Sarcophagus Fragment, Roman, ca. 240-250 CE, The Art Institute of Chicago

Monday, May 18, 2009

How Secure is Your Job?

Now for a little fun. I was talking with a friend a while back, and he told me it would be fun to compare the modes of death of Roman Emperors (sounds like your idea of fun, doesn't it?). So, I decided to put a list together and see how things added up. The final tally was 11 for natural deaths and 16 for unnatural deaths; not what I would call job security.

Some disclaimers are in order. Unnatural deaths include murder and suicide, both which I have distinguished in my list. I consider natural deaths to be anything other than murder or suicide, be it old age, illness or injury. There is controversy surrounding the deaths of some emperors, most noticeably Claudius, so here I stick with the common belief that he was murdered. Also, my list ends at 235 CE for various reasons. 235 CE saw the end of the Severan Dynasty and marked a fundamental shift in the Roman world. The next fifty years would see over 20 emperors propped up by the military. From a political view point, the era was one of chaos and the Rome that would emerged in 284 CE was considerably different than the Principate of the preceding centuries. Also, cutting the list off at 235 CE gives me the opportunity to write a post at a later date comparing the "lifespan" of emperors of the Principate and the Late Empire.

Julio-Claudian Dynasty
Augustus (27 BCE-14 CE) - natural
Tiberus (14-37) - natural
Gaius (37-41) - murder
Claudius(41-54) - murder
Nero (54-68)- suicide

Civil War of 69
Galba (68-69) - murder
Otho (69) - suicide
Vitellius (69) - murder

Flavian Dynasty
Vespasian (69-79) - natural
Titus (79-81) - natural
Domitian (81-96) - murder

Nervan-Antonian Dynasty
Nerva (96-98) - natural
Trajan (98-117) - natural
Hadrian (117-138)- natural
Antoninus Pius (138-161) - natural
Lucius Verus (co-ruler w/Marcus) (161-169) - natural
Marcus Aurelius (161-180) - natural
Commodus (180-193) - murder

Civil War of 193
Pertinax (193) - murder
Didius Julianus (193) - murder

Severan Dynasty (with usurpers)
Septimius Severus (193-211) - natural
Geta (co-ruler w/Caracalla) (211) - murder
Caracalla (211-217) - murder
Macrinus (217-218) - murder
Diadumenian (co-ruler w/Macrinus) (217-128) - murder
Elagabalus (218-222) - murder
Alexander Severus (222-235) - murder

Natural - 11
Unnatural - 16