Why did the Emperors leave Rome?

When I'm reading more about the late Roman Empire most of the time I read that the Roman emperors resided in Ravenna instead of Rome itself.

Was there a reason why the emperors of the late Roman empire left Rome or didn't reside there?

When the pressure on the frontiers became heavy, the Emperor had to spend increasing time away from Rome on the frontiers. Even in the heady days of Marcus Aurelius and Trajan the emperor had to be on the front line for increasing periods. Other Emperors made long tours to see and administer the provinces (Hadrian, Caracalla).

Things got even worse when pressure was on several fronts at once in the crisis of the third century. Then, there was a need for more than one emperor leading rapid response armies in order to repel invasions. Rome was too distant, so working administrative centers started to grow in the Balkans, on the Rhine, and in Syria.

This became formalized even more under Diocletian, when 4 emperors were manning the frontiers at once. After Constantine and his sons, it was rare for there not to be 2 emperors at once, based in cities like Milan, Mainz, or Antioch.

With this requirement, visiting Rome became a luxury that was often unaffordable. With the Emperors becoming tough soldiers rather than elite aristocrats, such visits that happened became more uncomfortable for both sides.

The move to Ravenna happened very late, when the Emperors had become more or less puppets to generals. Stilicho moved the emperor from Milan to Ravenna when invading Gots under Alaric and Radagaisus threatened it around 405 AD. One danger this added was that the court now felt safe and was less motivated to defend the rest of the country proper, leading to the sack of Rome itself in 410 AD.

Wikipedia has the cursory answer

The transfer was made partly for defensive purposes: Ravenna was surrounded by swamps and marshes, and was perceived to be easily defensible (although in fact the city fell to opposing forces numerous times in its history); it is also likely that the move to Ravenna was due to the city's port and good sea-borne connections to the Eastern Roman Empire.

A full answer would have to address a few more issues

  • Rome was irrelevant. The Roman Senate continued to behave as though it had some function in ruling the Empire, but the Emperors were increasingly autocrats.

  • During the Year of the Five Emperors, and Crisis of the Third Century, the legitimacy of the Emperor effectively changed from the consent of the Senate to the backing of the Legions. Some Emperors continued to go through the forms of requesting Senatorial approval, but it wasn't required.

  • Diocletian was insulted by the lack of respect shown to him in Rome (I think this is accepted, but not fully proven). He and his successors saw no reason to go back to a town that didn't realize that the Emperor's visit was a privilege granted to Rome, not the other way around.

  • @FelixGoldberg is quite right to point out that the Emperor frequently resided elsewhere for his entire reign; vote up his comment

Roman Timeline of the 5th Century AD

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What was the impact of the Emperor Nero on the Roman Empire?

Roman history was noted for having very many ‘bad’ emperors. One of the most notorious was Nero. He was the last of the Julian-Claudian dynasty and became infamous for his artistic pretensions, hedonism, and great cruelty. There are many myths about Nero, and this often obscured the reality of his reign.

Nero was a crucial figure in the history of Rome. He was the last of his dynasty, and his death ushered in a period of instability. His death led to a period of civil war that was the first in almost one hundred years. Nero was the first to persecute Christians, and he set a precedent for that religion's persecution that was to continue off and on for almost three centuries.


Augustus had brought peace to the Roman Empire, and during his reign, he amassed a range of powers. He made himself in effect the first Emperor. [1] Romans feared instability after his death, and they accepted his step-son, Tiberius, as his successor. [2] This established the hereditary principle for Imperial succession, and the Julian-Claudian's became the de-facto royal house of the Empire. Tiberius, who is often portrayed as a depraved and bloody old man, was a competent leader. He reformed the system of governance and tax-collection, and his rule was mild.

By the time of his death, the hereditary principle was established, and his nephew Gaius (Caligula) became Emperor. [3] Caligula's four years in power were bizarre and bloody. After his assassination, he was succeeded by Claudius. While often portrayed as something of a fool, he showed at times that he was a capable leader. He ordered the conquest of Britain and also annexed much of modern-day Morocco for his empire. [4]

In the first century AD, the Empire was at its zenith. There had been peace for several decades, and the borders were relatively secure. The majority of provincials were loyal to the Empire, and they were increasingly Romanized. The economy of the Empire was generally good. There was also a great cultural flourishing, and poets such as Ovid and writers such as Petronius produced masterpieces of Latin literature that are still read. This was the Empire that Nero inherited. [5]

The life and reign of Nero

It is important to note that there are no surviving contemporary records of Nero, and many of the remaining accounts are quite possibly biased. Nero was born in 37 AD. His parents were Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus, a member of one of the most powerful Roman families, and Agrippina the Younger, sister of Emperor Caligula. He was a grant-nephew of Augustus and, therefore, a member of the Julian-Claudian family. Nero was not viewed as a future emperor at the time of his birth. [6]

During his uncle Caligula's reign, his mother fell from favor, and his family was persecuted. His father died (of natural causes), and his mother was exiled. Nero’s fortunes changed with the assassination of his uncle Caligula. Claudius became Emperor, and after a disastrous marriage, he married Agrippina the Younger, his niece. [7]

She persuaded Claudius to make her son Nero his heir and married the daughter of Claudius from his first marriage. It is widely believed that Agrippina, probably with the help of Nero, poisoned Claudius. Nero became Emperor in 54 AD at the age of seventeen. [8] His mother was a domineering woman, and it is believed that she manipulated her young son to advance her own interests.

The first five years of Nero’s reign were seen as generally positive. The government was in the hands of two experienced ministers, one of whom was the writer Seneca the Younger and the Burrus. [9] Agrippina the Younger vied for control of the empire with Seneca and his colleague, but they remained in control. In 55 B.C, Nero wanted to control the Empire, and he had Seneca and Burrus dismissed. Later, he killed his mother as he grew tired of her constant efforts to dominate him and control the Empire. [10] Nero’s changed after he murdered his the ancient sources. He morphed into a grotesque tyrant.

Nero murdered any senator who opposed him. His personal life was bizarre, and he married one of his male slaves. Nero was passionate about the games, and he personally participated in the Olympic games in Greece. [11] The Emperor also considered himself to be first and foremost an artist. He at first performed his work in private but then publicly performed his work in Greece. Nero also acted on the stage. This scandalized the Roman elite, who considered actors to be a little better than prostitutes. The sight of Nero acting was appalling to them.

Nero was also paranoid about plots, and he killed anyone he suspected of being a threat. While Nero was very unpopular with the elites, he was popular with the poor. He reformed the judicial and taxation system and made it fairer. Nero also built gymnasiums and baths in Rome that were open to ordinary Romans. The population of Rome and elsewhere in the Empire revered the Emperor and saw him as their protector. According to Suetonius, the emperor was ‘carried away by a craze for popularity, and he was jealous of all who in any way stirred the feeling of the mob.’ [12] The philosopher Epictetus argued that Nero was an insecure, immature, and unhappy man and needed acclaim. [13]

Nero was also a lavish builder, and some sources say that he left the treasury bankrupt. In contrast, others argued that his spending was part of an economic policy to revive a stagnant economy. In 66 AD, a great fire destroyed much of Rome. [14] The cause of the fire is not known. It may have been accidental or arson. Elites blamed Nero for the fire, and he was accused of clearing Rome for his building projects.

By 68 AD, Nero had begun to raise taxes, and there were many reports of growing discontent among the elite. While in the east, a major Jewish Revolt and the Romans were expelled from much of Judea. In 68 AD, Vindex in Gaul revolted but was later put down by the Roman legions. [15] Finally, the Roman army grew weary of Nero even though he was a member of the House of Julius Caesar and Augustus. [16]

In Spain, Galba and the Spanish legions revolted. This revolted was welcomed by the elites in Rome. [17] Galba set sail for Rome and Nero attempted to rally his forces. However, he had alienated the elite, and he was quickly abandoned. Nero was forced to flee with some of the slaves but later committed suicide. He ordered on of his slaves to cut his throat. [18] Nero remained popular with the poor, and after his death, Rome became incredibly unstable because three separate pretenders who claimed to be the Roman Emperor.

The Year of the Four Emperors and the end of the Julian-Claudian dynasty

Nero’s reign and his death destabilized the Empire. His low tax policy, combined with his lavish spending, had led to an economic recession. He had also alienated the elites in Rome and elsewhere. He had also failed to provide a strong government, as is evident in the revolt of Vindex in Gaul and the Jewish Revolt. In the aftermath of his death, unlike that of his unstable uncle Caligula, there was no living male member of the Julian-Claudian line. [19]

The Julian-Claudian family had killed many of their relatives, and after the death of Nero, who had no sons, there was no legitimate claimant to the throne. This left the army as the power broker, and in the year after Nero's deaths, legions fought each other for control of the Empire. [20] The year 69 AD is often known as the year of the ‘Four Emperors.’ In that year, four men, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian, declared themselves emperor. Vespasian emerged as the victor and established the Flavian dynasty. [21]

Nero ended the Julian-Claudian dynasty. His death left a power vacuum that destabilized the Empire and led to competing generals to fight a series of civil wars. Nero’s reign forced the Roman army's re-emergence into state politics for the first time in a century. The year 69 AD was important as it showed that the army could both make and unmake an emperor. [22]

Nero and the Christians

Nero was the first Roman Emperor to persecute the small sect of Christians actively. They had grown greatly since the crucifixion of Jesus. They had established themselves in Rome and attracted many adherents. They were not popular with other groups, and their beliefs were treated with suspicion. After all confessed followers of Jesus, they were lawfully executed by the Roman governor of Judea. [23] In 69 AD, a great fire swept through Rome and caused general unrest in the city. Nero accused Christians of starting the fire to shift blame away from himself. [24]

According to Tacitus, he was very eager to quell rumors that he was responsible for the fire ‘ consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called "Christians" by the populace.’ [25] Nero established a precedent whereby an Emperor could declare the Christians to be public enemies. Nero’s and later persecutions were to shape Christianity's nature, but it did not stop its spread. The many martyrs created by the persecutions only strengthened the faith, and it eventually became the state religion of the Empire in the later 4th century AD.

Nero’s policies in the East

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Nero was a far more active Emperor than many gave him credit for at the time and since. He was particularly interested in the East. Still, his record -was mixed. Nero attempted to permanently annex the Bosphoran Kingdom in the Crimea but his successors reversed this and were content to have it as a client kingdom. Nero fought a war with Parthia. He appointed a commoner to lead the Roman armies and he managed to inflict several defeats on the Parthians. [26]

Nero turned the strategic kingdom of Armenia into a client kingdom, which allowed him to secure the borders with Parthia. He also obliged the Parthians to hand over some legion ‘eagles’ or standards that had been captured. Nero’s success against the Parthians meant that the Eastern frontier was at peace for several decades. [27]

However, during his reign, Judea's administration was poor and contributed to the great Jewish Revolt (66-71 AD). The Jews believed Nero was a ‘tyrant.’ [28] Perhaps his most lasting legacy was his generally pro-Greek policies in the Eastern half of the Empire. He granted ‘liberties’ to many Greek cities in the eastern portion of his empire. This led them to become economically successful and culturally vibrant. [29] This partly explains why unlike the west that the east did not succumb to Romanization but remained very much influenced by Hellenic culture. Later emperors such as Hadrian imitated Nero’s policies towards the Greek cities.


Nero is regarded as either a mad or outright evil Emperor. He was undoubtedly cruel and committed many crimes. However, he was also an important figure in the history of Rome. Nero was the first Emperor to persecute Christians, and many other Emperors were to follow his example. He also had some successes in the east, especially against the Parthians, and he did much to promote Hellenic culture in the eastern provinces.

He was the last of the Julian-Claudian dynasty, and his death led to a series of bloody civil wars. This period of instability led to the army determining who should be emperor. This was one of the most important legacies of Nero, the re-emergence of the legions as a political force, something that Augustus and his heirs had prevented for several decades.

9 He Tried To Replace The Head On The Statue Of Zeus With His Own

Caligula wasn&rsquot satisfied to just be an emperor. He wanted to be a god&mdashand he set up his own cult to make sure it happened.

The emperor of Rome had temples constructed where people could worship him. Inside, there were life-size statutes of him made of pure gold that the people of Rome were encouraged to bow before and worship. And he didn&rsquot stop there. Caligula had plans to chop off the head of the statue of Zeus at Olympia&mdashone of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World&mdashand replace it with a likeness of his own head.

He even hired his own team of priests with their own extravagant rituals. To show devotion to Caligula, a sacrificed bull wouldn&rsquot be enough. His worshipers were expected to sacrifice flamingos and peacocks in his honor.

His obsession with declaring himself to be a god nearly caused a revolt. At one point, frustrated that the Jews weren&rsquot worshiping him enough, Caligula ordered Petronius, the governor of Syria, to build a massive statue of him inside the Temple in Jerusalem. [2]

The Jews were ready to riot, and it probably would have turned into a full-on rebellion if Petronius hadn&rsquot talked Caligula out of it. In the end, though, Caligula had Petronius&rsquos head chopped off as punishment for making Caligula change his mind.

Lucius'€™ Romans

The question as to why parents might expose a new-born child has perplexed people living in the 20 th and 21 st centuries. It seems so alien that a civilization as complexed as Rome might also contain such an aspect. The evidence is far from straight-forward (as you will see from the links), but we can piece together some of the reasoning of people 2000 years ago. In this blog, we set out the evidence for you, so that you may consider how the Romans may have thought about this practice. Read the blog and consider the choices facing Roman parents and what this practice indicates about Roman culture.

Exposing the newborn infant

When the decision was made not to rear an infant, the child would be left at a location to await its fate. Places within the city became known as sites for the exposure of unwanted children. Juvenal identifies some for us as the lactoria columna or the spurci lacus (VI.603). Abandoning an infant at one of these places, increased its chances of survival because anyone looking to ‘adopt’ or rear a child would have sought out newborn children at these places. In contrast, the infant left in a more isolated place outside the city was left to die rather than to be found.

Portrait of the Emperor Claudius, who had the daughter of his wife Urgulanilla ‘cast out naked’. British Museum. Image: Paula Lock.

Exposed infants were left clothed, but this was not always the case. Suetonius mentions that the Emperor Claudius insisted the daughter of his wife Urgulanilla by a freed slave be ‘cast out naked’ (Suet., Claud. 27) reducing its chances of survival. This case shows the intention to kill the infant, in contrast to the abandonment of children in the hope of others caring for them.

We know that sometimes parents left tokens with their infant in the hope that these items may be recognized in the future to identify the abandoned child as a family member. These might include items such as rattles and crepundia (definition here). This is a feature of the novel Daphnis and Chloe, written at the time of the Roman Empire by the Greek novelist Longus. You can read the story here.

Excercise: why might the exposure of an infant not result in their death?

How could an exposed or abandoned child be recognised by its parents later in life?

Altar showing Romulus and Remus — perhaps two of the most famous foundlings — being nursed by the she-wolf. Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, Rome. Image: Paula Lock

Exercise: examine each of the following 5 reasons for exposure given below and consider how the Romans explained that decision. If you lived in Rome: was there an ethically correct reason to expose a child?

Reason 1: Economic
Perhaps the most common reason found to explain the exposure of children is an economic one. For a poor family, the arrival of an extra mouth to feed would result only in diminished shares for everyone and greater hardship. However, according to the stoic philosopher Musonius Rufus, even the rich would expose their children. Read about Musonius’ thoughts on exposure here.

Reason 2: Birth defects
Nearly 1 in 30 of modern births result in children with some form of birth defect. Modern medicine has become an effective counter to many of these. However, without it, bringing up a child with a major medical problem (such as hydrocephalus) would have been challenging for parent and child. Soranus gives an extensive list of criteria to judge if an infant is healthy enough to rear (II.10). For example, the baby must cry vigorously, its limbs and organs must be sound, its orifices must all open and the movement of each part of the body must not be sluggish or weak.

Reason 3: Illegitimacy
Questionable parentage is another factor that could lead to abandonment. As noted earlier, Claudius ordered the exposure of an illegitimate child and — according to Suetonius — Augustus also forbade the rearing of an illegitimate child born to Julia, his grand-daughter (Aug. 65). The Roman poet Ovid writes of the exposure of a baby born to Canace. Canace committed incest with her brother and her outraged father ordered the child to be thrown to the dogs and birds. You can read the passage here.

Reason 4: Evil omens
According to Suetonius, another reason for exposure was evil omens. For example, he claims that the out-pouring of grief at the death of the Emperor Germanics in AD 19 resulted in parents exposing their new-born children (Suet., Cal. 5). They also stoned the temples, overturned altars and threw their household gods into the street. This seems a fairly rare occurrence.

Reason 5: Gender
It is often suggested that more girls were exposed than boys. This is illustrated in a letter from a husband to his wife, telling her that if she gives birth to a boy to let it live, if it is a girl, to expose it (see the link here). The same scenario can be seen in drama, for example in Terence’s play Heautontimorumenos. Sostrata is given strict orders by her husband Chremes that she is not to rear her child if it is a girl (Haut. 626). You can read the play here. We have no idea how many people faced this choice or used this logic to decide whether they should rear a child.

A room in the lupanar (brothel) at Pompeii. Image: Paula Lock

What became of the exposed infants who were found and taken up?

Of those foundlings who survived their early childhood, many would have become slaves. Indeed, this was probably one of the reasons that the practice of exposure was accepted — it fueled the supply of free labour. The Romans also had a fear that the exposure of a child might lead to a father having sex with his own daughter. The Christian apologist Justin explains the nature of this danger, if the child was brought up to become a prostitute (Chapter 27. Guilt of exposing children).

Exercise: how different were the choices facing Roman parents from those of parents in the 21 st century?

Further reading

Dixon, Suzanne. The Roman Family. Ancient Society and History. Baltimore London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.

Harris, W. V. Child-Exposure in the Roman Empire, The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 84 (1994), pp. 1-22 Published by: Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies.

Rawson, Beryl. Children and Childhood in Roman Italy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

The Five Good Emperors

Many people have a very negative view of the Roman Emperors, because they believe they were tyrants. While many of the emperors abused their power, some tried their hardest to be good leaders, and to do what they believed was right for the people. An important group of these benevolent leaders, who demonstrated restraint and justice in their actions, was the so-called “five good Emperors.” The five good Emperors were a series of successive rulers who were extraordinarily just, and who chose successors who they believed would follow their example.

After Julius Caesar, the title of Emperor was passed from person to person both by inheritance and by rebellion. Many of the first Emperors chose a favorite relative and declared they would take over when the Emperor died. This practice lead to stable rule for several decades, but after the assassination of Nero, there was chaos while several military leaders competed for power. Finally, one last family line took power: Vespasian, followed by his sons Titus and Domitian, ruled Rome for for 27 years. After Domitian’s assassination, the first of the five good Emperors took power.


Nerva was the first Emperor to be chosen by the Senate, and began is rule in 96 C.E.. He is mainly remembered for helping restore a bit of normalcy after the assassination of Domitian, and his rule only lasted a year. At the time he was made Emperor, Nerva was very old and had no children of his own. This made him an ideal candidate for the title, since he would have to choose his successor based on merit, and not simply name a family member.

Shortly after his reign began, Nerva had an extended dispute with the Praetorian Guard, the official protectors of the Emperor that were typically involved in assassination attempts. They believed that Nerva hadn’t done enough to cement his rule and ensure the continuation of the Empire. In particular, they wanted him to name a successor with a military background, and all but forced him to name Trajan. Nerva died a few months afterwards, but set the empire on track for almost a century of fair rule.


Trajan was both a strong military leader and a powerful civil leader. Militarily, he expanded the borders of Rome to their peak: the area under his command when he died was the largest Rome ever held. Domestically, he built several public buildings and shared the prosperity of his military conquests with the Roman people.

In contrast to previous Emperors, Trajan began his rule in 98 C.E. by declaring that he would share the responsibilities of leadership with the Senate. This, combined with his work to undo the seizures of property and power by previous Emperors, is what led the Senate of his time and later historians to declare Trajan among the most just Emperors of Roman history. As a civil leader, Trajan returned land that previous Emperors had stolen from their political enemies, and focused on ensuring the financial stability of the empire. At the same time, he was able to undertake an enormous number of public works projects, building bridges, canals, public buildings, and lasting monuments that benefitted all.

As a former soldier, Trajan was also an enormously effective military leader. The Roman Empire was always under attack by kingdoms to its east, and Trajan came extremely close to eliminating this threat for all time. He fought two successful wars against the kingdom of Dacia, a kingdom which had defeated Emperor Domitian in battle and plagued the Empire for years. After conquering Dacian, he turned his attention to another Eastern kingdom, Parthia. Before his death in 117 C.E., Trajan conquered substantial amounts of Parthia, in what is now Iraq, Syria, and Israel.


While Trajan had conquered more territory than any Emperor before or after, Hadrian was tasked with managing it. Known for traveling extensively in the Empire, to the extent that the Senate and Romans of the time thought it was unseemly, Hadrian helped to convert the military conquests of Trajan into a real political unit that could be managed.

Britons know Hadrian best because of his famous wall. Hadrian’s wall was part of a larger project of Hadrian’s to ensure that the newly-expanded Empire was safe from threats. Apart from the wall in Brittania, Hadrian constructed similar walls along the Danube river to the north of Italy, and stressed the importance of a strong and well-disciplined army to counter new threats. Hadrian also was forced to give up some territory conquered by Trajan that proved difficult to defend, shrinking the borders of the Empire to better secure the remainder.

Unfortunately, not much historical record survives to recount Hadrian’s rule. He was known to be a supporter of the arts, and he wrote some poetry himself. This is consistent with the other good Emperors: it shows he was a scholar and concerned with leading a good life, rather than clinging to power. Before his death in 138 C.E., he named Antoninus Pius as his successor, but demanded that Pious name Marcus Aurelius as his own successor in turn.

Antoninus Pius

The most peaceful of all the Emperors, Antoninus Pius’ rule was marked by a domestic focus. He was a skilled civil administrator and during his reign he brought about legal and economic reforms. His particular focus on making the law more equitable and fair earned him a reputation as an exceedingly just man.

The most famous legal reform of Antoninus was to introduce the concept that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty, a principle which stands to this day. Antoninus also greatly expanded the legal rights of slaves, and made it easier for slaves to be freed. Alongside his changes to the legal system, he also enlisted several legal advisors to write about the law, creating a culture of fair-minded legal reform throughout the empire.

Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius was the most famously philosophical of the five good Emperors, and one of the most widely-known philosopher-rulers of history. He took the title of Emperor in 161 C.E., at first with the assistance of Lucius Verus, but later on his own after Verus died. A skilled military commander and a fair domestic ruler, Aurelius was last and best embodiment of the spirit of the good Emperors.

Because he had already had a long political career before becoming Emperor, Aurelius was a skilled civil servant. His responses to important domestic events of the time were viewed as exceedingly just. During floods and earthquakes, he took a personal interest in overseeing the response and rebuilding, and ensuring that cities within the Empire were taken care of. In keeping with the example started by Trajan, he included the Senate in his decision-making, and had a reputation of trying to not expand the power of the Emperor.

Unlike his predecessor, Aurelius fought wars with both the Parthians and the Germanic tribes north of Italy. In the Parthian war, his co-ruler Lucius Verus commanded the troops, and secured another victory against the Parthians that would subdue them for a while. Aurelius himself led troops in the Marcomannic wars, a series of battles against the assorted Germanic tribes caused by the tribes’ invasion of Roman territory. Although Aurelius won a victory in against the tribes, the wars were simply the first wave in a centuries-long dispute with the Germanic northerners that would eventually contribute to the Empire’s downfall.

Aurelius is best known for his book The Meditations, written during the Germanic war. In it, he outlines his Stoic philosophy, and describes how he had striven to lead a good life no matter his station, as a citizen or as the Emperor. The book was a fitting symbol for the last of the good Emperors: a passionate attempt to persuade readers to do what is right, not just what is best for them. Unfortunately for the people of the Roman Empire, few of the later Emperors would follow Aurelius’ advice.

Why did the Emperors leave Rome? - History

In Matthew 24, Jesus refers to pagan Rome&rsquos persecution of God&rsquos people and destruction of literal Jerusalem. He was speaking of a type of which papal Rome is the antitype . Papal Rome, like pagan Rome, is an abominable system, a false religion that persecutes spiritual Jerusalem, God&rsquos worldwide people. Like the emperors of old, the Pope possesses religious and secular powers. Pagan Rome&rsquos pantheon of gods is replaced by Mary and the saints.

When the power of pagan Rome declined (351-476 AD), the power of papal Rome increased as the Church accumulated more power and influence. When the emperor Constantine (306-337 AD) blended paganism and Christianity into one around 321 AD, Rome became the religious capital of the world.

The transfer of the emperor&rsquos residence to Constantinople was a sad blow to the prestige of Rome, and at the time one might have predicted her speedy decline. But the development of the Church, and the growing authority of the Bishop of Rome, or the Pope, gave her a new lease on life, and made her again the capital&mdashthis time the religious capital&mdashof the world. i

When Constantine moved his capital to Constantinople (330 AD), the Pope inherited the power, prestige, and even titles of the Roman emperors. The most significant of such titles is Pontifex Maximus, a pagan title that means &ldquoBridge builder between heaven and Earth.&rdquo

After Constantine, his son Constantius came into power. In an effort to unite the various factions of the Church, he forced anti-Nicene doctrines on the Church, saying "Whatever I will shall be regarded as canon." ii Constantius also tried to eliminate some pagan practices from his empire. In 356 AD, he decreed the closure of all pagan temples however, the decree did not stop the rituals from continuing in Rome.

Constantius' cousin Julian became the next emperor. A pagan, he tried to revert the empire to its pre-Christian pagan practices and the worship of Helios and Mithra. Following the reign of Julian was an era of emperors who practiced some form of Christianity&mdashbut remained mostly tolerant to the heresies and twisted doctrine that prevailed in their empire.

In 538 AD, the emperor Justinian issued a decree, proclaiming the Pope to be supreme in religious matters. Since then, the Pope has assumed the garb of representative of Jesus Christ on Earth.

Throughout the mid-first millennium, elements of Pagan Rome were further incorporated into Papal Rome through symbols, rituals, and ceremonies. For example, the Roman clergy wear the same vestments of the priests of Dagon, the fish-god. The fish-head mitre , worn by bishops and popes is also the same as the ancient mitre used by the priesthood of Babylon.

The keys of the pagan god figures have also become a symbol of the Papacy, Christianized into &ldquothe keys of Peter.&rdquo The Pope&rsquos staff is the symbol of the snake, and was carried by ancient emperors since Babylonian times. However, this pagan artifact was also Christianized, and became a shepherd&rsquos staff.

The papacy is but the ghost of the Roman Empire, sitting crowned upon the grave thereof. ii

i. Abbot's Roman History: 236, as quoted in Charlene R. Fortsch, Daniel: Understanding the Dreams and Visions (British Columbia: Prophecy Song, 2006): 105.

ii. J. Gaskin (ed.), Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (Oxford University Press, 1998):463.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article and website are not intended to accuse individuals. There are many priests and faithful believers in Roman Catholicism who serve God to the best of their ability and are seen by God as His children. The information contained herein is directed only towards the Roman Catholic religio-political system that has reigned in varying degrees of power for nearly two millennia. Under the influence of its successive popes, bishops, and cardinals, this system has established an increasing number of doctrines and statements that clearly go against Scripture.

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Causes of the Fall of Rome

  1. Goths
    Goths Origins?
    Michael Kulikowsky explains why Jordanes, our main source on the Goths, who is himself considered a Goth, should not be trusted.
  2. Attila
    Profile of Attila, who is known as the Scourge of God.
  3. The Huns
    In the revised edition of The Huns, E. A. Thompson raises questions about the military genius of Attila the Hun.
  4. Illyria
    Descendants of the early settlers of the Balkans came into conflict with the Roman Empire.
  5. Jordanes
    Jordanes, himself a Goth, abridged a lost history of the Goths by Cassiodorus.
  6. Odoacer
    The barbarian who deposed the emperor of Rome.
  7. Sons of Nubel
    Sons of Nubel and the Gildonic War
    If the sons of Nubel hadn't been so eager to do away with one another, Africa might have become independent of Rome.
  8. Stilicho
    Because of personal ambition, Praetorian Prefect Rufinus prevented Stilicho from destroying Alaric and the Goths when they had a chance.
  9. Alaric
    Alaric Timeline
    Alaric didn't want to sack Rome, but he did want a place for his Goths to stay and a suitable title within the Roman Empire. Although he didn't live to see it, the Goths received the first autonomous kingdom within the Roman Empire.

Sack of Rome 410 CE

In August of 410 CE Alaric the Gothic king accomplished something that had not been done in over eight centuries: he and his army entered the gates of imperial Rome and sacked the city. Although the city and, for a time, the Roman Empire would survive, the plundering left an indelible mark that could not be erased. Alaric and his army marched through the Salarian Gates and pillaged a city that had earlier suffered famine and starvation. Although they left churches such as St. Peter and St. Paul untouched, the army destroyed pagan temples, burned the old Senate House, and even kidnapped Emperor Honorius' sister Galla Placidia.

The Goths

Since the early days of the Empire, Rome had continually struggled with the protection of its frontier borders. So, when the Gothic tribes - the Tervingi and Greuthungi - sought refuge from the marauding Huns, the Romans contemplated the options and eventually allowed them to settle on the Balkan frontier, of course, at a cost. Alliances were made and alliances were broken. Many in Rome remained unhappy with the decision and viewed the Goths as nothing more than barbarians although most of them were, in fact, Christian. Unreasonable demands were made of the new settlers, and they suffered at the hands of unscrupulous commanders. Facing starvation due to inadequate provisions and a lengthy famine, the Goths rose up against the Romans and began a long series of raids and pillaging of the countryside.


The differences between the two culminated in the Battle of Adrianople in 378 CE. Emperor Valens (r. 364-378 CE) who had only sought only personal glory was soundly defeated. It was a defeat that not only cost the lives of many veteran soldiers but also revealed the military weaknesses of the west. Theodosius I (r. 379-395 CE) replaced Valens as emperor and another alliance in 382 CE was signed. This new alliance offered land for the Gothic setters in exchange for their providing soldiers for the Roman army. With the defeat of Emperor Magnus Maximus (r. 383-388 CE) in Gaul, Theodosius reunited (for the last time) both the east and west and immediately banned all forms of pagan worship. It appeared that Rome and the Gothic tribes might be, for a time, finally at peace.

Shadow Emperors in the West

With the Theodosius' death in 395 CE, his two young sons Arcadius (r. 395-408 CE) and Honorius (r. 395-423 CE) were named as his successors - Arcadius in the east and Honorius in the west. Since Honorius was only ten at the time, Flavius Stilicho, the magister militum or commander-in-chief, was named as regent. The half-Vandal half-Roman Stilicho's attempt to assume regency over the east failed. It was something that would plague him for years to come.


Unfortunately for the west, the emperors from Valens to Romulus Augustus (r. 475-476 CE) proved to be highly incompetent, isolating themselves from forming policy and becoming increasingly dominated by the military. They were sometimes referred to as the “shadow emperors.” Honorius did not even live in Rome but had a palace at Ravenna. The east and west began to gradually drift apart as the west became more and more susceptible to attack. The weakness of the west became evident when in 406 CE Vandals, Alans, and Suevi crossed the frozen Rhine into Gaul, eventually marching further south into Spain. The Roman troops who normally defended Gaul had been withdrawn to face a usurper from Britain, the soon-to-be Constantine III. With a government in crisis, the time had finally come for the Gothic tribes to rise up against the Romans.

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The Goths had never completely trusted the Romans holding to their promises of 382 CE and hoped to rewrite the old alliance made with Theodosius. The Goths especially disliked the clause making them provide soldiers to the Roman army. It was a condition they believed would severely weaken their own defences. The disparity between Rome and the Goths grew, forcing them to return to the practice of ransacking the Balkan countryside. Although long desired by Rome, this was an area that was technically part of the empire that belonged to the east. Still hoping to rewrite the alliance, the Goths changed their strategy and planned to forge a new deal with Arcadius a plan that would ultimately fail.

Alaric, who had fought at the Battle of the River Frigidus and even allied himself with Stilicho, turned his attentions to the west and Emperor Honorius, eventually leading to the invasion of Italy in 402 CE. His demands for peace were simple: he wanted to be named a magister militum - a title that would give him prestige and help the Gothic status in the empire, - food subsidies, and a percentage of the crops raised in the region. Stilicho, speaking on the behalf of Honorius, said no to all of the demands. With no hope for a new alliance, the two sides clashed twice with no clear winner, both sides suffering heavy losses. Alaric was forced to retreat having been cut off from his supplies.


Despite their differences, Stilicho hoped to appease Alaric with a new alliance: rights in exchange for securing the frontier border against future invasions. In the new proposal Alaric and Stilicho would work together to secure the Balkans for the west. Stilicho had had his eye on the Balkans since being named Honorius' regent. He believed the Balkans would provide additional (and much needed) troops for the Roman forces in the west. Alaric moved eastward and waited for his new ally to arrive. Unfortunately, Stilicho would never arrive. He was detained the Gothic king Radagaisus crossed the Danube and invaded Italy only to be defeated and executed, the Vandals and their allies crossed the Rhine into Gaul, and Constantine III, the usurper from Britain, was declared emperor by his army and soon had Gaul and Spain under his control. Stilicho was overwhelmed and desperately needed money to wage war against the invaders. Alaric, still waiting in the east, also demanded money. His new ally, Stilicho, appealed to the Roman Senate to approve a possible peace with Alaric. Unfortunately, the hawkish Roman senator Olympius disagreed and wanted only war.

Sack of Rome

All the problems appeared to be the fault of Stilicho. Accusations were also aimed at Stilicho, questioning his intent in the east. Honorius, now listening more to Olympus than Stilicho, agreed, and his former regent was arrested and executed. The only real chance for peace with Alaric was gradually disappearing. Alaric took the death of Stilicho to be a sign of things to come and turned his attention to Italy towns such as Concordia, Cremona, and Aviminum soon fell to his army. Instead of obviously seizing the Ravenna home of Honorius, he turned his attention to Rome, believing it would be a more suitable hostage. He surrounded all 13 gates. Supplies in the city soon ran low: food was rationed, corpses littered the streets, a stench filled the air, but Honorius refused to help. The Tiber was cut off from access to the port of Ostia and supplies of grain from North Africa. Rome became a “ghost town.”

With the arrival of Alaric's brother Athaulf with additional forces of Goths and Huns, Rome, who had vowed to fight to the bitter end, realized a truce must be reached. Alaric agreed to lift the siege in exchange for 12 tons of gold, 13 tons of silver, 4,000 silk tunics, 3,000 fleeces, and 3,000 pounds of pepper. The Roman Senate was desperate: statues had to be melted and the treasury was completely emptied, but the siege was over and supplies began arriving.


Although Alaric and his brother had riches, they still hoped to negotiate a new alliance with Honorius. The Senate agreed and the reluctant emperor appeared willing to talk. Representatives from the Senate were sent to Ravenna. In reality, however, the talks were only a delaying tactic until Roman troops arrived from the east. Alaric would soon learn of the treachery behind the emperor and his commander Olympius. Although Honorius agreed in principle to much of an alliance, he agreed with Olympius that any land grant would spell disaster for Rome. Land grants would mean no revenue for the empire, no revenue meant no army, and no army meant no empire. While there still appeared to be some hope, Alaric and his army withdrew from the city.

Honorius used the Gothic army's departure to dispatch 6,000 soldiers to Rome. Alaric spotted the Romans, pursued them, and wiped out all 6,000 troops. About the same time, Athaulf and his Gothic force were attacked by the Romans under the leadership of Olympius. Losing over 1,000 men, Athaulf reorganized and attacked the Roman forces, causing Olympius to retreat to Ravenna. Honorius was desperate and quickly dismissed Olympius who fled to Dalmatia.


Honorius turned to his commander-in-chief Jovius who invited Alaric and Athaulf to Ariminium to negotiate a new alliance. Jovius had been instrumental in forging the alliance between Stilicho and Alaric. The Romans had no alternative. If they fought Goths they faced the possibility of diminishing the Roman forces and thereby opening the door for an invasion from Constantine. Although he had little trust in the emperor's promises, Alaric still hoped for a settlement. Alaric's terms were simple: an annual payment of gold, an annual supply of grain, and land for the Goths in the provinces of Venetia, Noricum, and Dalmatia. In addition he wanted a generalship in the Roman army. The reply was yes to the grain supply but no to the land and generalship. Alaric left the meeting, threatening to sack and burn Rome. After a few days to regain composure, Alaric wanted an end to war and said he would be willing to settle for land in Noricum. Honorius completely refused, leaving the enraged Goth with little alternative but to march on Rome.

A surprise attack by the Roman commander Sarus left little hope for any truce. With a little help from inside the city, the Salarian gate was opened, and Alaric and his army of 40,000 marched into the city. While leaving the Christian churches untouched and those seeking refuge inside alone, the Goths raided the pagan temples and the homes of the rich, demanding gold and silver. Many houses of the rich and some, not all, public buildings were burned. Historian Peter Heather in his book The Fall of the Roman Empire claims that Alaric did not want to the sack the city. He had been outside the city for months and could have sacked it at any time. His only goal was, as it always had been, to negotiate a new alliance, rewriting the one forged in 382 CE. Others, however, saw the sacking of the city in a different light. Heather wrote that many non-Christians believed that fall of the city was due to the abandonment of the imperial religion while Saint Augustine, speaking on behalf of the Church, saw it as an indication of the empire's centuries-old desire to dominate.


The next two decades would bring drastic changes to the west. The Goths would leave Rome and eventually find a permanent home in Gaul. Shortly after leaving the city, Alaric would die of illness - his gravesite is unknown - leaving his brother to lead the Goths. Leadership of the west would also change: Honorius would die in 423 CE while the usurper Constantine III would be defeated by Constantinus. Athaulf would not lead the Goths very long. After marrying Galla Placidia, he would die (possibly murdered) in 415 CE. Galla would return to her brother's forgiving arms. She would be forced to marry Constantinus. Their son would be Valentinian III (425-455 CE), the future emperor in the west. She would serve as her son's regent. In 476 CE the barbarian Odoacer and his army would ride into Italy and depose the young emperor Romulus Augustus. Oddly, the conqueror would not assume the title of emperor. Although arbitrary, the year 476 CE is recognized by most historians to indicate the fall of the west, but the sack of the city in 410 CE had brought the city to its knees, and it never recovered. The Byzantine Empire in the east would, however, survive until falling to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 CE.

Make it rain

Take, for instance, Emperor Vitellius. He was assassinated in A.D. 69, a year of low rainfall on the Roman frontier, where the troops were stationed. "Vitellius was an acclaimed emperor by his troops," Christian said. "Unfortunately, low rainfall hit that year, and he was completely flabbergasted. His troops revolted, and eventually he was assassinated in Rome."

But, as is often the case, many factors can lead to an assassination. For example, Emperor Commodus was assassinated in A.D. 192 because, in part, the military got fed up when he began acting above the law, including making gladiators purposely lose to him in the Colosseum.

There wasn't a drought leading up to Commodus' assassination, "but usually there is a drought preceding the assassination of the emperor," Christian said. "We're not trying to claim that rainfall is the only explanation for all these things. It's just one of many potential forcing variables that can cause this to happen."

The study is part of a burgeoning field that examines how climate affected ancient societies, said Joseph Manning, a professor of classics and history at Yale University who wasn't involved with the new research. Last fall, Manning and his colleagues published a study in the journal Nature on how volcanic activity may have led to the drier conditions that doomed the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt, Live Science previously reported.

However, while the new study lays a "good groundwork" for the rainfall-assassination hypothesis, the researchers have a long way to go to support this idea, Manning said. For starters, it's relatively simple to find a correlation between two things using statistics, he said. "They do some pretty good statistical work, but how do you know you've got the right mechanism?" [Photos: Gladiators of the Roman Empire]

In other words, correlation does not equal causation, Manning said. But, given the promise of this preliminary research, it's worth the effort to dig into this hypothesis to determine whether climate data actually jibes with assassination dates, from the empire's start in 27 B.C. to its end in A.D. 476, Manning said.

The hypothesis "sounds plausible," said Jonathan Conant, an associate professor of history at Brown University who wasn't involved with the study. But while rain may have played a role, so did other factors, Conant said. For instance, most of Rome's assassinations happened in the third century A.D. At this time, the Roman Empire had massive inflation, disease outbreaks and external wars, all of which took a toll on the empire's stability, Conant said.

"For me, [the rainfall-assassination hypothesis] adds another layer of complexity and nuance to our understanding of the political history of the Roman Empire, especially in the third century," Conant told Live Science.

The study is published in the October issue of the journal Economics Letters.