The Roman Empire - In The First Century
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Years of Trial
Roman citizen being manhandled
Although Augustus was dead, his dynasty lived on. But the lottery of hereditary rule meant that Rome would be governed by a bizarre cast of characters, including the good, the bad and the ugly.

The weakest link

Augustus had outlived his preferred heirs - his two grandsons. So when he died, it was his son-in-law, Tiberius, who became emperor. Tiberius knew he was not first choice. So did everybody else. Worse still, he had none of Augustus' political skills or judgment. He was also suspected of murdering the war-hero, Germanicus.

Tiberius eventually became a recluse and appointed an amoral opportunist, Sejanus, as his deputy. Seeing the chance of a lifetime, Sejanus began persecuting his rivals. But just when he seemed unstoppable, Tiberius turned against him and Sejanus was executed.

Sejanus was just a taste of things to come. With no sons of his own, Tiberius named his great-nephew, Caligula, as his heir.

Mad, bad and dangerous to know

At first, Caligula was a breath of fresh air. But shortly after taking power, he began behaving strangely. He pretended to be a god and seduced married women. Suspecting everyone, he persecuted both friends and rivals for treason.

Before long, his advisors had had enough and Caligula was murdered by his closest advisors. His only heir was his uncle, Claudius, who had been deformed by a childhood illness and had spent his life as the butt of family jokes.

Possibly Rome's most unlikely emperor, Claudius worked hard and was a surprising success. At home, he passed a number of far-sighted laws. Abroad, he conquered Britain, succeeding where Caesar had failed.

Marital problems

His weakness was women. His first wife, Messalina, had a string of affairs that threatened his throne. After she was killed, he decided to marry his niece, Agrippina. This was a huge mistake. Agrippina only wanted to promote her son, Nero. She persuaded Claudius to disinherit his own son. She then murdered Claudius.

Now Nero was emperor. Again, a good start soon gave way to a darker side of extravagance and random killings. Then, fed up with Agrippina's interference, Nero had her killed.

Nero was out of control and Rome was at the mercy of a mad tyrant. There was only one solution. After 14 years as emperor, the Senate declared Nero as a public enemy. He fled and committed suicide. Augustus' dynasty was over and Rome descended again into civil war.

Where to next:
Emperors - Claudius
Emperors - Nero

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The Roman Empire - In The First Century