Mad emperors of Rome  

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 This page Mad emperors of Rome is part of psychopathology series. Illustration: the head of Elagabalus, one of the five "mad emperors" of ancient Rome
This page Mad emperors of Rome is part of psychopathology series.
Illustration: the head of Elagabalus, one of the five "mad emperors" of ancient Rome

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madness, Roman Emperor, Roman_decadence#Decadence_of_the_emperors

Some of the emperors of ancient Rome's behavior was so cruel and eccentric that they have come to be known as "mad emperors" and likened to "psychopaths". They include these five : Caligula, Nero, Domitian, Commodus, Claudius, Tiberius, and Elagabalus.




Caligula (August 31, 12January 24, 41) was the third emperor of the Roman Empire.

Outlandish stories cluster about the raving Emperor, illustrating his excessive cruelty, multiple and peculiar sexual escapades (both heterosexual and homosexual, or disrespect toward tradition and the Senate. Sources describe his incestuous relationships with all three of his sisters, his amateurish attempt to perform a caesarean section on his favorite sister, Drusilla, in order to deliver the baby he had engendered, resulting in her death, his subsequent declaring her to be a goddess, his selling to the highest bidder the wives of high-ranking Senate members during sexual orgies, his laughable military campaigns in the north, the plan to make his horse Incitatus a consul, and his habit of roaming the halls of his palace at night ordering the sun to rise. He also named his horse as a priest and gave it a house to reside in, complete with a marble stable, golden manger, and jeweled necklaces; and he later talked of making his horse a member of the Senate. He opened a brothel in his palace and had a habit of taking Senate members' wives with him to his private bedroom during social functions, while the husbands could merely look on as they left together, then he would recount the sexual acts he performed with the wives for all to hear, including their husbands. He is described as aloof, arrogant, egotistical, and is generally portrayed as insane. He is said to have cried "I wish the Roman people had but a single neck" when an arena crowd applauded a faction he opposed. He declared himself a living god.

Perhaps most infamous of all Roman emperors, Caligula was a completely unstable psychopath who likely suffered from epilepsy. When he became emperor, he satisfied his perversions by having sex with his three sisters, raping the wives of senators, and naming his favorite horse Consul.

He declared himself a god and had his own image superimposed on statues of deities throughout the empire. Later during his chaotic reign, he created a private brothel in the palace, forcing patrician Roman women to prostitute themselves.


Nero, matricide

Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (December 15, AD 37June 9, AD 68) was a Roman Emperor of the Petronian age.

Popular legend remembers Nero as a decadent libertine and a tyrant; he is known as the emperor who "fiddled while Rome burned", an early persecutor of Christians and builder of the Domus Aurea. These accounts follow the histories of Tacitus, Suetonius and Cassius Dio along with a number of early Christian writers. However, some ancient sources also indicate that Nero was quite popular with the common people during and after his reign. It may be impossible to completely separate fact from fiction concerning Nero's reign.

In AD 59 he is said to have ordered the murder of his mother Agrippina the Younger, supposedly because she was conspiring against him.

In AD 68 a military coup drove Nero into hiding. Facing execution at the hands of the Roman Senate, he reportedly committed forced suicide with the help of his scribe Epaphroditos.

A perverse and unpredictable ruler, Nero ascended to power by having his mother Agrippina stabbed to death. Late in his rule, he brutally kicked his pregnant wife to death after she criticized his performance at one of his hours-long poetry recitals.

Suetonius tells us that Nero had numerous sexual perversions, had sex with young boys, forced himself on married women of high nobility and even raping a Vestal Virgin. Indulging his love for sado-masochism, Nero covered himself in wild animal skins and attacked the genitals of men and women bound to stakes. He is said even to have lusted after his mother before her death, as she had a great influence over the young emperor.

Nero was also an extravagant spender, declaring that, ‘only a miser counted what he spent, while a true gentleman wasted and squandered.’

To stop the public belief that he had started the great fire of Rome, Nero blamed the devastating fire on the marginal eastern sect called Christians. In many parts of the Roman empire, pogroms broke out against Christians and thousands were arrested. Nero then appeased the mobs of the ravaged Rome by having Christians thrown to lions and tigers, crucified and burned alive on stakes in the Circus.



Titus Flavius Domitianus (24 October 51 – 18 September 96), commonly known as Domitian, was a Roman Emperor who reigned from 14 September 81 until his death. Domitian was the last emperor of the Flavian dynasty, which ruled the Roman Empire between 69 and 96, encompassing the reigns of Domitian's father Vespasian (69–79), his elder brother Titus (79–81), and that of Domitian himself.

The only Roman emperor to declare himself a living god was Domitian which caused outrage.



Lucius Aurelius Commodus Antoninus (31 August 161 – 31 December 192) was a Roman Emperor who ruled from 180 to 192 (also with his father, Marcus Aurelius, from 177 until 180). The name given here was his official name at his accession to sole rule; see Changes of name for earlier and later forms. His accession as emperor was the first time a son had succeeded his father since Titus succeeded Vespasian in 79. Commodus was the first emperor "born to the purple"; i.e., born during his father's reign.



Elagabalus (ca. 203 – March 11, 222), also known as Heliogabalus or Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, was a Roman emperor. He was known for perverse and decadent behavior with regard especially to sex, religion, and food. Due to these associations with Roman decadence, Elagabalus became something of a hero to the Decadent movement in the late 19th century.

A fourteen year old Syrian transvestite who thought himself a sun god.

Elagabulus engaged in frequent homosexual perversions, such as prostituting himself in drag and marrying an enslaved chariot driver. He wasted enormous amounts of money, and supposedly fed his pet lions with pheasants while complaining that the people of Rome were starving. Many of the stories about Elagabalus are likely exaggerations by the Roman historians.


Emperor Claudius was a notorious drunk and glutton during his long reign. Contrary to popular belief, he had a ruthless streak and enjoyed watching public executions of men and women. He took his own niece Agrippina as his fourth wife, although throughout time many rulers have married family members.


According to ancient historians such as Suetonius in Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Tiberius indulged in the most morbid sexual perversions in his reclusive gardens on the Island of Capri. Suetonius records disturbing tales of perversity and cruelty, of violent sado-masochism and pederasty, and most of all, extreme paranoia in the diseased emperor's mind. According to Suetonius, he raped very young girls and also enjoyed snapping the necks of boys with his bare hands. While perhaps sensationalized, the stories at least paint a picture of how Tiberius was perceived by the Roman people, and what his impact on the Principate was during his 23 years of rule.

See also

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