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European Kingdoms

Ancient Italian Peninsula



According to legend, Rome was founded as a city state by the Latin prince, Romulus on 21 April 753 BC. He was the city's first king, but after his death, the city was drawn under Etruscan rule in the form of a 'Kingdom of Rome'. The Etruscans governed large areas of the Italian peninsula to the north of Rome, and ruled the city as the southernmost of a chain of semi-independent city states, although there were further Etruscan settlements in the Campania region to the south.

When the weakening Etruscans were ejected in 509 BC, a 'Republic of Rome' was founded in its place, although there was for a time stiff opposition from a body of monarchists. Rome gradually began to established the greatness which would be the 'Empire of Rome' from the first century AD. The empire survived until the last quarter of the fifth century AD, when it was replaced by a Gothic kingdom which strived for continuity. By that time Rome was no longer the capital, having been found to be hard to defend.

Europe had changed a great deal in that time. The Germanic tribes now dominated large swathes of the continent in the west and central regions, while the east was fast becoming home to waves of nomadic Turkic invaders from the east. Rome's western empire failed to survive the speed and ferocity of the changes, but its Eastern Roman empire continued for another millennium.


Empire of Rome
27 BC - AD 476

The 'Republic of Rome' had lasted for half a millennium. The final century of its existence had greatly weakened it however, with a few powerful individuals vying for ultimate power. While several dates are commonly proposed to mark the transition from Roman republic to empire, including the date of Julius Caesar's appointment as perpetual dictator (44 BC), the victory of Octavian at the Battle of Actium (2 September 31 BC), and the Roman Senate's granting to Octavian the honorific 'Augustus' (16 January 27 BC), it is usually the latter which is accepted as a starting point.

Octavian was Caesar's youthful but utterly ruthless great-nephew and his appointed successor. In effect, he oversaw the creation of the empire which Caesar may have been attempting to form in order to save the fabric of Roman dominance over much of the ancient world.

Some of the names listed here were never accepted as emperors in Rome, often merely leading revolts in some of the provinces and holding regional power for a time. These names are usually backed in a darker shade to separate them. Of course, if they had managed to defeat their opposition then they would have achieved legitimacy, which sometimes was the case.

Rome's colosseum

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from The Oxford History of England: Roman Britain, Peter Salway, from Roman Soldier versus Germanic Warrior: 1st Century AD, Lindsay Powell, from the BBC series, Mary Beard's Ultimate Rome: Empire Without Limit, presented by Mary Beard and first screened between 27 April-18 May 2016, from the Notitia Dignitatum, from Encyclopaedia of the Roman Empire, Matthew Bunson (1994), and from External Links: Encyclopaedia Iranica, and University of Leicester, and Listverse, and Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Ancient Origins, and Facts and Details, and The Roman Military Research Society, and Coins study suggests 'fake emperor' was real (The Guardian).)

Julian-Claudian Dynasty (Roman Empire)

These five rulers were linked through marriage and adoption into the patrician families of the Julii and Claudii. The reigns of all five were remarkably similar, each expanding the Roman empire's territory and initiating large-scale building projects. All were resented by the senatorial class, despite their popularity with the people, and there was constant plotting to restore the republic.

In fact, many notable members of the ruling families were themselves desirous of seeing the republic return, but these individuals were usually disposed of by Livia Drusilla in her pursuit of securing the imperial throne for Tiberius, her son by a previous marriage. A detailed feel for the period and events (if not necessarily full historical accuracy) can be gained from the BBC drama series, I, Claudius.

27 BC - AD 14

Caesar Augustus (Octavian)

Great-nephew and adopted son of Julius Caesar.

27 BC

Octavian, son of Atia Balba Caesonia, niece of Julius Caesar, ends a century of civil wars and gives Rome an era of peace, prosperity, and imperial greatness, known as the Pax Romana, or Roman peace, which lasts for over two hundred years. He is known generally as Augustus, which simply means 'revered one'.

Caesar Augustus
During his long 'reign' as Rome's first citizen, Augustus brought peace to the city and oversaw its transition from failing republic to vigorous and expanding empire

25 - 15 BC

Augustus determines that the Alpine tribes need to be pacified in order to end their warlike behaviour, alternately attacking or extracting money from Romans who pass through the region even when they have armies in tow. He wages a steady, determined campaign against them, and in a period of ten years he 'pacifies the Alps all the way from the Adriatic to the Tyrrhenian seas' (written by Augustus himself).

The Brigantii and their immediate neighbours are defeated by 15 BC, with Brigantion being captured. The settlement is converted into a Roman military camp. The Cotti Regnum is formed after friendship is established with the Celto-Ligurian chieftain, Cottius.

12 - 9 BC

Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus, stepson of Emperor Augustus, is appointed governor of the Rhine region of Gaul. He launches the first major Roman campaigns across the Rhine and begins the conquest of Germania. He starts with a successful campaign which subjugates the Sicambri. Later in the same year he leads a naval expedition along the North Sea coast, conquering the Batavi and the Frisii, and defeating the Chauci near the mouth of the Weser. In 11 BC, he conquers the Bructeri, Usipetes and Marsi, extending Roman control into the Upper Weser. In 10 BC, he launches a campaign against the Chatti and the resurgent Sicambri, subjugating both.

The following year he conquers the Mattiaci, while also defeating the Marcomanni and Cherusci, the latter being taken care of near the Elbe. He is killed following a fall from his horse during his fourth campaign, and his death deprives Rome of one its best generals. (There is the suggestion that he may in fact be recovering from his serious injury but is poisoned by a doctor sent by Livia to take charge of his care, removing one of the more serious obstacles to her own son's path to becoming the successor of Augustus.)

River Main
The River Main area of Western Germany became the homeland of the Mattiaci following their migration from the Baltic Sea region, but they later seem to have been subsumed by the Alemanni

12 - 11 BC

With the loyal General Agrippa his only possible successor in 23 BC, Augustus had him divorce his wife and marry the widowed Julia, his daughter from his previous marriage to Scribonia. Agrippa had been twenty-five years older than his new wife, but their marriage had delivered three sons and two daughters, and two of the sons, Gaius and Lucius, had been adopted by Augustus as his own. Now in 12 BC Agrippa dies and Augustus realises that the boys need a guardian. Therefore, he turns to the two adult sons of his wife, Livia. The elder of them, Tiberius, is made to divorce his wife Vipsania, marry Julia, and become protector to the young heirs to Augustus. Despite Tiberius deeply resenting this demand, the marriage goes ahead on 12 February 11 BC.

AD 1

The threat of conflict between Rome and Parthia has been building over the question of Armenia. As a result the Romans build up a large military force in Syria. King Phraates V of Parthia gives way, and negotiations which are held in this year end with the Parthians relinquishing any claims of influence in affairs in Armenia and the Romans granting recognition to Phraates as a legitimate and sovereign ruler.


With both Gaius and Lucius, the sons of Agrippa and Julia, now dead (possibly due to the machinations of Livia), Augustus has little choice but to adopt the reluctant Tiberius as his successor, along with fifteen year-old Agrippa Postumus, Julia's youngest son. Postumus is conveniently sent into exile just three years later.


Arminius, king of the Germanic Cherusci tribe, decimates three legions of infantry under Roman governor Publius Quinctilius Varus. The disaster is a tremendous blow to Roman plans for expansion into Germania Magna, something from which they never entirely recover. Upon the death of Emperor Augustus in AD 14, a document left by him is read to the senate, expressly forbidding any extension of the empire beyond the Rhine. News of this command is welcomed by the German tribes, thinking that it gives them a free hand in the region.

Teutoberger wald
The decimation of three legions in the Teutoberger wald in AD 9 was a massive humiliation for the Roman empire and caused the abandonment of plans to conquer Germania Magna

In the eastern Mediterranean, the new provinces of Dalmatia, Moesia and Thrace are formed, and the province of Macedonia acquires the physical dimensions which it retains throughout the empire period. It also gains safety and security at last, with the Thracian tribes fully pacified and external threats kept away by the buffer provinces around it.


The death of Caesar Augustus is the occasion for the Res Gestae Divi Augusti ('The Deeds of the Divine Augustus') funerary inscription to be read. The document is a form of obituary, recounting the emperor's deeds to his mourning subjects. It also mentions the Charudes of Jutland who are said to have petitioned Rome for its friendship.

14 - 37


Son of Livia, and adopted son of Octavian. By birth a Claudian.

14 - 15

Germanicus Julius Caesar, born either Nero Claudius Drusus after his father or Tiberius Claudius Nero after his uncle, invades northern Germany on a campaign against the victorious Cherusci tribe. Together with his Cherusci ally, Segestes, he starts with a massacre of the Marsi. This enrages the Germanic tribes and Arminius' confederation is reformed willingly. Roman forces (and Batavi allies) have to relieve Segestes from a siege which is being conducted by Arminius.

16 - 17

The Cherusci suffer two defeats to Germanicus in AD 16 which removes them as a serious threat. In AD 17 Germanicus is recalled from Germany and sent to the east. Many see this as an act of jealously by an emperor who is envious of the general's popularity. It could also be due to Germanicus being perceived as a potential rival to Tiberius, despite his proclamations of loyalty. To cap it all, Germanicus dies in suspicious circumstances, possibly poisoned, with the act being attributed by some to Livia and her network of agents and supporters. Another rival to Tiberius has been removed from the scene.

Tiberius was probably a reluctant emperor who was manoeuvred into the role by the machinations of his mother, Livia, and in his later days he shunned many of his duties


Archelaus of Cappadocia angers Tiberius after favouring one of his rivals for the imperial diadem, and is summoned to Rome where he dies, possibly of natural causes (or suicide). Tributary Cappadocia now becomes a Roman province while Lesser Armenia is handed to the stepson of Archelaus, Artaxias III, who rules there as a client king. Cilicia is handed to Archelaus' natural son to rule as another client king.


The somewhat divided Aeduii appear to have been neglected by Rome. The dissatisfaction of the tribe's people results in a revolt by them and the Treveri under the leadership of Julius Sacroviros of the Aeduii and Julius Florus of the Treveri. Thier revolt is quickly put down by Gaius Silius.


Lucius Aelius Seianus (more commonly known as Sejanus) has manipulated his position as head of the Praetorian guard to become the emperor's personal advisor. He is also the vicious and ambitious head of a network of agents and informers who may hold his own ambitions of gaining the imperial throne. The emperor is partially responsible for the air of suppressed fear in Rome, as he has willingly allowed Sejanus to take much of the burden of government from his hands. Finally realising that he has created a monster, Tiberius is able to initiate a purge in Rome which sees Sejanus and many of his supporters and allies killed in the streets.

37 - 41

Gaius Caesar (Caligula)

Son of Germanicus Caesar, Tiberius' nephew. A despot.


Early in the year, Caligula's brief and colourful reign is ended by a plot engineered by army officers and senators. He is replaced by the unlikely and unprepared Claudius, whose wife is a member of the Urgulanilla, a noble family which can trace its origins back to the Etruscan city of Caisra.

Etruscan sarcophagus
An Etruscan sarcophagus of a man and his wife from the city of Caisra (modern Cerveteri), which was one of the older cities, having been formed in the late ninth century BC by a melding together of clusters of Villanovan villages

41 - 54


Uncle. Assassinated by Agrippina, mother of Nero.


Rome invades Britannia and begins the conquest of the island. Under the command of Governor Aulus Plautius, the invasion force probably consists of four legions of citizen troops, II Augusta, XIV Gemina, XX Valeria Victrix, and IX Hispana.


The Chauci and Frisii are to be found under the command of Gannascus of the Canninefates. Together, they continue to raid the coastline of Gallia Belgica. The newly-appointed Roman military commander, Corbulo, engages the attackers in battle and defeats them. Emperor Claudius orders a withdrawal of Roman forces to the Rhine in order to ease tensions.


There is an invasion across the Rhine into the empire by a Teutonic people whom later Roman writers name the Chamavi [tribe or group] of the Franci. This may be part of the migratory movement which later finds them in the lands of the Bructeri, as documented by Tacitus in AD 98.

54 - 68


Deposed by Senate and suicided to avoid the Roman mob.

54 - 59

Julia Agrippina (Minor)

Mother. Self-appointed regent. Killed on Nero's orders.


The lower Rhine has recently been cleared out by Rome to serve as a buffer zone between the empire and tribal Germania. The Frisii are under the mistaken belief that they will be exempt from any retaliation by Rome if they reoccupy this area, but they are swiftly disabused of this belief when Roman cavalry sweeps them out. Then the homeless Ampsivarii tribe petitions Rome to be able to settle the area but this attempt also fails.

66 - 73

The First Jewish Uprising in Judah leads to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. In 67, the Nabataeans under King Maliku II send an army to aid General (later emperor) Vespasian in the siege.

Roman siege of Jerusalem AD 70
The Nabataeans are perhaps unknown for the part they played in the siege of Jerusalem in AD 67-70, however minor that part may have been, with their support going to the Romans against their long-standing regional rival


The early leader of the Christian church, Peter, is put to death in Rome by means of crucifixion. He is later claimed as the first official Pope, and the movement he champions continues to grow in strength in Rome.


With Nero's Rome slipping into chaos, Caius Julius Vindex, a governor in Gaul, launches a revolt with support from Servius Sulpicius Galba. Vindex soon finds that his levies are no match for legions sent from Germania Superior (IIII Macedonica, XXI Rapax, and XXII Primigenia), under the command of Lucius Verginius Rufus and supported by ever-reliable Gallic communities such as the Lingones. Nero loses control in Rome and commits suicide, ending the Julio-Claudian dynasty of emperors. The scene is set for the 'Year of Four Emperors'.

Soldier Emperors (Roman Empire)

Roman emperor Nero was the last of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. During his rule, he was disdained by his people because of his vanity and inadequacies as leader. He had one wife executed and he murdered another with a fatal kick. All of this resulted in a great conspiracy against him and he was forced to commit suicide on 9 June AD 68.

The subsequent 'Year of the Four Emperors' witnessed the first time the imperial selection system broke down, as various legions proclaimed their own emperors. The process was started by the Senate voting Galba emperor at the same time as they declared Nero a public enemy. Suddenly the legions and Gaulish tribes who had supported the former regime by suppressing Vindex's revolt found themselves under suspicion. Supported by the Helvetii, Galba replaced their commander with Marcus Hordeonius Flaccus, which was interpreted as a sign of distrust. Instability and distrust gripped the empire.

68 - 69

Servius Sulpicius Galba

Spanish general who marched on Rome. Murdered.

68 - 69

Galba, a former governor of Africa Proconsularis, begins his short reign with the execution of many allies of Nero and possible future enemies, but he swiftly demonstrates his lack of ability to wield supreme power. His replacement of key figures leads to a revolt of the legions in Gaul. They accept as their emperor Aulus Vitellius, governor of Germania Inferior. When this news reaches Rome, Galba panics and announces the appointment of a successor. The result is that imperial guard assassinates Galba and replaces him with Marcus Salvius Otho.

Servius Sulpicius Galba
Galba seized Rome and the imperial title in AD 68, but immediately faced opposition by other generals who thought that their claim was better, sparking the 'Year of the Four Emperors' in AD 69


Marcus Salvius Otho

Popular with the soldiers. Committed suicide.


Among the first measures to be enacted by Otho is to award Roman citizenship to all Lingones, hoping that they will abandon their alliance with Vitellius. Unfortunately, eight Batavian auxiliary units meet up with the legions of Vitellius in the country of the Lingones. On 16 April AD 69, the Vitellians defeat Otho's army near Cremona. Otho commits suicide and the Senate hastily sends its congratulations to Vitellius. The Helvetii are also crushed by the forces of Vitellius.


Aulus Vitellius

Proclaimed on the Rhine. Executed by Vespasian.


At this point, with the supporters of Vitellius openly battling those of Vespasian in the streets of Rome, a Lingonian named Julius Sabinus proclaims himself emperor. This appears to be the first instance of a western emperor standing in opposition to Rome and using Gaul as his power base. Sabinus becomes the leader of the Batavian rebellion, although it is Gaius Julius Civilis who commands the Batavi forces. Initially the rebellion is successful, with two Roman legions being lost, while two others fall into the hands of the rebels.

Flavians (Roman Empire)

The fall of Nero (AD 68) and the extinction of the Julio-Claudian dynasty had been followed by a war of succession which revealed the military basis of the principate and the weakness of the tie connecting the emperor with Rome. The successive emperors Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian represented in turn the legions of Iberia, the Praetorian Guard (the household troops), the army of the Rhine, and a coalition of the armies of the Danube and the Euphrates; and all except Otho were already de facto emperors when they entered Rome.

FeatureVespasian was proclaimed emperor by his troops and returned from Judea to take control of Rome. He ended the period of uncertainty in the empire and effectively saved Rome from the chaos which had gripped it since the accession of Vitellius. He authorised the demolition of Nero's fabulous Golden House in the centre of Rome and began construction of its replacement, the Colosseum. Although the period of the Flavians was relatively short, the name proved popular, and was a common component of Roman names for generations. The third emperor, Domitian, also served a single term as elected archon of Athens (AD 91-92).

69 - 79


General in his 60s. Former governor of Africa Proconsularis.


With the defeat of Vitellius in Rome, his former supporters join Sabinus in opposing Rome. Sabinus makes a major mistake, however, when he attacks the Sequani who have remained loyal to Vespasian (Titus Flavius Vespasianus). They repulse his attack and a conference of the Gauls in the land of the Remi leads to a decision to support Rome against the Batavi. The revolt is quickly suppressed, with some rebels being posted to Britain (at least four units of five hundred men).

The Gaulish and Germanic Batavian revolt of AD 69-70 was a major contributor to the instability experienced in the Roman empire during the 'Year of Four Emperors'


FeatureCatastrophe hits southern Italy when Mount Vesuvius explodes with violent strength to bury the cities of Herculanium and Pompeii. The death toll is unknown, but the people of Herculaneum, once thought to have got away, are found in excavations on the ancient waterfront in 1980, huddled on the beach and in boatsheds where they die during the worst of the eruption.

79 - 81

Titus Caesar Vespasianus

Son. Commanded in Judea in AD 69-70.

81 - 96


Brother. Assassinated thanks to his increasing paranoia.

c.81 - 96

The Celtic tribe of the Lugii are mentioned by Cassius Dio in his Roman History. During Domitian's reign the 'Lygians' in Moesia, having become involved in war with some of the Suevi, send envoys asking Domitian for aid. He grants them a force of a hundred warriors, 'a force which was strong, not in numbers, but in dignity'. The Suevi, indignant at this help, attach members of the Iazyges to their number make preparations to cross the Ister with them. What happens next remains unrecorded.


Around this year, Rome establishes two provinces on the border territory between Gaul and Germania Magna, calling them Germania Superior and Germania Inferior. The latter has contained Roman settlements for over a century, and had previously formed part of Gallica Belgica. Cities such as Aachen, Cologne, Mainz, Speyer, Trier, and Worms are all founded within these provinces by Rome and all of them become important medieval cities. Domitian also antagonises the Germanic tribes by driving back the Chatti from these new provinces.

A Swedish borg of the type used on Oland island
This model at Kalmar County Museum shows the layout of the typical Germanic borg, with high walls and limited entrance points (although without the Roman gates), food stores inside the walls and a temporary village structure in the centre, presumably for times of need or perhaps the depths of winter


Antoninus Saturninus

Usurper army general.


Two legions of Domitian's armies in Germania Superior at Mogontiacum (Mainz) revolt under L Antoninus Saturninus, for reasons which are largely lost to history (thanks to the later destruction of Saturninus' personal documents). The revolt is supported by the Chatti tribe.

It is quite plausible that the officers involved rebel against Domitian's rather strict moral policies. Whatever goal Saturninus has is completely unknown and there seems to be little indication of a plan. The governor of Germania Inferior puts down the revolt, seemingly before it even begins. In AD 90, the Governor of Britannia, Sallustius Lucullus, is executed, possibly for a perceived (or real) connection with the revolt.

Adoptive Emperors (Roman Empire)

The election to the purple of Nerva, an elderly, moderate and capable man, saw the start of the 'five good emperors' golden age, a period which is sometimes known as the Nerva-Antonine dynasty. The adoptive emperors are so named because they adopted their successors during their lifetime, ensuring a smooth and peaceful transfer of power upon their deaths. The practice of adoption was a long-standing one in Rome - Julius Caesar had adopted Augustus as his heir. The system eventually failed when Marcus Aurelius had to chose between an effective heir and his own unstable son.

At this time, the early Christian church was still growing and, although not subject to the same levels of barbarity as seen in the first century, Christians remained persecuted and were often executed. Even the early church fathers (often later claimed as the first Popes) suffered at the hands of Roman emperors. Women still had a much greater role in this early church than later Roman Catholic church leaders would allow (or even admit). The 'lost' gospels hint at a second century power struggle between the sexes over the ownership of the church, and it was not a foregone conclusion which side would win.

96 - 98

Marcus Cocceius Nerva

Adopted Trajan, a commander of the Rhine forces.


Writing at this time, Tacitus not only mentions a large number of tribes in Europe, he also describes Ireland. He calls it 'a small country in comparison with Britain, He goes on to state that he has often heard his father-in-law, General Agricola, 'say that Ireland could be reduced and held by a single legion with a fair force of auxiliaries'.

Tombstone of Tacitus
The tombstone of Tacitus once marked the final resting place of one of Rome's most important authors, who not only chronicled the creation of the empire, but also listed the many barbarian tribes of Europe and the British Isles (External Link: Creative Commons Licence 4.0 Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike International)

98 - 117


Increased the empire's borders to their greatest extent.

101 - 106

Trajan fights two Dacian Wars (the area of the Balkans up to Transylvania) in 101-102 (which involves the Roxolani) and 105-106 (which does not) as the Dacians are proving to be an obstacle to Roman expansion in that area. It is possible that some neighbouring tribes, such as the Bastarnae, are also involved, despite having been at peace with Rome for some time. The Iagyzes certainly are. In 106, the Nabataeans are conquered and their capital city becomes the capital of the province of Arabia Petraea.

114 - 117

Seemingly out of the blue, after decades of peace, Trajan marches Roman troops into Armenia and kills Parthia's King Parthamasiris there. The underlying reason, of course, is Parthia's interference in Armenia.

Then the Romans go on to occupy Mesopotamia right across to the former Elamite capital at Susa (now the Parthian capital). It is one Vologeses, who rules eastern portions of Parthia in opposition to Osroes, who is placed upon the Armenian throne.

Trajan dies on the way back from his conquests and his successor disavows them, intent on securing peace and security for the empire. During the campaign Jewish revolts in the east, in Judea and elsewhere, have destroyed several garrisons and peace must be restored.

117 - 138


Archon of Athens (112-113). An unconventional emperor.

117 - 136

Hadrian spends much of his career consolidating the empire and securing its borders. This includes the building of limes, or defensive works, along the Rhine to keep out possible future Germanic incursions, although it is probably Hadrian's successor, Antoninus, who completes much of this work.

132 - 135

The Second Jewish Uprising in Judah is led by Simon Bar Kochba against Roman rule. He captures Jerusalem and establishes a short-lived independent state which is destroyed by Rome, along with much of Jerusalem itself.

Hadrian inscription
The missing half of an inscription to Hadrian was found recycled into a floor around a cistern opening, north of the Damascus gate in Jerusalem


Two years before his death Hadrian adopts a consul by the name of L Aelius Caesar to be his successor, but the latter's premature death forces Hadrian to select again. Antoninus Pius has a reputation for honesty and devotion to duty.

138 - 161

Antoninus Pius

Died of fever in Etruria.

140 - 143

Never one to willingly make war, Antoninus is forced to order the reoccupation of the British territories of lowland Scotland and begin construction of the Antonine Wall in order to resolve the problem of barbarian pressure.

161 - 180

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus

Aurelius and Lucius Verus are the empire's first joint rulers.

161 - 169

Lucius Verus

Co-emperor. m Lucilla, dau of Marcus Aurelius. Died early.

165 - 180

Plague enters Rome from the east, brought back by returning legionaries. It quickly spreads throughout the empire and is generally known as the Antonine Plague, although the 'Plague of Galen', who describes its spread, is sometimes used. The total death toll may reach five million, with as many as two thousand a day dying in Rome at its height. It may be the reason for the early death of Lucius Verus in 169, and it drastically weakens the army.

166 - 169

The first invasion of Germanic peoples across the Danube takes place under the leadership of the Marcomanni, which also includes elements from many other tribes including the Buri, Iazyges, Quadi, Roxolani, Sarmatians, Suebi, and Victohali. It penetrates into Italy and forces Marcus Aurelius to spend the rest of his life campaigning in the Danube region to contain the problem. While he is away from Rome, a new generation emerges which is in thrall to the gladiator spectacles arranged by his fun-loving son, Commodus.

Roman defensive tower
Emperors Hadrian and Antoninus Pius had concentrated on defining the Roman empire's borders, defending the territory they had. That would have included building watch towers along the limes in the Danube region which the Marcomanni managed to break through

169 - 170

The resistance put up by the Romans surprises the tribes, and some of the latter seek individual peace treaties with Rome. As recorded by Cassius Dio, both the Iazyges and the Buri seek peace, and some concessions are granted to them, but neither are willing to join the Roman side until they receive pledges that Marcus Aurelius will 'without fail prosecute the war to the uttermost; for they were afraid he might make a treaty with the Quadi, as before, and leave enemies dwelling at their doors'. Ultimately, the Buri are well-rewarded for absenting themselves from the war, but have to face the hostility of their former allies.

172 - 174

Peace is agreed between Rome and the Quadi after two years of heavy fighting in Quadi territory, with the Roman forces being led by Marcus Aurelius in person. The start of the fighting is known thanks to a battle in today's Slovakia on 11 June 172 during which the Romans, who have been cut off from access to water by the Quadi, are saved from defeat by a 'magic rain', a fortuitous heavy downpour. This event is depicted on the column of Marcus Aurelius in Rome.

175 - 176

Gaius Avidius Cassius

Army general. Assassinated.


Thinking that Marcus Aurelius is close to death, Cassius proclaims himself emperor. Marcus Aurelius launches a powerful campaign against him but it is one of his own centurions who assassinates him, sending his head to the emperor.

177 - 180


Son of Marcus Aurelius. Totally unfit to rule Rome.


Marcus Aurelius dies while conducting what would have been a final campaign against the most dangerous barbarian Germanic tribes across the Danube which is under Marcomanni leadership and includes Dacians, the Peucini, and Sarmatians. As it is, the problem is never fully resolved thereafter, and Rome gains one of the most worthless of emperors.

180 - 192


Assassinated by arrangement of the praetorian prefect.


The reign of the dangerously erratic Commodus is very well depicted by two feature films (albeit an inaccurate depiction), The Fall of the Roman Empire (1963) and Gladiator (2000). Becoming sole emperor in 180, the nineteen year-old Commodus rules in relative external peace but with increasing political instability within the empire as his arbitrary mode of rule increases. In this year his sister, Lucilla, engineers an assassination attempt. The assassins, Marcus Ummidius Quadratus Annianus (her first cousin, and consul in 167) and Appius Claudius Quintianus fail, are arrested, and are executed. Lucilla is exiled to Capri where she is later killed.

Ephesos frieze
This scene from the Parthian War comes from Ephesos and shows a Roman warrior in typical heroic stance about to strike down his defeated Parthian opponent - all good propaganda for the Roman war effort, of course


Despite being largely popular with the army and the people, thanks to his lavish gladiatorial displays in which he frequently plays a starring role, Commodus has become increasingly dictatorial, especially following several conspiracies. Portraying himself as a demigod and ruling in opposition to the Senate, he re-founds Rome in 192 following a devastating fire, renaming it Colonia Lucia Annia Commodiana. The months of the year are renamed with his own twelve names, and various other institutions are renamed to reflect his glory, including the army and the navy. Finally tired of the emperor's self-deification, conspirators arrange for him to be strangled in his bath, ironically by his own wrestling partner.

Unassociated Emperors (Roman Empire)

Pertinax was prefect of Rome when Commodus was murdered on 31 December AD 192, ending the period of Adoptive Emperors. The Senate met before dawn and proclaimed Pertinax (then senior marshal of the empire) as the new emperor. Unfortunately he was a strict disciplinarian whose approach to politics ruffled a lot of feathers and began a period of instability and military mutiny.

The 'Year of the Five Emperors' had begun, and only the last of them would have any lasting effect on the empire. The others were regional governors (plus a senator) who either failed to win enough support to survive or who were defeated sooner or later by a competitor. The events of this tumultuous year would, however, rumble on to at least AD 197 when the last of the competing claimants was killed in battle.


Publius Helvius Pertinax

Former Governor of Britain & prefect of Rome. Assassinated.


The same praetorian prefect who had arranged the murder of Commodus also causes his men to assassinate Pertinax. In perhaps the most cynical act in their history they put the throne up for auction to the highest bidder. At the same time three separate provinces proclaim their own emperors and the seeds are sown for civil war.

Rome during the height of the empire was by now complete with its famous forum, circus, and winding viaducts


Didius Julianus

An immensely wealthy senator. Murdered in the palace.

193 - 194

Pescennius Niger

Governor of Syria. Killed attempting to flee from Severus.


Decimus Clodius Albinus

Governor of Britannia. Remained a claimant until 197.


Septimus Severus

Governor of Pannonia. A native of Utica.


Severus marches on Rome and the praetorians declare for him. Didianus Julianus is dispatched only six months after the death of Commodus. Severus, now fully in command, offers a far more serious rival - Clodius Albinus - the junior title of Caesar which he accepts.

Severans (Roman Empire)

Septimus Severus, of North African origin, was proclaimed emperor by his legions in Pannonia at almost the same moment as the military in Syria proclaimed Pescennius Niger and the troops in Britannia proclaimed Decimus Clodius Albinus. Albinus was initially allied to Severus, who had captured Rome, taking his own name 'Septimius' and accepting the title of Caesar from him. The two even shared a consulship in 194. Albinus effectively remained ruler of much of the western part of the empire with support from three British legions and one Spanish.

Severus showed Machiavellian shrewdness in his dealings with his rivals, while his eldest son, Caracalla, was ruthless in dispatching any opposition to his own claim to succeeding his father. Both his own father-in-law and his brother, Geta, were his victims, while Severus soon fell out with Clodius Albinus and faced him at the Battle of Lugdunum on 19 February 197. Albinus was not only killed (either by Severus or by his own hand to avoid capture), he was also decapitated with his body being laid out on the ground so that Severus could ride his horse over it and his head being sent to be displayed in Rome.

193 - 211

Septimus Severus

Died 4 February.

193 - 197

Decimus Clodius Albinus

Caesar in Britannia & Gaul. Defeated and killed by Severus.

196 - 197

FeatureAfter an attempt to have Albinus assassinated fails, Severus marches on Gaul to meet Albinus' forces. The final battle is a close-run affair, but Albinus does not survive the encounter. Severus immediately divides the single province of Britannia, probably in a temporary fashion at first, with division being confirmed within two or three years. (A map created by the emperor is finally pieced back together in 2005 - see feature link.)

202 or 203

The edict of persecution is issued in Rome. It forbids any conversion to Christianity under the severest penalties. This follows a period of relative relaxation in the persecution of early Christians within the empire.

Arch of Septimus Severus
The Machiavellian Septimus Severus continued to increase the glory of Rome (this surviving arch is named after him) but he continued the imperial practice of Christian persecution

209 - 211

Severus leads a campaign against the Caledonii in person, making his headquarters (and the centre of the Roman empire for three years) at Eboracum (York), but ill-health means he has to hand control of its day-to-day conduct to Septimius Bassianus Caracalla.

198 - 217

Antoninus (Caracalla)

Son. Became Augustus upon the death of his father.

209 - 212

Antoninus (Publius Septimius Geta)

Brother. Co-emperor. Murdered by Caracalla.


The Alemanni are first mentioned by Dio Cassius when they fight Emperor Antoninus (Septimius Bassianus Caracalla). They apparently live in the basin of the River Main, to the south of the Chatti. According to Asinius Quadratus, they have emerged from the Irminone grouping of Germanic tribes which was to be found in the Elbe region by the late first century AD.


Caracalla dies a rather mysterious death while visiting a temple of Luna with only his personal bodyguard, which includes his prefect of the Praetorian guard, Macrinus. Perhaps not coincidentally, Macrinus had recently found his name on one of Caracalla's death lists.

Second Unassociated Emperors Period (Roman Empire)

By 11 April 217, following the curious death of Emperor Antoninus (Caracalla), Macrinus had proclaimed himself emperor. He was the first man to become so without membership in the senatorial class and was the first emperor of Moorish descent. Macrinus also nominated his son, Diadumenianus, as Caesar (the junior rank) and successor and conferred upon him the name 'Antoninus', so connecting him with the relatively stable reigns of the Antonine emperors.

Also in April 217, ongoing problems along the eastern frontier with the Parthians flared up again when they launched an offensive in response to Caracalla's own campaign. However, while Rome was at a relatively weak point the fractured Parthian empire was now breaking down. With the claim to rule it already dividing the empire in two on official lines, other minor kingdoms had already started emerging or would soon do so. The Parthian campaign against Rome was effectively its last hurrah, and its outcome would do no good either to Macrinus or the Parthians themselves - both were imminently to fall.

217 - 218


Of Mauritanian origin. Defeated, fled, captured, & executed.


In April 217 the Parthians mount a fairly big offensive to avenge Caracalla's action, demanding from his successor, Macrinus, the withdrawal of Romans from Mesopotamia and restitution for the damage they have caused. Macrinus is neither able nor willing to agree to these demands, so the war continues and the Romans are defeated at Nisibis, as suggested by the terms of the peace treaty: Rome pays the Parthian king and the nobility a total of fifty million dinars in cash and gifts at the beginning of AD 218.

Battle of Nisibis
The Battle of Nisibis was the final throw of the dice in the intermittent Roman-Parthian Wars, and victory most likely went to the Parthians although they were to fall themselves just seven years later


Diadumenianus (Caesar)

Son. Executed.


Severan family plotting paves the way for the proclamation of one of their own as emperor. Macrinus, deserted by many of his allies, is defeated in battle, flees, and is captured and executed. His son is also later executed.

Second Severans Dynasty (Roman Empire)

Emperor Macrinus during his sort reign managed to reinforce the notion of Rome's soldiers as being the true brokers of power in the third century empire. This also highlighted the importance of maintaining the support of this vital faction, usually in terms of money. The reign of Macrinus was ended in AD 218 when he was defeated in battle. His reign was followed by another seventeen years of rule under a restoration of the line of Severan emperors, albeit with a somewhat distant relationship to the initial emperors.

Despite the seizure of the empire by Macrinus, the imperial court had remained dominated by formidable women who arranged the succession of Elagabalus, and that of Alexander Severus in AD 222. In this last phase of the Severan principate, the power of the Senate was finally revived and a number of fiscal reforms were enacted. The fatal flaw of the last Severan emperor, however, was his failure to control the army, which eventually lead to mutiny and his assassination. The death of Alexander signalled the age of the soldier-emperors and almost half a century of civil war and strife.

218 - 222

Antoninus (Elagabalus)

Son of Caracalla's female cousin. Assassinated.

222 - 235

Severus Alexander

Cousin. Murdered for failing to fight the German tribes.

232 - 233

Just as the newly dominant Sassanids conquer areas of Mesopotamia (including Harran) in 232, the Alemanni make the first of their invasions of the empire in 233. They participate decisively in the plundering raids into the limes region, the provinces beyond, and even into Italy.

Emperor Severus Alexander
Severus Alexander and his predecessor Elagabalus were both on the throne due to the dominance of strong Severan women at the imperial court, a dominance which was ended by two murdered in AD 235

before 232

Uranius Antoninus

Usurper cited by Zosimus either here or in 253.

before 232

Uranius is apparently active during the reigns of Elagabalus or Alexander Severus. However, it is possible that Zosimus confuses this usurper with L Julius Aurelius Sulpicius Severus Uranius Antoninus, who reigns in 253. What happens to him after he stakes his claim to the throne is not known, but can be guessed.

234 - 235

Having 'won' an unlikely victory against the Sassanids when they withdraw due to the heavy casualties suffered in the battlefield success against Rome, Severus Alexander soon faces another calamity. He is called to the Rhine to fight the invading Germanic tribe of the Alemanni. Having received advice from his mother, he ends these operations by buying peace from the Germans. His army is indignant, viewing this as a defeat. Early in 235 they murder Severus Alexander and his mother and proclaim Gaius Julius Verus Maximinus (Thrax) emperor.

Second Soldier Emperors Period (Roman Empire)

The murder of Severus Alexander ended the principate system set up by Augustus and began a period of chaos in which usurper after usurper gained and lost the imperial throne as palace plot, mutiny, and murder created a climate which elevated no less than seventeen would-be emperors to the purple. Maximinus 'Thrax' (meaning 'Thracian', a nickname which was not recorded until the fourth century, at least seventy years after his death) was the first. His full name was Gaius Julius Valerius Maximinus, and he had risen up through the ranks of the Roman army to control a legion and the governorship of Mesopotamia. He was involved in Severus Alexander's German campaign and was acclaimed emperor by his troops near Mainz.

During these uncertain times, the hiring of Germanic barbarians as laeti to help guard the borders of the empire began to be seen as standard practice. The Roman army was changing as it continually faced threat after threat, mainly along the Germanic borders. Here too German units became more commonplace, diluting in the eyes of some the once-proud Roman military machine. In fact, the early imperial army had eventually proved incapable of dealing with changing conditions and new threats which had emerged during the later second century and well into the third. Had the system not adapted to change during the third century and into the fourth, the empire may well have collapsed considerably earlier than it actually did.

235 - 238

Maximinus Thrax

A Thracian soldier who rose through the ranks. Murdered.


Maximinus (Gaius Julius Verus Maximinus) is conspicuous for being the first barbarian to wear the imperial purple and the first emperor never to set foot in Rome. During his reign he faces various threats and plots against him, and the year 238 is remarkable as one which has no less than six rival emperors.

Colosseum in Rome
The Colosseum in Rome - also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre - was built from concrete and stone by Emperor Vespasian from AD 72, and was completed in AD 80 under the aegis of his son, Titus - it continued in use as a place of entertainment until the sixth century, after which it was converted into a cemetery (click or tap on image to view full sized)


Gordian I (the Elder)

Formerly Gov of Britain. Proclaimed in Africa. In power 3 wks.


Gordian II

Son. Proclaimed co-emperor at the same time as his father.


Both Gordians die in the province of Africa when the governor of the neighbouring province of Numidia marches against them and kills Gordan II. His father commits suicide upon hearing the news. As the Senate had supported the Gordians, they elect two of their own number to protect them against Maximinus' retribution.



Elected by Senate. Assassinated by Praetorians.


Pupienus (Maximus)

Elected by Senate. Assassinated by Praetorians.


Maximinus marches on Rome but his troops become disaffected while suffering from famine and disease and being bogged down in an unexpected siege of the city which had closed its gates upon their approach. In April the Praetorian guards in Maximinus' camp assassinate him, his son, and his chief ministers and place their heads on poles to carry them into Rome. The Senate elects the thirteen year-old Gordian III, grandson of Gordian I, as emperor.

238 - 244

Gordian III

Elected Caesar by Senate under pressure from Roman mob.



Usurper in Africa. Defeated by the governor of Mauritania.

244 - 249

Marcus Julius Philippus 'the Arab'

Praetorian prefect who may have murdered Gordian.

247 - 249

Phillipius (Casear)

Son of Phillipius the Arab. Murdered at the age of 11.

244 - ?


Ruler of the east in Philip's name (Rector Orientis).

248 - 249

Tiberius Claudius Pacatianus

Usurper on Danube frontier. Quickly crushed.


Marcus Jotapianus

Usurper in the east. Put down by Priscus.


Marcus Silbannacus

Usurper in Rome circa 249 or 253.



Usurper on the Danube frontier. Existence questioned.


Sponsianus (sometimes shown in modern publications as Sponsian) is known from a single aureus, a gold coin which is issued in Pannonia or Dacia. The very existence of Sponsianus is not entirely agreed, but a detailed 2022 analysis of the coin confirms that it had been in circulation and had subsequently been buried for close to two thousand years.

Emperor Sponsianus coin
Prior to scientific analysis in 2022, the sole coin bearing the likeness of Sponsianus was thought to have been the work of sophisticated eighteenth century fraudsters

The province of Dacia is extremely unsettled during the 240s, having been virtually under siege by the Dacian Carpi. Victory against them in 247 witnesses a spate of fortification work on Roman outposts and towns, but the increasing presence of the Goths provides further destabilisation.

249 - 251

Gaius Messius Quintus Decius

Proclaimed by Danube legions. Killed at the Battle of Abrittus.

249 - 251

Decius marches on Rome in 249 and defeats Philip the Arab in battle. Philip's son is murdered in Rome when the news arrives there. In 251, Decius fights the Goths at the Battle of Abrittus (otherwise known as the Battle of Forum Terebronii).

Both he and his son are killed, making him the first emperor to suffer this fate in a battle against non-Roman enemies. However, his death brings respite to the persecuted Christians of the Roman Church.


Julius Valens Licinianus

Usurper in Rome with Senate backing.


Herennius Etruscus

Son of Decius. Co-emperor. Killed at the Battle of Abrittus.


A group of Franks take advantage of the state of the empire and penetrate as far as Tarragona in Iberia. They plague this region for about a decade before Roman forces subdue them and expel them from Roman territory.

Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus Goth depiction
The Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus depicts a Roman victory over Goths around AD 250, but victory in the many Roman-Goth conflicts of this period was just as likely to go the other way


Titus Julius Priscus

Usurper in Macedon with Gothic protection.


Hostilianus / Hostilian

Son of Decius. Accepted Caesar by Gallus. Killed by plague.

251 - 253

Trebonianus Gallus

Governor of Moesia Superior proclaimed by his troops.

251 - 253


Son. Murdered.


Marcus Aemelius Aemilianus

Governor of Moesia Spr & Pannonia proclaimed by troops.


Upon Aemilianus' approach to Rome, both Gallus and his son are murdered by their own troops. Unusually, both emperors are commemorated in milestones found in the territory of the Cornovii in Britain. Their support or, at least, acceptance, must be widespread.


Marcus Silbannacus

Usurper in Rome circa 249 or 253.


Valerian marches on Rome to avenge Gallus and sees Aemilianus assassinated by his own troops rather than offer battle to a more powerful army. The accession of Valerian and his son, Gallienus, as joint emperors marks the end of nearly two decades of chaos at the centre of the empire. It also comes just in time as pressure on the Roman frontiers both in the west and east turn into a series of massive invasions.

253 - 260


Defeated & captured by Sassanid shah in 260.

253 - 260


Son. Archon of Athens. Joint emperor. Ruled alone from 260.

253 - 254

Uranius Antoninus

Usurper cited by Zosimus either here or before 232.


The Sassanids capture the Roman fortress city of Dura in eastern Syria. Part of their efforts to take the fortress involves digging a deep mine under the city wall and a tower. The Romans tunnel from the other side to intercept them and a shaft is created around the intercept point. The precise outcome is unknown.

The city of Dura-Europos had been founded in 300 BC by the Seleucid Greeks, seized by the Arsacids and then by the Romans, and was then destroyed almost six hundred years after its creation by a drawn-out border conflict between Rome and the Sassanids


The Alemanni break into the empire in strength, causing widespread damage. The archaeological evidence reveals a lack of continuity in the provincial Roman population of the limes. Roman encampments and settlements, including the villae rusticae (farms), are abandoned and destroyed. With extraordinary effectiveness the Alemanni penetrate as far as Italy where they are at last halted (the Juthungi can be included in this invasion). Gallienus (administering the west) meets them and defeats them in battle at Milan. He also agrees an alliance with the Marcomanni to defend the empire's border in Pannonia.

260 - 268


Murdered in unclear circumstances.


The accession of Gallienus as sole emperor brings to an end the wave of persecution which Valerian had triggered. Gallienus issues an edict of toleration which lasts until AD 303 and gives the Roman Church legal status.



Usurper in Pannonia. Died during or after his defeat in battle.



Usurper in Pannonia. Defeated.


Crisis strikes the weakened empire, with two major splinter states (both backed here in pink) forming in the same year. The Rhine frontier collapses completely at around the same time.

The first is created by Postumus, lieutenant on the Rhine to Emperor Gallienus. He murders the praetorian prefect, Silvanus, and Gallienus' own son Saloninus at Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium (modern Cologne) and declares himself emperor. The Roman provinces in Germany, Gaul, Iberia, and Britain and their armies support him.

For the next thirteen years the whole of the north-western part of the empire is run as an independent but fully Roman state with its own series of emperors, and is called the ' Empire of the Gallic Provinces' (Imperium Galliarum, or the 'Gallic Empire', surviving during 260-274). Postumus establishes a capital at Cologne, the headquarters of Germania Inferior and chief town of the Ubii.

The second splinter state is the Palmyrene Empire (260-272), which encompasses the Roman provinces of Syria, Palestine, Egypt and large parts of Asia Minor. It is ruled as little more than an expanded kingdom by Queen Zenobia for her infant son Vaballanthus with a capital at Palmyra.

Palmyra (now in central Syria) was a Roman client kingdom for many years, and was fully independent again in AD 260, commanding a large swathe of Roman eastern territory at the same time

260 - 268

Marcus Cassianus Latinius Postumus

Usurper in Imperium Galliarum. Murdered.

260 - 273

Zenobia of Palmyra

Usurper in Syria. Defeated, captured, and lived on in Rome.

267 - 273


Infant son. Died on the way to Rome.


Macrianus Major / the Elder

Elected by the eastern army. Made his two sons emperors.



Prefect who supported Macrianus.

260 - 261

Macrianus Minor / the Younger


260 - 261




Lucius Calpurnius Piso Frugi

Sent by Macrianus to counter Valens. Killed by Valens.



Governor of Achaea. Killed by his own troops.


Mussius Aemilianus

Macrianus supporter in Egypt. Killed by a General Theodotus.

260 - 261

Quietus and Balista remain in the east and in Egypt to secure their rule, while Macrianus Major and Minor move to Thrace to counter Gallienus. Both are defeated and killed in battle, while Quietus is killed by Odaenathus of Palmyra.

Valens' troops, marching in defence of Gallienus, proclaim their commander emperor, and Piso's troops do the same with their commander. Piso is then killed by Valens, who is later killed by his own troops. In the meantime, Postumus is gradually pacifying his Imperium Galliarum.



North Africa usurper. Prepared to rebel. Killed by Theodotus.


Manius Acilius Aureolus

Roman cavalry cmdr. Revolted and supported Postumus.

268 - 270

Claudius II Gothicus

Died of plague in January.

268 - 270


Successor to Postumus in Imperium Galliarum.

267/268 - 269

The Peucini Bastarnae are specifically mentioned in the invasion across the Roman frontier. Part of the barbarian coalition which includes Goths and Heruli, they use their knowledge of boat building from several centuries of living on the Black Sea coast and in the Danube estuary to help build a fleet in the estuary of the River Tyras (now the Dniester). The force of which they are part sails along the coast to Tomis in Moesia Inferior. They attack the town but are unable to take it. Sailing on, they are frustrated twice more, at Marcianopolis (Devnya in modern Bulgaria) and Thessalonica in Macedonia. Finally, they move into Thrace where they are crushed by Emperor Claudius II at Naissus in 269.

The Danube delta homeland of the Peucini Bastarnae was just north of the former Greek port of Histria, which may have been conquered when the tribe temporarily held power to the south of the delta region


The Alemanni incur into Italy after breaking through the frontier at Brenner Pass. They are confronted by Claudius II who may initially attempt to negotiate a peace. This fails and the resultant Battle of Benacus (Lake Garda) in November is a crushing victory for Rome. More than half the Alemanni are killed or captured and the rest flee northwards over the Alps and back into their territory.



Brother of Claudius. Seized power. Killed or suicided.

270 - 275


Completed reuniting the empire. Murdered.

270 - 274

FeatureBeginning with Aurelian, a series of remarkable soldier emperors commences the process of reunifying and restoring the empire. Aurelian defeats the Germanic barbarians who had crossed the Danube, including Goths, Sarmatians, and probably Bastarnae, and kills the leader of the Goths. This act begins a shift of power amongst the barbarian tribes. Simultaneously, within the Imperium Galliarum, Emperor Esuvius Tetricus faces a short-lived threat to his rule by Domitianus whose basic existence had been in doubt until evidence was discovered (see feature link).

270 - 274

Esuvius Tetricus

Successor to Victorinus in Imperium Galliarum.

273 - 274

Tetricus II

Son. Caesar. Life (and senatorial rank?) spared by Aurelian.



Tried to rule Imperium Galliarum. Killed by Aurelian.



Usurper in Egypt. Evidence for him is unreliable.


The Imperium Galliarum collapses when Aurelian defeats its military power in battle at Châlons, the capital of the Catalauni Gauls. Tetricus surrenders and is permitted to pursue a useful and distinguished career in Roman life. The governance of Britain is rearranged, creating the Diocese of the Britains between now and 314 and sub-dividing the existing two provinces into four.


Ulpia Severina

Wife of Aurelian. Augusta since 274. Ruled in interregnum.

275 - 276

Marcus Claudius Tacitus

Elected by the Senate. Assassinated.


Marcus Annius Florianus

Half brother of Tacitus. Killed for failing to defeat Probus.

276 - 282

Marcus Aurelius Probus

Carried on the Roman recovery. Killed by his troops.


Vandali and Burgundians who had crossed the Rhine to invade the empire are defeated by Probus and are resettled in Britannia. In a short but successful career as emperor, he also defeats and resettles the Bastarnae to a location to the south of the Danube.

Vandal officer Stilicho
Stilicho is probably one of the most famous Vandal soldiers, serving as magister militum from the 380s until he was executed by his masters in 408

280 or 81

Julius Saturninus

Usurper in Syria. Killed by his own troops.

280 - 281


Usurper in Gaul. Betrayed & handed over by Frankish allies.


Gallus Quintus Bonosus

Joint usurper. Hanged himself when defeated by Probus.

282 - 283

Marcus Aurelius Carus

Cmdr of Praetorian Guard. Probably died of natural causes.

283 - 284

Carinus (Caesar)

Son. Governed the west. Defeated by Diocletian.

283 - 284

Numerian (Caesar / Augustus)

Brother. Succeeded his father in the east. Died naturally.

283 - 285 or 286

Julianus Sabinus / Julian I

Usurper in Pannonia (possibly two similarly named usurpers).

284 - 285

The death of Emperor Numerian sees the commander of his personal guard suddenly and unexpectedly elevated to the post. Diocletian proves to be an able ruler in a period which largely sees an end to constant attempts at usurpation and a new form of governance for the empire - the Tetrarchy.

Tetrarchs (Roman Empire)

Emperor Numerian was Caesar Augustus in the east in 283-284. His death from natural causes saw the former commander of his personal guard, Diocletian, suddenly elevated to the purple. Of humble provincial origins in Dalmatia, and originally named Diocles, Diocletian was marked as an arch reformer, and yet he was also dedicated to Roman tradition. His accession marked the start of the so-called Late Roman world.

One of his most remarkable reforms was the introduction of the 'Tetrarchy' in 293 when the empire was again under serious strain. Each of the two senior emperors, the 'Augusti', would rule the eastern and western halves of the empire. From 293 they would be aided by their own junior 'Caesar'. The system worked as a college of four emperors. When one of the elder two died or retired, his colleague would also retire, the juniors would take their places, and would promote two Caesars of their own. Both Diocletian and Maximianus were quite serious about the system and both removed themselves from office in 305 in favour of their junior caesares. Unfortunately the system was not to work for very long.

284 - 305


Britannicus Maximus. Abdicated.


Diocletian appoints Maximianus, one of his officers, as his chief lieutenant with the title of Caesar. He also takes the title of Britannicus Maximus, and it seems reasonable to assume that a military success of some importance had been won in his name in Britannia, which lays within Maximianus' command. The following year, Maximianus is promoted to Augustus to act as co-emperor.

Venta Belgarum
The Roman city of Venta Belgarum was refortified in the fourth century and Germanic mercenaries were brought in to improve the defences, suggesting an increasing lack of Roman soldiery fitted to the task

286 - 305

Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maximianus

Co-ruler. Abdicated.

286 - 287

Carausius, a commander of low birth who had been impressive under Maximianus' command, is suspected of collusion with raiding barbarians. When Maximianus orders his execution he proclaims himself emperor and seizes the provinces of Britannia. In 289 he successfully defeats at least two attempts by Maximianus to dislodge him, revealing a level of weakness within the empire or strength within Britannia.

287 - 293

Marcus Mausaeus Carausius

Usurper in Britannia.

288 - 292

Gaul and Germany still present problems to Rome, especially where Heruli have crossed the Rhine to attack Gaul, along with Alemanni and Saxons. Maximianus is involved in heavy fighting on the Lower Rhine and also on the Upper Danube. He returns to take personal command on the Rhine in order to release his new deputy, Constantius, for an attack on Britannia.

293 - 305


Caesar in the east.

293 - 305

Constantius I Chlorus

Caesar in the west.


Constantius Chlorus, the western Caesar, retakes important sections of Carausius' Gallic territories and defeats his Frankish allies in Batavia In Britannia, Allectus assassinates Carausius and assumes command himself.

Oppidum Batavorum
A detailed impression of Oppidum Batavorum by artist Kelvin Wilson which shows the administrative centre which was built by Rome between about 11-4 BC

293 - 296


Usurper in Britannia. Former treasurer to Carausius.


Constantius launches a major invasion of Britannia. Constantius' division is delayed by bad weather, but another division, under the praetorian prefect Asclepiodotus, takes advantage of fog to avoid Allectus' ships stationed around the Isle of Wight, and lands near Southampton Water, where they burn their ships as a gesture of defiance and determination. Allectus is forced to retreat from the coast, but is cut off by another of Constantius' divisions and is defeated. Allectus himself is killed in the battle. In the same year, Rome loses its hold on the Upper Euphrates region which includes Harran.

296 - 297

Domitius Domitianus

Usurper in Egypt. Died in December.

297 - 298

Aurelius Achilleus

Possible usurper in Egypt. Could have succeeded Domitius.


Diocletian calls in a people known as the Nobate from the oases of the western Egyptian desert (on the fringes of Kush), to defend the southern frontier of the empire at Aswan from raids by the Blemmyes, who are probably the Beja of the Red Sea Hills. These Noba and Nobatae settle along the river, and soon intermarry with the native population and replace the local language with their own. The Blemmyes are defeated, as is known by the Silko Greek inscription at Kalabsha which may be dated to around AD 530. Here Silko, who calls himself 'Basiliskos' or kinglet of the Nobatae, describes fighting the Blemmyes from Ibrim to Shellal and extracting an oath of submission from them.

Nobatian burial mound
This Nubian burial mound of a Nobatian king was discovered at Ballana, Lower Nubia, during excavations which were carried out in the 1930s, in the late phase of perhaps the most glamorous period of early archaeological discovery in North Africa


St George, an officer of the Roman army (believed to have been born in Anatolia), is beheaded on 23 April on Diocletian's orders for refusing to renounce his Christianity. He is in Britannia when he hears that Christians are being persecuted by the pagan emperor, and returns to plead their case. Diocletian, in return, does all he can to persuade George to renounce Christianity, but without success (George becomes the patron saint of England, in place of Edward the Confessor, in the fourteenth century).

305 - 311


Became eastern Augustus upon Diocletian's retirement.

305 - 306

Constantius I Chlorus

Became western Augustus upon Maximianus' retirement.

305 - 313

Maximinus Daia

Caesar in the east. Augustus from 311. Died.

305 - 307

Flavius Valerius Severus II

Caesar in the west. Killed by Maxentius.

306 - 307

The year 306 heralds the confusing situation of having six emperors. When Constantius Chlorus dies at York in Britannia, Severus is promoted to Augustus by Galerius, while in Britannia the troops raise the popular Constantine. The latter is apparently encouraged by King Crocus of the Alemanni, commander of a cohort serving in Britain at this time.

Maxentius, the son of the retired emperor Maximianus, revolts at Rome and Galerius sent Severus to suppress him. Maxentius offers his father co-rule of the empire, and Maximianus accepts, regaining his title of Augustus. Severus' men desert him and Severus flees to Ravenna, later surrendering to Maximianus.

When Galerius himself invades Italy in 307 to suppress both Maxentius and his father, Maxentius has Severus killed. Galerian elevates Gaius Valerius Licinius Licinianus as his replacement in 308.

306 - 324

Constantine I the Great

Son of Constantius. Elevated by his troops in Eboracum.

306 - 312


Son of Maximianus. Revolted in Rome.

307 - 310

Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maximianus

Restored by Maxentius.

308 - 310

By 308, Maximianus realises that his role is just a cover for Maxentius' real power, and he rebels against his own son, marching upon Rome, but is beaten. Maximianus finds refuge with Constantine in Gaul, where in 310 he briefly declares himself emperor for a third time in rebellion against Constantine. Forgiven, he is later revealed to be plotting an assassination attempt. He commits suicide.

Emperor Maximianus
Despite having been raised to office by Diocletian in AD 285, Maximianus seemingly couldn't avoid plotting and planning, even when having been forgiven and readmitted to high office

During the same period, as recorded by the Panegyrici Latini Veteres which praises the later emperors, Constantine the Great is in Gaul during his preparations to invade the territory of the Bructeri. This action is possibly part of the retaliation for the Frankish raid across the Rhine in 306, which had been led by Ascarich and his co-ruler, Merogais. It is also possible that it is for this campaign that Constantine is able to assume the title Germanicus Maximus for the second time.


Maxentius is attacked by Constantine's army near Rome and defeated, with Maxentius himself drowning in the Tiber during the chaotic retreat of his forces. Galerian is already dead (in 311) due to illness.

308 - 324

Gaius Valerius Licinius Licinianus

Western Augustus. Eastern Augustus in 313. Executed.

308 - 313

Licinius is elevated to emperor of the west by Galerius. In 311, upon Galerius' death, Licinius shares the entire empire with Maximinus Daia. Licinius successfully defends himself from an attack by Maximinus in 313 (the Battle of Tzirallum, 30 April), forcing the latter to flee, eventually, to Tarsus, where he dies. Licinius becomes master of the east, allowing his brother-in-law, Constantine, to rule unrivalled in the west.


Constantine confers his favour on the Christian church with the Edict of Milan. He effectively converts the empire to Christianity, giving it much greater influence and strength than it has ever enjoyed up to this date.

Coin issued under Carausius
Shown here are two sides of a coin which was issued during the reign as emperor of Britannia of Carausius (286-293), forced to rebel in the face of charges of colluding with pirates


Sextus Martinianus

Caesar in the east. Raised by Licinius. Executed.


With Constantine supporting Christians and Licinius persecuting them, the two go to war again. Licinius is defeated at the Battle of Adrianople (3 July). Withdrawing, Licinius is forced to surrender after the Battle of Chrysopolis, near Chalcedon (18 September). He and his former co-emperor Sextus Martinianus are assassinated by Constantine for attempting to raise troops among the barbarians.

Second Flavian Dynasty (Roman Empire)

The concept behind the Tetrarchy had visibly failed because not only did some emperors not want to retire when they were due to but also because some regions had raised their own emperors without any observance of the system. Constantine had shown himself to be the best field general of them all, successfully invading Italy to deal with Maxentius and coming to an understanding with Licinius which survived until AD 324 - barring a bit of a skirmish in 316. In 324, with all rivals now removed, Constantine was sole emperor and the second Flavian dynasty began (Constantine's father was Flavius Constantius (Chlorus)).

The immense personality and prestige of Constantine held the entire empire firmly in his grip, but his death changed all that. The imperial family witnessed an outbreak of murderous squabbling and for three months there was no Augustus at all. A major army revolt in Constantinople saw a refusal to accept any of the proposed appointments to imperial rank other than the sons of Constantine themselves. Eventually three brothers emerged to simultaneously hold the rank of Augustus, but even they squabbled.

324 - 337

Constantine I the Great

Now sole emperor. Died naturally.


On the rise in the three centuries following the death of Jesus in Judea, Christians are now in a position of strength, and serious conflict between them and the pagans of the empire arises, threatening to tear it apart. Constantine accepts Christianity as the religion of the empire and convenes the first ecumenical Christian council, confirming the position of the Pope.

Emperor Constantine the Great
Emperor Constantine the Great is perhaps best known for confirming Christianity as the official religion of the Roman empire, but he also did a great deal to stabilise the empire and ensure that it survived into the next century


FeatureAll the while attempting to secure control of the northern Balkans by driving off the Tervingi and turning the Taifali into foederati, Constantine dedicates his new capital, Constantinople. This serves to formally shift Roman power away from Rome itself (a modern computer simulation of Constantine's Rome also brings that city to life - see feature link).


FeatureConstantine II emerges from the unsettled period following his father's death as the senior Augustus (see feature link), controlling Britain, Gaul, and Iberia - the Gallic Provinces. Constans controls Africa, Italy, and the Illyrian provinces, while Constantius II holds Constantinople and most of the east, including Palestine.

337 - 340

Constantine II

Son. Caesar since aged one month. Senior Augustus.

337 - 361

Constantius II

Brother. Eastern Augustus. Died of fever.

337 - 350

Constans I

Brother. Western Augustus from 340. Killed by Magnentius.


Constantine II objects to the attitude of Constans and launches an invasion of Italy. It is disaster: his army of the Gallic Prefecture is defeated and he is killed at Aquileia. This point seems to mark the start of Britannia's troubles, weakening the garrison there and perhaps contributing to a general loss of confidence. The Scotti and Picts on its border certainly seem to pick up on this, and begin raiding near or across the border on a regular basis.

First Council of Nicaea
The First Council of Nicaea, held in Rome in AD 325, decided upon the basic tenants of the Catholic Church, including the contents of the Bible


Vetranio (Vetriano)

Caesar. Accepted and then rejected by Constantius.

350 - 353


Usurper in the Imperial Gd units and controlled most of west.

351 - 353

Magnus Decentius

Caesar and probably brother.


One of the bloodiest battles in Roman history, Mursa Major in the Balkans, takes place between Magnentius and Constantius in 351, but it is following the former's defeat against Constantius at the Battle of Mons Seleucus in Gaul in 353 that Magnentius commits suicide by falling on his sword. Decentius subsequently hangs himself at Senonae. Constantius conducts a vicious witch hunt of Magnentius' supporters, notably in Britannia.

c.354 - 358

Carausius II

An unverified usurper in Britannia between these dates.

355 - 360

Julian the Apostate

Cousin. Elevated to Caesar by Constantius. A pagan.


Claudius Silvanus

Usurper in Gaul. Killed by bribed troops.


The Salian Franks are accepted into the northern Roman empire by Julian the Apostate. They settle in Brabant along with their Batavi allies. In reality the acceptance is little more than a formality as the empire is beginning to lack the ability to fight off barbarians on all fronts.

Julian the Apostate
Julian the Apostate abandoned Christianity in favour of a return to the old Roman ways of worship, and is shown being initiated into the Eleusian mysteries


Having only recently been enlarged and strengthened by Constantius II, the frontier city of Amida is besieged by Shapur II now that he has recovered from some brutal fighting against the invading Xionites in eastern Iran. Amida is captured by the Sassanids after seventy-three days.

360 - 361

At the start of 360, Julian is wintering in Lutetia Parisiorum (the city of the Parisii) when reports reach him that the Scotti and Picts have broken a previous agreement (perhaps made in 343) and are plundering lands close to the frontier in Britannia, presumably those of the Novantae and Selgovae. Given the situation on the Rhine, especially with the Alemanni, he is unable to leave, so he sends his magister militum, Lupicinus, along with some of his best units, the Heruli, the Batavi, and two numeri Moesiacorum. Lupicinus marshals his forces at London, but is recalled following Julian being proclaimed Augustus by his troops. Whether the campaign goes ahead under a less senior commander is unknown.

361 - 363

Julian the Apostate

Raised to Augustus in Gaul. Died of wounds on campaign.

363 - 364


Raised perhaps mistakenly and died of food poisoning.

364 - 375

Valentinian I

Raised in Nicaea. Western Augustus. Died of apoplexy.

364 - 378


Raised by his brother, Valentinian. Eastern Augustus.

365 - 366

Procopius (Prokop)

Usurper in Constantinople. Captured and executed.


The Barbarian Conspiracy sees attacks falling on Britannia from all sides, although this seems to be the culmination of seven years of large-scale trouble on behalf of the Picts, Scotti, Saxons, and the mysterious Attacotti. Initially, Rome is taken by surprise, and the emperor's dux Fullofaudes is put out of action, either killed or cut off, probably near the Wall. Then Nectaridus, comes maritimi tractus (count of the maritime region), is killed in action. Both loses are serious blows, and the barbarians are now able to divide up into bands so that they can steal and sack and burn whatever they like.

The traditional view of Picts as the 'painted people' is based on a description given by the Romans, and the use of blue woad as a body paint does seem to have been highly prevalent in the far north of Britain

General Theodosius (the Elder) is sent to salvage the situation, which he does by restoring the army in Britain as a fighting force, pardoning soldiers who had deserted, attacking bands of brigands and looters wherever he finds them, and installing a new vicarius at the head of the Diocese of the Britains.

367 - 383


Son of Valentinian. Western Augustus. Assassinated.


In an act of imperial favour, an Alamannic king, Fraomar, is sent to Britannia as a military tribune to command a Roman unit of Alemanni cavalry which is already stationed on the island, as recorded by Ammianus.

372 - 375


Usurper in Africa. Chose suicide over capture.

376 - 382

The Gothic War takes place in the Balkans, but its most notable episode is in 378. Valens ensures his name is never forgotten by being utterly defeated and then killed by the Visigoths at Adrianople.

375 - 392

Valentinian II

Brother of Gratian. Proclaimed as an infant.

379 - 392

Theodosius I the Great

Raised by Gratian. Eastern Augustus.


Magnus Maximus takes advantage of the growing contempt for the failing Gratian by revolting in Britannia. After reorganising the island's defences he invades Gaul with a large army, and is even attributed with setting up a British kingdom in Armorica. After being defeated near Paris, Gratian is deserted by his troops and is betrayed. Delivered to one of the rebel generals, Andragathius, Gratian is assassinated on 25 August. Valentinian II is forced out of Rome, and Maximus, now the senior Augustus in the west, sets up his capital at Augusta Treverorum (Treves, Trier). He becomes a popular emperor and is recognised by Theodosius, primarily because there is little that Theodosius can do about the situation at present.

383 - 388

Magnus Maximus

Usurper in Britannia. Executed.

384 - 388

Flavius Victor

Infant son. Murdered by Arbogast.

383 - 395


Son of Theodosius. Eastern Augustus.


In Augusta Treverorum, Magnus Maximus sentences to death the bishop of Avila, Priscillian, after he and some of his followers have been found guilty of the crime of magic. The charge is the only way that Priscillian's vehement opponents can be rid of the eloquent and learned promulgator of a doctrine which is based on the Gnostic-Manichaean doctrines of an Egyptian called Marcus. Priscillianism is later declared a heresy.


Rome partitions Armenia between itself and Persia, gaining the western half as Lesser Armenia . Magnus Maximus advances across the Alps to occupy Milan, forcing Valentinian to flee.

Magnus Maximus coin
The reverse of this coin issued by Magnus Maximus during his reign as co-emperor shows him standing, holding a laburnum and Victory on a globe


Magnus Maximus is defeated at the Battle of the Save by Theodosius and Valentinian. He retreats to Aquileia and surrenders there. He is soon executed, although his wife and two daughters are spared and many of his descendants continue to occupy important positions. Andragathius is defeated near Siscia. Arbogast / Flavius Arbogastes, the new, Frankish-born, magister militum of the Western Empire, personally defeats Maximus' son, and himself becomes the de facto ruler in the west.

However, another dux appears in Britannia (the previous known incumbent of this military office being the unfortunate Fullofaudes who had been put out of action during the Barbarian Conspiracy of 367). Coel Hen, as he is known in later British oral and written material, appears to exercise a good deal more power in the northern half of Britain than previous holders of the office. If the traditions about him are correct, he may represent a transition between Roman military official and a ruler in an increasingly independent Britain.

Within the greater empire, while Theodosius is occupied with Magnus Maximus, there is an invasion of the Roman provinces of Germania and Belgia by Franks. Their warriors break through the limes, destroying farmlands and killing people around the city of Cologne, before retreating across the border with their booty. General Quintinus mounts a reprisal raid across the border but his troops are surrounded and beaten, and very few of them make it back.


In the late fourth century, Sulpicius Alexander writes a history of Germanic tribes which has since been lost but which has been quoted by Gregory of Tours. One of those quotes relates that the magister militum, Arbogast, attacks the Franks across the Rhine, wreaking havoc amongst them. While there he sights on a distant hill a force containing Ampsivarii and Chatti under the control of Marcomer, king of the Salian Franks. The two forces do not engage.


With the murder or suicide of Valentinian II (probably caused by Arbogast), Theodosius, son of Theodosius the Elder who rescued Britannia from the Barbarian Conspiracy of 367, becomes sole emperor, the last emperor to rule both east and west.

Map of Central Asia - Turkic Expansion AD 300-600
Turkic origins are hard to pin down precisely, but the region around the Altai Mountains would seem to have served as a general incubator during their development, and the Romans (especially those of Constantinople) would soon come to know them (click or tap on map to view full sized)

Arbogast challenges Theodosius by raising an acquaintance, Eugenius, to Augustus in Rome. Theodosius responds by raising his own two year-old son, Honorius, as Western emperor, and marches on Italy, defeating his enemies at the Battle of Frigidus in 394 on the modern Italy-Slovenia border. The battle typifies a trend towards using increasing numbers of barbarian troops, especially in the west, where it leads to the weakening of the empire itself. Arbogast commits suicide in 394 and Eugenius is executed.

392 - 395

Theodosius I the Great

Died of a vascular disease.

393 - 395


Son. Western Augustus aged nine.

392 - 394

Flavius Eugenius

Usurper in Rome. Executed.


FeatureThe formal partition of the Roman empire into the Eastern and Western sections is undertaken by Honorius and Arcadian. An official register of all the offices, other than municipal, which exist in the Roman empire at this time is compiled in the Notitia Dignitatum (see feature link).

Western Roman Empire
AD 395 - 476

The following emperors from Honorius to Romulus Augustulus reigned in the west only. The eastern emperors continued to reign in Constantinople, the former city of Byzantium. The accession of Honorius and Arcadius was marked by a basic change in the role of the emperor, something which affected east and west differently. What happened is of major importance in comprehending subsequent events in the two halves of the empire. Roman emperors after Theodosius were heads of state but no longer held effective power. This now fell into the hands of their chief ministers.

The change was complete in the west where the emperors come across as being virtually powerless, and almost overshadowed by their chief military officer, but less so in the east where occasional emperors still took direct command. Perhaps the crucial difference was that in the east the ministers were usually civilians, but in the west they were almost without exception professional soldiers who tended to dominate their emperors. Due partially to this, and to a series of seemingly unending problems, Honorius' reign was characterised by the erosion of the Western Roman empire and its territories. When he died he left an empire on the verge of collapse.

395 - 423


A weak emperor controlled by Stilicho and Constantius III.

395 - 408

Flavius Stilicho

Vandal general and guardian. Executed.

395 - 408

For the first part of his reign, Honorius depends on the military leadership of his chief ministers, the Romano-Vandal general, Stilicho. Stilicho had been appointed as Honorius' guardian by the boy's father, shortly before his death. To strengthen his bonds to the young emperor, Stilicho marries his daughter Maria to him. Despite many successes, the imperial courtiers plot his death by trumping up charges against him. Stilicho is executed on 22 August 408. Flavius Constantius (later Emperor Constantius III) fills the void to become the power behind Honorius' throne.

397 - 398


Usurper in Mauretania. Defeated under Stilicho's leadership.


Gildo is quickly suppressed, allowing Stilicho, probably upon his receipt of an appeal for help from Britannia (mentioned by Gildas), to send a force to quell barbarian raids there. However, a eulogy proclaimed in 400 for Stilicho's major success disappears just a month after it is released, and does not reappear.


The seat of imperial power is moved from Milan to Ravenna. This flourishing city is located, like Venetia (Venice), in an area of marshland, with one main access point via a causeway which makes it more easily defendable. Unlike Milan, it also has a port and good seaward connections to the Adriatic. With Ravenna now the official home of the emperor, it is greatly expanded in terms of its monuments and monumental building.

Ravenna became an imperial city in 402, and remained Italy's capital under succeeding Gothic, Ostrogothic, and Eastern Roman administrations

405 - 406

Stilicho defeats Radagaisus, a barbarian leader of unknown origin, and his army of Goths, Vandali, Suevi, Burgundians, and Alani when they invade Italy in 405. The barbarians are incorporated into the Roman forces. Stilicho is aided by a second body of Alani, and Huns under the command of Uldiz.

Also in 406, the situation in Britannia is even more problematic. The British provinces are relatively isolated and constantly lack support from the empire, so the soldiers raise a series of their own claimants to the throne. While the first two are minor, Constantine III takes Gaul and Iberia to add to his dominions.



Usurper in Britannia. Killed by his own troops.


Gratian (Gracianus)

Usurper in Britannia. Killed by his own troops.

406 - 409

The Alani, Suevi and Vandali cross the Rhine at Mainz, largely destroying the city. Groups of Franks are already on the west bank of the Rhine, living in a confederation of small kingdoms which are tributary to Rome, and they attempt to fight them off. Despite the potential threat to Britannia, Gratian refuses to enter Gaul to fight the barbarians, so his troops kill him and elect Constantine III instead. Constantine quickly crosses into Gaul and secures the Rhine, making Arles, the recently relocated headquarters of the Gallic prefecture, his capital in 408.

407 - 411

Constantine III

Usurper in Britannia. Surrendered and was executed.

408 - 411


Son. Caesar. Executed by Gerontius.


Constantine sends his son, Constans, and the general Gerontius to Iberia to defeat the cousins of Honorius there and secure that province. Stilicho's forces in Italy rebel and he is executed. As a result of this and intrigues at the imperial court, plus the fact that Alaric's Visigothic army is roaming Etruria, Honorius is left powerless, and gladly accepts Constantine as co-emperor.

Roman silver ingots
Silver ingots from the late fourth or early fifth century which were used to pay soldiers and civil servants in the Late Empire, and which were discovered at the site of the Tower of London, and at Reculver and Richborough in Kent (Britain)


FeatureThe Alani, Suevi and Vandali enter Iberia, disrupting Constantine's hold on his territory. Gerontius rebels against Constantine, raises Maximus as his own puppet emperor, and the following year advances into Gaul. At the same time in Britannia, Saxon raids convince the British and Armoricans to rebel and expel Roman officials, thereby breaking ties with Rome which are never renewed. In fairness to them, Honorius is hardly in a position to take any action on their behalf.

409 - 411


Puppet usurper of Gerontius' in Iberia.


Priscus Attalus

Usurper in Rome with Visigoth support. Removed by Alaric.

410 - 411

As his enemies tighten the noose around him, Constantine attempts to attack Italy but is defeated and forced to retreat back to Gaul. Rome itself is sacked by Alaric's Visigoths after a collapse in relations. This affords Constantine no leeway however as, in 411, his forces facing Gerontius are defeated at Vienne, and Constans is captured and executed.

Constantine's praetorian prefect, Decimius Rusticus, abandons him only to be caught up in the Frankish, Burgundian, and Alani-supported rebellion of Jovinus. Gerontius besieges Constantine at Arles but the magister militum, the power behind Honorius' throne, and future emperor, Constantius III, puts Gerontius to flight (he commits suicide in Iberia) and captures and executes Constantine. Maximus takes refuge with barbarian allies in Hispania.

411 - 413


Usurper on the Rhine when Constantine died. Executed.

412 - 413


Brother. Co-Augustus. Executed by the Visigoths.


Jovinus manages to insult Ataulf, king of the Visigoths, so the latter allies himself with Honorius and defeats Jovinus' troops. Sebastianus is executed. Jovinus flees and is besieged and captured in Valentia (Valence, Drôme). Shortly after he is executed. Honorius regains authority throughout Gaul and Iberia, although he is still in a very weak position.

Roman town gates of Metz
The fairly insignificant Mosan Franks were settling the area between Soissons and the Alemanni, taking the Roman town at Moguntiacum (Metz or Mainz) the gates of which are shown here


Priscus Attalus

Restored by Visigoths and then abandoned. Exiled by Rome.


A treaty is signed granting the Visigoths former Gallia Aquitania, the south-western portion of Gaul. At the same time, in the north of Gaul the Franks are increasing their influence. Following a further revolt in 417, the Armoricans are almost completely independent of Rome, but Auxerre on the Yonne is still under Roman control, as is the new capital of Roman Gaul at Arles, and the northern region centred on Soissons manages to retain a Roman government until 486. However, more and more often Rome has to use barbarian foederati to solve its problems rather than Roman troops.


Constantius III

Western Emperor 'under' Honorius. Not recognised by East.

423 - 425

Upon the death of Honorius (of dropsy), his patrician elevates Johannes, a senor civil servant, as emperor. Theodosius II in Constantinople elevates the young Valentinian III first to Caesar, then to co-emperor as Augustus. In late 424, he sends Aëtius to the Huns to seek military help, but while Aëtius is away Johannes is betrayed and captured. Aëtius returns with a sizable Hunnic army and comes to an agreement which establishes the political landscape of the Western Roman empire for the next thirty years. The Huns are paid off and sent home, while Aëtius is promoted to magister militum.

423 - 425

John (Johannes)

Usurper in Rome. Captured and executed.

423 - 455

Valentinian III

Son of Constantius III. Murdered, perhaps due to Maximus.


Galla Placidia

Mother. Regent to her infant son.


Under pressure from the Visigoths, and from Roman attacks, the Vandali in Iberia see an opportunity presented by the unsettled conditions in Africa. They and the Alani migrate to the south of Iberia from where they invade Roman North Africa. Once there, they carve out a kingdom over the course of a decade, taking the cities of Carthage and Utica, and leaving eastern, central and southern Iberia back in Roman hands.

The figure on the right is thought to be Aëtius, although there is some doubt, and the possibility exists that the sarcophagus on which this relief sits could even have been built half a century before this period

432 - 453

Following a victory by Aëtius against the Franks the previous year (as well as in 428), the Huns now threaten the existence of the empire as, under Attila, they sweep across Europe.

433 - 454

Flavius Aëtius

Daco-Roman general and power behind the throne. Murdered.


The Vandali capture Carthage and create a kingdom of their own in the province of Africa, depriving Rome of vital foodstocks. The loss also deprives Rome of vital income, and the blow is once which contributes to a steady diminution of Roman power over the next four decades, until the empire fades out of existence.

442 - 446

Suevi raids are ravaging the eastern and southern provinces of Iberia to such an extent that Rome is deprived of vital income in the form of tax revenue. Between 439-441 it dries up completely, so Aëtius sends first Asturius in 442 and then Merobaudes in 443 to handle the problem. They concentrate on defeating the bagaudae (peasant insurgents or brigands who are roaming the land), in order to secure Roman control of Tarraconensis. In 446 Vitus, the magister utriusque militiae, is sent to Iberia to put a halt to the raiding, leading a combined Romano-Visigothic force into the province of Carthaginiensis and Baetica. When his unruly force meets the Suevi in battle, it is routed. The defeat confirms Suevian control of Lusitania and Baetica and the loss of the bulk of Hispanic revenues to Rome. A similar bagaudae revolt in Brittany in 446 is handled by the client Alani in Gaul.


Rome loses Savoy (443) and Switzerland (450) to the Burgundians in a further settlement of Germanic barbarians. From around 440, Aëtius had apparently been pursuing a policy of extending the settlement of friendly (or defeated) barbarians within Gaul under treaty, rather than Roman reconquest. The former is certainly easier given the lack of resources.


To preserve their new domains, the Visigoths and Franks fight on the side of Rome to halt the advance of the Huns at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains, close to the chief town of the Catalauni Gauls. The Huns call on their subject allied tribes, which include Gepids, Ostrogoths, Rugii, Scirii and Taifali. Rome also has units of independent Armoricans, Alani, and the main body of Taifali on its side.


Petronius Maximus

Patrician. Great-grandson of Magnus Maximus of Britannia.


The usurper, Maximus, is not recognised by Constantinople. The enmity between Maximus and the magister militum, Aëtius, does much to lead to the gradual chain of events which brings down the Western Roman empire. Before he seizes power himself, Maximus plots and gets Valentinian III to kill Aëtius with his own hands. Aëtius' death marks the end to any true Western Roman chances of holding onto its empire.

Maximus rules for only 77 days before being stoned to death by a Roman mob while fleeing Genseric's Vandali on 24 May, after which the Vandali spend fourteen days sacking Rome.

Genseric's sack of Rome
An interpretation of Genseric's sack of Rome in AD 455 by the Russian artist, Karl Briullov, painted between about 1833-1836, perhaps the key moment in the city's fifth century decline



Son of a bodyguard of Aëtius. Obscure.


Rome loses Cologne on the Rhine (which they had founded in 30 BC based on a Germanic tribal settlement) to the Franks, as a Frankish king sets up a royal court in the former Roman governor's palace.

455 - 456


Magister militum. Encouraged by the Visigoths. Abdicated.

456 - 472

Ricimer / Ricomer

Suevi-Visigoth general. Power behind throne. Died of fever.

465 - 472

Another Romano-barbarian, Ricimer (Ricomer), the son of a prince of the Suevi with a mother who had been the daughter of Wallia, king of the Visigoths, secures a senior position in the Western Roman empire. He has already killed a leader of the Alani in 464. Now he is the power behind the throne in 456-472 with a series of 'shadow emperors' to disguise his rule. This rule probably does not extend much beyond Italy's borders, as Gaul is already being governed by Romans (where they survive in power) for their own sake rather than for the imperial court.

457 - 461


Raised by the regent, Ricimer. Not recognised by the East.


Majorian proves to be a little too popular after he expels the Visigoths and Burgundians from Roman cities in Gaul which they had occupied, and it is Ricimer who is behind him being forced to abdicate by his troops. He dies five days later. Ricimer raises Libius Severus as his replacement, seemingly as the perfect puppet, as Libius Severus appears to have absolutely no achievements. Majorian's magister militum per Gallias, Aegidius, is prevented from marching on Rome when Ricimer hires the previously defeated Visigoths and Burgundians, but Aegidius' troops remain loyal to him and Rome again loses its authority in northern Gaul until after the magister militum's death.

461 - 465

Libius Severus

Not recognised by Eastern Roman empire. Died.

461 - 464


Ruled an independent Gallic command based at Soissons.

465 - 467

The Western Roman empire experiences an interregnum which lasts for eighteen months. Ricimer commands without a figurehead until a highly distinguished candidate is forced on him by Constantinople, which is determined to restore order in Gaul.

467 - 472


Perhaps the last able ruler. Executed by Ricimer.


The Visigoths have to fight two battles against a combined army consisting of Romans, troops from Soissons under Comes Paulus, Burgundian foederati, and joint federate Britanni ( Britons and Armoricans) under Riothamus in 469. Thanks to the apparent treachery of Gaul's imperial prefect, one Arvandus, the Visigoths are victorious and extend their kingdom, cutting off both Soissons and Armorica from Rome.

Map of the Visigoth & Suevi kingdoms in AD 470
In AD 469/470 the Visigoths expanded their kingdom to its largest extent, reaching Nantes in the north and Cadiz in the south, but it was not to last - with the accession of Clovis of the Salian Franks, the Visigoths had found an opponent who would wrest Gaul away from their control in stages (click or tap on map to view full sized)


Soon after murdering Emperor Anthemius, Ricimer himself dies of fever and his nephew, Gundobad of the Burgundians, becomes Western Roman commander.


Anicius Olybrius

Not recognised by Eastern Roman empire. Died naturally.

472 - 473

Interregnum. Gundobad of the Burgundians rules Rome until his father dies and he becomes joint king of the Burgundians along with his brothers. After elevating the 'Count of the Domestics' to the position of puppet emperor he returns to the kingdom.

473 - 474


Not recognised by Eastern Roman empire. Died after 480.


During Glycerius' brief reign, the Apennine peninsula is threatened both by the Visigoths, living in southern Gaul and Iberia, and the Ostrogoths, living in Dalmatia. When the Ostrogoths move into Gaul, Glycerius sends Roman troops into the area, preventing the armies of the two branches of Goths from joining forces against Rome and perhaps delaying the final end of the Western Empire for a few years.

However, this doesn't prevent the Eastern Roman emperor, Leo I, from sending his own candidate to rule the remains of the Western empire. Upon the arrival of Julius Nepos, Glycerius immediately surrenders.

Map of Eastern Europe AD 450-500
Soon after the middle of the fifth century AD the Hunnic empire crashed into extinction, starting with the death of Attila in 453. His son and successor, Ellac, was killed in battle in 454, and the Huns were defeated by the Ostrogoths in 456, ending Hunnic unity (click or tap on map to view full sized)

474 - 480

Julius Nepos

Relative of Eastern Augustus, Leo I.


On 28 August 475, the magister militum, Orestes, assumes control of the government at Ravenna, deposing Nepos and forcing him to flee to Dalmatia, where he reigns as emperor-in-exile until 480. His replacement is not recognised in Constantinople which, along with Gaul, considers Julius Nepos to be the lawful emperor until his death in 480.

Since Orestes, a Germanic tribesman, cannot become emperor himself, he appoints his son Romulus who had been born to his Roman wife. The boy is probably no more than ten years old.

475 - 476


General and power behind throne. Killed.

475 - 476

Romulus Augustus (Augustulus)

Deposed to live a full life in villa retirement.


On 4 September, Odoacer, the Scirian magister militum of the Roman army, takes Ravenna, killing Orestes and deposing Romulus. By this time the Western Roman army has effectively ceased to exist, starved to death by a steady decrease in recruiting grounds and a severe lack of funds to pay those troops who still remain, so that they drift off.

Also, the western emperor has such a small domain and such an ineffective role to play that the senate sends an embassy to the Eastern Roman court with the imperial regalia, announcing that they feel no need for a new emperor at Ravenna and are happy to accept a single throne at Constantinople.

Half-Siliqua of Romulus Augustus
This half-siliqua was the only silver coinage issued during the short reign of Romulus Augustus, puppet and final official Western Roman emperor

The Roman empire per se comes to an end in the West. Odoacer's governance of Italy, as a Roman-elected general, could be considered a final extension however, even though he, like other barbarian leaders in the west, calls himself rex ('king'). By this stage the 'empire' consists only of Italy and the western Balkans, plus a west African province and Syagrius' northern Gallic province. Odoacer rules Italy under his Gothic kingdom.

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