Top 10 Worst Roman Emperors

Roman civilization had numerous great leaders and emperors. However, not all of them were favoured by their people.

The emperors like Commodus, Domitian, Nero, and Honorius were taken as the worst emperors in ancient Roman civilization.

The reason for considering these emperors as the worst was primarily their behaviour towards people and the empire.

These leaders instead of doing good things for their people they did awful and atrocious deeds. They acted in a cruel and inhuman manner. 

These leaders were responsible for killing numerous people including every member of the church, their advisors, their benefactors,  and also bringing the Crisis of the Third Century.

They changed the history of the Roman Empire with their cruelty and infamous deeds.

The worst 10 Roman Emperors are listed below with their atrocious deeds.

10. Maximinus Thrax

Roman Emperor Maximinus Thrax
Roman Emperor Maximinus Thrax
Source: Wikimedia Common
Born173 AD
Worst ActReduced subsidies on the grain given to the public
Ruled235 - 238 AD
Died10th of May, 238 AD

Maximinus Thrax, born in 173 AD, ruled from 235 AD to 238 AD.  He was one of the worst emperors of the Roman Empire.

Like every other cruel emperor, Maximinus executed many advisors and benefactors. He invaded places that were never against Rome.

He continued torturing people of Rome by reducing the subsidies on the grain that was given to the city. He also forced people to be his followers and worship him.

Even the soldiers could not escape his inhuman acts, they too were tortured in their camps. However, his cruelty could not last long as he  was killed by his soldier in his camp during the Siege.

They also killed his son and his ministers. Their heads were beheaded and hanged on the poles and were carried to Rome.

9. Domitian

Roman Emperor Domitian
Roman Emperor Domitian
Source: Wikimedia Common
Born2nd of October, 51 BC
Worst ActExecuted politicians, ex-consuls, and his cousin
Ruled71 - 96 BC
Died96 BC

Domitian, the son of Vespasian and brother of Titus, was born on the 2nd of October, 51 BC. He ruled for a few decades from 71 BC to 96 BC.

Primarily he was a gentleman with kind nature. However, he turned out to be a different person with the passing of time.

He was of the nature who wanted everyone to follow his Pagan religion and also worship the Roman gods just the way he did.

Besides his autocratic nature, he was responsible for the large-scale Jewish and Christian persecution. Also, for the deaths of advisors and the close ones.

In addition to his, he executed numerous politicians, 12 ex-consuls, his cousin Flavius Clemens, and wealthy people. He also buried chief virgin in a specially designed tomb.

Apart from his cruelty and vicious nature, he spent the money that belonged to the empire for his personal use. He used the money for rebuilding his palace, adding a theater, music place, and gymnastics for his entertainment.

Every citizen was facing problems due to Domitian’s behavior and he was killed in 96 BC by Stephanus. His wife Domitia had helped Stephanus in killing Domitian.

8. Septimius Severus

Roman Emperor Septimius Severus
Roman Emperor Septimius Severus
Source: Wikimedia Common
Born11th of April, 145 AD
Worst ActTortured and Executed people for not following Roman Religion
Ruled193 - 211 AD
Died211 AD

Septimius Severus, born on the 11th of April 145 AD, ruled Rome from 193 AD. He overpowered the position by killing the then emperor Julianus and his supporters.

Despite being the ruler and the immediate guardian of the people of Rome, he enjoyed torturing and punishing them. 

As Severus was the follower of the Roman religion, he would torture or execute people who did not follow the Roman Religion. 

A new law was also enforced to compel everyone to follow his religion. No one was allowed to follow Christianity, Judaism or any other religion.

Apart from the religion issues, he also had issues with relations with senates or the public.

He had blamed many senators for corruption and also for conspiring against him. The senators were executed for the same reason.

7. Tiberius

Roman Emperor Tiberius
Roman Emperor Tiberius
Source: Wikimedia Common
Born16th of November, 42 BC
Worst ActAbused young children
Ruled14 - 37 AD
Died37 AD

Tiberius, the second Roman emperor, was born on the 16th of November, 42 BC. He ruled the Roman Empire from the 18th of September, 14 AD till 37 AD

Though he was born to noble people like Livia and Tiberius Claudius Nero, he turned out to be one of the worst emperors in the Roman History.

Tiberius was a person with poor judgemental skills, who lacked political ability, and was greedy and jealous of nature.

It was the result of his personality which led to terror and repression. His want of autocracy made Rome face the dark age where terror, murders, and political purges during his reign. 

He enjoyed living a lavish life and also wanted every citizen to worship him. He had a special statue of him made and asked citizens to worship that statue. The people who went against his will were punished.

Apart from this, he ordered the death of his main rival, Postumus and abused young children.

He however was killed by his guard named Naevius Sutorius Macro with the support of the Emperor Caligula. 

6. Gaius – Caligula

Roman Emperor Gaius - Caligula
Roman Emperor Gaius – Caligula
Source: Wikimedia Common
Born31st of August, 21 AD
Worst ActIncreased tax
Ruled37 - 41 AD
Died41 AD

Gaius – Caligula, the third Roman ruler, ruled from 37 AD to 41 AD. He was primarily a wise, kind, and generous ruler.

After ruling for a few months or so, he turned out to be a very different person. He started spreading violence, bloodlust and also wasting resources unnecessarily.

Not just that, he enjoyed torturing people and had inappropriate relations with his sisters as well as the wives of his friends.

His cruelty did not stop here, he went on executing humans just to feed the animals who would entertain him in public arenas. Even his relatives and the close ones were not left alone.

In addition to this, he responded with zero – interest credit during the financial crisis of 38 AD,  which made the situation worse. 

Although he talked about public help and public work, he only added burden to the public by increasing taxation and debt.

His cruelty and inhuman nature could not last as he was killed in 41 AD by a group of guardsmen. They stabbed him 30 times and his body was dumped into a shallow grave. His daughter and wife were also murdered along with him.

5. Caracalla

Roman Emperor Caracalla
Roman Emperor Caracalla
Source: Wikimedia Common
Born4th of April, 188 AD
Worst ActExecuted Aristotelian philosophers
Ruled211 - 217 AD
Died217 AD

Caracalla, the son of Septimius Severus, was born on the 4th of April, 188 AD. He ruled for 6 years alongside his brother, Geta, from 211 AD to 217 AD.

He was a cruel and tyrant leader who killed his own brother, Geta, in front of his mother. After killing his brother, Caracalla killed everyone who was in Geta’s support.

As an emperor, he had the responsibility of all the citizens of that empire but he only cared for the military. His deeds made him famous as a soldier rather than an emperor.

He idolized Alexander the Great and followed every step of his. Almost 1,60,000 soldiers were trained in Macedonian Phalanxes.

The news of the poisoning of his idol by Aristotle filled him with anger. He then went to aristotle’s school and executed all the aristotelian philosophers.

He also executed the citizens as they came to greet him for no reason. This led Rome into the civil war. 

Caracalla was executed by his soldier named Justin Martials,  while he stopped to urinate. The soldier took revenge for his brother’s death which was ordered by Caracalla.

4. Diocletian

Roman Emperor Diocletian
Roman Emperor Diocletian
Source: Wikimedia Common
Born244 AD
Worst ActViolated human rights
Ruled286 - 305 AD
Died311 AD

Diocletian, also known as Doacles, was born in 244 AD. He ruled from 284 AD to 305 AD.

He was a generous ruler during his initial ruling period. However, he turned into a very ruthless and cruel ruler when people did not behave the way he wanted them to.

Being a follower of the Pagan Religion, he wished that every citizen of his empire follow the same religion. The Christians were against his wish and did not agree to convert their religion.

He then started torturing Christians out of rage. He began to vandalize churches, burnt the scriptures, imprisoned the Christians, and executed them.

Human Rights were merely violated during his reign. People were not free to choose their religion and way of living.

The ones who did not accept his wish were brought to the Circus Maximus and thrown directly to the hungry lions. His brutality kept on increasing, however the Christians stayed rigid to their religion.

As Diocletian had made a negative impact on everyone including the court officials, he was assassinated on the 3rd of December, 311 AD by their conspiracy.

3. Elagabalus

Roman Emperor Elagabalus
Roman Emperor Elagabalus
Source: Wikimedia Common
Born204 AD
Worst ActDragged himself into numerous sex scandals
Ruled218 - 222 AD
Died222 AD

Elagabalus, primarily named Marcus Aurelius Antoninus II, belonged to the Severan dynasty. He ruled at a very young age of 14 for four years, from 218 AD to 222 AD.

Roman Empire had some traditions and taboos during that period which were intentionally defied by him. Despite him being very young, he was into numerous sex scandals that made the environment a chaos.

He was involved in prostitution and would ask his followers to bring him lovers from all around.

He would also invite people to bathe in the tub which was placed in a public place and make others watch them bathing.

Besides this, he also had many children whom he tortured and abandoned. He also went against the Roman rule and insisted on marrying a Vestal Virgin named Aquilia Severa.

The Romans were not happy with the way he was going against the culture, tradition, and rules. So, he was killed by a guard at the age of 18.

2. Nero

Roman Emperor Nero
Roman Emperor Nero
Source: Wikimedia Common
Born15th of December, 37 AD
Worst ActExecuted people out of distrust
Ruled 54 - 68 AD
Died68 AD

Nero, the son of  Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus and Agrippina the Younger, was born on the 15th of December, 37 AD. He was one of the cruelest emperors in Roman History.

The cruel emperor had a trust issue who never trusted anyone including his mother and his wife. He had many people executed as a result of distrusting them.

He would hire someone to work for and eventually execute that person out of distrust. Besides the execution, he is responsible for the Great Fire which was caused in 64 AD. He started the fire to clear the land and to build the garden of his dreams.

The garden was named as Domus Aurea. His nuisance did not stop here,  he then put all the blames on the Christians and executed them one by one. Not just that, he also made the citizens pay the tax for this personal garden.

However, his cruelty could not last long as the citizens came together and started revolting against him. He then took his own life out of fear on the 9th of June, 68 AD.

1. Commodus

Roman Emperor Commodus
Roman Emperor Commodus
Source: Wikimedia Common
Born161 AD
Worst ActMade cripples and hunchbacks fight against each other in the arena
Ruled 180 - 192 AD
Died192 AD

Commodus, the son of Marcus Aurelius, was born in 161 AD. He started ruling along with his father from 177 AD to 180 AD, until his father’s demise.

He then ruled on his own from 180 AD till 192 AD. Though he was an emperor, he fought as a gladiator to fulfill his interest.

The act of him fighting in an arena offended the Senate and entire Empire as he was fighting alongside slaves and criminals.

During his fights in the arena he started bringing in the cripples or hunchbacks and asked them to fight against each other with meat cleavers.

Character wise he was self- obsessed, arrogant, and loved hunting rather than paying attention to Rome’s politics or military aspect.

Besides this, he renamed himself as Hercules and was a self proclaimed living god. He was also responsible for the outbreak of the Civil War.

Commodus died at the age of  31 on the 31st of December, 192 AD.  He was strangled by a wrestler named Narcissus.

Conclusion:

People expect their rulers to be kind, thoughtful, and generous. The rulers or the emperors mentioned above are quite the opposite of what people would want.

The above list includes the rulers who were violent, ruthless, and cruel. They were in the position to help and understand their citizens, however everything was going in the opposite direction.

The autocracy and megalomaniacal-ness that was going on during that period had a huge impact on peoples’ lives, art, theatre, and language. 

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Cite this article as: Richard Marrison, "Top 10 Worst Roman Emperors," in HistoryTen, October 14, 2020, https://historyten.com/roman/worst-roman-emperors/.
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