Latin Language Blog

Five Good Emperors Posted by on Feb 21, 2010 in Latin Language

The “Five Good Emperors” was a term coined by Machiavelli. In today’s post, we’ll examine just what made these give emperors “good”.

Emperor Nerva had a short reign that ran for a little over an year. Although modern historians have labeled him a weak and ineffective emperor, his adoption of the next emperor ensured a smooth succession of power that avoided civil war.

Emperor Trajan is best known for his military achievements. He is credited for expanding the borders of the Roman empire at its greatest height. He is also known for his construction programs, one of them meaning Trajan’s column. (Trajan’s column was a column¬†commemorating his military victories and later the place where his ashes were laid.) He died of illness during a military siege.

Emperor Hadrian’s reign was marked by relative peace. Although he did have to supress minor rebellions in Great Britain and Jerusalem, his reign was significant for its lack of military engagements. He also traveled directly to distant parts of his empire, and built fortifications to defend against invaders. One controversial aspect of his life was his relationship with a youth named Antinous, which is a topic of discussion to this day.

Emperor Antonius’s (also known as Antonius Pius) reign was handled largely through delegation. Instead of dealing with matters of war and administration directly, he communicated his orders to the governors of local provinces to handle such matters. What we know of him is through public records. There were no surviving biographies of his life when he lived.

Emperor Marcus Aurelius is the only emperor with the distinction of being called a “philosopher king”. Emperor Marcus Aurelius is also known for writing Meditations, a collection of his personal writings on living a philosophical life. In addition he’s known as one of the more philanthropic emperors, especially in regards to slaves and orphans. The era of peace ended with Emperor Marcus Aurelius.

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