This is the essay for the 11th week of the 9th Grade Tom Woods Homeschool. In the blog post, I will be summarizing the period of the Julio-Claudian and Flavian emperors and comparing it to the period of the five good emperors.
- How would you summarize the period of the Julio-Claudian and Flavian emperors? Were they consistently humane and competent, wicked and foolish, or is the pattern erratic? Was there a consistent system of succession from one emperor to another?
- Why do historians tend to look with favor on the period of the five good emperors? What differences do you observe between that period and the period from the death of Augustus through the death of Domitian?
How would you summarize the period of the Julio-Claudian and Flavian emperors?
To put it shortly there was chaos, but the chaos was internal chaos, which is worse. After Augustus died nobody really knew who should become the successor, to us now this might seem obvious, your biological son of course, but you have to remember that for the Romans this a brand new system of rule. During this period they chose emperors from the praetorian guard, which were the emperor’s personal bodyguards and even sometimes one of their own sons.
All of the emperors in this period of emperors were chosen using one of these two options. The only problem with these options is that the resulting emperor was usually crazy and brutal. Not all of them were like this of course only this system of choice meant that there would be more wicked emperors than humane ones. Most of them were like Caligula completely insane and there were only one or two like Titus, who was most humane and competent of all of the emperors in this period. Some of them started out relatively humane and later became insane, a good example of this is Nero. Due to most of the emperors being consistently insane, most of them were assassinated, even by their own party. Few emperors actually died of old age.
What differences do you observe between the period of the five good emperors and the period from the death of Augustus through the death of Domitian?
After the death of Domitian from 81-96 AD, everyone was getting sick of the emperors being completely insane, even the emperor Nerva who was the emperor after Domitian was realizing the problem that was at hand. Up till that point the emperors had never been chosen in advance before the previous emperor’s death. Whenever an emperor died there was a mad dash to see who would become the next emperor. Nerva thought it would be a good idea for the current emperor to choose the next emperor in advance so that nobody else who would claim that they deserved to be emperor became one. These people were holding illegitimate claims because the emperor had been decided beforehand. It went deeper than that though. The emperor couldn’t choose any random person. They would choose a successor who they thought was smart and good in other important categories to be worthy enough to become the next emperor. There was one important rule in this process, which was that they were not allowed to choose their own sons. This new system of choosing emperors was made easier by that ⅘ emperors didn’t even have any sons. Nerva didn’t have any children at all.
Due to these reforms to the system, all 5 next emperors were wise, good leaders and made smart decisions. Most importantly though was that they weren’t completely insane. Many of these emperors are remembered for their great contributions to the Roman empire. There is one emperor that was remembered for something a little more than this as well. Marcus Aurelius was the first of the five good emperors to have a son, Commodus. Before his death, Marcus Aurelius defied the tradition that was set by Nerva and made his own son emperor. When Commodus became emperor well …. you guessed it, he was completely insane! Commodus’s reign is what caused the decline of the Roman empire that would happen in the third century.