Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

Roman Emperors, Up To AD 476 And Not Including Usurpers, In Order Of How Hardcore Their Deaths Were

84-65 (tie). Titus (died in AD 81), Nerva (98), Trajan (117), Hadrian (138), Antoninus Pius (161), Marcus Aurelius (180), Septimius Severus (211), Tacitus (276), Constantius I (306), Gallerius (311), Constantine I (337), Constantius II (361), Theodosius I (395), Arcadius (408), Constantius III (421), Honorious (423), Marcian (457), Libius Severus (465), Olybrius (472), Leo I (474): Natural causes.

64. Vespasian (79): Natural causes; quipped "Uh oh, I think I'm becoming a God" as he died.

63. Diocletian (311): Abdicated voluntarily, lived for six more years in his vast palace compound tending to his vegetable gardens before dying of natural causes.

62. Romulus (~500): Forced to abdicate, sent off to live in Campania with a nice pension, presumed to have died of natural causes decades later.

61. Glycerius (480): Natural causes, after being deposed and forced to become a bishop.

60-59 (tie). Augustus (14), Claudius (54): Probably natural causes, though both were rumored to have been poisoned by their wives.

58. Lucius Verus (169): Food poisoning.

57. Jovian (364): Suffocated in his rooms by carbon monoxide fumes from a charcoal grill. Alternatively, may have eaten some bad mushrooms.

56. Theodosius II (450): Fell off a horse.

55. Claudius II (270): Plague.

54. Valentinian II (392): Discovered hanged in his palace; may have committed suicide because he was dominated by his chief general and had no real power, or may have been murdered by said chief general.

53. Tiberius (37): His entourage thought he died of old age, announced his death, then smothered him in a panic when he suddenly regained consciousness.

52. Nero (68): Tried to commit suicide as his regime collapsed; after several failed attempts, he ordered his private secretary to stab him in the throat.

51. Domitian (96): Stabbed to death by a large group of palace officials.

50-46 (tie). Caligula (41), Pertinax (193), Elagabalus (222), Balbinus & Pupienus (238): Assassinated by members of the Praetorian Guard.

45. Alexander Severus (235): Assassinated by mutinous soldiers in a coup.

44. Constans (350): Assassinated while seeking refuge from coup plotters in a temple.

43. Carinus (285): Assassinated by an officer whose wife he had seduced.

42. Caracalla (217): Murdered by one of his bodyguards while urinating on the side of the road

41. Numerian (284): Possibly assassinated by one of his officials while on campaign against Persia; his rotting corpse was carried in a closed coach for hundreds of miles across Asia Minor before his death was acknowledged.

40. Aurelian (275): Murdered by high government officials who had been shown a forged document indicating that the emperor had marked them for execution.

39-36 (tie). Gordian II (238), Philip the Arab (249), Maxentius (312), Constantine II (340): Died in battle in civil wars.

35-32 (tie). Macrinus (218), Severus (307), Licinius (325), Gratian (383): Executed after losing civil wars.

31-30 (tie). Avitus (457), Julius Nepos (480): Lost a civil war, were both forced to become bishops, then starved to death (Avitus)/stabbed to death (Julius Nepos).

29-26 (tie). Otho (69), Gordian I (238), Maximian (310), Maximinus II (313): Committed suicide after losing civil wars.

19-25 (tie). Didius Julianus (193), Maximinus Thrax (238), Trebonius Gallus (253), Aemilianus (253), Gallienus (268), Florianus (276), Probus (282): Murdered by their own soldiers during a civil war.

18. Quintillus (270): Accounts differ: Murdered by his own soldiers because he was too strict, or maybe died in battle in a civil war, or maybe suicide.

17. Gordian III (244): Died while on campaign against the Persians, possibly in battle.

16. Decius (251): Died in battle against the Goths.

15. Julian (363): Died of hemorrhaging three days after receiving a spear wound in battle against the Persians.

14. Carus (283): Possibly struck by lightning.

13. Valentinian I (375): Became so angry at German ambassadors who were not sufficiently deferential that he suffered a rage-stroke.

12. Valentinian III (455): Murdered by soldiers who had been paid to do so by a senator whose wife Valentinian had raped.

11. Leo II (474): Poisoned by his own mother so her husband could become emperor.

10. Geta (211): Murdered in his mother's arms by soldiers on orders of his brother and co-emperor

9. Commodus (192): Given poison by conspirators, but he vomited that up, so they brought in a wrestler to strangle him in the bathtub.

8. Vitellius (69): Dragged from hiding as his regime collapsed, strangled, then ritually thrown down a flight of stairs.

7. Valens (378): Wounded in battle with the Goths, he was carried to a small hut, which the Goths later burned down, unaware the emperor was inside.

6. Petronius Maximus (455): Fled Rome rather than staying to fight invading Vandals; stoned to death by an angry mob of Roman refugees.

5. Majorian (461): Deposed, tortured, and decapitated by his chief general.

4. Anthemius (472): Lost a civil war with his chief general, fled to St. Peter's Basilica for refuge, was dragged out and beheaded.

3. Galba (69) Murdered by calvary officers in a coup; severed head brought to his successor's supporters, who carried it around and mocked it.

2. Joannes (425): Captured after a civil war; after his hand was amputated, he was paraded on a donkey and subjected to insults, then decapitated.

1. Valerian (sometime after 260): Captured by the Persians and died in captivity; rumored to have been used as a human footstool by the Persian king, killed by having molten gold poured down his throat, then taxidermied.

Josh Fruhlinger quit five semesters into an ancient history Ph.D. program, but that's still five semesters more than most people do. He has a Tumblr and a Twitter and runs the number one Mary Worth fan site on the Internet.

41 Comments / Post A Comment

jolie (#16)

Dear The Awl,

I love you madly.

Your pal,

jolie (#16)

(With that said, I feel that poor Commodus kinda got robbed here. Or to put it in house style: "MAJORIAN BEFORE COMMODUS ARE YOU KIDDING ME???")

Amphora (#231,928)

@jolie Yeah, Deposed and executed by your own military commanders is pretty par for the course…

SidAndFinancy (#4,328)

I did three shots of Goldschläger and took a taxi to my dermatologist once.

Bittersweet (#765)

Caligula really got off easy after all his shenanigans…

Vicky (#7,168)

Oh now I have to find the email address of my HS latin teacher, she will get the biggest kick out of this. Especially #13.

Graydon Gordian (#3,206)

I'll admit, I was a little bummed to see all three Gordians died battle-related deaths. I was pulling for something really twisted.

@Graydon Gordian – Knot on your life (or theirs).

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

Diocletion, FTW

Ham Snadwich (#11,842)

@boyofdestiny – When people begged him to come out of retirement he reportedly said

"If you could show the cabbage that I planted with my own hands to your emperor, he definitely wouldn't dare suggest that I replace the peace and happiness of this place with the storms of a never-satisfied greed."

I don't have a source, but I read somewhere that he bored all of his visitors by discoursing at length about the size of his cabbages.

Graydon Gordian (#3,206)

I'll give Josh credit: There's no doubt number 1 is correctly ranked.

Tyrantanic (#13,751)

Commodus shouldn't be on here, he got stabbed by Russell Crowe like 12 years ago

NeonTrotsky (#2,249)

@Tyrantanic This is one of the cases where the actual event as it happened was so very much better than as depicted in the movie. Beware of the Greco-Roman wrestlers you invite to your Bacchanalian ragers–they could be your undoing!

Annie K. (#3,563)

Who knew all this was rattling around in Josh's head? I thought it was all Mary Worth in there. Amazing.

I believe Cassius choked on a ham sandwich.

ejcsanfran (#489)

@NotAndersonCooper: As did I, when I read your comment.

Ham Snadwich (#11,842)

@NotAndersonCooper – Libel!

Vulpes (#946)

A fascination with Roman Emperors AND Mary Worth?!!!??!! Oh, Josh, why must you break my heart by being straight?

Diocletian wins again.

hockeymom (#143)

Rage Stroke!

ejcsanfran (#489)

@hockeymom: That is both my first choice for and the most likely cause of my own death.

zidaane (#373)

@ejcsanfran Also, Balk finding out his old age government housing selection was on the Moon.

Funny (or more likely, unsurprising) how being a good emperor–or "Good Emperor"–increases one's odds of dying of natural causes.

zidaane (#373)

"Uh oh, I think I'm becoming a God" is my hope prayer on the 'throne'.

Mr. B (#10,093)

I keep thinking about the end of I, Claudius, when Derek Jacobi is dying and has a vision of the oracle telling him that the future emperors after Nero will be mostly O.K.


Amphora (#231,928)

@Mr. B Clearly the oracle could only see as far as the Flavians or MAYBE the Antonines. I think Graves based it mostly on Suetonius who only lived until Hadrian's reign.

Ramstone (#197,230)

Needs more drowning.

GailPink (#9,712)

#13 is my favorite

Creative suggestions for retiring US presidents

laurel (#4,035)

Commodus' death sounds like a Felini movie.

Now *that's* a listicle.

Max Clarke (#3,635)

Goths used to be a lot more badass.

hidflect (#199,944)

No. 43 is me..

Tulletilsynet (#333)

"Listiculus." Omnium. Qui. Umquam. Facti. Sunt. Optimus.

Flashman (#418)

That's another two or three season's worth of Game of Thrones right there.

RickVigorous (#214)

I think the guy at #6 is also the name of a wizardy spell the Harry Potter kids use.

lola5cunni (#233,123)

@RickVigorous ya

This is a story? "How the Emperors Died" is a title for a story, actually, a great title. This is not that story.

Manvitsbrekka (#233,433)

I would question the choice of #1. Those rumors are generally considered blatant propaganda by the Romans. Geta, who is poorly described at #10, would get my vote. Geta's mother had invited her feuding boys to a meeting in her home to settle things. They were all sitting together when soldiers, on his brother's order, burst in and killed him in front of their mother. An appropriately evil story with Mother's Day coming up.

PeterAtJET (#250,177)

But why stop at 476AD? You have several eastern emperors already, and the eastern empire lasted till 1453. Plenty of blindings, forced haircuts and nose-ectomies there. Constantine XI's "Killed in battle by Ottomans as they stormed Constantinople" is quite hardcore, although admittedly nothing is going to top Valerian's gold plated exit.

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