Favourite Emperor of the Julio-Claudian and Flavian Periods

Who are your one or two favourite emperors from the Julio-Claudian/Flavian periods?

  • Augustus

    Votes: 10 40.0%
  • Tiberius

    Votes: 5 20.0%
  • Caligula

    Votes: 3 12.0%
  • Claudius

    Votes: 2 8.0%
  • Nero

    Votes: 2 8.0%
  • Galba

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Otho

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Vitellius

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Vespasian

    Votes: 8 32.0%
  • Titus

    Votes: 4 16.0%
  • Domitian

    Votes: 2 8.0%

  • Total voters
    25
Oct 2018
1,848
Sydney
As an addendum to my last post, Nerva gets a pretty favourable treatment in the sources, but to some extent this is influenced by his successors rather than reality. As the adoptive father of Trajan and by extension the founder of the Nerva-Antonine dynasty - and by a further extension the Severan dynasty, which claimed to be a part of the former dynasty - a lot of emperors over a very long period of time (97-235) had a vested interest in Nerva's reputation. Naturally, Trajan deified the man who was the author of his imperium and for a very short time his adoptive father, and subsequent emperors emphasized a sacred lineage going back to Nerva. By the time the Severan dynasty ended, the reputation of Nerva as a great emperor was very secure and is reflected in the coinage of the emperor Decius and in the emperor Julian's satire The Caesars. Moreover, as the founder of the Nerva-Antonine dynasty, a dynasty long associated with peace and prosperity, Nerva has traditionally been regarded by moderns as the first of the 'Five Good Emperors'.
But if we look at Nerva's actual reign he ruled for less than two years, and when the Praetorians rioted he apparently lost control of his bowels, if Cassius Dio is to be believed. The general in the east, Nigrinus, was suspected of planning a usurpation, and Nerva ultimately saved himself from these twin threats by adopting Trajan before dying soon afterwards. One can praise Nerva as someone who did not execute senators and who was ultimately responsible for giving the empire Trajan, but I can't say I'm really that impressed by him. I'm more interested in how he was turned into one of the greatest emperors because of a future legacy that went beyond his actions.
We see a similar example with Claudius Gothicus (268-270). In 310 Constantine claimed him as an ancestor to give himself a dynastic leg-up against his Tetrarchic rivals, and as a result Claudius has been repeatedly regarded as one of Rome's greatest emperors. After all, he was the ancestor (not actually) of the founder of Christendom. In Claudius' defence, Constantine must have picked him for a reason, and he did defeat the Goths in the Battle of Naissus. However, because of Constantine's claims, ancient accounts of Claudius' reign are basically panegyric. David Potter in The Empire at Bay gives a more level-headed assessment of Claudius Gothicus, noting that, when you dig a bit deeper, his reign was not without its follies.
 
Last edited:
Feb 2011
1,142
Scotland
Quite surprised at the distribution of 'favourites'. The OP kindly permits a fave to be on any basis, not just on basis of who we think was 'best' which might indeed be disputatious. The result to date looks a bit like the result if you ask a class of young children which football team they support- it is frequently the current champs as kids like to align with success! Augustus may be seen as a 'safe' choice though his well-bloodied hands share any 'moral' implication of picking some of the other 'rotters'. Yet with such a widely framed OP allowing a pick if they were just 'interesting', it is still surprising that Caligula, Claudius and Nero have nary a vote between them- they are after all three of the emperors most likely to be known to the general public.

Why? For instance and by no means exclusively-

Caligula- Well known arguements with the senate, desire Roman people all had one neck, riding across a bridge of boats and - subject to revisionism- claims of beieving he was divine, incest with sisters, seashells incident on beach with the army on abortive invasion of Britain. Also issued many interesting coins including the 'three sisters' sestertius, albeit almost all are pricey.

Claudius- Invaded Britain, installed by Praetorians, marriage to the sex-mad Messalina and its surprising conclusion, relationship with Agrippina and Nero. An academic with an interesting reign and instalment of prominent freedmen in important 'civil service' posts. Some interesting if rare gold and silver coins, especially with British angles, Some affordable copper.

Nero- his 'good' period followed by a mixture of licentiousness and artistic questing; the attempted murder of his mother on a colapsible boat followed by a simple but sadly effective effort; conspiracies and treason trials, persecutions and fire of Rome, the Golden House and the finishing of construction of Ostia; murder (probably unintended) of his wife and unborn child; his single-handed medals triumph at the olympic games; abandonment and death, his last words 'what an artist the world is losing'. Artistically, probably some of the loveliest large bronzes ever produced by Rome and the interesting bronze of him playing the lyre; quite affordable, even in gold and silver.

All these are larger than life figures, unlike most of the emperors to follow.

Although i must confess a background which makes me very anti-Flavian, I can understand Vespasian getting votes- militarily successful, campaigned in Britain, fell asleep in Nero concerts, seems more human than most including devotion to his grandma. Domitian too, had intersting attributes of course- not so successful militarily but Agricola in Scotland, German campaigns and fear of conspiracies. Many emprerors like Domitian got a bad press as they fell out with the senatorial order, who were usually writing the histories. Titus I find harder to understand- a very short reign, shorter than any outside the year of 4 emperors, Pompeii fell early in his reign and the finishing of the Coliseum. But its not much to go on!

However, I'd like to pitch for Tiberius, who I think had a rum deal and a bad press; though hardly a saint either, much of the body count in his reign may be attributable to the machinations of Sejanus. Forced to divorce the woman he loved, forced to marry Augustus' daughter whom he didnt love, pushed aside when her children came of age, he tried to give Augustus' grandchildren a free run by retiring to Rhodes and then found himself stuck there. He already had a distinguished military record in Germany and showed devotion to his brother. Released from Rhodes, he proved himself Rome's premier military leader at critical times in the Pannonian revolt and after Varus' defeat.

Eventually and reluctantly accepted by Augustus, he ensured the first ever succession was smooth, increased senatorial power and attempted a reasonable working relationship with the senate.His 'head count' was low by comparison with others. Jesus' ministry and cruxifiction occurred in this reign. His desire to retire at age 68 after a long and distinguished career is pretty understandable but he was betrayed by Sejanus, whom he trusted to act in his best interests and actually brought about the death of his son. The empire was ruled well and without aggressive wars once Germanicus had been told to cease the punitive and costly actions in Germany. Monies accumulated in the treasury. There is no evidence for the gossipy sexual allegations made about him on capri, though even a form of alzheimers is a possible explanation. He did suffer with an unsightly skin condition.

There are naturally couter-arguments but I feel a good case is made for Tiberius being an effective emperor and entitled to a few faves!
 
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Oct 2018
1,848
Sydney
Quite surprised at the distribution of 'favourites'. The OP kindly permits a fave to be on any basis, not just on basis of who we think was 'best' which might indeed be disputatious. The result to date looks a bit like the result if you ask a class of young children which football team they support- it is frequently the current champs as kids like to align with success! Augustus may be seen as a 'safe' choice though his well-bloodied hands share any 'moral' implication of picking some of the other 'rotters'. Yet with such a widely framed OP allowing a pick if they were just 'interesting', it is still surprising that Caligula, Claudius and Nero have nary a vote between them- they are after all three of the emperors most likely to be known to the general public.

Why? For instance and by no means exclusively-

Caligula- Well known arguements with the senate, desire Roman people all had one neck, riding across a bridge of boats and - subject to revisionism- claims of beieving he was divine, incest with sisters, seashells incident on beach with the army on abortive invasion of Britain. Also issued many interesting coins including the 'three sisters' sestertius, albeit almost all are pricey.

Claudius- Invaded Britain, installed by Praetorians, marriage to the sex-mad Messalina and its surprising conclusion, relationship with Agrippina and Nero. An academic with an interesting reign and instalment of prominent freedmen in important 'civil service' posts. Some interesting if rare gold and silver coins, especially with British angles, Some affordable copper.

Nero- his 'good' period followed by a mixture of licentiousness and artistic questing; the attempted murder of his mother on a colapsible boat followed by a simple but sadly effective effort; conspiracies and treason trials, persecutions and fire of Rome, the Golden House and the finishing of construction of Ostia; murder (probably unintended) of his wife and unborn child; his single-handed medals triumph at the olympic games; abandonment and death, his last words 'what an artist the world is losing'. Artistically, probably some of the loveliest large bronzes ever produced by Rome and the interesting bronze of him playing the lyre; quite affordable, even in gold and silver.

All these are larger than life figures, unlike most of the emperors to follow.

Although i must confess a background which makes me very anti-Flavian, I can understand Vespasian getting votes- militarily successful, campaigned in Britain, fell asleep in Nero concerts, seems more human than most including devotion to his grandma. Domitian too, had intersting attributes of course- not so successful militarily but Agricola in Scotland, German campaigns and fear of conspiracies. Many emprerors like Domitian got a bad press as they fell out with the senatorial order, who were usually writing the histories. Titus I find harder to understand- a very short reign, shorter than any outside the year of 4 emperors, Pompeii fell early in his reign and the finishing of the Coliseum. But its not much to go on!

However, I'd like to pitch for Tiberius, who I think had a rum deal and a bad press; though hardly a saint either, much of the body count in his reign may be attributable to the machinations of Sejanus. Forced to divorce the woman he loved, forced to marry Augustus' daughter whom he didnt love, pushed aside when her children came of age, he tried to give Augustus' grandchildren a free run by retiring to Rhodes and then found himself stuck there. He already had a distinguished military record in Germany and showed devotion to his brother. Released from Rhodes, he proved himself Rome's premier military leader at critical times in the Pannonian revolt and after Varus' defeat.

Eventually and reluctantly accepted by Augustus, he ensured the first ever succession was smooth, increased senatorial power and attempted a reasonable working relationship with the senate.His 'head count' was low by comparison with others. Jesus' ministry and cruxifiction occurred in this reign. His desire to retire at age 68 after a long and distinguished career is pretty understandable but he was betrayed by Sejanus, whom he trusted to act in his best interests and actually brought about the death of his son. The empire was ruled well and without aggressive wars once Germanicus had been told to cease the punitive and costly actions in Germany. Monies accumulated in the treasury. There is no evidence for the gossipy sexual allegations made about him on capri, though even a form of alzheimers is a possible explanation. He did suffer with an unsightly skin condition.

There are naturally couter-arguments but I feel a good case is made for Tiberius being an effective emperor and entitled to a few faves!
I'm glad you have found the poll so fascinating, and I share your surprise that Caligula, Claudius and Nero haven't won any votes, although I suppose that I didn't make clear that 'favourite' emperor doesn't necessarily equal 'best'. I only specified the possible criteria in the case of the third -century poll.

Also, you have done a great job of defending Tiberius as a choice. Make sure you vote for him in the poll itself, since I think Tiberius has been sitting on two votes for a while.
 
Feb 2011
1,142
Scotland
I'm glad you have found the poll so fascinating, and I share your surprise that Caligula, Claudius and Nero haven't won any votes, although I suppose that I didn't make clear that 'favourite' emperor doesn't necessarily equal 'best'. I only specified the possible criteria in the case of the third -century poll.

Also, you have done a great job of defending Tiberius as a choice. Make sure you vote for him in the poll itself, since I think Tiberius has been sitting on two votes for a while.
Thank you! :) Unfortunately one of those votes for Tibs is mine already!
 
Oct 2018
1,209
Adelaide south Australia
What a crowd! I voted for Vespasian as being the most appealing as a human being. I admire Augustus most of all for his ploitical genius in bring some sort stability to Rome, but cannot exactly say that I like him; nor did he enjoy the rare honour of having public urinals named after him (known as Vespasiennes in France, one of the less appealing kinds of Continental street furniture). If Claudius too is something of a favourite with me, I fera that it is the Claudius of Robert Graves rather than of history.

Yep, I admire Augustus too, perhaps wrongly ,for the Pax Romana especially. I also admire Claudius 1, but my information on him also comes mainly from Graves' novels. Is Gibbon as flattering?
 
Oct 2018
1,848
Sydney
Yep, I admire Augustus too, perhaps wrongly ,for the Pax Romana especially. I also admire Claudius 1, but my information on him also comes mainly from Graves' novels. Is Gibbon as flattering?
Gibbon was not a fan of Claudius:

'But while they deliberated, the praetorian guards had resolved. The stupid Claudius, brother of Germanicus, was already in their camp, invested with the Imperial purple, and prepared to support his election by arms. The dream of liberty was at an end; and the senate awoke to all the horrors of inevitable servitude. Deserted by the people, and threatened by a military force, that feeble assembly was compelled to ratify the choice of the praetorians, and to embrace the benefit of an amnesty, which Claudius had the prudence to offer, and the generosity to observe.'

'The golden age of Trajan and the Antonines had been preceded by an age of iron. It is almost superfluous to enumerate the unworthy successors of Augustus. Their unparalleled vices, and the splendid theatre on which they were acted, have saved them from oblivion. The dark, unrelenting Tiberius, the furious Caligula, the feeble Claudius, the profligate and cruel Nero, the beastly Vitellius, and the timid, inhuman Domitian, are condemned to everlasting infamy. During fourscore years (excepting only the short and doubtful respite of Vespasian's reign) Rome groaned beneath an unremitting tyranny, which exterminated the ancient families of the republic, and was fatal to almost every virtue and every talent that arose in that unhappy period.'
 
Mar 2018
890
UK
Gibbon was not a fan of Claudius:

'But while they deliberated, the praetorian guards had resolved. The stupid Claudius, brother of Germanicus, was already in their camp, invested with the Imperial purple, and prepared to support his election by arms. The dream of liberty was at an end; and the senate awoke to all the horrors of inevitable servitude. Deserted by the people, and threatened by a military force, that feeble assembly was compelled to ratify the choice of the praetorians, and to embrace the benefit of an amnesty, which Claudius had the prudence to offer, and the generosity to observe.'

'The golden age of Trajan and the Antonines had been preceded by an age of iron. It is almost superfluous to enumerate the unworthy successors of Augustus. Their unparalleled vices, and the splendid theatre on which they were acted, have saved them from oblivion. The dark, unrelenting Tiberius, the furious Caligula, the feeble Claudius, the profligate and cruel Nero, the beastly Vitellius, and the timid, inhuman Domitian, are condemned to everlasting infamy. During fourscore years (excepting only the short and doubtful respite of Vespasian's reign) Rome groaned beneath an unremitting tyranny, which exterminated the ancient families of the republic, and was fatal to almost every virtue and every talent that arose in that unhappy period.'

The man doesn't mince his words! I don't know whether I should be disappointed or relieved that modern historians are less sure of themselves.
 
Oct 2018
1,848
Sydney
The man doesn't mince his words! I don't know whether I should be disappointed or relieved that modern historians are less sure of themselves.
Haha likewise. I recently came across his assessment of Septimius Severus, and it's even more unflattering:

'The contemporaries of Severus in the enjoyment of the peace and glory of his reign, forgave the cruelties by which it had been introduced. Posterity, who experienced the fatal effects of his maxims and example, justly considered him as the principal author of the decline of the Roman empire.'

Now, one can make a good argument that Severus' over-reliance on the soldiers and privileging of the soldiers set a bad precedent, but to consider him the principal author of the decline of the Roman empire is quite the claim!