S.J.A. Turney's Books & More

Reviews, news and inside the world of books.

Wonder Of Rome

with 35 comments



In my head, I found myself strolling through the list of Rome’s Emperors (I can recite as far as the year of the 6 emperors by rote) and wondering whether they would make an interesting blog entry. That, in my middle-of-the-night blurry mind became something of a challenge to myself. I would take the list of Emperors and try and find something positive – an achievement – that came from the reign of each one, even the ones traditionally hailed as monsters. An intriguing proposition, eh?

I realised afterwards that I was going to have to limit myself to the emperors who managed at least most of a year in power and therefore had time to achieve something! You’d be surprised how many that knocks out of the list. I also decided to quit around the time of the introduction of the Tetrarchy, given the fact that we then have four rulers on the go at any given time, just to complicate the issue. Just a note ahead of time: this blog is light-hearted in its approach. If you are seeking Oxford monographs, look elsewhere folks. Otherwise, prepare to learn a few new facts and perhaps treat yourself to a little giggle now and then, and look out for the competition and links at the end.

So without further ado, here we go.

Augustus (27 BC-14) – How easy is Augustus? (as the actress said to the bishop). The man who ‘found Rome brick, but left it marble’? Well from my personal point of view, given what I write, I would credit him mostly with the creation of Rome’s legendary standing army in the form that persisted for centuries.


Tiberius (14-37) – May have been a depressive fruitcake, but he built a lovely set of palaces, including one on the Palatine, one at Sperlonga, and the vertiginous Villa Jovis on Capri (from which he supposedly hurled people to their deaths, but we’ll overlook that for comfort. After all, he did!)


Caligula (37-41) – Perhaps the most maligned of Rome’s rulers. An early incarnation of Joffey Baratheon. And yet after the autocratic rule of Tiberius, he found time to reinstate a proper democratic process for public officials. Now if only he’d left his sisters alone…


Claudius (41-54) – Clubfooted and stammering fool? I think not. There are many achievements of Claudius to choose from, not least the fact that this land I sit upon became Roman because of his expansion of the Empire. But I think I’d have to go for the Tiber canal works and the expansion of Ostia and Portus for trade as his greatest achievement.


Nero (54-68) – Nero (Christopher Biggins) is a toughie. And yet despite being hailed as the Antichrist by the Catholic church and having been almost universally hated throughout history, bear in mind that this evil man set a cap on the fees charged by lawyers. And who’s the greater evil: he or they?


Vespasian (69-79) – It’s hard to dislike the fat jolly genius general Vespasian. It’s easy to find positives, too. Think I’ll go with the construction of the Colosseum (not completed until after he died, but his project nonetheless.)


Titus (79-81) – Beloved of the people. In his short but eventful reign, Titus managed more than some Emperors did in a decade. But probably the thing he SHOULD be remembered for is his efforts to alleviate the suffering in the aftermath of Vesuvius’ eruption.


Domitian (81-96) – despite an unsavoury reputation in history, Domitian left Rome with some of its greatest structures. Remember him for a building program that produced the great palace on the Palatine, the Odeon and Stadium in the Campus Martius, and several temples in the forum.


Nerva (96-98) – Hard to dispute the positive value of Nerva’s new policy of adoptive heirs, selecting the best man for the succession rather than attempting to breed him (a system that had turned the Julio-Claudian dynasty into inbred 3-toothed hillbillies.)


Trajan (98-117) – One of the greats. If Domitian is to be remembered for the great buildings he left behind, then he will be eclipsed by Trajan. The Market? The Forum? The Column? I think I’m going to go with the fact that Trajan left Rome at the end of his reign at its greatest extent, never to be achieved again. Some feat.


Hadrian (117-138) – No. I refuse to use the wall. Too easy. In fact his building program empire-wide is a little easy really. But that itself was part of a massive reorganisation and repair of the infrastructure for the entire empire. Would that he could tour Britain now, eh? Our local roads are apparently corrugated.


Antoninus Pius (138-161) – Well I think we’ll have to go with Tony P’s wall across Scotland, expanding the border in Britannia to its northernmost permanent frontier in history. Probably the first man to have an erection in Glasgow.


Marcus Aurelius (161-180) – Again, only a difficult one because of too many options to choose from. I would settle for his Meditations – a philosophical tome that rivals the great Greek thinkers and showing unusual depth for a politician!


Commodus (176-192) – Good old megalomaniac Commodus is a toughie. Might be an achievement to say he left us at least 2 Imperial villas, or allowed the army to wield axes. But I’d go for – whatever you say about the effects of his conciliatory policies – the fact that the Empire had peacetime enough to breathe for the first time in decades.


Septimius Severus (193-211) Our first in many ways. The first of a far-reaching dynasty. The first African Emperor. But despite his vaunted military facets, and even his forked beard (sign of a classic movie villain), I’d remember him for embellishing the provincial city of Leptis Magna  and turning it into one of the grandest atchitectural gems in the Roman world – a fact still visible in its remains.


Caracalla (198-217) His memory may be damnatio, and he may be a fratricide, but old gloomy-pants Caracalla made every freedman across the Empire a citizen. Might have had selfish reasons, of course, both financial and military, but it was still nice for the freedmen, I’m sure.


Macrinus (217-218) – Despite a short and generally unpopular reign, Macrinus managed to positively revalue Rome’s currency. And the policy outlasted him, unlike previous attempts such as that of old hairy Pertinax (not listed here due to the brevity of his rule.)


Elagabalus (218-222) – Oh now HERE’s a fruitcake supreme.  But did everyone’s favourite Syrian weirdie leave anything of lasting benefit? The simple answer is no. Sadly, he is my real stumbling block in the list. In four years he is remembered as having done nothing that was not in some way destructive. The best I can do is note how his attempt to make Sol Invictus the prime God of Rome brought that cult to a formerly unthought of prominence for good and therefore likely influenced later Roman Christianity.


Severus Alexander (222-235) – As a personal choice, I remember him for the enormous fountainhead of the new Aqua Alexandrina, standing tall and imposing still in the Park in Plaza Vittorio Emmanuel II in Rome. The first time I saw it it lodged in my mind and stayed there.


Maximinus Thrax (235-238) – Not much positive to say about the Thracian giant. The best I can manage is that at a time when the security of the northern frontier was beginning to crumble he campaigned, won battles, and managed to secure the border for a while. That and you wouldn’t mess with him in a bar fight!


I’m going to skip the brief reigns of Gordian I & II, Pupienus, & Balbinus, but I had to mention them, just so that I could pronounce ‘poopy-anus’ aloud while reading this back and then laugh like Beavis and Butthead. Bet you’re re-reading it and guffawing right now.

Gordian III (238-244) – Despite a reign spanning six years, young Gordianus Pius managed to achieve remarkably little, due to his youth and the fact that other men governed for him throughout the period. One thing we can ascribe to him worth noting, is the ‘palace’ of Gordian at Volubilis in Morocco.


Philipus Arabs (244-249) – Despite a reign that left little of value, Philip had the honour of holding the most important (and last ever) of the Ludi Saeculares in Rome. A huge pageant involving games, races, fights, plays and more to celebrate another century in Rome, Philip’s celebrated the city’s thousandth anniversary.


Decius (249-251) – It would be nice to laud the political and religious reforms of the miserable-looking old sod Decius here, but sadly his reign was cut rather short (much like his body), and the planned reforms were never instituted. So we will have to go with the baths of Decius on the Aventine, the only great show of public works within a period of several decades of strife.


Trebonianus Gallus (251-253) – Remembered chiefly for one act of charity, when plague ravaged Rome and the Emperor paid for the decent burial of its victims, even the impoverished. In my own mind, he’s chiefly remembered for that heroic nude statue of him that makes him a pretty peculiar shape.


Valerian (253-260) – (Trying not to tut at the stupid ends some Emperors meet). Caesar Publius Licinius Valerianus Footstoolius Augustus! The most positive thing I can say on Footstool’s reign is that he reconquered the lost land of Syria. And he was probably nice and comfy.


Gallienus (253-268) – Really, in the mid 3rd century, it could be said that Gallienus’ greatest achievement is having reigned continuously for 15 year without a knife in the back. In lasting terms, Gallienus seemed to anticipate the changing nature of warfare and shifted the focus of the army towards cavalry for the first time. It might be said this was the first major step to the new field armies of the late Empire.


Claudius Gothicus (268-270) – In a time faced with breakaway states and numerous invasions and incursions, Claudius II can be remembered with pride for having begun the course of putting the Empire back together. He fought the Goths back over the Danube and restored Hispania to the Empire, weakening the breakaway Gallic Empire.


Aurelian (270-275) – Bulgarian provincial, able cavalry commander and wearer of the pointy crown, it would be nice to laud him for the reunification of the empire, conquering the breakaway states of Gaul and Palmyra. But a chunk of the acclaim for that has to go (and has gone) to Claudius II. And anyway, there is a more physical reminder of Aurelian’s reign in the form of the great impressive brick walls and gates that surround Rome to this day. The Aurelian walls rightly hold a place in the great fortifications of history.


Probus (276-282) – You may not think it, but this obscure gruff soldier emperor from the backwaters of the Balkans gave us one great gift perhaps above that of all other emperors. In order to keep his armies busy between wars, he had them plant vineyards in Gaul. By extension, he is directly responsible for seventeen centuries of French viniculture. Probus is the father of the French wine. Bet you’ll remember him now!


Carus (282-283) – Carus holds two distinctions in my eyes. Firstly, despite a short reign, he is one of very few Emperors who achieved a solid victory in Persia, holding the Sassanids at bay and avenging many years of humiliation at their hands. Secondly, he was the first Emperor to be served flambé courtesy of a lightning strike!


Carinus (283-285) – Apparently the only positive thing that can be said to have come from Carinus’ short, brutal and somewhat unpopular reign is the grandest Ludi Romani (annual games) for half a century. The fact that he held a huge party and that was his great achievement somewhat condemns the man.


Diocletian (284-305) – Diocletian’s achievements are so numerous and so far-reaching that it would be difficult to even attempt to list them. We will therefore, in order to bring proceedings to a close, go with the foundation of that most complex and bureaucratic system of rule: the Tetrarchy. While it may have inevitably collapsed through the power-hunger of men like Constantine, the changes instituted by Diocletian took a failing nation and revitalised it, giving it an edge that would keep it going another century and birth the Byzantine Empire. And… of course… he retired to grow cabbages!


So there you go. Not a comprehensive list, but it goes to show that no reign should ever be viewed in monochrome.



If you enjoy the world of Rome, you may wish to take a look at my books (top right of the blog) and perhaps visit my main website and have a read of a sample. And as a special treat, here’s a giveaway for you. Comment on this blog and tell me the most interesting achievement you can think of that came from the daddy of the entire Imperial system – Julius Caesar – and the most interesting (true) answer will receive either a signed paperback copy of my latest release (Marius’ Mules V) or the full set of 5 books in E-format, your choice. Get commenting!


If you’ve had fun reading this, read on for more Rome on the sites of my good friends on the blog hop!

David Blixt – Author of the Colossus books

Petrea Burchard – Author of Camelot & Vine

John Henry Clay – Author of The Lion And The Lamb

Gordon Doherty – Author of the Legionary & Strategos series

Heather Domin – Author of The Soldier of Raetia

Ruth Downie – Author of the enthralling Ruso mysteries

Tim Hodkinson -Author of Lions of the Grail &

Helen Hollick – Author of the Pendragon’s Banner series

Scott Hunter – Author of The Serpent and the Slave

Alison Morton – Author of Inceptio

Fred Nath – Author of the atmospheric Galdir novels

Mark Patton – Author of An Accidental King

David Pilling – Author of Caesar’s Sword & various others

M.C. (Manda) Scott – Author of the acclaimed Rome & Boudicca series

Elisabeth Storrs – Author of The Wedding Shroud

Brian Young – Author of The Eagle Has Fallen

Written by SJAT

August 15, 2013 at 8:00 am

35 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. I’d like to hear more of the first man to have an erection in Glasgow and old poopy-anus.. 🙂



    August 15, 2013 at 8:19 am

  2. I feel I have to include an exceptionally lowbrow comment and say that I thought Septimius Severus was Severus Snape’s father. So sorry! And because the comment lacks I.Q. I am not entering for a prize!


    prue batten

    August 15, 2013 at 8:20 am

    • Amazing how often when researching Severus (or Severus II) I find myself faced with Alan Rickman. 🙂 He’d have made a good Caesar, actually.



      August 15, 2013 at 8:25 am

  3. Fabulous post!


    Kate (For Winter Nights)

    August 15, 2013 at 10:12 am

  4. I think the fact that he had the brains and brawn to raise himself from an old and respected family but not one of Rome’s real dynastic powerhouses to the heights that he did shows us all how to succeed it is also a great warning not to get too big for your (possibly red) boots! But also that he is a character you can have as a goody or baddy and he still fits! Nice blogging btw and my fave as I think I have told you is vespasian 🙂



    August 15, 2013 at 10:33 am

    • Nice review of the old goat, that. 🙂 And yes, Vespasian is a good choice. He just looks so likeable, too. 🙂



      August 15, 2013 at 10:42 am

  5. My favorite Julius achievement – the saying Veni,Vidi,Vici – why that you ask? It has been used by me (in an alternate form) many times over the years such as; I came,I saw, I Hoovered(reference to my golf game)… or I came, I saw, I waxed eloquent…or I came , I saw, I left quickly…to name a few. 🙂



    August 15, 2013 at 10:38 am

    • Veni, VD, Vomitari? 😉



      August 15, 2013 at 10:43 am

      • Yeah that one too…didn’t want to mention it since we’ve already covered other unseemly bodily activities 🙂



        August 15, 2013 at 10:57 am

  6. Interesting that you credit Augustus with the foundations of Rome’s standing army, rather than Gaius Marius – what is it you think that Augustus achieved or created which was lacking in the Marian system?


    Jimmy Beestone

    August 15, 2013 at 2:24 pm

    • Hi Jimmy.

      Have to agree that Marius was without a doubt the greatest innovator and changer of the Roman military pre-3rd century. But his was not a standing army. It was still a temporary citizen force drawn for a campaign and then dismissed. Augustus, on the other hand, set a standing army in place with numbers, insignia, permanent officers and fortresses and spheres of responsibility. Augustus’ army is the one you see in 90% of reenactment groups and images and remained the basic Roman military force until the move to mobile field armies and limitanei.

      You a republican Rome fan?





      August 15, 2013 at 2:45 pm

      • Hi Si,

        A good point about Augustus and one probably not made frequently enough. I just wonder if it’s less of a cast-iron switch to a system of a standing army, and more of a solidifying of trends that were already occurring – the idea of a temporary citizen force being dismissed at the end of a campaign was becoming increasingly unusual, and in truth had no longer been that common since the Macedonian Wars, as a campaign became more than an annual military campaign and increasingly became a military jaunt of several years, which more often than not resulted in the complete displacement of the citizen-soldier from his original home into land given to him by his general. This element became increasingly entwined in Roman politics, with questions of agrarian reform and legislation dogging the Senate. I wonder if these ideas implemented by Augustus represent the final solidification of evolutions of the Roman military system, and are part of an ongoing process towards the creation of a standing army – a process dating back to Marius, but constantly changed, refined and edited as the army became part of a power-struggle in late Republican Rome – rather than necessarily being an Augustan innovation. Indeed, can we see the creation and formalisation of the Roman standing army, with clearly defined responsibilities and boundaries, as a system designed to counteract what vestiges of ‘citizen-soldier’ mentality still lay in the Roman army, and prevent its continued manipulation as a tool of politics?

        I’m a massive republican Rome fan – I’ve just graduated with a classics degree (hence my slightly nitpicky discussion above) and find this sort of thing fascinating. I do wonder, however, what Fronto would make of our discussion of the role of the army in the state…




        Jimmy Beestone

        August 15, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    • Gah, the limits of possible replied in wordpress!

      Jimmy, I would love to chat with you over a beer! 🙂 I’m something of a split between the altruism of the traditional republican system and the necessary realism of the Principate. As with everything in the history of the Roman army, everything is done in shades and slowly. After all, the first move towards limitanei was Hadrian, although he didn’t know it at the time. I take your points (and largely agree with them), but I see Augustus as something of a metaphor for Rome as a whole. There may have been better men who did more for the military (as with religion and civic amenities etc) but Augustus was the man who codified them. That’s such a Roman thing. Do not invent. Other people have already done that for you. Just innovate and codify. Make it work BETTER. That’s Rome to a tee for me. What’s your career plan, matey?



      August 15, 2013 at 4:07 pm

      • Beer and the ancient world are two of my favourite things, so that sounds like a plan to me! 🙂 Ah, see, I’m drawn to what the republic could have been, were it not so paralysed by its own insecurities and weakness (e.g. its slightly OTT reaction to Caesar in Gaul, and the filibustering and nonsense that Caelius reports to Cicero in the ad.fam.). Ultimately though, I concede your point that the Principate had the realism and the pragmatism that the Republic simply lacked, and your point about Augustus neatly illustrates the element of adaptation and compromise that was missing from the Roman senate. I really like your point about the Roman innovation and codification of other peoples’ ideas – borne out by the Roman army entirely really, whose arms were adapted from the Spanish, whose fighting techniques were Samnite in origin etc etc.

        My career plans are non-existent at the minute, I did my undergrad degree at Oxford, and tried to work for their outreach departments (encouraging more state-educated kids to give it a whirl), but none of that came to anything. My only real project is a novel about the ancient world, and I’m basically planning to send that around to publishers and the like, and look for any type of work I can get to put some cash in my back pocket while I do so!


        Jimmy Beestone

        August 16, 2013 at 8:25 pm

  7. Julius Caesar popularized the idea that we crazy Celts liked to burn folk in wickermen I believe? So, we can probably credit him with the brilliant (original) movie with Edward Woodward. 🙂



    August 15, 2013 at 5:08 pm

  8. On a less erudite note: I’ll see your poopy-anus and raise you a mucianus (mucky anus)



    August 15, 2013 at 5:50 pm

    • Never thought of Mucky Anus. But then he was no Emperor. 🙂



      August 15, 2013 at 6:17 pm

  9. Brilliant post. I would have to say one of Caesar’s greatest feats was his military achievements especially his defeat of Pompey. Thanks for the chance to win your book.



    August 15, 2013 at 8:10 pm

    • Ah yes, Marsha. The great general. His circumvallation of Alesia was truly stunning eh? Can’t deny the value of his military achievements. Gaul especially. 🙂



      August 15, 2013 at 8:18 pm

    • Hi Marsha. As the best choice of Caesar’s achievements (removing the old goat Pompey from opposition particularly) I’d like to offer you book(s). 🙂 Can you email me on enquiries (at) sjaturney (dot) co.uk and let me know whether you’d prefer one paperback of book 5 or the whole series in e-format? Cheers and salve. Si



      August 20, 2013 at 4:52 pm

  10. His greatest creation, in my opinion was that he was supposed to have created the first news sheet,”Acta Diura”, which was posted to give people the opportunity to read about what was happening in the Assembly and in the Senate.


    Denise Duvall

    August 16, 2013 at 3:20 am

    • Hi Denise. Actually the Acta Diurna had almost certainly been going before Caesar for quite a while. Suetonius states though that Caesar had the Acta Senatus published openly in the same way. So he did reveal the Senate’s workings to the people. 🙂



      August 16, 2013 at 8:09 am

  11. I don’t know his greatest achievement, though I’ve learned a few here. I only hope he resembled Ciaran Hinds.



    August 16, 2013 at 7:08 pm

    • Ciaran Hinds was the perfect choice, I have to admit. Though I wrote MM1 before the Rome series was on, I now cannot imagine anyone better, though I’d be willing to give Rickman the chance. 🙂



      August 16, 2013 at 7:59 pm

  12. Superb Blog Mate! Love all your funny facts!

    I still think Julius Caesar’s greatest achievement was not losing a war and also getting the Roman version of the Hello magazine -Acta Diurna published every day so that the people could see what was going on in Rome!?

    Please don’t tell me there were no pictures in it?!
    I can see it now: the movers ,shakers and gossip of the Empire! ; )



    August 18, 2013 at 1:51 pm

    • Cheers, Brian. It has to be said that Caesar seems to have an abnormally high ratio of wins to losses. His circumvallations were superb (oo-er missus!) 🙂



      August 19, 2013 at 10:31 pm

  13. Definitely the funniest post on the blog hop! As an addition to your list, I’d like to skip ahead a century and nominate Emperor Honorius, who was on the throne for 30 years and whose biggest achievement in all that time was to raise a first-class collection of pet poultry. 🙂


    John Henry Clay

    August 19, 2013 at 10:15 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: