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5 Worst Roman Emperors


All Roman emperors had faults that ancient historians and biographers criticized. Many emperors had unusual sexual appetites and more were guilty of murder, but somehow these five stand out as too bizarre or excessive -- today. Had Russell Crowe's Gladiator failed at the box office, Commodus would never have made it to this list of worst Roman emperors. Had the BBC's I, Claudius series not resuscitated the reputation of Claudius, he might have had a shot at this list of the most evil or incompetent. Here are the charges made by ancient historians. [Cast your ballot for the worst Roman emperors.]

If you think other emperors belong on this list of the worst Roman emperors, please post on the forum thread with your reasons and sources. In 2013 Cambridge scholar Mary Beard brought Caligula to international attention, unfortunately more for irrelevant misogynistic social media comments made against her than for her valuable take on the maybe not so sexually perverted young emperor.

If you think some of these emperors don't belong on the list, please do the same. The list was originally generated by forum discussions. Thank you.

1. Caligula (37-41)

Caligula revived the treason trials of his predecessor, Tiberius, opened a brothel in the palace, raped whomever he wished, reported on the woman's performance to her husband, committed incest, killed for greed, and thought he should be treated as a god.

2. Elagabalus (218-224)

Elagabalus was contemptuously placed by ancient historians with Caligula, Nero, and Vitellius (who doesn't make this list). Elagabalus did not act in a manner befitting an emperor, stopping short of self-castration in his pursuit of alien religions. There was a reason the only man allowed in the house of the vestal virgins was the Pontifex Maximus. Unfortunately, it was still customary at the time of Elagabalus for the emperor to assume the position of Pontifex Maximus. This transvestite emperor raped a vestal virgin and in his insatiable sexuality, set up a brothel at the palace. He imprisoned and executed those who criticized him.

3. Commodus (180-192)

Commodus was lazy and led a life of debauchery surrendering control to his freedmen and praetorian prefects who then sold imperial favors. He disgraced his status by performing like a slave in the arena. He styled himself the Roman Hercules.

4. Nero (54-68)

Nero murdered his mother and wife. He confiscated senators' property and severely taxed the people to build his own golden home. Whether he played his lyre while Rome burned or was involved behind the scenes in some other way, he put the blame on the Christians and had many killed.

5. Domitian (81-96)

Domitian was paranoid about conspiracies. He developed new tortures and harassed philosophers and Jews. He had vestal virgins executed or buried alive on charges of immorality. After he impregnated his niece, he insisted she have an abortion and then, when she died as a result, he deified her. He executed officials who opposed his policies and confiscated their property.

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