List of Roman Emperors

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The title of Roman Emperor, although in some ways a modern concept, effectively summarises the position held by those individuals who wielded power in the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire developed from the Roman Republic after its ascent to the dominant power in Europe, and is characterised by the concentration of power in one individual, rather than the "Senate and People of Rome". However, Augustus, universally accepted to have been the first emperor, was careful to maintain the facade of republican rule, and took no specific title to mark his rule (which began in 27 BC).[1] Instead, he simply concentrated the pre-existing powers of Roman magistrates upon his own person, taking the existing honorific of 'Princeps Senatus' (the first man of the senate).[1] This style of government, which lasted for nearly 300 years, is thus called the 'Principate'. The modern word 'emperor' derives from the title 'Imperator', which was granted by an army to a successful general; as such, during the initial phase of the Roman Empire, it still had to be earned by the 'Princeps'. The term 'emperor', though modern, is used when describing rulers of the Roman Empire, since it a) emphasises the strong links between the ruler and the army (on whose support the ruler's power depended), and b) does not discriminate between the style of rule in different phases of the Empire.

In the late 3rd century AD, after the Crisis of the Third Century, Diocletian formalised and embellished the recent manner of imperial rule, establishing the so-called 'Dominate' period of the Roman Empire. This was characterised by the explicit investment of authority in the person of the Emperor, and the use of the style 'Dominus Noster' ('Our Lord'). From Diocletian onwards, there were often multiple simultaneous emperors, dividing the rule of the vast territories between them. After 395 AD, and the death of Theodosius I, the Empire became more firmly split into Western and Eastern halves[2] They were not legally separate however, and the Emperor of the more stable Eastern Empire often imposed his authority over the Western half. The Western Empire was heavily troubled after 395 AD, and collapsed completely after 455 AD, the last Western Emperor abdicating in 476 AD; after which the Eastern Empire maintained claim to the territories in the west. The Eastern Empire would continue until 1453, and the capture of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks.[3] The Eastern Emperors, generally known in modern times as the Byzantine Emperors, continued an unbroken succession of Roman Emperors. The listing of the early Byzantine Emperors in this article ends in the 6th century with Justin II, last of the Justinian dynasty.

The emperors listed in this article are those generally agreed to have been 'legitimate' emperors (e.g. not usurpers, etc.). However, since the emperorship was rather vaguely defined legally, which persons were 'legitimate' is not easy to define; many of the 'legitimate' emperors accessed to the position by usurpation, and many 'illegitimate' claimants had a legitimate claim to the position. The following criteria can be used to derive the list:

  • Any individual who undisputedly ruled the whole Empire, at some point, must, in point of fact, be a 'legitimate emperor'(1).
  • Any individual who was nominated as heir or co-emperor by a legitimate emperor (1), and who succeeded to rule in their own right, is a legitimate emperor (2).
  • Where there were multiple claimants, and none were legitimate heirs; the claimant accepted by the Roman Senate as emperor is the legitimate emperor (3), at least during the Principate.

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