The Five Good Emperors

The period from the death of Augustus to the death of Domitian was fraught with tyranny, cruelty, and despotism. There was the insane cruelty of Calingula, the extreme tyranny of Nero, and the despotism of the self-proclaimed god Domitian, not to mention the iron-fist rule of all the other Roman emperors of the first-century. It is not difficult to see the relief that the five good emperors provided for the Roman people.

The Neva-Antonine dynasty, from 96-180, is known as the period of the five good emperors. They developed a system of succession that did not have to end in bloodshed, as in the Julio-Claudian and Flavian dynasties. Nerva, the first of the five, lowered taxes and lifted the special tax on Jews. He also welcomed banished citizens home, and restored their property. The next two focused on building projects, like the aquaducts built by Trajan, and Hadrian’s wall built by…Hadrian.

Antoninus Pius was the most generous of the emperors, famously remitting taxation to cities which had suffered a disaster. Marcus Aurelius was a philosopher who was a little hard on the early Christians, and a few were martyred under his reign. This was mainly due to the fact that he had only heard the argument from the enemies of Christianity. Up until this point, previous Nerva-Antonine emperors had chosen a successor who was not a blood relation. Marcus Aurelius chose his son, Commodus who ended the period of the five good emperors in 180 with his viciousness and incompetence.

There is a huge contrast between the Julio-Claudian and Flavian dynasties, and the Nerva-Antonine dynasty; the despotism of Caligula, Nero, Vespagian, and Domitian, and the relative peace and generosity of the five good emperors. The Roman people must have been relieved to have a dynasty free from tyranny.


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