41 The Flavian, Nervan-Antonin, and Severan Dynasties

The Flavian Dynasty

Following Augustus’ death, power passed to his heir, Tiberius, who continued many of the emperor’s policies but lacked the strength of character and vision which so defined Augustus. This trend would continue, more or less steadily, with the emperors who followed: Caligula, Claudius, and Nero. Nero’s suicide ended the Julio-Claudian Dynasty and initiated the period of social unrest but ultimately found stability under the emperor Vespasian. Vespasian founded the Flavian Dynasty which was characterized by massive building projects, economic prosperity, and expansion of the empire. Vespasian ruled from 69–79 CE, and in that time, initiated the building of the Flavian Amphitheatre (the famous Colosseum of Rome) which his son Titus (ruled 79–81 CE) would complete.

Titus’ early reign saw the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE which buried the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Ancient sources are universal in their praise for his handling of this disaster as well as the great fire of Rome in 80 CE. Titus died of a fever in 81 CE and was succeeded by his brother Domitian who ruled from 81–96 CE. Domitian expanded and secured the boundaries of Rome, repaired the damage to the city caused by the great fire, continued the building projects initiated by his brother, and improved the economy of the empire. Even so, his autocratic methods and policies made him unpopular with the Roman Senate, and he was assassinated in 96 CE. (68)


The Nervan-Antonin and Severan Dynasties

Domitian’s successor was his advisor Nerva who founded the Nervan-Antonin Dynasty which ruled Rome 96-192 CE. This period is marked by increased prosperity owing to the rulers known as The Five Good Emperors of Rome. Between 96 and 180 CE, five exceptional men ruled in sequence and brought the Roman Empire to its height: Nerva (96–98), Trajan (98–117), Hadrian (117–138), Antoninus Pius (138–161), and Marcus Aurelius (161–180). Under their leadership, the Roman Empire grew stronger, more stable, and expanded in size and scope.

Lucius Verus and Commodus are the last two of the Nervan-Antonin Dynasty. Verus was co-emperor with Marcus Aurelius until his death in 169 CE and seems to have been fairly ineffective. Commodus, Aurelius’ son and successor, was one of the most disgraceful emperors Rome ever saw and is universally depicted as indulging himself and his whims at the expense of the empire. He was strangled by his wrestling partner in his bath in 192 CE, ending the Nervan-Antonin Dynasty and raising the prefect Pertinax (who most likely engineered Commodus’ assassination) to power.

Pertinax governed for only three months before he was assassinated. He was followed, in rapid succession, by four others in the period known as The Year of the Five Emperors, which culminated in the rise of Septimus Severus to power. The Severan Dynasty continued, largely under the guidance and manipulation of Julia Maesa (referred to as `empress’), until the assassination of Alexander Severus in 235 CE which plunged the empire into the chaos known as The Imperial Crisis, or The Crisis of the Third Century (lasting from 235–284 CE). (68)


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