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Mediterranean Chronology

The Five Good Emperors



Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius, known as the Five Good Emperors, were a series of excellent emperors who ruled in Rome from 96-180 AD. following the Flavian Dynasty. They were so called because they succeeded in winning the support and cooperation of the senate, which is something their predecessors had failed to accomplish.

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The first of these great emperors was Marcus Cocceius Nerva, ruling from 96-98 AD, who was chosen to take the throne by the assassins of the previous emperor, Domitian. He was a conservative man who promised to deal with the senate fairly and never put one of its members to death. The main things that characterize the reign of Nerva are his excellent relations with the senate, his completion of Dominitan's projects, his vast amount of spending on securing public good will, his attempt to increase civilian dislike for Dominitan, and the fact that he initiated a system of adopting heirs to ensure the succession of the best candidates. He adopted Trajan to be his heir, and thus inheriting the throne after him.

The second emperor, Trajan, was in power from 98-117 and began his reign with pomp, killing all the leaders of the group who had shamed Nerva. He was named Optimus Maximus, meaning the best because of his respect for the senate and a series of foreign wars in which he attempted to extend the empire. He is well known for his contributions to public services, including an increase in the free distribution of food, the repair of roads, and the construction of the Forum, Market, and baths of Trajan. He adopted Hadrian, who became his successor.

Publius Aelius Hadrianus (Hadrian), the third of the great emperors to rule Rome, was in power from 117-138. His first accomplishment was the termination of Trajan's attempts at expansion. He also abandoned military conquests because they were too expensive, and paid more attention to the provinces, traveling and listening to them. Regarding government and law, he developed the Frumentarii, or Secret Service, and established the Equestrian Order which took the major burden of civil service and amassed secretariat positions. Intellectually, he was an author surrounded with fine minds who encouraged art, literature, and culture.

Hadrian's successor was Antonius Pius, ruling from 138-161. His name arose from his refusing to executing the list that was waiting when he came to power. He had no desire to conquer so his reign was very prosperous and he restored the status of the senate. Some other of his accomplishments include improving bureaucratic machinery, watching the development of foreign crises, and founding the dynasty of Antoninus, and being a great builder.

The last of the famous emperors was Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, who ruled from 161-180, in an era of intense hardship. There was incessant warfare and financial suffering during his reign as well as an outbreak of plague from the East. He was part of the Marcomannic Wars of Marcomanni, Langobardi and others and broke into the Danube provinces, routed an army and besieged Aquileia as a prelude to Italy's invasion. The end of the reign of the Five Good Emperors was characterized by Aurelius's death on the frontier in 180 AD.


Bunson, Matthew Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire (New York; Facts on File, 1994)

Grant, Michael and Rackel Kitzinger, Civilization of the Ancient Mediterranean: Greece and Rome (New York; Charles Scribner's Sons, 1988)

Ross, Martha. Rulers and Governments of the World v.1 (London; Bowker, 1978)

Edited by: Jelani N. G. Greenidge
Researched by: Donita R. McWilliams
Written by: Meridith L. Berg
October 19, 1997

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