|Bust of Nerva the Emperor
Domitianís murder marked the end of the Flavian dynasty and changed the rules of succession. Nerva and Trajan (ruled 96 – 98 AD, 98 – 117 AD) were not born to rule, but were chosen for the job. The results were remarkably successful.
Nerva became emperor immediately after Domitianís murder in 96 AD. He had a lifetime of service to Rome and its emperors, and had served as consul twice, in 71 and 90 AD.
Now he was called to higher office. He immediately promised an end to the tyranny of Domitianís rule, swearing that he would never execute any senator, whatever the provocation.
This promise was soon stretched to its limits. Domitian had bought the armyís loyalty with large pay rises and when he was murdered, it was furious. Seeking revenge, the Praetorian Guard stormed the palace and demanded that those responsible be executed.
Nerva faced the soldiers, offering his own life by baring his neck to their swords. The soldiers just laughed and went on to kill many of his friends and allies. Astonishingly, Nerva thanked them for carrying out justice, but he had been badly humiliated. His will broken, he died soon afterwards.
A sharp turn
|Bust of Trajan the Emperor
At this point history took a sharp turn. Shortly before Nerva died, Roman generals had debated who should be the next emperor. They chose Trajan, a former army commander, senator and governor of Upper Germany.
The first emperor to have been born outside Italy, Trajan came from southern Spain. His nomination by the generals was a bold and important move, signaling that educated and wealthy men from all over the empire were eligible for the highest office.
Expanding the empire
It was also very successful. As emperor, Trajan expanded the Roman Empire to become larger than ever before. He conquered Dacia (now part of Romania), which provided land for Roman settlers and rich pickings from gold and salt mines.
He then attacked the Parthians, Romeís old enemy in the East, who lived in what is now part of Iran. By 115 AD, he had captured the Parthian capital of Ctesiphon and had reached the Persian Gulf.
The Roman Empire now stretched across Europe and the Middle East, from the borders of Scotland to southern Spain. It included North Africa, western and central Europe, and what is now Israel, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria and parts of Iran and Iraq. It would never be bigger.
Back home, Trajan was just as busy. He treated the Senate with respect and tried to find competent and honest officials to rule the provinces.
With the army, Trajan was fair but strict, ordering the execution of the Praetorian Guard who had defied Nerva. With the Christians, he ignored those who wanted them persecuted and, instead, treated them like other citizens, punishing them only when they deserved it.
Welfare and public works
He was generous to Romeís population, giving out cash and increasing the number of poor citizens who could receive free grain. Trajan also began a massive program of public works, building bridges, harbors and aqueducts. Finally, he reduced taxes and started a new welfare program for poor children. This work brought him acclaim from many, including the statesman and author, Pliny the Younger.
Trajan held onto power until 117 AD. His civilized rule set the tone for future generations; his expansion of the Roman Empire made it a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic melting pot that is still relevant today, 2,000 years later.
Where to next:
Writers - Pliny the Younger
Religion in Ancient Rome Ė Early Christians