According to the Bible Timeline Chart with World History, the Julians ruled Rome around the time of Christ. Listed below are the names of those that reigned under that name, followed by a summary of each one. Each one ends up worse than the next and wickedness soon leads to their downfall.
The assassination of Julius Caesar left Rome without a clear ruler. Various claimants (including Caesar’s adopted nephew Brutus, his general Mark Antony, and his grand-nephew Octavian) fought for power. Octavian (later called Augustus) emerged as the clear winner in this three-way contest for domination of Rome in 30 BC (four-way if Mark Antony’s former ally Lepidus was included).
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But there was one thing that stood in the way of Octavian’s total rule of Rome: its Senate. It was likely that he would need to say goodbye to his ambition of dominating Rome if he were to go openly against the Roman Senate. He pretended to respect it and in return, the Senate allowed him to remain as consul. He also received extraordinary powers over the provinces as well as the troops that were stationed there. Octavian was allowed to create the Praetorian Guard, which seemed like a simple group of bodyguards at first, but it eventually grew to be his own private army.
The Senate gave Octavian the title of Augustus in 29 BC. Although his official title was still that of a consul, he had all the powers of an emperor. He invented the title “princeps” which means “first one or leader”; a word that would later evolve into the word “prince”. The one thing that did not work out well for Augustus was his lack of an heir as he had no sons of his own. So he had his daughter marry her cousin Marcellus (who died after a year) and to a man named Agrippa (who also died) to produce the son that would be his heir. His quest for an heir led Augustus to marry Julia off to Tiberius, her stepbrother, but this was unsuccessful too. Julia’s sons with Agrippa died young while the youngest was so vicious that the possibility of making him an heir was out of the question. The only one left to be his heir was his stepson Tiberius and Augustus gave him more power as he aged. Tiberius was proclaimed as proconsul and princeps by the Senate, and Augustus died in 14 AD.
Augustus’ stepson Tiberius was well into middle age when he was confirmed as Rome’s princeps. He followed Augustus’ lead and repeatedly declined the recognition as head of state so he would not look too anxious for power. He finally accepted, when he saw the Senate’s exasperation with what looked like his humility. He was soon confirmed as the new head of state. Tiberius chose his nephew, Germanicus as his heir instead of his own son, Drusus. However, the death of Germanicus left him no choice but to make his son as the new heir. When Drusus died, Tiberius became despondent and left Rome for the island of Capri where he indulged in vice with other people.
In 31 BC, Tiberius brutally suppressed a rebellion led by the commander of the Praetorian Guard, Lucius Aelius Sejanus. Tiberius had the commander and his family killed along with hundreds of people who he thought had plotted against him. It was during Tiberius’ rule when Jesus of Nazareth upset the Jewish religious establishment with his teachings. He was later crucified under Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect of Judea, at the insistence of the Jewish high priests.
Tiberius lapsed into a coma after an injury to his shoulder, and his doctor gave him only a day to live. His intended successor, Caligula, was proclaimed as the new emperor but to their surprise, Tiberius recovered and asked for something to eat. Macro, the commander of the Praetorian guard and supporter of Caligula, smothered him with blankets to prevent a confusing and embarrassing situation.
Caligula was the son of Tiberius’ nephew Germanicus, and he became emperor in 37 BC after Tiberius’ death. Rome breathed a sigh of relief when Caligula gave amnesty to political prisoners and initiated tax reforms even after he was given extraordinary powers by the Roman Senate. It seemed that peace was within reach during the reign of Caligula—the opposite of the turbulent years during Tiberius. Unfortunately, this peace would not last as Caligula was no less vicious as his predecessor and great-uncle Tiberius (even worse).
Murder, promiscuity, cruelty, and vice were ever present during Caligula’s reign; he did not even spare the members of his own family from his cruelty. The news of his madness persisted after he lavished gifts upon his prized horse, Incitatus, and wanted to appoint him as consul. Years later, Caligula got rid of the consuls as well as the Senate, which made Rome under the authority of an autocrat. His excessive cruelty continued and by 41 AD, he was murdered by the Praetorian Guard along with his wife and daughter.
Caligula died without an heir, but his uncle, Claudius, had bribed the Praetorian Guard to support him in his ambition to be proclaimed as princeps. The Praetorian Guard had a lot to lose if they did not support him, so he was confirmed as princeps, high priest, and emperor days after the death of Caligula. Unfortunately for Rome and Claudius’ enemies, he was as vicious as the past emperors. He executed many of Rome’s senators and noblemen. The Roman troops were also successful in putting down the rebellion in Britain during Claudius’ reign.
Claudius had his wife, Messalina, executed after the discovery of her affair with another man and her part in a plot against him. He then married his niece Agrippina, adopted her son from a previous marriage, and renamed the boy as Nero. The emperor named the young boy as his heir, but the ambitious mother decided to poison Claudius after this to secure the position for her son.
Nero was just sixteen when Emperor Claudius died, and he was named as princeps after he bribed the Praetorian guards to secure his succession. Wary of any rival to his domination, he ordered the execution of Britannicus, Claudius’ son with Messalina, as well as the exile of Agrippina, his own mother.
Nero’s first five years as emperor were generally peaceful, but insanity seemed to run in his family, and he sank to the same corruption that affected the emperors before him. He had his own mother killed, became increasingly corrupt, wasted Rome’s tax money on his vices, and resumed the notorious treason trials started by Caligula. In addition, the Roman troops in Britain also went on a rampage and cruelly suppressed the tribes that lived there. Because of this event, the Celtic queen Boudica took her revenge by killing off the Roman troops stationed in Camulodunum (modern Colchester). She and her allies were eventually defeated, but the Romans in Britain reconsidered their views of the local tribes after this event.
Back home, Nero became more erratic, and his insanity became worse during the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD. The Christians, long been a target for persecution, became Nero’s scapegoat for this event, and he punished them with a renewed viciousness that repelled the Romans even further. It was also during this time that the apostles Peter and Paul were condemned to death in Rome. Nero turned so mad that he killed his wife Poppaea (who was pregnant at that time) during a rage and had a young boy castrated afterward so he could marry him.
The Romans finally had enough and in 68 AD, the Praetorian guards conspired against Nero to get rid of him. According to Roman biographer Suetonius, he stabbed himself to death after he was forced to flee Rome. The death of Nero ended the reign of the Julians in Rome which was soon followed by the Four Emperors and the Flavian Dynasty.
Picture By John William Waterhouse – Unknown, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1170898
Suetonius. “Lives of the Caesars.” Internet History Sourcebooks. Accessed May 25, 2016. http://legacy.fordham.edu/Halsall/ancient/suetonius-index.asp.
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