The Post-Augustan Roman Emperors and the Julio-Claudian Breaking Point

Subject: History
Type: Informative Essay
Pages: 2
Word count: 707
Topics: Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome
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The Julio-Claudian principal referred to the dynasty established by the first five emperors of Rome. They came from Augusts’ lineage, with the first of them being Octavian Augusts (27 B.C- 14 A.D). He was closely followed by Tiberius (14 A.D- 37 A.D), Gaius Germanicus (37 A.D- 41 A.D), Claudius (41 A.D- 54 A.D), and finally Nero (54 A.D- 68 A.D) (Birley, 1976). Nero’s fall from power and subsequent death represented the end of the Julio- Claudian dynasty. It can be argued that the regime played into their demise through their extreme and dictatorial ways of ruling. They had even set this precedence of not appointing their natural sons as heirs to the throne, instead opting for adopted successors.

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Octavia Augustus came across as a somewhat dictatorial leader, regarding the way he married off members of his family and executions of antagonists. Tiberius took on Augustus’ mantle and implemented his ideologies. His successor, Germanicus, known by his childhood name Caligula continued with the dictatorial trend and executions. The same tone embodied Claudius’ regime, more developmental and expansive, yet easily manipulated even into ordering executions (Birley, 1976). Nero, the last of the lot, strengthened his grip on power by executing his rivals and making the Senate less powerful. He had so many relatives killed, among them his mother and first wife. “Seeing how his mother took matters upon herself, Nero thought it was time for her elimination (Birley, 1976).” Heavy taxation, conspiracies to topple his regime and constant rebellions characterized his later years on the throne. These events were perhaps a sign of the end of times for the Julio- Claudian lineage. Despite withering the storm and the waves, he was eventually toppled by Galba, though he chose to commit suicide rather than get to that point (Scarre, 2012). His death signaled the end or the “breaking point” of the Julian- Claudian lineage as emperors.  Had there not been the mass executions of family members, probably one from the family would have taken over the mantle, either before or after Nero. Therefore, it would not be wrong to deliver the verdict that the dynasty’s actions contributed to its downfall.

Nero spelled doom for the Julio- Claudian era. Despite the actions of his predecessors, his decisions seemed to be the most abhorrent. The previous regimes relied more on diplomacy than the use of military force, achieving unprecedented levels of peace and prosperity. “Augustus, the founder of the lineage, had left instructions that Rome does not engage in foreign wars (Birley, 1976).” His successors before Nero seemed to honor this word, banking and building on controlling the treasury and expanding the Roman empire. Claudius, his immediate predecessor, focused on controlling the treasury to ensure that Rome remained prosperous and expanded the Roman Empire (Scarre, 2012). Barring Germanicus (Caligula), all the others can be considered superior to Nero. Nero commissioned wars to conquer Germany, Britain, and Armenia. But perhaps the biggest cracks in his administration appeared in the way he handled Rome’s Great Fire of 64 A.D. “Nero spent huge amounts on reconstructing the city and a vast palace, the Domus Aurea (Scarre, 2012).” In trying to rebuild the city and an exotic palace for himself, he was extravagant and placed the burden on the people of the provinces by overtaxing them. This sparked significant dissent and rebellion. The way he mercilessly butchered members of his own family was comparable to none of the other emperors. Caligula had Claudius to atone for his shortcomings, but Nero had no one. Therefore, his actions tarnished the Claudian lineage and there was no one to redeem them after his suicide. The fact that he chose to take his own life rather than put up a fight, knowing very well that there was no one from his bloodline to succeed him showed how much of a failure and disgrace to the Julio-Claudius family he was.

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As is evident in the essay, it is crystal clear that the actions of the five emperors, and notably Nero, gradually contributed to the end of their dynasty. No one is to blame for their self-destruction. Had Nero ruled a bit more wisely, probably their era would have lasted a little longer.

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  1. Birley, A. (1976). Lives of the Later Caesars: The First Part of the Augustan History. Penguin Classics.
  2. Scarre, C. (2012). Chronicle of the Roman Emperors: The Reign-by-Reign Record of the Rulers of Imperial Rome (1st ed.). Thames & Hudson.
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