Roman Empire – The Golden Age
The Roman Empire was an enigmatic time, featuring periods of greatness and periods of trouble, where success was most often determined by the emperor’s personality and capability – those who were strong succeeded and those who were weak were overthrown. There were 58 emperors from Augustus to the year 363 A.D, when Jovian died and the empire was split into east and west. Of the 58, 30 were murdered by the army, 4 died of the plague, 2 died in battle, 2 committed suicide, 1 was struck by lightning, and 1 drowned. Great men were rare and weaklings ubiquitous. The army lacked real men – leaders made of the same stuff as them -- so weaklings had to pay them to stay alive. But the army was fickle and might give an emperor the sword because it decided it liked someone else better. My use of the term, army, includes the Praetorian Guard who by their position of honor and proximity to the emperor, played a special role in king making.
During the time of the Caesars there were occasional periods of calm. One of these, known as the Golden Age – 98 A.D. to 180 A.D. – is the subject of this article. There are no obvious clues to explain why the empire functioned so well during this period. The four men in charge had very different personalities and they were not equal in ability. Many wars were fought and each man was challenged by instability, yet the empire ran smoothly. Maybe it was luck.
Let’s look at each of these four men in detail so we can understand the threads that drove the empire during this time. For each I have included an image of their silver denarius from my collection. The coins lend a physical reality to the story of the man.