10 Troubles of Ancient Rome

Colin Ricketts

3 mins

24 Jul 2018

Despite its many achievements, some on an epic scale, Ancient Rome was not without its fair share of troubles and tragedies.

Here are 10 examples — not of the Glory of Rome, but rather of its shame.

1. 69 AD has been named ‘the year of the four emperors’

Bust of Ancient Roman Emperor Galba

Emperor Galba.

After the death of Nero, emperors Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian all ruled between June 68 AD and December 69 AD. Galba was assassinated by the Praetorian Guard; Otho committed suicide as Vitellius seized power, only to be killed himself.

2. Nero himself was an appalling emperor

Death of Ancient Roman Emperor Nero

The Death of Nero.

He may have killed his stepbrother to assume the throne. He certainly had his mother executed in one of many power struggles. He was the first emperor to commit suicide.

3. Commodus (ruled 161 – 192 AD) was famously stupid

He presented himself as Hercules in statues, fighting in rigged gladiatorial games and renaming Rome after himself. Many historians date the start of the fall of the Empire to Commodus’ reign. He was assassinated in 192 AD.

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4. The period from 134 BC to 44 BC is called the Crises of the Roman Republic by historians

Bust of Sulla, Ancient Roman dictator

Bust of Lucius Cornelius Sulla.

During this period Rome was often at war with its Italian neighbours. Internally there was strife too, as aristocrats tried to hang on to their exclusive rights and privileges against pressure from the rest of society.

5. There were multiple civil wars during the period of the crises

Caesar’s Civil War from 49 BC to 45 BC saw Roman armies fighting each other in Italy, Spain, Greece and Egypt.

6. 193 AD was the Year of the Five Emperors

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Five claimants battled it out for power after the death of Commodus. Septimius Severus finally outlasted the others.

7. ‘The Year of the Six Emperors’ was in 238 AD

Ancient Roman Emperor Gordian I

Gordian I.

Six men were recognised as emperor in the messy ending of the terrible rule of Maximinus Thrax. Two of the emperors, Gordian I and II, a father and son ruling jointly, lasted just 20 days.

8. Diocletian (ruled 284 – 305 AD) tried to hold the Empire together with a four-man Tetrarchy

The territories of the Tetrarchy under Ancient Roman Emperor Diocletian

Credit: Coppermine Photo Gallery / Commons.

He thought the Empire was too big for one man to rule. It lasted while he lived, but collapsed into more bloody feuding and fighting upon his death.

9. Caligula (ruled 37 –41 AD) is generally accepted as Rome’s worst emperor

Ancient Roman Emperor Caligula

Photo by Louis le Grand.

Most of the colourful horror stories about him are probably black propaganda, but he did cause a famine and drain the Roman treasury, building vast monuments to his own greatness, nonetheless. He was the first Roman emperor to be assassinated, killed to stop him relocating to Egypt to live as a sun god.

10. The Sack of Rome by Alaric the Goth in 410 AD greatly upset emperor Honorius for a moment or two

Alaric the Visigoth in Greece

He reportedly mistook the news for a report of the death of his pet cockerel, Roma. He was said to have been relieved that it was just the old imperial capital that had fallen.