Rome produced great leaders, but each of them was not without his own faults and evil ways. In this list however, we single out certain Roman emperors because they were particularly really, really bad. How awful and atrocious could they be? Well, find out more about all of them by clicking through this gallery.
According to sources, Maximinus Thrax was literally a great man, significantly taller than his contemporaries, being 6 or 7 feet tall. Maximinus was known for being responsible for bringing about the Crisis of the Third Century, because of his murders of his friends, advisors, and benefactors.
Maximinus intended to make people adore him by way of making conquests. His first campaign was against the Alamanni people in Germania. Despite heavy casualties in his army, he managed to defeat the Alamanni despite the latter posing no threat to Rome at this time. He also invaded the Dacians and the Sarmatians, who never instigated anything against Rome. Instead of people loving him, they even hated him for his conquests and expansion.
In the meantime, a revolt commenced in North Africa, leading to Marcus Antonius Gordianus Sempronianus (Gordian I) and his son Gordian II to become two claimants of the throne. The Roman Senate switched allegiance and supported the two emperors. In response, Maximinus and his army marched on Rome, but his troops became disaffected because of the surprise Siege of Aquileia, during which they grew physically exhausted and sick. They were unable to open the city gates, and many of his troops deserted. Maximinus met his tragic end at the Siege; soldiers in his camp killed him, his son, as well as his chief ministers. These soldiers beheaded them and put their heads on poles and carried them to Rome.
Nero was bad. He distrusted anyone near him, not even his own mother and wife, so he had them murdered. In fact, he had anyone — either the ones who were close to him or those who dissented him — routinely executed.
In 64 AD, the Great Fire of Rome destroyed most of the city. Many Romans believed that he himself had started the blaze so that he could clear the land to build his planned palatial garden, the Domus Aurea (“golden house” or “golden palace”). After the fire, he returned to Rome and had a large part of the destroyed city to build the Domus Aurea, which was a gift to himself, and for which he heavily taxed his citizens.
Whether Nero played the fiddle while Rome burned or he was directly involved in the fire, he nevertheless blamed the disastrous fire on the Christians, who were terribly executed. He was even rumored to have the Christians soaked in oil and set them ablaze to illuminate the gardens at night.
The high taxes angered the citizens so much so that they started to revolt against him. The resulting unrest spread throughout the Roman Empire and turned the tables on Nero. Facing being reviled as a public enemy who was about to be executed, the emperor took his own life on June 9, 68.
A significant number of Christian and Jewish executions in the Roman empire occurred during Septimius Severus’ rule, rising up to 1,000 to 3,000. It’s clear that Septimius saw the Roman law in a draconian light, which tolerated no other religion than the pagan one. For him, people who followed any other religions than the Roman religion should be persecuted outright. He had no fear of everyone except for his army, who could rebel against and depose him.
Tiberius is regarded as the ultimate “dirty old man.” He succeeded Rome’s first emperor Augustus, but he didn’t pay attention to his job. All he wanted was to live in luxury and left the ruling job to the Senate. Because of this, the Senate hated and criticized him, and Tiberius soon left Rome for the island of Capri. There, built his elaborate villa, the Villa Jovis, where he went on to satisfy his pedophilic indulgences. He enjoyed sexual intercourse with young children, even toddlers and infants (that’s sick).
Also known as “Little Boots,” Caligula took the throne upon the death of his second cousin Tiberias. At the beginning of his rule, his fresh face and generosity were popular and well-loved by the people. However, that quickly changed. He became cruel, indulged in weird sexual indulgences that offended his people, and would order murders of anyone who disagreed with him even on mundane matters. Caligula even made his horse a senator, building a stable of marble just for it, and invited people to have dinner with the horse. He proclaimed himself as god and demanded that his people worship him as such.
For his aberrantly megalomaniac ways, Caligula was considered insane. The Praetorian Guard had him murdered in 41 A.D.
Unlike Caligula, Caracalla was not insane but he was malicious and sadistic. He is known as one of the most notorious emperors because of the murders which he himself had authorized and instigated.
In 211 he had his brother and co-emperor Geta and the latter’s wife murdered. When this crime was ridiculed by the citizens of Alexandria, Egypt, Caracalla heard of them. He traveled to Alexandria with his army and murdered abut 20,000 people there. Caracalla was the kind of emperor who put down all hints of rebellions wherever he went, even in neutral places. Wherever he and his army went, they pillaged, raped, and killed everyone in sight. He was murdered in April 217 by one his guardsmen, while urinating on the side of the road outside of Carrhae.
Another megalomaniac, emperor Commodus was the son of Marcus Aurelius, one of Rome’s greatest emperors. But Commodus wasn’t as good of a leader as his father was.
Commodus was considered lazy at best. He lived in excess — he ate, drank, engaged in sexual escapades, and spent too much, which offended the Romans in particular. His love for the gladiatorial sport ended up with personally fighting with the gladiators, who were all criminals and slaves. Another hobby of his was killing wild animals in the amphitheater — from lions, ostriches, elephants, and giraffes — purely for his personal enjoyment.
The senators conspired to have Commodus killed by poisoning him, but he vomited the poison up. So the senators sent in their favorite wrestler, a gladiator named Narcissus, to strangle him in the bath. The senators denounced Commodus as public enemy upon his death. However, his successor had him buried properly.
Diocletian had a terrible reign, solely because he executed many, many Christians during his reign, making him the worst persecutor of Christians in history.
Diocletian issued several decrees that removed all rights of Christians unless they converted to the pagan religion. Of course, the Christians refused to renounce their faith, and as a result more than 3,000 Christians were persecuted. At first, those Christians who refused were simply imprisoned, but it was not long that they would also be executed. Christian churches were looted and burned down, and even Christian senators were dismissed from their positions, imprisoned, and persecuted.
When all these persecutions didn’t work, Diocletian advocated the entertaining and torturous executions at the Circus Maximus where, during that time, Christians were to be thrown to the hungry lions.
Even the Diocletian Persecution, which was the empire’s last and bloodiest persecution of Christianity, was unable to destroy the Christians in the empire. When Emperor Constantine rose to absolute power, Christianity became the religion of choice of the empire.
Like many other Roman emperors, Domitian was a staunch follower of the Roman gods and goddesses, the worship of whom had declined in practice by the time he became emperor. According to Eusebius of Caesarea, who wrote about Domitian 300 years later, during his rule that was where the large-scale persecution of the Christians and Jews began. Like many other emperors, Domitian would order execution for anyone who had ever crossed him, even his close advisors and friends who disagreed with him. He had his secretary Epaphroditos executed for failing to prevent Nero’s suicide.
Domitian was assassinated on September 18, 96 from a well-orchestrated palace conspiracy by court officials.
The name Emperor Elagabalus doesn’t sound familiar to you, but it’s worth knowing why he was just as terrible as these other Roman Emperors. He ascended to the throne when he was just 14. At the time he came to Rome as emperor, he brought his worship to the god Egalabal, whom he was nicknamed after. Every morning he would make animal sacrifices to Egalabal, and even replaced the traditional Roman god Jupiter with his god.
Despite being a “religious” young man (or because of it), Egalabalus also offered children to his god, and would torture and sacrifice them. And like other emperors, he also had a penchant for the flesh: he married the Vestal Virgin, and also had encounters with men, cross-dressed, and prostituted himself in brothels and taverns. He also married an athlete named Zoticus, and had been the long-time lover of the slave Hierocles. according to some sources. Egalabalus was also reported to have offered considerable riches to any physicians who would castrate him and give him female organs.
He was murdered, along with his mother, by members of the Praetorian Guard when he was 18 years old.