Ah, The Roman Empire. The largest Empire of the ancient world, once thought too big to FAIL (too big, in fact, to govern). Back when real men killed each other in arenas for sport, and life-long rulers were assassinated by the dozen.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of good things that came out of Rome’s rule during this period: the Republican form of government, the concept of modern law, road systems throughout Europe, the leap year, Roman numerals, the alphabet, the invention of concrete, numerous other architectural innovations, etc
But it wasn’t all peaches and cream, especially for the early Christians: Rome’s national scapegoats, well that is until Christianity became the state religion, and every other faith was subsequently outlawed and persecuted to death (but that’s another story entirely).
A lot of Americans today like to complain about our often two-faced politicians, but hey at least our Elected leaders don’t put our heads on spikes when we don’t agree with them. From Tiberius to Diocletian, the Roman Emperors were known to do that and sooo much worse.
The Roman Emperors ruled Rome with an iron fist, and answered to no one. (The title ‘Caesar’ by the way was later adapted by the German ‘Kaizers’ and the Russian ‘Czars’) There were a few good rulers like Marcus Aurelius, the Philosopher-King (think JFK meets Gandalf), but the majority of them were just plain bad. Then there was Elagabalus, who was just plain annoying.
It all started with this one dude by the handle of Julius Caesar. At the time Rome was a Republic with a Senate and the like, but during a time of crisis the people gave temporary, unlimited, power to a single ruler (Pontifex Maximus), who decided he liked running things all by himself, so promoted himself to the newly created position of Dictator-for-Life (which is kind of like asking a Genie for unlimited wishes). It took 60 old guys in togas to take Caesar down, in a slow motion montage of epic Shakespearian back-stabbing betrayal, no less.
The Romans didn’t learn their lesson though, because they then appointed his nephew to replace him. A guy called Octavian, stepped in to Caesar’s shoes… er sandals… He immediately changed his name to Augustus and declared himself Emperor of Rome and well… things kinda went downhill from there. Following Augustus’s demise, his sole surviving heir, Tiberius, seized absolute control and this sort of became a tradition.
Interesting fact about the Emperors of Rome: Over the course of FIVE Centuries (27 BC – AD 476) and 77 emperors (depending on how you count), only 10 of them died of natural causes, and about 20% were assassinated!
Didius Julianus… Not much to say about him honestly, he was only in power for about 9 weeks in the year 193 CE. He bid his way into power after the assassination of Pertinax, which directly led to “the Year of the Five Emperors” and a bloody civil war that waged for years after. If becoming Emperor through purchasing the throne wasn’t endearing enough, Julianus did a number of things that made himself even less likeable, namely devaluing the currency.
Ultimately, he was ousted and sentenced to death by his successor, Septimius Severus.
Emperor Constantine aka Constantine the Great aka Saint Constantine is a controversial figure to say the least.
He’s often cited as one of the most important figures in the history of Christianity, but he was also a greedy ego-centric maniac who practically brought about the collapse of the Roman Empire and the Dark Ages that followed.
You see, contrary to popular belief, Constantine wasn’t a Christian, by all historical accounts, and yet he was the one who appointed the Council of Nicaea, where they edited the biblical texts into one complete and official document (while burning all the gospels that didn’t fit in with their version), and declared the Trinitarian Doctrine as the official state religion in 325 AD.
At the time, Rome was ruled by four emperors, but Constantine wanted the spotlight all to himself, so through cunning manipulation eliminated his rivals one by one, consolidating the might of the Roman Empire under his will and putting the heads of his enemies’ on spikes. He also was a paranoid psychopath who killed his own wife and son.
His worst offence though?
For no reason whatsoever, Constantine up and decided to move the Capitol of the ROMAN Empire from Rome to his newly established city, which he then named after himself: Constantinople. This led to an eventual schism between the East and Western halves of Rome, which many historians believe was the direct catalyst for the collapse of Rome within the following century.
Emperor Commodus gets such a bad rep that he’s even the villain of Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator”! Perhaps part of the reason he’s so universally reviled by historians is that he followed in the strides of one of the greatest rulers in all of Roman history, Marcus Aurelius. But it’s not just that he lived under his father’s shadow, it’s almost as though Commodus was attempting to sabotage his career out of spite.
Either way, there is no doubt, Commodus sucked at his job.
Despite being rather frail, Commodus constantly insisted on being depicted as Hercules. He constantly boasted about his greatness, while his people suffered from his lack of political initiative. Instead of tending to actual matters of importance, Emperor Commodus decided instead to obsess over the gladiatorial games, which he even “competed” in, winning every match by default.
Towards the end of his reign, he would start every morning in the Colosseum by killing hundreds of helpless animals with javelins and arrows. Meanwhile, the Empire began to fall into economic disarray due to grain shortages, worsened by his extravagant Plebeian games. Much of what Commodus did throughout his rule, was to undo all the good that his father had accomplished.
Eventually the Senate got tired of his bull crap and attempted to poison him… however, when that didn’t work they just hired one of his favorite gladiators to assassinate him instead.
The Roman Empire has a thick directory of bad rulers, but the descendants of Julius Caesar were right at the top of the shit list. The Julio-Claudian Dynasty (or crime family) continued for generations with the likes of horrible bastards like Augustus and Tiberius, but none were quite as horrifying as the notorious Nero… however Caligula could give him a run for his money.
Most people have at least heard of Caligula, a name synonymous with excess debauchery. This sex-crazed lunatic took abuse of power to a new and disturbing level. Caligula was certifiably nuts. Among his many crazy endeavors he once appointed his horse to the political position of proconsul.
Like many a Roman Emperor, Caligula applied for the job by (allegedly) attempting to have the previous guy killed. He was a paranoid schizophrenic who thought himself a literal god, had a tendency to bathe in blood, and was known for draining the budget on massive orgies. He publicly tortured and killed people for his own amusement. One of his worst atrocities took place at the Circus Maximus where they’d run out of prisoners to kill, so he ordered the first five rows of those in attendance slaughtered.
Caligula once marched his soldiers on a campaign against Britain, but when they arrived at the English Channel, something truly bizarre happened: Caligula ordered his legions to attack the water! After splashing about and slashing the waves with their swords in confusion, Caligula recalled his troops in order to help him collect sea shells as the spoils of war to bring home to Rome in triumph.
Eventually his own Praetorian Guards got sick of his crazy ass and straight up killed him, they left him in the street to rot where dogs eventually ate his corpse.
Claudius, Caligula’s laid back uncle, was the guy who next took up this cursed position actually did a decent job… that is until his niece / wife (Agrippina) poisoned him. Agrippina was one of the most ruthless women in the history of Rome, and single-handedly managed to orchestrate her son, Nero’s rise to power.
Unfortunately for everyone her plan backfired with disastrous results…
Nero was a monster, pure and simple. The guy wasn’t just psychotic, he was downright sadistic. Nero followed in Caligula’s crazy footsteps, but took things a step further. In addition to all the over-the-top orgies and rampant executions over petty annoyances, Nero was so self absorbed that he forced people to attend his awful poetry readings which would often last for hours!
In addition, Nero had his mother killed, kicked his pregnant wife to death, heavily taxed the citizens to pay for a massive (naked) golden statue of himself, burned Christians alive to use as illumination for his palace, and ‘competed’ in the Olympic games only to win every single competition.
However, among the long list of Emperor Nero’s numerous crimes against humanity, the worst would probably be his apparent connection to the Great Fire of Rome! Some sources claim that he may have started the fire, while others claimed he played the lyre while it burned to the ground. Either way though, what is known is what happened next: he blamed the Christians for the inferno and then took the opportunity to build a massive 300 acre, gold-plated palace over the ashes of Rome, dedicated to him.
It’s no surprise then that the Biblical authors actually attributed his numerical name: 666 as the mark of the beast. That’s right, to the Christians of the time Nero was literally the Anti-Christ. Eventually all of Rome turned against their emperor at which point he fled to his private villa and took his own life.
Suffice it to say, Nero was nuttier than an industrial sized tub of extra crunchy peanut butter.
Thanks for reading! If you’re a fan of the blog, be sure to listen to the Epik Fails of History podcast and check out my all new “EPIC FAILS” book series – available now wherever books are sold!
The Council of Nicaea: A Prelude to Darkness
Cleopatra: Last Pharoah of Egypt
“A Dark History : The Roman Emperors – From Julius Caesar to the Fall of Rome” by Michael Kerrigan
“The Book of Ancient Bastards” by: Brian Thornton”
“Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years” by Diarmaid MacCulloch
“Constantine: Roman Emperor, Christian Victor” by Paul Stephenson
“Nero: The End of a Dynasty” by: Miriam T. Griffin
“The Great Fire of Rome” by Stephen Dando-Collins
“The Annals: The Reigns of Tiberius, Claudius, and Nero” by Cornelius Tacitus
“The Most Evil Men in History: Nero” (documentary)
Good post! I read your blog often and you always post excellent content. I posted this article on Facebook and my followers like it. Thanks for writing this!
stupidest article ever written
Hey Frank, sorry you feel that way. My intention has always been to get people interested in history and maybe laugh a little.