2. Beginnings of Rome
3. Institutions of Early Rome
4. Etruscan Kings of Rome
5. Reorganization of Kingdom

6. Struggle against Kingship
7. Struggle for Economic Rights
8. Struggle for Equal Laws
9. Struggle for Political Equality
10. Conquest of Latium
11. Conquest of Central Italy
12. Conquest of Southern Italy
13. Supremacy of Rome in Italy
14. First Punic War
15. Second Punic War
16. Conquests in East
17. Reduction of Roman Conquests
18. Rome as a World Power
19. Times of Gracchi
20. Times of Marius and Sulla
21. Times of Pompey and Caesar
22. Times of Antony and Octavius

23. Reign of Augustus
24. Julian Emperors
25. Flavian Emperors
26. Five Good Emperors
27. Decline of Empire
28. Reorganization of Empire
29. Extinction of Western Empire
Outlines of Roman History
by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L.
New York, Cincinnati, Chicago: American Book Company (1901).



Table of contents




The Reign of Tiberius (A.D. 14-37), I.The Reign of Caligula (A.D. 37-41), II.The Reign of Claudius (A.D. 41-54), III.The Reign of Nero (A.D. 54-68), III.


   The Character of Tiberius.—The system established by Augustus was put to a severe test by the character of the men who immediately followed him. The emperors who made up the Julian line were often tyrannical, vicious, and a disgrace to Rome. That the empire was able to survive at all is, perhaps, another proof of the thoroughness of the work done by the first emperor. Of the four Julian emperors who succeeded Augustus, Tiberius was perhaps the ablest. He had already shown his ability as a general; and having been adopted by Augustus and associated with him in the government, he was prepared to carry out the policy already laid down. But in his personal character he presented a strong contrast to his predecessor. Instead of being generous and conciliatory, he was cruel and tyrannical to those with whom he was brought into personal relations. But we must distinguish between the way in which he treated his enemies and the way in which he ruled the empire. He had a certain sense of duty, and tried to maintain the authority which devolved upon him. If he could not accomplish this by the winning ways of Augustus, he could do it by more severe methods.

   Campaigns of Germanicus.—The first duty which fell to Tiberius was to gain the support of the army. The legions on the Rhine and the Danube were at first not disposed to accept his authority. Those on the Danube were soon subdued by Drusus, the son of Tiberius, who took advantage of an eclipse of the moon to appeal to the superstitious dread of the soldiers. The legions on the Rhine were more determined, and desired to place their favorite general, Germanicus (a nephew of Tiberius), on the throne in place of Tiberius. But Germanicus, loyal to his chief, resisted this first attempt of the army to enthrone an emperor. To turn their minds from thoughts of treason, he planned the invasion and conquest of Germany. Three successful campaigns were made across the Rhine. A portion of the German territory was occupied, and the lost standards of Varus were recovered. These campaigns in Germany were cut short by Tiberius, who recalled Germanicus from the Rhine, and sent him to the East to oppose the Parthians. Whether this act was inspired by envy or by wisdom on the part of Tiberius, we cannot say. After a brief and unsuccessful career in the East, Germanicus died, whether as the result of natural causes or as the result of foul play, we are also at a loss to determine.

   Despotic Measures of Tiberius.—While Tiberius pursued in many respects the policy of Augustus, he adopted certain measures which showed that he had little sympathy with the “disguises of monarchy.” In the first place, he extinguished the political rights of the people by taking away from the assemblies what little legislative power had been left to them; and also by transferring to the senate the election of the regular magistrates. The popular assemblies were thus reduced to a mere shadow.

   In the next place, he gave a new meaning to the law of treason (lex maiestatis). This law had hitherto referred only to actual crimes against the state. Now it was made to include any words or conduct, looks or gestures, which could be interpreted as hostile to the emperor. This is what we call “constructive treason”; and at Rome, as in any other country where it has been tolerated, it became an instrument of despotism. Again, in order to punish his enemies, Tiberius encouraged the practice of “delation”; that is, he offered rewards to all persons who would give information regarding offenders. There thus sprang up at Rome a class of informers (delatores), who acted as professional spies, or inquisitors, to detect the enemies of the emperor.

   Finally, we may mention another change made by Tiberius. This was the bringing together of the praetorian cohorts into one camp near Rome, to protect the person of the emperor and thus to secure more strongly his power.

   The Influence of Sejanus.—The removal of the praetorian camp to Rome was done at the suggestion of Sejanus, a wily and unscrupulous officer, who had obtained command of these cohorts. As Tiberius was suspicious of everyone else he selected Sejanus as his trusted adviser. Sejanus was to Tiberius what Agrippa or Maecenas had been to Augustus. But unlike those imperial friends, Sejanus was desirous of power and was treacherous to his master. To secure his position, Sejanus caused the murder of Drusus, the son of Tiberius. He even induced the emperor himself to retire from Rome to the island of Capreae in the Bay of Naples, and to leave him in control of the government. The schemes and crimes of Sejanus formed a large part of this despotic reign. When his treason was discovered by Tiberius, he was deposed from his place and strangled in prison. The fall of Sejanus was followed by the prosecution of his fellow-conspirators, or those who were suspected of plotting against the emperor. Although these prosecutions were made under the forms of law, the law was the lex maiestatis; and the methods of its execution produced a reign of terror at Rome.

   Prosperity of the Provinces.—The cruel tyranny of Tiberius was restricted mainly to the city of Rome, and to those persons whom he suspected as his persona enemies. The provinces were relieved from this suspicion, and hence they continued to be prosperous as they had been under Augustus. Indeed, Tiberius seemed to be especially anxious regarding their welfare. Like Augustus he tried to protect them from unjust government and oppressive taxation. His favorite maxim is said to have been, “A good shepherd should shear his flock, and not flay them.” While he prosecuted his own enemies, he also brought to justice the provincial governors who were guilty of extortion. It is said that while he was hated at Rome, he was loved in the provinces. When many cities of Asia were destroyed by an earthquake, he sent to them relief in the form of money and remitted their taxes for five years. When he died, his faults were exaggerated by the Roman historians, and his virtues were extolled by the provincials.


   The Early Promise of Caligula.—Tiberius had made no provision for a successor. Hence the choice lay entirely with the senate, which selected a favorite of the army. This was Gaius Caesar, the son of the famous general, Germanicus. He was familiarly called by the soldiers “Caligula,”1 by which name he is generally known. He was joyfully welcomed by the people, and gave promise of a successful reign. He declared his intention of devoting himself to the public welfare. But the high hopes which he raised at his accession were soon dashed to the ground, when it was discovered that the empire was in the hands of a man who had lost his reason. The brief career of Caligula may be of interest as showing the vagaries of a diseased and unbalanced mind; but they have no special political importance, except as proving that the empire could survive even with a mad prince on the throne.

   His Insanity and Extravagances.—Caligula was subject in childhood to epileptic fits, and his mind was evidently diseased. When he was placed in the high position of emperor his brain was turned and he revealed all the grotesque symptoms of insanity. He believed himself a god. He wasted the money of the treasury in senseless projects. He built a bridge from the Palatine hill, where he resided, to the Capitoline, that he might be “next door neighbor to Jupiter.” To lead his army over the sea he constructed a bridge three miles long over the Gulf of Baiae, a part of the Bay of Naples, and conducted his soldiers over it in a triumphal procession. He professed to lead an expedition against Britain; and when he had collected his soldiers on the seashore as if for embarkation, he suddenly issued an order to them to gather the shells from the beach and carry them to Rome as “the spoils of the ocean.” The senate was directed to deposit these spoils among the treasures of the Capitol. It is said that he nominated his horse for consul. In order to exceed the luxuries of Lucullus, he expended an amount equal to $240,000 on a single meal. He threatened to set up his own image in the temple at Jerusalem and to compel the Jews to worship it. Numerous other stories of a similar kind are told of this delirious man—stories which are more suited to illustrate a treatise on insanity than to burden the pages of history.

   Significance of his Reign.—The reign of Caligula, which was fortunately limited to the brief space of four years, shows to us the perils inherent in a despotic form of government that permitted a madman to rule the civilized world. The Roman Empire had no provision by which any prince could be held responsible, either to law or to reason. A cruel tyrant could revel in blood, or a maniac could indulge in the wildest excesses without restraint. The only limit to such a despotism was assassination; and by this severe method the reign of Caligula was brought to an end.


   His Elevation by the Praetorians.—Claudius was the first emperor proclaimed by the army. The murder of Caligula had been provoked by an insult given to an officer of the praetorian guard. When the senate hesitated to choose a successor, the praetorians, accidentally finding Claudius in the palace, and recognizing him as the brother of Germanicus, assumed the right to name him as emperor. The senate was obliged to submit; and for a long time after this the praetorians continued to exercise the right of naming the prince. Claudius is usually represented as a weak imbecile; but his reign stands out in refreshing contrast to the cruel tyranny of Tiberius and the wild extravagances of Caligula.

   The Emperor’s Household.—Claudius was naturally weak and timid, and came under the influence of the members of his household—his wives and freedmen. The intrigues and crimes of his wife Messalina, and of his niece Agrippina, whom he married after the death of Messalina, were a scandal to Roman society. So far as he was influenced by these abandoned women, his reign was a disgrace. But the same can scarcely be said of the freedmen of his household—Narcissus, his secretary; Pallas, the keeper of accounts; and Polybius, the director of his studies. These men were educated Greeks, and although they were called menials, he took them into his confidence and received benefit from their advice. Indeed, it has been said that “from Claudius dates the transformation of Caesar’s household servants into ministers of state.”

   His Public Works.—Claudius followed the example of Augustus in the execution of works of public utility. He constructed the Claudian aqueduct, which brought water to the city from a distance of forty-five miles. For the purpose of giving Rome a good harbor where the grain supplies from Egypt might be landed, he built the Portus Romanus at the mouth of the Tiber near Ostia. To improve the agriculture of the Marsians, he constructed a great tunnel to drain the Fucine Lake, a work which required the labor of thirty thousand men for eleven years. He celebrated the completion of this work by a mimic naval battle on the waters of the lake.

   The Conquest of Southern Britain.—But the most important event of the reign of Claudius was the invasion and partial conquest of Britain. Since the invasion of Julius Caesar a hundred years before, the Romans had taken little interest in this island. With the aid of his lieutenants, Aulus Plautius and Vespasian, Claudius now effected a permanent landing in Britain. He was opposed by the famous Celtic chief Caractacus, but succeeded in subduing the southern part of the island. Britain was thus opened to the benefits of Roman civilization.

   His Care of the Provinces.—It is to the credit of Claudius that he was greatly interested in the condition of the provinces. He spent much time in regulating the affairs of the East. The kingdom of Thrace was changed into a province, and governed by a Roman procurator. Lycia, in Asia Minor, also was made a province, as well as Mauretania in Africa. One of the most important changes which he made was the restoration of the kingdom of the Jews to Herod Agrippa. This he did out of respect for this people, and to allay the bad feeling which had been stirred up during the previous reign. But Claudius especially showed his interest in the provinces by extending to them the rights of Roman citizenship. The civitas was granted to a large part of Gaul, thus carrying out the policy which had been begun by Julius Caesar. If we except the scandals of the court, the reign of Claudius may be regarded as inspired by prudence and a wise regard for the welfare of his subjects.


   The “Quinquennium Neronis.”—Nero was the grandson of Germanicus and a descendant of Augustus. He was proclaimed by the praetorians and accepted by the senate. He had been educated by the great philosopher Seneca; and his interests had been looked after by Burrhus, the able captain of the praetorian guards. His accession was hailed with gladness. He assured the senate that he would not interfere with its powers. The first five years of his reign, which are known as the “Quinquennium Neronis,” were marked by a wise and beneficent administration. During this time he yielded to the advice and influence of Seneca and Burrhus, who practically controlled the affairs of the empire and restrained the young prince from exercising his power to the detriment of the state. Under their influence delation was forbidden, the taxes were reduced, and the authority of the senate was respected.

   Tyranny and Crimes of Nero.—But Nero’s worst foes were those of his own household, especially his unscrupulous and ambitious mother, Agrippina. The intrigues of this woman to displace Nero and to elevate Britannicus, the son of Claudius, led to Nero’s first domestic tragedy—the poisoning of Britannicus. He afterward yielded himself to the influence of the infamous Poppaea Sabina, the most beautiful and the wickedest woman of Rome. At her suggestion, he murdered first his mother, and then his wife. He discarded the counsels of Seneca and Burrhus, and accepted those of Tigellinus, a man of the worst character. Then followed a career of wickedness, extortion, atrocious cruelty, which it is not necessary to describe, but which has made his name a synonym for all that is vicious in human nature, and despicable in a ruler.

   Burning and Rebuilding of the City.—In the tenth year of his reign occurred a great fire which destroyed a large part of the city of Rome. It is said that out of the fourteen regions, six were reduced to ashes. Many ancient temples and public buildings were consumed, such as the temple of Jupiter Stator ascribed to Romulus, and the temples of Vesta and Diana, which dated from the time of the kings. The reports which have come to us of the conduct of Nero during this great disaster are very diverse. Some represent him as gloating over the destruction of the city and repeating his own poem on the “Sack of Troy.” Other reports declare that he never showed himself in a more favorable light, exerting himself to put out the flames, opening the public buildings and the imperial palace for the shelter of the homeless, and relieving the suffering by reducing the price of grain. But it is charged that if he performed these charities, it was to relieve himself of the suspicion of having caused the conflagration. Whatever may be the truth as to his conduct, the burning of Rome resulted in rebuilding the city on a more magnificent scale. The narrow streets were widened, and more splendid buildings were erected. The vanity of the emperor was shown in the building of an enormous and meretricious palace, called the “golden house of Nero,” and also in the erection of a colossal statue of himself near the Palatine hill. To meet the expenses of these structures the provinces were obliged to contribute; and the cities and temples of Greece were plundered of their works of art to furnish the new buildings.

   First Persecution of the Christians.—In order to shield himself from the suspicion of firing the city, Nero accused the Christians and made them the victims of his cruelty. Nothing can give us a more vivid idea of this first persecution than the account of the Roman historian
Tacitus, which is of great interest to us because it contains the first reference found in any pagan author to Christ and his followers. This passage shows not only the cruelty of Nero and the terrible sufferings of the early Christian martyrs, but also the pagan prejudice against the new religion.

   Tacitus says: “In order to drown the rumor, Nero shifted the guilt on persons hated for their abominations and known as Christians, and punished them with exquisite tortures. Christ, from whom they derive their name, had been punished under Tiberius by the procurator Pontius Pilate. Checked for a time, this pernicious religion broke out again not only in Judea but in Rome. Those who confessed their creed were first arrested; and then by their information a large number were convicted, not so much on the charge of burning the city, as of hating the human race. In their deaths they were made the subjects of sport; for they were covered with the skins of wild beasts, worried to death by dogs, nailed to crosses, burned to serve for torches in the night. Nero offered his own gardens for this spectacle. The people were moved with pity for the sufferers; for it was felt that they were suffering to gratify Nero’s cruelty, not from considerations for the public welfare.” (“Annals,” Bk. XV., Ch. 44.)

   General Condition of the Empire.—In spite of such enormous crimes as those practiced by Nero, the larger part of the empire was beyond the circle of his immediate influence, and remained undisturbed. While the palace and the city presented scenes of intrigue and bloodshed, the world in general was tranquil and even prosperous. Except the occasional extortion by which the princes sought to defray the expenses of their debaucheries, Italy and the provinces were reaping the fruits of the reforms of Julius Caesar and Augustus. During this early period, the empire was better than the emperor. Men tolerated the excesses and vices of the palace, on the ground that a bad ruler was better than anarchy.


Pelham, Bk. V., Ch. 4, “The Julian Line” (
Capes, Early Empire, Ch. 2, “Tiberius,” Ch. 3, “Caligula,” Ch. 4, “Claudius,” Ch. 5, “Nero” (7).
Bury, Empire, Ch. 13, Sect. 1, “Civil Government of Tiberius” (7).
Merivale, Empire, Vol. IV., Ch. 39, “Unity of the Empire” (7). Cruttwell, Bk. III., Ch. 3, “Seneca” (17).
Suetonius, “Tiberius,” “Caligula,” “Claudius,” “Nero” (11).
Tacitus, Annals, Bk. I., Chs. 11-15, Tiberius and the Senate (4).


   THE LAW OF “MAIESTAS” AND DELATION.—Leighton, p. 442 (1); Bury, Empire, pp. 194, 195 (7); Capes, Early Empire, pp. 57-61 (7); Merivale, Gen. Hist., pp. 446, 447 (1); Merivale, Empire, Vol. V., pp. 114-130 (7).

1 Caligula is the diminutive of caliga, the name given to a soldier’s boot, such as is shown in the appended illustration. Hence Caligula might be translated “Little Boots.”

2 The figure in parenthesis refers to the number of the topic in the
Appendix, where a fuller title of the book will be found.


Table of contents