Well we had the best, now let’s see if we can pin the worst emperors down. This was an even harder top to make than the previous, worst as best is a relative term but I tried to put up the emperors who through their demented behavior affected the economy, the people, the senate, themselves and any other poor soul that happened to be around them. Moreover it is difficult on some emperors to determine if they were actually bad or what was written by them was propaganda or strictly subjective especially in the cases where no contemporary works survived. Nonetheless let us give it a try.
Domitian was notorious for his cruelty to ensure his authority and power. He is said to have invented a new method of torture which involved burning the sexual organs of his victims. He hated the nobility and also persecuted lots of Jews and Christians. Domitian started an unsuccessful campaign in Dacia and caused a military and financial disaster.
9. Maximinus Thrax
The Thracian origin of Thrax did no good of ensuring the liking of the Senate. That and the fact that he did not trust anyone so he had most of his friends, advisors and benefactors murdered. He went and made campaigns against people who did not rebel against Rome and for this the roman people hated him.
Thrax has been blamed as causing the Crisis of the Third Century. When his Praetorian Guard had enough of him so they stabbed him in the back, beheaded him, his son and his advisers and put their heads on poles around Rome’s walls.
Caracalla started his sole reign with an interesting fact. He murdered his co emperor and his brother, Geta. He told the Senate and troops that Geta wanted to murder him and he killed in self-defense. Of course not all believed him so he started an old fashion purge.
Also it is said that the citizens of Alexandria, Egypt ridiculed his actions with a public play. When Caracalla found out about it he traveled there with his army and ordered a systematic slaughter, plunder and raping of the citizens. According to Cassio Dio 20,000 people were killed.
Tiberius succeeded Augustus, the first emperor, but he did not want the job he inherited. He let the Senate rule more in his absence only to return from his villa in Capri to trial and execute traitors and opponents. It is said that in his villa in Capri he held constant orgies, he trained little boys to swim under his thighs and bite him. Even in his late life, having sex with young boys was his favorite pastime.
6. Valentinian III
Valentinian was one of the most useless and worst emperors in the late West Empire (except from Honorius). The empire was breaking under the Vandals and Huns. Lucky for Valentinian he had Aetius, a great military commander, who drove barbarians back. However Valentinian jealous of his victories assassinated him, killing his protector. He not only lacked the ability to govern the empire in a time of crisis, but aggravated its dangers by his self-indulgence and vindictiveness.
There is no redeeming word or a positive thing to say about him. Honorius was racist, wasteful, cowardly and would betray his most useful subjects due to jealousy. He executed Stilicho, one of Rome’s most skilled generals, he angered the Goths and other Germanics enough that they stormed Italy and sacked Rome in 410. Such is his reign described by Procopius that when he heard Rome had perished he cried out because he thought his rooster died (he was named Rome), but when was told that was not the animal but the city he was very relieved.
Born in Syria, he became ruler at just 14 bringing with him his worship for the eastern god Elagabalus/Nicknamed after the god, the emperor also had children tortured and sacrificed. And he was infamous for his sexual proclivities: He married a Vestal Virgin, slept with men, cross-dressed, and married a male slave. Cassius Dio reported that Elagabalus would paint his eyes, epilate his hair and wear wigs before prostituting himself in taverns, brothels, and even in the imperial palace. He offered vast sums of money to any physician who could equip him with female genitalia.
Commodus adored the gladiatorial games, saw himself as Hercules, so much so that he personally entered many of them and fought alongside the gladiators, who were all criminals and slaves. This severely offended the entire Empire, especially the Senate. Commodus once ordered all the cripples, hunchbacks, and generally undesirables in the city to be rounded up, thrown into the arena, and forced to hack one another to death with meat cleavers.
A complete megalomaniac who even renamed Rome after himself, the legions were renamed Commodianae, the Senate was entitled the Commodian Fortunate Senate, his palace and the Roman people themselves were all given the name Commodianus.
Here’s a little background on how Nero treated his loved ones: He divorced his first wife, then had her beheaded and brought her head to Rome so his second wife could gloat over it. He kicked his second wife, Poppaea, to death when she was pregnant with their second child. When saw a young boy who looked like Poppaea, he married him, forced him to dress as a woman, and had him castrated. If this wasn’t enough he killed his own mother too.
Compared to all that, the fact that Nero climbed a stage and sang while Rome burned seems almost benign. But when the cost of rebuilding the city led Nero to extreme methods, like having rich men name him as their heir and then forcing them to commit suicide, the people had had it. He was essentially forced to commit suicide. His last words: “Oh, what an artist the world is losing!”
Caligula is believed by many to have been insane, it is said that he would walk around his private palace at night and order the sun to rise, or rage at the moon, he proclaimed himself a god of Rome to be worshiped by the people, he had the heads of many statues of Roman gods removed and replaced with his own. He liked to dress up like many famous gods and goddesses of Rome and demanded that everyone in his presence refer to him as divine. It is said that Caligula once tried to make his favorite race horse a senator of Rome, he had a marble stall made that was filled with expensive Roman furniture where he would invite special guests to attend dinners with the horse.
Caligula liked to attend and take part in the torture and execution of many criminals, and personal enemies. Caligula had the emperor’s palace turned into a brothel where he would rape whomever he pleased, he publicly had sex with his three sisters at banquets and games.
He threw lavishes orgies and parties, he spent so much he bankrupt the Empire. For all his faults emperor Tiberius before him ‘counted coppers’ and filled the treasury with 2,700,000,000 sesterces that Caligula wasted them all.
Caligula was eventually stabbed to death by his own private guards. It is said that the murder was similar to that of Julius Caesar. He was stabbed by 30 times by the conspirators led by a man named Cassius.