Roman Emperors for Kids
Rome was an Empire for over 500 years. During this time there were over 140 different emperors!
Augustus: Augustus was the first emperor. He was Julius Caesar's adopted son. In 31 BCE, after 30 years of civil war, Augustus defeated Anthony and Cleopatra, and because the first emperor of ancient Rome. He called himself emperor because he knew the people would never accept the title of king. If you've ever wondered why February is the shortest month in our calendar, it all goes back to politics and Emperor Augustus. When Augustus, Julius Caesar's adopted son, took over the government of ancient Rome, he wanted a month named after himself, just as Julius Caesar had done. Julius Caesar had taken the month after July (Julius.) Augustus took the first month after July, and renamed his month August (for Augustus.) But August only had 30 days, not 31. An emperor could not have a short month. To fix that, the astronomers took a day from February and added it to August. That's why February is the shortest month of the year still today!
Nero: Nero was quite young when he became emperor. At first Nero was a very good emperor. Unfortunately, he slowly went insane from an illness. He was dangerously crazy. Emperor Nero was insane.
Trajan: Trajan was Spanish. He was the first Roman emperor who was not from Italy. Under Trajan, the empire reached its greatest size.
Hadrian: Hadrian was one of ancient Rome's best emperors. The Romans never quite succeeded in conquering all of Britain. They were partly successful, but the Celts, the people the Romans called barbarians, pushed back and blocked the Romans from total success. The Roman Emperor Hadrian ordered a wall to be built in Britain to clearly mark where the Roman territory in Britain ended and the barbarian territory began. This wall was called "Hadian's Wall.". It wasn't really a wall across Britain. It was more like a small stone fence with guard posts along it. Parts of the wall still exist today. The Roman invasion of Britain was not totally destructive. They did some good things too. They built roads, of course, strong forts, and new settlements. Mostly importantly, they also spread their language, culture, and laws.
Diocletian: The Roman empire had grown too big to manage effectively so Diocletian split the empire into two pieces, the Western Roman Empire (which included the city of Rome) and the Eastern Roman Empire (in green on the map below.)
Constantine: In 313 CE, Emperor Constantine (the Great) converted to Christianity and made Christianity legal. Under his leadership, Christians could no longer be arrested just for being Christian. After a fairly short period of time, Christianity became the dominate religion of Rome. After that, it became the law that you must be Christian to be a citizen of Rome. He took the treasures from the temples in Rome and used this wealth to pay for the construction of new Christian churches. He outlawed gladiator contests. He reorganized the army by disbanding the Praetorian Guard, the guard who had held strong influence over the empire for so long. His taxation reforms just about broke everybody. Those who lived in the city of Rome had to pay their taxes in gold or silver. This tax was levied every four years. If you didnít pay, you were beaten and tortured. People sold their children into slavery to pay their taxes. Constantine was a hard, vain, ruthless man, with a horrible temper. He had his own son executed without any proof of guilt.
He is famous building the city that carried his name Ė Constantinople. He decided that Rome was too riddled with crime and poverty to worry about any more. He moved to the Eastern Roman Empire, and used tax monies from Rome to build his new capital. He was careful about it. He announced that the senate in Constantinople was of a lower rank than the Senate in Rome, but he clearly intended that his new capital would someday replace Rome. He died of natural causes in AD 337.
Valens: Valens was not the last emperor of ancient Rome. There were a couple more after him who tried their best. Oddly, the last emperor of ancient Rome was named Romulus Augustus - Emperor Augustus. So the first and last emperors of ancient Rome were both called Emperor Augustus. Thanks to Valens' deal with the barbarians, a deal that turned out to be a very bad deal for the western Roman empire, Rome was on its way out. The very bad deal - Emperor Valens & the Barbarians. After Rome fell (the Western Roman Empire), Europe fell into the dark ages. The other half, the Eastern Roman Empire, the half that included Constantinople, was renamed the Byzantine Empire and did not fall. Just the opposite. After the fall of Rome, the Byzantine Empire thrived for another 1000 years.