When it comes to great Roman leaders, the first name that springs to mind is Julius Caesar. He, however, was not an emperor, but the last leader of the Roman Republic, elected dictator for life. After his assassination, Republic was abolished and Octavian became the first emperor. Until its end, Rome remained an empire and among those that wore imperial purple, there were some that were truly terrible, both as human beings and political leaders. There were also some great ones, or else the empire wouldn’t survive for as long as it did. Here are five of them.
Augustus – Gaius Octavius (63 BC – 14 AD)
The Caesar’s heir, Octavius is the founder of the Roman Empire. After defeating the opposition and consolidating his power, he set to expanding the empire, by conquering Dalmatia, Egypt, and huge chunks of North Africa, Spain, and Germany. The new standing army he organized required large sums of gold and in order to pay for it, Octavius completely overhauled the Roman tax system. By the time he died, the Empire was large and prosperous and foundations for Pax Romana were firmly laid.
Hadrian – Publius Aelius Hadrianus (117 – 138 AD)
Best known for the wall he erected to protect Britain from the savage attacks of the Picts from Caledonia, Hadrian had other achievements as well. Unlike the majority of emperors, Hadrian enjoyed traveling and has visited almost every part of his empire. Most of his reign passed on consolidating Trajan’s conquests, but when forced to go to war, Hadrian was as brutal as any of the Roman emperors, as testified by the slaughter of 580,000 Jews in Palestine during their revolt. Edward Gibbon, a famous historian of Rome, wrote that Hadrian’s rule was “happiest era of human history”.
Aurelian – Lucius Domitius Aurelianus Augustus (214 – 275 AD)
Although he only ruled for five years, 270 to 275 AD, Aurelian is considered one of the last good emperors of Rome. A commoner, he came to power at the height of the Crisis of the Third Century and managed to overcome it by expelling the barbarian tribes from Italy and securing Rome’s borders.
Marcus Aurelius – Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus (121 –180 AD)
The Philosopher Emperor and the last of the Five Good Emperors, Marcus Aurelius’s reign is best described by one of the historians of his time, Cassius Dio, who wrote that upon his death, Rome transformed “from a kingdom of gold to one of iron and rust”. He stabilized the economy and conquered new Parthian Empire and made huge inroads into Germany.
Trajan – Marcus Ulpius Trajanus (53 –117 AD)
Another from consecutive Five Good Emperors, Trajan is perhaps the best Roman emperor in history. During his reign, the Empire expanded to become the largest in its history, ruling lands from the Persian Gulf to the British Isles.