Timeline Description: The Roman Empire began with the reign of Augustus Caesar in 27 BCE. It was divided in 285 CE, and fell in 476 CE. The emperors ranged from successful and effective rulers to the corrupt and even insane. In some periods, a single individual held power for a number of years and in others, many individuals fought to rule in a single year.
|27 BC||Augustus Caesar: The First Emperor(27 BCE to 14 CE)
While Augustus Caesar did not claim the title of emperor, he led Rome's transition from a republic to an empire quite successfully. The empire he founded lasted through the fall of the Byzantine Empire, some 1500 years later, while the Pax Romana or Roman peace crafted by Augustus held for some 200 years.
|14||Tiberius to Nero(14 CE to 68 CE)
The four emperors following Augustus Caesar, including Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero, were much less successful. In the case of Caligula and Nero, they were, perhaps, even insane. Their actions did not serve Rome well; however, the Pax Romana held throughout the years of their reigns.
|68||The Year of the Four Emperors to Domitian(68 CE to 96 CE)
Between 68 and 69 CE, there were a series of four very short-ruling emperors, followed by the much more successful Vespasian. Vespasian was responsible for the building the Colosseum and held power for a decade in the city of Rome. Titus and Domitian followed Vespasian. Titus is best remembered for the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and Domitian for his persecution of Christians.
|96||The Five Good Emperors(96 CE to 180 CE)
Following the rule of Vespasian, there was nearly a century of good and stable rule in Rome, during the reigns of Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antonius Pius and Marcus Aurelius. All were responsible for significant construction, ranging from Trajan's Market and Column to Hadrian's Wall in Britain. This was a period of significant wealth and growth for the Roman Empire.
|177||Commodus to Macrinus(177 CE to 218 CE)
After a period of significant stability, the emperors to follow were much less effective. Most famous in this period is Commodus, remembered as worse than Nero, and Caracalla, called the common enemy of mankind. Their actions were not driven by the good of the Empire, but rather personal gain. Emperors in this period include: Commodus, Pertinax, Didius Julianus, Pescinnus Niger, Claudius Albinus, Septimius Severus, Caracalla, Geta, and Macrinus.
|218||Diadumenian to Maximus Thrax(218 CE to 238 CE)
This beginning of this period is again marked by generally poor leadership under Diadumenian, killed at only ten years old, and Elagabalus, who violated Roman religious rules and customs. Their reigns were quite brief, and in 222 Alexander Severus took power. He ruled until 238 and, during his reign, revoked edicts that had allowed for the persecution of Christians. His rule was followed by the brief reign of Maximus Thrax, sometimes called the Thug.
|238||Gordian I to Gordian III(238 CE to 244 CE)
238 CE was not a good year for Roman emperors. There were, in total, seven emperors that year, including the end of the reign of Alexander Severus, the reign of Maximus Thrax, as well as that of Gordian I, Gordian II, Balbinus and Pupienus. Gordian III took power before the end of the year and ruled until 244 CE.
|244||Philip the Arab to Zenobia(244 CE to 275 CE)
Rome had some 16 emperors over the 30 year period in the second half of the third century. These included Philip the Arab and his wife, Severa, the first Christian couple, several interlopers from other regions, several who were killed and others who died of the plague. The final three emperors in this period were more successful than their predecessors. Quintillus championed and fought for the role of the Senate, while Aurelian (270 to 275) was a successful military strategist. Finally, Zenobia was a warrior queen who ruled as emperor of Rome from 267 to 273.
|275||The Interregnum(275 CE)
During the interregnum or time between reigns, there was no reigning emperor in Rome. The Empire was governed by individual governors and their representatives. This lasted approximately six months, following the death of Aurelian.
|275||Tacitus to Julian of Panonia(275 CE to 285 CE)
The next decade in the history of the Roman Empire was marked by a number of short-lived emperors, as well as accusations of incest. Eight emperors ruled during this ten year period.
|284||Diocletian to Severus II(284 CE to 307 CE)
In 285 CE, Diocletian split the Roman Empire into East and West, dividing the two halves permanently. When the city of Rome and the Western Roman Empire fell in 476 CE, the Eastern continued. Diocletian ruled along with Maximianus for approximately 20 years; however, there was a short-lived distinct and separate empire in Britain near the end of their reign. Toward the end of the reign of Diocletian, there was growing dissension in the Empire.
|307||Constantine the Great(307 CE to 337 CE)
Constantine the Great was the first Roman Emperor to accept Christianity. Constantine allowed Christians to practice their religion freely, and enabled, after several centuries, the Church to become a public entity. Constantine fought one of his co-emperors, Licinius I. As an emperor, Constantine was an effective ruler; however, his religious role is perhaps most historically significant. There were a number of other ruling emperors during his reign, but he is the best remembered and most important.
|337||Constantine II to Julian the Apostate(337 CE to 363 CE)
Following the death of Constantine the Great, the Empire continued to follow a pattern of mismanagement and increasing chaos. The emperors in this period frequently died while in office and military actions were largely unsuccessful. These emperors included the sons of Constantine. Julian the Apostate brought an end to established Christianity in the Empire at the end of the period; however, this was brief.
|363||Jovian to Arcadius(363 CE to 408 CE)
Jovian re-established Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire. During this time, the Goths made progressive inroads into the Empire, often with the permission of the emperor. Theodosius I (375 to 395) attempted to resist barbarian invasions, but like other emperors of this period, was largely unsuccessful as a military leader and weakened by the overall state of the Roman Empire. The city of Rome was sacked by barbarian invaders during the rule of Honorius.
|408||Theodosius II to Romulus Augustus(408 CE to 476 CE)
Conditions continued to decline in the city of Rome during the fifth century. There were ongoing Barbarian invasions, as well as the approach of the Huns. Other parts of the Empire had already been overrun by invaders. Emperors in the west during this period were increasingly corrupt and ineffective. In the east, the emperors had more success managing and fighting against Barbarian invasions. Relations between east and west became increasingly distant, with Marcian (450 to 457) refusing to acknowledge the emperor in the west. Emperor Romulus Augustus reigned during the final fall of Rome in 476.
|476||The Fall of the Roman Empire(476 CE)
In 476 CE, the Roman Empire finally fell to the invading Goths. Invasions and attacks had been a problem for a number of years, and the Empire had progressively weakened in the West. The Roman Empire continued in the East for another millennium, but is typically referred to as the Byzantine Empire, and the emperors considered the Emperor of the Byzantines, not of Rome.