My Top 10 Best Roman Emperors

You have your whole empire at your feet, the Senate loves you, the plebes love you but are you the best of them all?

It is so damn hard to even compose a top with this name. What qualifies an emperor to be the “best”? I tried as best as I could but obviously some people might have other opinions so feel free to share them.

10. Constantine the Great

Constantine won victories against Franks, Alamanni, Visigoths, Sarmatians, he resettled parts of Dacia which had been abandoned during the previous century. He accommodated Christians–understandable and probably inevitable given the failure to eliminate them and the need for their support and build a new imperial residence at Byzantium naming it New Rome.

However, in Constantine’s honor, people called it Constantinople, which would later be the capital of what is now known as the Byzantine Empire for over one thousand years. Because of this, he is thought of as the founder of the Byzantine Empire.

9. Diocletian

He created the “Tetrarchy”, or “rule of four”, each emperor would rule over a quarter-division of the Empire. Diocletian secured the Empire’s borders and purged it of all threats to his power. In spite of his failures, Diocletian’s reforms fundamentally changed the structure of Roman imperial government and helped stabilize the Empire economically and militarily, enabling the Empire to remain essentially intact for another hundred years despite being near the brink of collapse in Diocletian’s youth.

He was one of the few Emperors of the third and fourth century to die naturally and the first in the history of the Roman Empire who retired voluntarily. Once he retired, however, his Tetrarchic system collapsed. Constantine who eventually got up the throne ignored the policy of preserving a stable silver coinage but thankfully the tax system and administrative reforms lasted, with some modifications, until the advent of the Muslims in the 630s.

8. Septimius Severus

Septimus Severus was the last of the good emperors who subdued Germanic and African tribes for over a hundred years, conquered all of Mesopotamia and made the farthest forays into England conquering almost the entire island save for the absolute northernmost tip up to Caledonia. Under his reign, Rome was the largest it would ever be.

Severus was also one of the few emperors to have a stable and happy marriage as well as an agreeable social life with the plebs with whom he was very popular. He preferred the company of plebs and soldiers to that of the rich aristocracy, which did make Severus on unagreeable terms with the senate.

7. Antonius Pius

When Hadrian’s adopted son Verus died, he adopted Antoninus Pius as son and successor. As part of the deal, Antoninus Pius adopted the future Emperor Marcus Aurelius. When Hadrian died, Antoninus demonstrated such piety towards his adopted father that he earned the name “pius.” He completed and restored earlier building projects rather than starting major ones of his own as emperors did back in the day.

He had the longest reign since Augustus. He had NO major wars, NO tawdry rumors said about him (in fact he only married one woman over his entire life), NO political or religious persecutions. During his reign the empire had its greatest peace and prosperity. Every now and then a steady and unspectacular hand is needed at the wheel.

6. Hadrian

Hadrian was the second century Roman emperor who is known for his many building projects, cities named Hadrianopolis (Adrianopolis) after him, and the famous wall across Britain designed to keep the barbarians out of Roman Britain.

An extremely talented individual, not only a genuine polymath but a competent soldier and pragmatic administrator. Spent much of his reign touring the empire attending to the provinces. He undertook much building, including the arguable apogee of Roman architecture: rebuilding the Pantheon in Rome.

5. Marcus Aurelius

During his reign, the Empire defeated a revitalized Parthian Empire in the East, in central Europe, he fought the Marcomanni, Quadi, and Sarmatians with success during the Marcomannic Wars, with the threat of the Germanic tribes beginning to represent a troubling reality for the Empire. A revolt in the East led by Avidius Cassius failed to gain momentum and was suppressed immediately.

One of the most famous Stoics in history, Marcus Aurelius wrote a great deal of philosophy and was known as a great, moral man and fine thinker. His Stoic tome “Meditations” written in Greek while on campaign between 170 and 180, is still revered as a literary monument to a philosophy of service and duty, describing how to find and preserve equanimity in the midst of conflict by following nature as a source of guidance and inspiration.His contributions to literature and philosophy are the greatest of any Emperor and his writings are still studied today.

4.Aurelian

He defeated lot’s of enemies (Alamanni,Goths,Vandals, Sarmatians,Juthungi and Carpi), he restored th eastern provinces after his conquest of the Palmyrene Empire and western parts of the empire conquering the Gallic Empire. He build the Aurelian Walls and abandoned the province of Dacia (my home turf) because it was too difficult and too expensive to defend.

Aurelian was a reformer, and settled many important functions of the imperial apparatus, including the economy and the religion. As an administrator, he had been very strict and handed out severe punishments to corrupt officials or soldiers (which eventually brought his death).

Aurelian’s short reign reunited a fragmented Empire while saving Rome from barbarian invasions that had reached Italy itself. He brought the Empire through a very critical period in its history, and without Aurelian it never would have survived the invasions and fragmentation of the decade in which he reigned.

3. Vespasian

Vespasian was a down to earth man, great general and a great emperor. Rome was broke and failing apart after the effects of Calligula, Nero, civil war and the Year of the Four Emperors. After he suppressed the Jewish Revolt in Judeea he became the victor of the civil war and therefore emperor. During his reign he increased stability politically, economically and socially.

Vespasian also promoted the keeping of histories by offering financial reward to writers although he distrusted philosophers viewing them as complainers who talked too much. He is also noted for mildness when dealing with political opposition.

Much money was spent on public works and the restoration and beautification of Rome: a new forum, the Temple of Peace, the public baths and the great show piece, the Colosseum. Unfortunately he died before it could be finished so the opening was made during his son reign, Titus.

2. Trajan

Officially declared by the senate as optimus princeps (“the best emperor”), Trajan is remembered as a successful soldier-emperor who presided over the greatest military expansion in Roman history, leading the empire to attain its maximum territorial extent by the time of his death. He is also known for his philanthropic rule, overseeing extensive public building programs and implementing social welfare policies, which earned him his enduring reputation as the second of the Five Good Emperors who presided over an era of peace and prosperity in the Mediterranean world.

He was a great general and soldier defeating the Parthian Empire, annexing Armenia and Mesopotamia and conquering the Dacians.
Trajan was a prolific builder in Rome and the provinces, and many of his buildings were erected by the gifted architect Apollodorus of Damascus. Notable structures include Trajan’s Column, Trajan’s Forum, Trajan’s Bridge, Alcántara Bridge, the road and canal around the Iron Gates.

As an emperor, Trajan’s reputation has endured — he is one of the few rulers whose reputation has survived nineteen centuries. Every new emperor after him was honored by the Senate with the wish felicior Augusto, melior Traiano (“[be] luckier than Augustus and better than Trajan”).

1. Augustus

It was with Augustus that the beginnings of the Pax Romana can be attributed. He used the experiences of his adoptive father to guide his own, and learned from Caesar’s mistakes. By making himself appear humble yet powerful, Augustus was able to bring to fruition the empire that would grow to epic proportions.

Augustus was able to lay down the framework for the military, even though he was not the military genius his predecessor was. He was able to set the stage for the upcoming Roman Empire, all the while doing a good job at placating those who still yearned for the republic that Caesar had toppled. Augustus was the sort of man that was necessary to transition from republic to empire, an excellent politician who knew how to gain the trust of the people as well as hold the empire with a firm grip.

Augustus’ reign laid the foundations of a regime that lasted for nearly fifteen hundred years through the ultimate decline of the Western Roman Empire and until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. Both his adoptive surname, Caesar, and his title Augustus became the permanent titles of the rulers of Roman Empire for fourteen centuries after his death, in use both at Old Rome and at New Rome
Augustus was intelligent, decisive, and a shrewd politician, but he was not perhaps as charismatic as Julius Caesar. Nevertheless, his legacy proved more enduring. The city of Rome was utterly transformed under Augustus, with Rome’s first institutionalized police force, fire fighting force, and the establishment of the municipal prefect as a permanent office.

Augustus was definitely right when he spoke these immortal words “I found Rome a city of brick and left it a city of marble”.

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4 Responses to “My Top 10 Best Roman Emperors”

  1. master412160 Says:

    I have to agree with you on those 10! Can I share this article btw on my rome II blog?

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