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Roman Emperor

Roman Emperor

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Roman emperors ruled over the Imperial Roman Empire starting with Augustus from 27 BCE and continuing in the Western Roman Empire until the late 5th century CE and in the Eastern Roman Empire up to the mid-15th century CE. The emperors would take different titles such as Caesar and Imperator but it was always their command of the army which allowed them to keep their seat on one of history's most prestigious and long-lasting thrones.

Prior to the birth of the Roman Empire in the latter part of the first century BCE, there had existed many empires among these were the Assyrian, the Babylonian, the Persian, and the Macedonian. All of these had great leaders such as Cyrus, Darius, Xerxes, and, of course, Alexander the Great. Yet, history tells us these great men were all called kings; the term emperor was never used. In contrast, the Roman Empire was different, for it didn't have a king; it had an emperor, and one must search both the Roman Republic and the Empire, almost one thousand years of history, to discover the reasons for the difference.

From The Republic to The Imperial Era

Before Rome was an empire, it was a republic with a long history of “democratic” rule. After ousting the Etruscans and their king, the city-state was ruled by a Senate and/or an assembly with elected magistrates - consuls and tribunes, both with a term of office limitations. After conquering the Italian peninsula, Rome gained considerable land through an aggressive military campaign - primarily in North Africa, Spain, Macedonia and Greece, plus various islands throughout the Mediterranean. Unfortunately, the size of the Republic placed considerable strain on its leadership; leaders, good and bad, rose through the political and military ranks to gain power, men such as Sulla, Gaius, Pompey and finally Julius Caesar; the latter would assume the ominous title of “dictator for life.” As one historian noted, various social, political, and economic forces could no longer be contained by the Republican leadership; change was inevitable. After the assassination of Julius Caesar by members of the Senate on the Ides of March, a battle, both political and military, ensued between the members of the so-called Second Triumvirate (Octavian, Mark Antony and Lepidus) with Octavian becoming the eventual victor.

Octavian would soon become known by the Name of Augustus - meaning “sacred” or “revered”

The First Emperor

As a victorious general, Octavian had often heard the cries of his soldiers - “Imperator” - especially after his defeat of Mark Antony. In the future, this title would automatically be assumed by his successors, regardless of their military experience, upon their ascension to the imperial throne. After two decades of civil war, Octavian, the adopted son of Julius Caesar, returned to Rome a hero. The people celebrated, hoping for the return of the stability that had been the Republic. While initially shying away from honors and power, Octavian, who would soon become known by the name of Augustus (a name meaning “sacred” or “revered”), would increasingly assume authority far beyond the intent of the Senate who had inadvertently granted it. One historian raised the question: was Augustus a “tyrant” who quietly took away Roman liberty, or a generous statesman who shared power with the Senate with the consent of the people of Rome? As an emperor, Augustus would set the stage for all of those who would follow him, from Tiberius, his much-maligned stepson, through the corruption of Caligula and Nero, the cruelty and incompetence of Domitian, and lastly, to the final individual to be called a Roman emperor, Romulus Augustalus (oddly named for one of the mythical founders of the city and the empire's first emperor).

Absolute Power

While many of the structures that had existed under the old Republic remained, such as the Senate, they existed in name only. In a kingdom, a king had to answer to an assembly (England had a Parliament; France had the Estates General, for example). Often, these assemblies controlled the finances of the kingdom, but in Rome the emperor could collect and spend as he wished. Emperor Nero, always in need of funds, would cry conspiracy, seize the property of an unsuspecting senator and murder him. After Augustus the Senate would never again have any real authority - only to endorse the wishes of the emperor. While Augustus and his successors would treat them with a modicum of respect (most wanted to avoid a repeat of the Ides of March) the real power was in the hands of the emperor, and to ensure his own safety, he relied on his personal bodyguard – the Praetorian Guard, who, within a few decades, would wield power unforeseen even by the Emperor Augustus.

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The Roman Senate bestowed on Augustus, & thereby his successors, certain powers for life.

With the consent of the Senate, Augustus slowly assumed the sole leadership of the Empire, and while he disliked titles (even the title of emperor); he took instead the title of “princeps” meaning “first citizen.” Initially, he was a consul (a position other emperors would also hold) and provincial governor (of Gaul, Syria, Egypt and Cyprus, the latter gave him control of a majority of the military); as emperor he would command twenty-six legions. The Senate bestowed on him, and thereby his successors, certain powers for life: imperium maius, extreme authority over the provincial governors; and tribunicia potestas or tribune of the plebs, the authority to call an assembly of the people to enact laws. With his new powers, he could veto the actions of the magistrates (whom he would later appoint), and, in order to control those around him, he controlled the imperial patronage - no one could “run” for office without his consent. He also interfered with the religion of the empire. He rebuilt decaying temples, resurrected old religious ceremonies and assumed the title of Pontifex Maximus or Chief Priest. In short, the emperor's word became law.

However, despite his growing power, he remained popular with the people through his continuous supply of grain, games (he even presided over them) and numerous rebuilding projects. In his The Twelve Caesars, historian Suetonius wrote that the emperor improved the overall appearance of the city. “I found Rome built of sun-dried bricks; I leave her clothed in marble.” Those who followed Augustus would continue to rebuild the city, especially her temples, aqueducts, and arenas. Many Roman citizens believed they were entering a new golden age.

The Imperial Dynasties

Augustus (31 BCE to 14 CE) maintained control of the empire, even in death, and, like a king, named his successor. In his case it was Tiberius. Even the name Augustus would become a title, assumed by all who followed him. But the naming of a successor is one of the few ways an emperor is like a king. In a kingdom, the tradition was for the continuation of a bloodline. The present queen of England is from the House of Windsor and can trace her ancestry through the Hanoverians, Stuarts, Tudors, and even the Plantagenets. In contrast, the last emperor of the Roman Empire wasn't even related to his predecessor let alone Augustus. In fact, only a handful of emperors were related by blood. Titus and Domitian were the sons of Vespasian while Commodus was the son of Marcus Aurelius. Others were adopted - Tiberius, Nero, Nerva, Trajan, and Marcus Aurelius. Some obtained the throne through conquest or murder - Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian and Macrinus. One even bought the throne - Didius Julianus. Surprisingly, some emperors never set foot in Rome - Macrinus and Maximinius, while at times, there might be more than one claimant such as in the Year of the Five Emperors.

However an individual obtained the throne, the power that went with the position remained. And, at the forefront of this power was the Praetorian Guard. While the authority of the empire lay in the hands of the emperor, he placed his life in the hands of the Guard. During bleak times, the Praetorian Guard would be the ones to pick and choose (and sometimes overthrow) an emperor. After the death of Caligula at the hands of the Praetorian Guard, they found Claudius cowering behind a curtain and hurried him to the Senate, who reluctantly proclaimed him emperor. When they had finally realized the ineptness and depravity of Elagabalus, they murdered him and his mother and declared Alexander Severus the new emperor.

Unfortunately, the life of an emperor would not always be filled attending lavish ceremonies, directing military campaigns and dictating laws. He would often sit on the throne, paranoid, fearful of those closest to him. Of the first twelve emperors - Augustus through to Nerva - four would die naturally (although some question one or two of these), four would be assassinated, two would commit suicide, and two would be murdered by poison or suffocation, as one historian put it, “supreme power brought supreme risk.” It was rare that an emperor would resign or die a natural death as the possibility of being overthrown always existed.

The autocratic power of the emperor would endure despite the destructive reigns of Caligula, Nero, Commodus, and Elagabalus. Luckily for the empire, it would see the strength of such men as Vespasian, Trajan, Marcus Aurelius, and Constantine; territories would be gained and lost; the empire would expand and contract, but somehow, despite the good and bad, the empire would continue to survive.

The emperor held a special place in the hearts & minds of the people of Rome, both in life & in death.


The emperor held a special place in the hearts and minds of the people of Rome, both in life and in death. This adoration for the imperial leader would lead to his eventual deification or apotheosis. However, this type of honor or Imperial Cult was not unique to Rome; it dated back to Alexander the Great - he considered himself not the son of Phillip II but the son of Zeus. Emperor Augustus was treated as a deity during his reign; altars and temples were built to honor him throughout the empire - Pergamum, Lyons, and Athens - but none were built in Rome (at least while he still lived). Although he may have considered himself the son of a god, he never permitted himself to be called a god. Upon his death, the Senate would deify him - the same would happen to many of those who followed him, for example, Antonius Pius, Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius, Trajan and Alexander Severus. Often, an emperor would initiate the deification of his predecessor. Unfortunately, emperors such as Tiberius, Caligula, Nero, Commodus, and Elagabalus were considered too “odious” to receive the honor. Caligula and Nero both considered themselves gods while they were still alive, and Commodus thought he was actually the reincarnation of Hercules.

Division of the Empire

After a long period of truly incompetent emperors, Diocletian came to power in 284 CE. The Pax Romana or Roman peace had been dead for over one hundred years. The empire was being attacked on all sides and it was on the verge of collapse. Diocletian realized the one major flaw of the empire - its size. To solve the problem he created the tetarchy or rule of four. He divided the empire into two parts, one with its capital at Rome and another with its capital as Nicomedia (it would later be moved to Byzantium or Constantinople by Emperor Constantine). The principate initiated by Augustus was replaced by the dominate, however, he strengthened the borders, developed a more efficient bureaucracy, and stabilized the economy. Unfortunately, as the eastern half of the empire flourished, the west declined, even the city of Rome fell into ruin, until, finally, in 476 CE, the last emperor surrendered. The city's conqueror, Odoacer, refused the title of emperor.


For the most part, the people of the Roman Empire were kept reasonably happy, even during times of duress, as long as the emperors provided grain for bread and games/entertainment. Lasting monuments were built to honor many of the emperors - the Baths of Caracalla and Nero, the Arch of Constantine, and Trajan's Column. The emperor was an absolute ruler who provided stability for the people. It was never a constitutional office, quite simply, the emperor was the law.

Roman Emperor - History

Wikimedia Commons A bust of Roman Emperor Commodus, styled as if he were a reincarnation of Hercules, which is precisely what he believed himself to be.

The long line of Roman emperors is marked with a strange pattern: Almost every exceptionally brilliant emperor was succeeded by an exceptionally mad one.

The benevolent emperor Claudius who improved Rome with public works was followed by his stepson Nero, who infamously burnt it to the ground. The emperor Titus Flavian completed the Colosseum and endeared himself to the public with his generosity only to have his good works undone by his brother Domitian, who was assassinated by his own court.

And the wise Marcus Aurelius, known as the “Philosopher” and the last of the “Five Good Emperors,” would be succeeded by his son Commodus, whose descent into madness would be immortalized throughout the millennia (including a heavily fictionalized account in the popular 2000 film Gladiator).

As Edward Gibbon noted in his famous Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, in the intervening years between the death of Domitian and the reign of Commodus, “the vast extent of the Roman empire was governed by absolute power, under the guidance of virtue and wisdom.” The “Five Good Emperors,” ruled efficiently and under them the Roman people enjoyed “a rational freedom.” However, just when the days of the mad emperors seemed long gone, Commodus brought the madness roaring back.

10. Domitian (24 October 51 – 18 September 96)

Domitian was the final emperor of the Flavian dynasty. Before his demise, he reigned for a fairly long time from 81 to 96. During that time, Rome fought a number of fierce, yet defensive wars against the Chatti, the Britons, and Dacians. He also deified members of his family and was the first emperor to demand his subject address him as “lord and god”. As a consequence of his polytheistic religious policies and emphasis on the imperial cult, it is alleged that Domitian engaged in substantial persecutions of Jews and Christians. In 89, a major revolt of a Roman governor occurred. Domitian survived that challenge to his reign, but he did not survive the assassination of 96. His assassin stabbed Domitian in the groin with a dagger, wrestled with the emperor, and then joined with other conspirators in dealing six more stab wounds to finish the emperor off.

Constantine The Great: Roman Emperor, Christian Saint, History's Turning Point

"Tell me the history of Christianity and I can tell you your theology." This is especially true with a controversial figure like Constantine. Where Roman Catholics present him as laying the foundation for the Papacy, Protestants see him as the one responsible for leading the early Church away from the simplicity of the pure gospel and turning it into an institutional Church. However, blaming Constantine for the fall of the Church is a double-edged sword that cuts in both directions. If Protestants accuse Constantine of tampering with the Church, how do they know that Constantine did not tamper with the Bible? The problem with the "fall of the Church" argument is that it opens the possibility of a radical discontinuity between present-day Christianity and the early Church.

This danger can be seen in one of today's most popular bestsellers, The DaVinci Code. In the middle of the book (Chapter 55) Sir Leigh Teabing gives Sophie Neveu a brief synopsis of the "history" of Christianity. In it he makes the following points about Constantine:

  • Constantine was a lifelong pagan who was baptized against his will on his deathbed.
  • Constantine made Christianity the official Roman religion solely for political gain.
  • Christianity is a hybrid religion, the result of Constantine's fusing the pagan cult of Sol Invictus with Christianity.
  • This blending can be seen in Constantine's changing the Christian day of worship from Saturday to Sunday.
  • Under Constantine's influence, the Council of Nicea, by a small majority, turned a mortal prophet into the divine Son of God.
  • Constantine ordered the making of the Bible that would reinforce the Council's decision to make Jesus the divine Son of God, and at the same time ordered the destruction of opposing documents.

Personally, I thought the book was a lot of fun to read, but as church history it was laughable. This is not a criticism of the author, as his bestseller is a work of fiction. The problem comes when people confuse fiction and nonfiction.

It is imperative that Christians, especially Orthodox Christians, have a firm grasp of their faith and of church history. Faith and history go together. We cannot separate church history from what we believe. The Orthodox understanding of truth is grounded in the Incarnation, the Son of God taking on human nature. Because the Son of God entered into human history, truth consists of more than a set of logically consistent concepts. Our faith is grounded in the historical figure Jesus of Nazareth, who asserted: I am the Truth. When Orthodoxy claims that the Christian Faith is the true faith, it is asserting that it is a real faith, based on historical events that actually happened. Because Christianity is grounded in reality, our salvation in Christ is a real salvation that has an impact on both the spiritual and physical realities.

Constantine the Great

Constantine was born at Naissus on February 27, 272 or 273, to Flavius Constantius and his wife Helena. Flavius Constantius was an army officer, and in 289 he divorced Constantine's mother to marry Theodora, the daughter of his commanding officer. Constantine embarked on his own military career, which took him all over the Roman Empire, from Palestine and Asia Minor to Britain, Spain, and Gaul. While crossing the Alps with his army, Constantine had a vision (or dream) of a cross of light shining in front of the sun and the words: In this sign conquer. Shortly after that vision, Constantine defeated his rival, Maxentius, captured Rome, and was acclaimed the next emperor.

History often turns upon certain pivotal events or individuals. Early Christianity faced two significant perils: one external—violent persecution by the Roman government, and one internal—the Arian heresy, which denied Christ's divinity. In a providential twist of events, God raised up an emperor who would play a key role in confronting each of these perils, becoming one of Christianity's greatest defenders. Constantine's rule precipitated an avalanche of events that radically altered the course of the history of Christianity.

External Danger—Persecution

Prior to Constantine's becoming emperor, the early Church was going through one of the fiercest and bloodiest of the persecutions by the Roman government, the Diocletian persecution. During this wave of persecution thousands of Christians lost their lives, churches were destroyed, and scriptures were burned. Then in 313, the situation reversed itself. Constantine (with his co-emperor Licinus) issued the famous Edict of Milan, declaring Christianity to be a legal religion. Christianity was not yet the official religion of the Empire—this would not happen until 380 under Emperor Theodosius. And Constantine's edict of toleration was not the first—Galerius had issued a similar edict in 311. But it marked a major turning point for the Roman government. With the Edict of Milan, the three-centuries-long era of persecution came to an end.

Contrary to popular belief, Constantine did not rescue Christianity from extinction. Even if he had not adopted the Christian cause, the majority of the Roman population was well on its way to becoming Christian. What Constantine did do was hasten the process of evangelizing the Roman Empire. Constantine's conversion marked the climax of a centuries-long process of evangelization that began in an obscure corner of the Roman Empire. For the first time, the entire structure of Roman civilization, from the emperor down to the lowliest slave, shared the Christian faith.

Internal Danger—Heresy

In the early fourth century, a theological controversy broke out that threatened to derail the Christian faith. Arius taught that the Son of God had a beginning and was a created being. The controversy threatened deeply to divide the Christian Church, and in so doing to imperil the unity of the Roman Empire. Concerned for the unity of the empire, Constantine wrote letters to Bishop Alexander and to Arius, urging them to make up their differences and forgive each other. When that failed, he convened an ecumenical council of the entire Church. Previously there had been regional and local synods, but this was the first worldwide gathering of bishops. Constantine aided this historic gathering by covering the travel expenses of bishops coming from the far-flung corners of the empire.

In order to repudiate the Arian heresy, the bishops inserted the word homoousios ("of the same essence") into the baptismal creed. By asserting that Christ was of the same essence as God the Father, the Council decisively affirmed the divinity of Christ. This was approved by an overwhelming majority of the Council (only three persons—including Arius—out of three hundred disagreed). Although Constantine may have suggested that homoousios be inserted into the creed, the word was not invented by him. Even Arius made use of it, albeit in his arguments against the divinity of Christ.

Although he presided over the council, it is an exaggeration to claim that Constantine controlled the direction of the Council of Nicea, as many Protestants argue. Many of the bishops present at the council were survivors of the Diocletian persecution and would have been more than willing to put their lives on the line for the gospel of Christ once more. Another weakness of the Protestant stereotype of Constantine is that it gives short shrift to the theological genius of Athanasius. Anyone who reads Athanasius' theological classic Against the Arians will see that it was Athanasius, not Constantine, who turned the tide against the Arian heresy. Also, the limitations of Constantine's ability to coerce the Church into doing his will can be seen in his earlier failure to resolve the Donatist controversy in 320. As W. H. C. Frend notes in The Rise of Christianity, "The lesson, however, had been learned. Never again did he seek to beat into submission a movement within the church."


Constantine's legacy can be seen in Christianity's transformation from a private sect into a public church that encompassed the whole of society. He put it on an institutional footing, which enabled the Church to be the leading cultural force in the ancient world. The Christianization of Roman society can be seen as a partial fulfillment of Revelation 21:24: "The nations . . . shall walk in its [New Jerusalem] light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it." The Church is the New Jerusalem—replacing the Jerusalem of the Old Testament—which brings spiritual enlightenment to the pagan nations throughout the Roman Empire. However, a balanced assessment of the historical evidence shows that, as much as Constantine may have contributed to the Christianization of the Roman Empire, he did not originate Holy Tradition as many Protestants believe.

Sunday as the day of worship. Although Sunday was made a public holiday, there is no evidence that it was Constantine who changed the Christians' day of worship from Saturday to Sunday. Two first-century documents—Didache 14.1 and Ignatius' Letter to the Magnesians 9.1—document the fact that Christians worshiped on a different day from the Jewish Sabbath. As emperor, Constantine transformed what was once the private practice of an illegal sect into a public holiday for all Romans.

Constantinople—the New Rome. With his decision to turn the sleepy village of Byzantinum into the Roman Empire's new capital city, Constantine laid the groundwork of what would become a major spiritual center, the Patriarchate of Constantinople. As the New Rome, Constantinople was intended to signal the Roman Empire's break with its pagan past and its embracing of Christianity. Under Constantine's orders, no pagan ceremonies were allowed in this city. While the original Rome and the Latin West entered into the Dark Ages, Constantinople thrived as a spiritual and political capital through the time of Columbus' voyage to America. Constantinople was also the springboard from which the missionary outreach to Russia would take place.

The Council of Nicea and the biblical canon. While Constantine played an important role at the First Ecumenical Council, there is no evidence that he had anything to do with deciding which books would go into the Bible. The Muratorian Canon (from the year 200) provides a list of New Testament documents that closely resembles the list found in today's Bible. Similar lists can be found in the writings of Origen (250) and Eusebius of Caesarea (300). It is true that Constantine ordered the burning of books by Arius, the anti-Christian philosopher Porphyry, the Novatians, the Marcionites, and others. But the fact remains that by the time Constantine became emperor, much of today's biblical canon was already in place.

Constantine a Saint?

Constantine died in 337. Shortly before his death, he was baptized by Eusebius of Nicomedia. Following his baptism, Constantine refused to wear the imperial purple and died wearing the white baptismal robe. He was buried in the Church of the Holy Apostles just days after he had dedicated it. The day of his death—May 21—is commemorated in the Orthodox Church as a major feast day.

Skepticism about the sincerity of Constantine's Christianity stems from a number of factors. Constantine did not openly repudiate the pagan gods, but tolerated pagan belief even as he began favoring the Christians. Another source lies in his execution of his son, Crispus, and his wife, Fausta, in 326, a year after the Council of Nicea. A third factor was Constantine's delaying of his baptism until just a few days before his death.

On closer examination, however, the basis for this skeptical attitude becomes problematic. Constantine's participation in the pagan rites most likely stemmed from his obligations as military and political leader. Regarding his execution of his son and wife, it is not clear what the reasons were. Unless the reasons for this drastic action are known, it is not fair to condemn Constantine. Also, modern evangelicalism may frown on deathbed conversions, but in the early Church such delaying of one’s baptism was not uncommon.

Constantine's conversion follows more closely the Orthodox understanding of salvation than the Protestant understanding. Where Protestants, especially evangelicals, tend to see salvation in terms of a one-time conversion experience, Orthodoxy sees salvation as a mystery and as a process that unfolds over time. While Constantine's personal faith may be a matter of debate, his historical contributions to the Church under his reign are undeniable. Frend writes, "The 'Age of the Fathers' would have been impossible without Constantine's conversion. The church's councils under the emperor's guidance became assemblies where the new, binding relationship with the Christian God, on which the safety of the empire depended, was established."

The Orthodox Church sees Constantine as the emperor who assisted the early Church in evangelizing the Roman Empire. For this reason it honors him as Saint Constantine Equal-to-the-Apostles.

Constantine and the Church

For Orthodoxy, Constantine represents an important link to the past. The persecuted underground Church and the official state Church are the same Church. Constantine played a key role in the historic transition from the former to the latter. For Orthodox Christianity, there is no "fall of the Church." The Orthodox Church believes that it stands in unbroken continuity with the Church of the first century.

There is a popular belief among evangelicals that the true Church was the underground Church, which refused to compromise with the worldly state Church, and that this true Church remained in hiding over the following centuries, leaving few records of its existence until it was rediscovered by the Protestants in the sixteenth century. The main problem with this belief is not only the absence of supporting evidence, but the presence of contrary evidence. Eusebius, in Books IV and V of his History of the Church, provides a chronological listing of bishops that goes back to the original apostles. Present-day Orthodox bishops and patriarchs are able to trace their spiritual and historical lineage back to the original apostles, something that Protestants cannot do.

Symphonia—The Harmony of Faith and Politics

Constantine's support for the early Church laid the foundation for the doctrine of symphonia—the ideal of political and religious leaders working in harmony to realize God's will here on earth. This ideal is rooted in the Lord's Prayer: "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Symphonia avoids two extremes: the separation of Church from State on the one hand, and the fusion of Church and State on the other. Despite his active participation in the Ecumenical Council, Constantine did not view himself as one of the bishops, but rather as "bishop of those outside." This ideal found concrete expression in the Byzantine Empire, which lasted for a thousand years. Under Constantine's rule began the transformation of Roman culture. Execution by crucifixion ceased, gladiatorial battles as punishment ended.

Symphonia has a number of important implications for Orthodox Christians. One is that the Church is called to pray for those in power, even if they are not Christians. For Orthodoxy, symphonia is the ideal situation, but not the only one. Christianity is not tied to any one particular political structure. Another implication is that there is no separation between the physical and the spiritual (belief in dualism is an early heresy). Orthodoxy is both a personal and a public faith. The Orthodox Church encourages good citizenship, public service along with philanthropy. Its preference for lay involvement in politics helps avoid the dangers of theocratic rule. It is expected that Orthodox Christians will bring the values of the Church into the political and social realms.

Venerating a Great Saint Today

The Orthodox Church today honors the memory of Constantine in several ways. Many Orthodox parishes are named after him. I attend Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Pacific. On Sunday mornings, soon after I enter the church, I see the icon of Christ sitting on the throne. I also see the icon of Constantine and his mother, Helen. Inside the church up in front I see Constantine and Helen on the icon screen. They are now part of the great cloud of witnesses cheering us on to finish the spiritual race (Hebrews 12). During the Sunday Liturgy, just before the scripture readings, the following troparion (hymn) is sung:

Your servant Constantine, O Lord and only Lover of Man,
Beheld the figure of the Cross in the heavens,
And like Paul, not having received his call from men,
But as an apostle among rulers set by Your hand over the royal city,
He preserved lasting peace through the prayers of the Theotokos.

The troparion celebrates God's sovereignty in human history: how God selected a pagan Roman soldier, converted him through a miraculous vision of the Cross, and made him emperor and one of the greatest evangelists in the history of Christianity.


Lucius Domitius Aurelianus was born of poor parents on 9 September AD 214 in Lower Moesia.His father was a tenant farmer of a wealthy senator Aurelius, after whom the family were named.

Aurelian rose through the ranks of the army, serving with distinction on the Danube frontier.By AD 268, when Aureolus rebelled against Gallienus, he held a cavalry commanding north Italy.

It was in this role as cavalry commander that he took part in the siege of Mediolanum (Milan) led by emperor Gallienus. And there, outside Mediolanum, he became part of the plot to murder the emperor. In fact, he is credited with having had the idea of raising the alarm at night, which caused the emperor to rise from his tent and which provided the assassins with their opportunity to strike.

Aurelian was clearly a contender for the vacant throne after the assassination, but Claudius Gothicus was the preferred choice. This was mainly the case, due to Aurelian’s reputation as a strict disciplinarian.
Claudius II Gothicus instead appointed him ‘Master of the Horse’ and perhaps the most powerful military figure in the empire.

When Claudius II died in AD 270, the throne controversially passed onto Quintillus, the late emperor’s brother. It was very questionable if Claudius II Gothicus had truly named his brother heir to the imperial throne, but once more the preference of the army and senate of a less strict man than Aurelian made sure he did not become emperor.

Aurelian moved quickly. He was briefly distracted by an attack by the Goths, who besieged Anchialus and Nicopolis. But once he returned back to his base in Sirmium in August AD 270, he laid claim to the throne himself, stating that he, not Quintillus, had been intended for the throne by Claudius II Gothicus.

Nobody dared take on the strongest military figure of the empire, and quickly all the forces changed sides to this stern Danubian commander, abandoning a lonely emperor in Aquileia, who alas committed suicide.

Aurelian, now sole emperor, took to dealing with the most pressing military threat, the Juthungi (Jutes). They had crossed the Brenner Pass and invaded northern Italy. On hearing of Aurelian’s marching towards them at the head of an army, the barbarians immediately began to withdraw. However Aurelian was quicker and the barbarians were caught up with and severely defeated before they escaped back across the Danube. Had the Romans earlier paid these barbarians subsidies to prevent them from attacking, then now Aurelian forced them to agree a treaty on his terms, without any subsidies.

Then Aurelian took to Rome, where the senate officially confirmed him as emperor. They were reluctant to do so, and yet they had no choice.

But Aurelian had no time to lose in Rome. Almost immediately thereafter Aurelian had to go north again, where this times the Vandals, joined by Sarmatians, had crossed the Danube. Aurelian moved decisively and defeated the barbarians in battle (AD 271). The Vandals were only allowed to move back home, after the emperor had asked his troops if they wished to let them do so. Only after this symbolic gesture, and having left hostages and supplied 2� horsemen to the Roman cavalry, were the Vandals allowed to withdraw back across the Danube.

And yet still the chaos of barbarian invasions continued. The Alemanni, Juthungi and Marcomanni invaded the empire in force, before even the Vandals had finished withdrawing. Once more northern Italy had to endure a force of barbarians descending upon it from the Alps.

Aurelian rushed back to Italy and met the barbarians at Placentia. But the legions were no match for the barbarians this time and Aurelian suffered a severe defeat (AD 271). Wild rumours spread through Rome like wildfire. Riots ensued, no doubt encouraged by senators who sought to undermine Aurelian’s authority as much as possible.

If Aurelian had suffered a setback, he was still far from beaten. The barbarians now made one crucial mistake. In order to cover more ground – and so reap more plunder – they split up their huge army into several smaller forces. This gave Aurelian the precisely the advantage he wanted. He moved on them and defeated these smaller armies one by one (AD 271). Very few of the barbarians managed to escape back across the Alps. Aurelian did not pursue them, for his presence was more urgently required in Rome.

The riots were still going on. Most of all that of the moneyers (coin makers) and their supporters who were holding out on the Caelian Hill. There was a suspicion (well possibly true) that they had been producing coins containing less precious metals than was required, creaming off the profits for themselves. When Aurelian arrived at Rome the riots were brutally crushed. Thousands died on the Caelian Hill alone, where the moneyers were crushed. But Aurelian, well knowing where much of the trouble had originated from, also had several senators put to death, or had their properties confiscated.

However, Aurelian was aware that essentially the troubles within the capital had been sparked off by the fear of invasion, Aurelian took to building a wall around his unprotected capital in AD 271 – the Aurelian Wall.

Had Aurelian hardly had any time to spare ever since his accession to the throne, then his reign was now troubled by usurpers. From AD 271 to early AD 272 Septimius rose in Dalmatia, Domitianus in southern Gaul, and also a certain Urbanus staged a rebellion elsewhere. However, it would be wrong to think of these rebels as a real threat. They were only minor pretenders who didn’t last long.

Much more serious was the threat posed to the empire by great parts having been severed from it in the west by the Gallic empire and in the east by the Queen Zenobia of Palmyra.

Aurelian decided that both of these independent states should be destroyed, and first took to oversee the crushing of the Palmyra, by far the greater threat to his empire – as it controlled Egypt and its grain supply.

Already in the spring of AD 272 Aurelian set out for the east. On the way he drove marauding bands of Goths out of Thrace and then crossed the Danube and crushed the Goths in several large-scale battles.

Having now sufficient strength of authority, Aurelian announced the long overdue withdrawal from Dacia. Had Trajan conquered it and turned it into a Roman province it had ceased to be a practical territory long ago. The population was evacuated and resettled in two territories detached from Moesia and Thrace, which were called Dacia Ripensis and Dacia Mediterranea.

Such momentous decisions behind him, Aurelian continued on eastwards to deal with Zenobia. He marched through Asia Minor (Turkey) unchallenged. Only the city of Tyana resisted him (AD 272). Having conquered the town, he did not allow his troops to sack it, making it clear to any territories that their return to the empire would go without retribution. It was an inspired move, bringing several Greek cities and the entire province of Egypt back into the empire without a fight.

In Syria he defeated the main force of the Palmyrene army at Immae, 26 miles east of Antioch (AD 272). Soon after another victory at Emesa brought about the capitulation of Palmyra (AD 272). Zenobia was captured.
As Aurelian left for Europe, the defiant city of Palmyra staged another rising, slaughtering its Roman garrison. Aurelian, by then at the Danube campaigning against the Carpi, immediately moved back to Syria and captured the city. This time there was no clemency shown. Palmyra was systematically sacked, looted and destroyed.

The demise of Palmyra now left Aurelian free to deal with the Gallic empire. He proceeded to Gaul and defeated the army of Tetricus on the Campi Catalaunii (Châlons-sur-Marne) (AD 274).

In the briefest of time Aurelian had managed, in a breathless series of military campaigns, what none would have thought impossible. He had not only saved the empire form several serious invasions, but had reunited the imperial territories, re-established Roman authority along the empire’s northern borders and stood unopposed as emperor of the civilized world.
If many of his contemporaries called him manu ad ferrum (‘iron fist’), then the senate bestowed upon him the title restitutor orbis (‘restorer of the world).

In a magnificent triumph he marched through the streets of Rome, the defeated Tetricus and his son of the same name and Queen Zenobia were paraded to the people. The procession might have been humiliating to the three of them, but Aurelian showed unusual clemency for a Roman emperor. Tetricus was made governor of Lucania, his son was made senator and Zenobia was moved to Tibur (Tivoli) and was married to a wealthy Roman senator.

Alas Aurelian could put his mind to governing his empire, rather than simply fighting for it. He revised the monetary system of the empire. The additional revenue from the recovered provinces, together with thorough reforms, was used to put the empire’s treasury back on a sound footing. Also measures were introduced to reduced embezzlement, extortion and corruption among imperial and provincial administrations.

The price of bread in Rome was regulated. The free distribution of bread was reorganized and rations of pork, oil and salt were added to the dole. The bed of the Tiber was cleared and its banks were repaired. Elsewhere in Italy waste land was reclaimed. Indeed, under his rule, Rome was recovering some of its former splendour.

In late AD 274 Aurelian first dealt with disorder at Lugdunum (Lyons) and then went north to fight off an invasion of Raetia by the Juthungi (Jutes).
But this hard-headed military emperor still had great things in mind, in particular the re-conquest of Mesopotamia from the Persians. In the summer of AD 275 he set out towards Asia, gathering an army as he continued eastwards.

But in October or November at Caenophrurium, a small Thracian town between Perinthus and Byzantium, he discovered that his private secretary, a certain Eros, had lied to him on a minor matter. Eros, fearful of what punishment his emperor might have in store for him, told several senior praetorian officers that the emperor sought to have them executed. Eros’ deceit was successful and Mucapor, a Thracian officer of the praetorians, finally killed Aurelian.

Aurelian was buried at Caenufrurium. He had reigned for five years. In this time his achievements had been nothing less than colossal. He was deified by the senate soon after his death.

Claudius: The Unexpected Hero

Portrait of the Emperor Claudius in corona quercea, detail, 25—49 CE.

Claudius had a series of physical ailments from birth including spastic paralysis and epilepsy, which led many to believe he could not become Emperor. His family kept him hidden away, but in seclusion Claudius became a remarkable scholar, lending his knowledge of history and government which would make him an excellent leader between 41 – 54 AD. As Emperor, he took everyone by surprise with his ingenuity, particularly when he successfully led one of the most important military invasions of the 1st century: the conquest of Britain. Honored with a triumphal arch on the Via Flaminia on his return, his place in history was cemented.

  • Publisher &rlm : &lrm Basic Books (July 17, 2000)
  • Language &rlm : &lrm English
  • Paperback &rlm : &lrm 256 pages
  • ISBN-10 &rlm : &lrm 0786707593
  • ISBN-13 &rlm : &lrm 978-0786707591
  • Item Weight &rlm : &lrm 8 ounces
  • Dimensions &rlm : &lrm 5 x 0.5 x 7.5 inches

Top reviews from the United States

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A Scandalous History Of The Roman Emperors is a rather breezy and lively look at the lives and occasionally dubious achievements of the first six rulers of the Roman Empire.

While the book itself doesn't reveal anything new (and author Anthony Blond, to his credit, never makes the claim that this book should be considered a serious piece of scholarship), it does serve as an effective and concise summary of all the previous histories of the Roman Empire. As such, reading the book often feels like reading a particularly humorous set of Cliff Notes about the history of the Roman Empire. That is not necessarily a negative thing. Considering that various contemporary Roman historians often had very conflicting views of the Emperors and the events of their reign, it's helpful to have all of those views summed up in one location. And when that summary is written up with a somewhat cynical but always entertaining sense of humor, it's even better.

While Blond might not add anything new to the established history of the Roman Empire, he does occasionally offer up some interesting revisionist arguments concerning the popular view of some of the emperors. In particular, his chapter on Nero makes a fairly compelling argument that, as bad as he was, Nero was actually a bit more enlightened and effective than most of the emperors who came before him and even some that came after him.

While Blond's book will certainly never replace or equal the work of Tacitus (or Suetonius, for that matter) and I certainly wouldn't recommend it as an introductionary text for anyone embarking on a serious study of the Roman Empire, Scandalous History will work for anyone who just wants a quick and entertaining overview of the era.

Anthony Blond tried his best to write a hilarious book about the scandalous history of a small number of Roman emperors. The title of the book misled me into buying it. Although there is some fun scattered here and there, the author is evidently not good at it. There is no shortage of scandalous emperors of the Roman Empire out of which the author could have come up with some nice amusing and entertaining stories based on historical facts so that those who do not like the dry and boring prose typically used by most authors could be encouraged to read Roman history. Alas, Anthony Blond appears to have been in a hurry to get his work published and so submitted his rough draft with no regard to whether unfortunate souls like me who buy the book get value for their hard earned money.

So, if you are looking for a well written hilarious book or a book on the scandalous life style of some Roman emperors, try other books. This book will make you frown, in addition to wasting your time and money.

Key Facts & Information


  • Before the rise of the Roman Empire, Rome began with the Roman Kingdom from 753–509 BC.
  • The recognized leader was called the king, chosen by people to serve for life, with none of the kings relying on military force to gain or keep the throne.
  • According to legends, the first king was Romulus. He and his twin brother were the sons of the Roman god of war, Mars.
  • Lucius Tarquinius Superbus was the last king to reign from 535–509 BC. He conquered Latin cities and established colonies.
  • After the fall of the Roman Kingdom, the era of classical Roman civilization rose.
  • It lasted from 509–27 BC and its politics were influenced by the Greek city states of Magna Graecia, with collective and annual magistracies, overseen by a senate.
  • The Republic was in a state of war throughout its existence. Its greatest enemy was Carthage, who waged three wars.
  • Constant internal conflict and civil war, made worse by the fact that the legions were more loyal to their generals than the Senate, caused the fall of the Roman Republic.


  • Historians regard Augustus as the first Emperor of the Roman Empire, while Julius Caesar is considered the last dictator of the Roman Republic.
  • Although some consider Julius Caesar as the first real emperor, since he was given the title “perpetual dictator” before getting assassinated.
  • His adopted son, Octavian, soon waged war against Mark Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, ending the final war of the Roman Republic.
  • The principate then gave him the name “Augustus,” meaning “the venerated.”


  • The principate is a name given to the first period of the Roman Empire characterized by the reign of a single emperor (princeps meaning chief or first).
  • It is within this period the Flavian dynasty was born to promote economic and cultural reforms, revaluation of the Roman coinage, and a massive building program that includes the famous Colosseum.
  • It is also within the principate that Rome was ruled by the “Five Good Emperors” Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius.
  • Before the entry of the new reigns, Rome suffered a devastating war called the Crisis of the Third Century against barbarian invasions and migration.
  • This resulted in the empire. However, the empire was reunited by Aurelian (270-275 CE).


  • Under the dominate, the burden of the imperial position was shared between colleagues, referred to as the consortium imperii, introducing a system called the tetrarchy.
  • In the reign of Diocletian, civilian and military reforms were implemented, devaluating the roles of the senators and soon appointed consuls.
  • He also divided Rome in half in 285 CE, to facilitate more efficient administration. He created the Western Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine), which was ruled by his co-emperor Maximian.
  • Upon his death in 311 CE, Maxentius and Constantine, the chosen successors of the divided empire waged war.
  • Constantine defeated Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge and became the emperor of the Western and Eastern Empires.
  • His death, however, once again divided the Roman Empire after his sons fought each other.


  • The Eastern Roman Empire, also known as the Byzantine Empire, became a Christian state with Greek as the official language.
  • However, the Byzantine government followed the patterns established in Rome.
  • Compared to the Western Empire, the Byzantine Empire flourished from 330 to 1453 CE, with its capital founded at Constantinople.
  • The Byzantine government ran under the Justinian Code, or Corpus Juris Civilis (Corpus of Civil Law), by Justinian I.
  • Following the rule of several dynasties, Christianity was proclaimed the official religion of Rome.
  • War waged on during the following centuries and on May 29, 1453, after an Ottoman army stormed Constantinople, Mehmed triumphantly entered the Hagia Sophia.
  • Emperor Constantine XI died in battle that day, and the Byzantine Empire collapsed.


  • The Western Roman Empire only lasted from 395 to 476.
  • After the division, the divided empires saw each other as enemies, hence left to territorial problems on their own.
  • From Honorius, the first sole Western emperor, to the next, military and civilian strife burdened the empire, plus the Gothic wars and internal corruption, meant the Western Empire was bound to disappear.
  • On September 4, 476 CE, the last Western Rome Emperor, Romulus Augustulus, was deposed by the Germanic King Odoacer, thus the precursor of the fall of Rome.

Roman Emperors Worksheets

This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about the Roman Emperors across 28 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Roman Emperors worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about the Roman emperor who was the ruler of the Roman Empire during the imperial period beginning 27 BC until 1453 AD, the fall of the Eastern Empire.

Complete List Of Included Worksheets

  • Roman Emperor Facts
  • Heads of State
  • Emperors’ Dominion
  • The Founder
  • The Truth
  • Damnatio Memoriae
  • Great Seven
  • Latin Speaking
  • The Emperor
  • Final Reign
  • Imperial Grammar

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Use With Any Curriculum

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Licinius was born in Upper Moesia in about AD 250 as the son of a peasant.
He rose through the ranks of the military and became the friend of Galerius. It was on Galerius’ campaign against the Persians in AD 297 that his performance is said to have been especially impressive. He was rewarded with a military command on the Danube.

It was Licinius who travelled to Rome on Galerius’ behalf to negotiate with the usurper Maxentius in Rome. His mission proved unsuccessful and resulted in Galerius’ consequent attempt to invade Italy in AD 307.

At the conference of Carnuntum in AD 308 Licinius was, on the behest of his old friend Galerius, suddenly raised to the rank of Augustus, adopted by Diocletian and was granted the territories of Pannonia, Italy, Africa and Spain (the latter three only in theory, as Maxentius still occupied them).

Licinius promotion to Augustus, without having previously held the rank of Caesar, ran contrary to the ideals of the tetrarchy and quite literally ignored the greater claims of Maximinus II Daia and Constantine. All that appeared to have earned Licinius the throne was his friendship to Galerius.
Licinius, with only the territory of Pannonia was clearly the weakest emperor, despite his title of Augustus, and so he had good reason to worry. In particular he saw Maximinus II Daia as a threat, and so he allied himself with Constantine by becoming engaged to Constantine’s sister Constantia.

Then in AD 311 Galerius died. Licinius seized the Balkan territories which had still been under the deceased emperor’s control, but could not move fast enough to also establish his rule over the territories in Asia Minor (Turkey), which were instead taken by Maximinus II Daia.

An agreement was reached by which the Bosporus was to be the border between their realms. But Constantine’s victory at the Milvian Bridge in AD 312 changed everything. Had the two sides been preparing against each other anyway, then now it was essential for either one to defeat the other in order to equal the power of Constantine.

It was to be Maximinus II Daia who made the first move. While Licinius was continuing his shrewd policy of alliance with Constantine, by marrying his sister Constantia at Mediolanum (Milan) in January AD 313 and confirming Constantine’s famous Edict of Milan (toleration of Christians and Constantine’s status as senior Augustus), Maximinus II’s forces were gathering in the east, preparing to launch an attack. Still in the winter of early AD 313 Maximinus II set across the Bosporus with his troops and landed in Thrace.

But his campaign was doomed for failure. Had Maximinus II Daia driven his troops across wintery, snow bound Asia Minor (Turkey), they were utterly exhausted. Despite their highly superior numbers they were defeated by Licinius at Campus Serenus, near Hadrianopolis, on either 30 April or 1 May AD 313.

What it further worth noting is that, on this occasion, Licinius’ forces fought under a Christian banner, just as Constantine’s had done at the Milvian Bridge. This was due to his acceptance of Constantine as the senior Augustus and his subsequent acceptance of Constantine’s championship of Christianity. It stood in stark contrast to the strongly pagan views of Maximinus II.

Maximinus II Daia retreated back to Asia Minor, and withdrew behind the Taurus mountains to Tarsus. Having set across to Asia Minor, Licinius in Nicomedia issued his own edict in June AD 313, by which he officially confirmed the Edict of Milan and formally granted complete freedom of worship to all Christians. Meanwhile, Licinius was not held back for long by the fortifications on the passes across the mountains. He pushed through and laid siege to his foe at Tarsus.

Finally, Maximinus II either succumbed to serious illness or took poison (August AD 313). With Maximinus II Daia dead, his territories naturally fell to Licinius.This left the empire in the hands of two men, Licinius in the east and Constantine (who had since defeated Maxentius) in the west. Everything east of Pannonia was in the hands of Licinius and everything west of Italy was in the hands of Constantine.

Attempts were made to now being the war-torn empire to peace. Had Licinius accepted Constantine as the senior Augustus, then he though still possessed complete authority over his own eastern territories. To all intents, the two emperors could therefore peacefully co-exist without one challenging the authority of the other.

The problem between Constantine and Licinius arose, when Constantine appointed his brother-in-law Bassianus to the rank of Caesar, with authority over Italy and the Danubian provinces. Licinius saw in Bassianus only a puppet of Constantine’s and hence vehemently disliked this appointment. For why should he forfeit control over the important military provinces in the Balkans to a man of Constantine’s. And so he developed a plot by which he incited Bassianus to revolt against Constantine in AD 314.

But his involvement in this affair was detected by Constantine, which consequently led to a war between the two emperors in AD 316.
Constantine attacked and defeated a numerically superior force at Cibalae in Pannonia and Licinius retreated to Hadrianopolis. Defiantly Licinius now elevated Aurelius Valerius Valens to the rank of Augustus of the west in an attempt to undermine Constantine’s authority.

After a second, though inconclusive battle at Campus Ardiensis, the two emperors divided the empire afresh, Licinius losing control of the Balkans (except for Thrace) to Constantine, which were in effect under Constantine’s control since the battle of Cibalae. Constantine’s rival emperor Valens was left absolutely stranded and was simply executed.
Licinius by this treaty though still retained full sovereignty in his remaining part of the empire. This treaty, one hoped, would settle matters for good.
To further complete the semblance of peace and restored unity, three new Caesars were announced in AD 317. Constantine and Crispus, both sons of Constantine, and Licinius, who was the infant son of the eastern emperor.

The empire remained at peace, but relations between the two courts soon began to break down again. The main cause for the friction was Constantine’s policy toward the Christians. Did he introduce several measures in their favour, then Licinius increasingly began to disagree. By AD 320 and 321 he had returned to the old policy of suppressing the Christian church in his eastern part of the empire, even expelling Christians from any government positions.

Further cause for trouble was the granting of annual consulships. These were traditionally understood by emperors to be positions in which to groom their sons as heirs to the throne. Was it understood at first that the two emperors would appoint consuls by mutual agreement, Licinius soon felt that Constantine was favouring his own sons.

He therefore appointed himself and his two sons as consuls for his eastern territories for the year AD 322 without consulting Constantine.
This was an open declaration of hostility though it did not in itself immediately lead to a response.

But in AD 322, to repel Gothic invaders, Constantine crossed into Licinius’ territory. This gave Licinius all the reason he needed to cry fowl and by spring of AD 324 the two sides were at war again.

Licinius began the conflict confidently at Hadrianopolis, with 150� infantry and 15� cavalry at his disposal as well as a fleet of 350 ships. Constantine advanced on him with 120� infantry and 10� cavalry. On 3 July the two sides met and Licinius suffered a severe defeat on land and fell back to Byzantium. Shortly after his fleet too suffered a bad mauling by the Constantine’s fleet, commanded by his son Crispus.

His cause in Europe lost, Licinius retreated across the Bosporus where he elevated his chief minister Martius Martinianus to be his co-Augustus in much the same way as he had promoted Valens a few years earlier.
But soon after Constantine landed his troops across the Bosporus and on 18 September AD 324 at the battle of Chrysopolis Licinius was defeated yet again, fleeing to Nicomedia with his 30� remaining troops.

But the cause was lost and Licinius and his small army were captured. Licinius’ wife Constantia, who was the sister of Constantine, pleaded with the victor to spare both her husband and the puppet emperor Martianus.
Constantine relented and instead imprisoned the two. But soon after accusations arose that Licinius was plotting a return to power as an ally of the Goths. And so Licinius was hanged (early AD 325). Martianus, too, was hanged not much later, in AD 325.

Licinius’ defeat was a complete one. Not only did he lose his life, but so too did his son and supposed successor, Licinius the Younger, who was executed in AD 327 at Pola. And Licinius’ illegitimate second son was reduced to the status of a slave labouring at a weaving mill at Carthage.


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