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The Battle of Teutoburg Forest. September 11, 9 AD.

The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, described as the Varian Disaster by Roman historians, took place in the Teutoburg Forest in 9 CE, when an alliance of Germanic tribes ambushed and destroyed three Roman legions and their auxiliaries, led by Publius Quinctilius Varus. The alliance was led by Arminius, a Germanic officer of Varus’s auxilia. Arminius had acquired Roman citizenship and had received a Roman military education, which enabled him to deceive the Roman commander methodically and anticipate the Roman army’s tactical responses. Despite several successful campaigns and raids by the Romans in the years after the battle, they never again attempted to conquer the Germanic territories east of the Rhine river. The victory of the Germanic tribes against Rome’s legions in...

The Battle of Actium. September 2, 31 BC.

The Battle of Actium was the decisive confrontation of the Final War of the Roman Republic, a naval engagement between Octavian and the combined forces of Mark Antony and Cleopatra on 2 September 31 BC, on the Ionian Sea near the promontory of Actium, in the Roman province of Epirus Vetus in Greece. Octavian’s fleet was commanded by Agrippa, while Antony‘s fleet was supported by the power of Queen Cleopatra of Ptolemaic Egypt. Octavian’s victory enabled him to consolidate his power over Rome and its dominions. He adopted the title of Princeps (“first citizen”) and some years later was awarded the title of Augustus (“revered”) by the Roman Senate. This became the name by which he was known in later times. As Augustus, he retained the trappings of a ...

The Emperor´s Mausoleum. July 10, 138 AD.

Hadrian died in the year 138 on the 10th of July, in his villa at Baiae at the age of 62. Dio Cassius and the Historia Augusta record details of his failing health. He had reigned for 21 years, the longest since Tiberius, and the fourth longest in the Principate, after Augustus, Hadrian’s successor Antoninus Pius, and Tiberius. He was buried first at Puteoli, near Baiae, on an estate that had once belonged to Cicero. Soon after, his remains were transferred to Rome and buried in the Gardens of Domitia, close by the almost-complete mausoleum. Upon completion of the Tomb of Hadrian in Rome in 139 by his successor Antoninus Pius, his body was cremated, and his ashes were placed there together with those of his wife Vibia Sabina and his first adopted son, Lucius Aelius, who also died in ...

Aqua Traiana. Fresh water to a new Rome. June 24, 109 AD.

On June 24, 109, Emperor Trajan opened the Aqua Traiana aqueduct, channelling fresh spring water from sources around Lake Bracciano to Rome, the bustling capital of his empire. The vast structure traversed the countryside to the Janiculum Hill, where it was used as bathing and drinking water for the locals, and also to power a series of water mills for industrial purposes like processing grain and sawing stone. The springs around Lake Bracciano, about 25 miles northwest of Rome, were an important water source for the Ancient Etruscans. Around the year 100, Trajan started the construction of a nymphaeum at the site—a monument consecrated to the nymphs, young water goddesses—as well as the Aqua Traiana, which has survived up to the present day. Trajan recorded many of his achievements in ima...

December 10, 1041. The love of Zoe.

Zoë Porphyrogenita reigned as Byzantine Empress alongside her sister Theodora from 10 April 1042 to June 1050. She was also enthroned as empress consort to a series of co-rulers between 1028 and 1042. Zoë was born to a nominal co-emperor, Constantine VIII, but lived a life of relative obscurity until the age of 47. Her uncle Basil II then died, leaving the Byzantine throne entirely to her father. As he had no sons, Constantine hoped to continue the dynasty by marrying off one of his daughters and determined that the ruling house would be continued by one of them being married to an appropriate aristocrat. Romanos Argyros, the urban prefect of Constantinople, was the next to be considered as a match, after considering Constantine Dalassenos “too strong and difficult to manipulate”. Theodora...

The Battle of Manzikert. August 26,1071.

The Battle of Manzikert occurred on August 26, 1071 between the Byzantine Empire and Seljuk Turkish forces led by Alp Arslan, resulting in the defeat of the Byzantine Empire and the capture of Emperor Romanus IV Diogenes. During the 1060s the Seljuk sultan Alp Arslan allowed his Turkish allies to migrate towards Armenia and Asia Minor, where they sacked cities and plundered farmland. In 1064 they destroyed the Armenian capital at Ani. In 1068 Romanus IV led an expedition against them, but his slow-moving infantry could not catch the speedy Turkish cavalry, although he was able to capture the city of Hierapolis. In 1070 Romanus led a second expedition towards Manzikert, a Byzantine fortress that had been captured by the Seljuks, and offered a treaty with Arslan: ­ Romanus would give back Hi...

The foundation of the Tang Dynasty. June 18, 618.

Emperor Gaozu of Tang (8 April 566 – 25 June 635), born Li Yuan, courtesy name Shude, was the founder of the Tang Dynasty of China, and the first emperor of this dynasty from 618 to 626. Under the Sui dynasty, Li Yuan was the governor in the area of modern-day Shanxi, and was based in Taiyuan. In 615, Li Yuan was assigned to garrison Longxi. He gained much experience by dealing with the Göktürks of the north and was able to pacify them. Li Yuan was also able to gather support from these successes and, with the disintegration of the Sui dynasty in July 617, Li Yuan – urged on by his second son Li Shimin (the eventual Emperor Taizong) – rose in rebellion. Using the title of “Great Chancellor“, Li Yuan installed a puppet child emperor, Yang You, but eventually removed him altogeth...

The Dome Collapses. May 7, 558.

On 23 February 532, only a few weeks after the destruction of the second basilica, Emperor Justinian I decided to build a third and entirely different basilica, larger and more majestic than its predecessors, built by Constantius II and Theodosius II. Justinian chose physicist Isidore of Miletus and mathematician Anthemius of Tralles as architects; Anthemius, however, died within the first year of the endeavor. The construction is described in the Byzantine historian Procopius’ On Buildings (Peri ktismatōn, Latin: De aedificiis). Columns and other marbles were brought from all over the empire, throughout the Mediterranean. Even though they were made specifically for Hagia Sophia, the columns show variations in size. More than ten thousand people were employed. This new church was con...

Aelia Eudoxia marries Arcadius. 27 April 325.

On 17 January 395, Theodosius I succumbed to death. Arcadius succeeded him in the Eastern Roman Empire and Honorius in the Western Roman Empire. Arcadius was effectively placed under the control of Rufinus, Praetorian prefect of the East. Rufinus reportedly intended to marry his daughter to Arcadius and establish his own relation to the Theodosian dynasty. However, while Rufinus was distracted by a conflict with the  magister militum of the West, the wedding of Eudoxia to Arcadius was orchestrated by Eutropius, one of the eunuch officials serving in the Great Palace of Constantinople. The marriage took place on 27 April 395, without the knowledge or consent of Rufinus. For Eutropius it was an attempt to increase his own influence over the emperor and hopefully ensure the loyalty of the new...

The Pisonian Conspiracy. April 19, 65 AD.

Gaius Calpurnius Piso, a leading Roman statesman, benefactor of literature, and orator, intended to have Nero assassinated, and replace him as Emperor through acclamation by the Praetorian Guard. He enlisted the aid of several prominent senators, equestrians, and soldiers with a loosely conceived plan. Nero had been Emperor since 54 AD, and the ruling class had grown weary of his tyrannical reign. Although the conspiracy ended a failure, it sowed the seeds for the downfall of Nero, his suicide and the ensuing chaos of the Year of Four Emperors. The fact that senators, soldiers, and equestrians were willing to work together outlines the widespread hatred of Nero. It seems as if only Piso and perhaps Plautius Lateranus were driven to participate for the love of Rome. Others plotters, such as...

Caligula Emperor. March 28, 37 AD.

When Tiberius died on 16 March 37 AD, his estate and the titles of the principate were left to Caligula and Tiberius’s own grandson, Gemellus, who were to serve as joint heirs. Although Tiberius was 77 and on his death bed, some ancient historians still conjecture that he was murdered. Tacitus writes that the Praetorian Prefect, Macro, smothered Tiberius with a pillow to hasten Caligula’s accession, much to the joy of the Roman people. Seneca the Elder and Philo, who both wrote during Tiberius’s reign, record Tiberius as dying a natural death. Backed by Macro, Caligula had Tiberius’s will nullified with regard to Gemellus on grounds of insanity, but otherwise carried out Tiberius’s wishes. Caligula accepted the powers of the principate as conferred by the sena...

The Battle of Yamen. March 19, 1279.

The Song troops were prepared for a small skirmish, not a large assault. Waves of arrows hit the Song ships. Caught off guard, the Song fleet immediately lost seven ships, along with a great number of troops in the process. The ill and weakened Song soldiers were no match for the Yuan troops in close combat, and the chaotic environment made battle command impossible. The chained Song ships could neither support the middle nor retreat. After the Song troops were killed, the bloody slaughter of the Song court began. Seeing that the battle was lost, Zhang Shijie picked out his finest soldiers and cut about a dozen ships from the formation in an attempted breakout to save the emperor. The Yuan forces quickly advanced to the center and to Emperor Huaizong, killing everyone in their way. There, ...

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