine the Great (or St. Constantine) is famously remembered for being the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity, which is described as a dramatic ordeal in which he viewed the forming of a cross while staring into the sun. He relocated the Roman capital from the western city of Rome to the eastern city of Constantinople (Istanbul), a city that was brilliantly centered in between the Mediterranean and Black Sea, and thus thrived as a huge trading center for people from all over the world.

Thus, he is considered the founder of the great Eastern Roman Empire (also called the Byzantine Empire), which would live on another 1,000 years following the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. He established his rule by defeated Maxentius and Licinius during civil wars. During his reign he led successful campaigns against the Franks, Alamanni, Visigoths, and the Sarmatians. He is considered one of the best emperors (and first) of the Byzantine Empire and launched it into great success for the many emperors that would follow him.

arch constantine

The Arch of Constantine is located just beside the Colosseum in Rome.

Want to learn more about the Byzantine Empire? Have a look here: www.livius.org/misc/byzantine-empire/

For more crazy rulers of Rome, check out this site: http://listverse.com/2010/05/09/top-10-worst-roman-emperors/

For more information on the Roman Empire, check out my blogs in the “Romans” section


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