The Roman Empire was vast at its peak and its influence is still felt today in our forms of military, government, and society in general. Ruled over for a time by emperors, the Empire had periods of greatness and periods of decline. This list looks at ten of the emperors who have left their mark on history for being so dreadful.
The Apocalypse of Saint John is believed to have been written during Domitian’s reign at the end of the First Century. Domitian was a staunch advocate for the Roman gods and goddesses, the worship of whom had fallen out of practice by the time of his rise to power.
Eusebius of Caesarea, writing 300 years later, recounts that the first large-scale Christian and Jewish persecution began during Domitian’s reign. There is no non-Christian history of such activities, but Domitian is known to have been tyrannically opposed to all other religions other than Roman.
Like so many other emperors, Domitian dealt with dissent among his close advisors and friends by means of death. He executed a few too many prominent politicians and wealthy citizens, and the straw that broke the camel’s back was his murder of his secretary, Epaproditus.
A man named Stephanus, and several others, conspired to kill him, with Stephanus pretending to be wounded for several days, so he could conceal a dagger under his bandages. He approached Domitian in his bedroom, and stabbed him in the groin, whereupon the emperor was beset by several men, one of which was a fearsome gladiator, who all stabbed him to death.
9 Septimius Severus
There is no doubt that Christians and Jews were persecuted severely during Severus’s reign. He believed in a draconian interpretation of Roman law, which did not tolerate any religion but the Roman one. He did not seek out any particular religious culture, but simply persecuted all of the foreign ones.
Christians and Jews were the most common, and up to 1,000 to 3,000 were executed, after being given the option of cursing Jesus or Yahweh, or being beheaded or crucified. He had absolutely no respect of care for anyone except his army, since they were the ones who could rise up and depose him. He managed to stabilize the Empire through draconian fear, but this stability did not last long, once his son, #4, took the throne.
8 Maximinus Thrax
He was, by all accounts, a huge man, well over 6 feet tall, perhaps 7 feet or more. He has been blamed as causing the Crisis of the Third Century, largely due to his murders of several dozen of his closest friends, advisors, and benefactors. He did not trust anyone, and intended to make the people love him by conquest and expansion.
His first campaign was against the Alamanni people of Germania. They were absolutely no threat to Rome at this time, but Maximinus invaded them and conquered them, albeit at a terrible cost to his army. The people did not love him for this, but hated him. But he went right on invading Sarmatia and Dacia, modern-day Ukraine and Romania, respectively. These people had not instigated anything against Rome.
Meanwhile, a revolt began in North Africa, setting up two men as claimants to the Roman throne, Gordianus Sempronianus and his son. The Roman Senate supported them, and in response, Maximinus marched his army on Rome, but his troops had been fighting for so long that they were exhausted and sick. They were unable to enter the closed city gates, and many deserted. His Praetorian Guard had finally had enough and stabbed Maximinus in the back, then his son and advisors, beheaded them and put their heads on poles around the city walls, whereupon they were let in.