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The 5 Best Roman Emperors - An Easy Guide for KS2

Updated: Feb 7, 2023

Let’s face it, on the surface, the worst Roman Emperors are by far the most fun to read about. That’s because they got up to all sorts of naughty and downright evil things and are almost unbelievable in their badness.

We covered these bad boys in a previous article, which you can read here. On this occasion, we’ll be looking at the good guys, the best of the best, the nicest of the nice; the 5 best Emperors of Rome. These were the sort of fellas who were so kind that when they sang a song, bluebirds would sing along with them. Fact.

Let’s begin!

Emperor Nerva

Emperor Nerva Courtesy Carole Raddato

Nerva began his rule in 96 AD and, whilst only ruling a year, he put his many years of wisdom (he was pretty old when he landed the whole Emperor gig) into stabilising Rome after a very messy assassination which saw off the previous Emperor.

What was the best thing he did?

When Roman Emperors died, things tended to get messy. Usually there would end up being a civil war when rival would-be Emperors fought over who would get to be the boss next. But Nerva managed a peaceful transition. He passed on the rule of Rome to his successor, Trajan, with no violence, blood or mass killing. We say "well done Nerva!".

Emperor Trajan

Emperor Trajan Courtesy Bibi Saint-Pol

Trajan, as mentioned above, took over ruling Rome after Nerva popped his sandals. He was considered a very fair ruler. Trajan gave back lots of land and property to Roman citizens who had had all their stuff nicked by other Emperors. He also got stuck into many public works projects; building canals and bridges that benefitted everyone. He was also very, very good at the whole 'war' thing and managed to expand the Roman Empire to its biggest ever size.

What was the best thing he did?

Some may say the expansion of Rome was the best thing Nerva did, but we have a different opinion. The canals and bridges Trajan built meant that many Roman citizens now had a supply of drinking water. This improved the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and was surely the best thing he did during his reign.

Emperor Hadrian

Emperor Hadrian Courtesy of Bodrumlu55

Hadrian is the man, legend and all around good egg who was responsible for building Hadrian's Wall. Well, not that he was the one who actually built it – that would be all the Roman legionnaires – but you get the idea. Not too much is known about his rule but records suggest he supported the arts, wrote poetry and supported a lot of building works.

What was the best thing he did?

It’s got to be Hadrian’s Wall. Probably one of the best walls ever built. But Hadrian didn't stop there - he built lots of walls throughout the Roman Empire. These walls protected the Empire and kept people safe.

Antoninus Pius

Antoninus Pius

Pius was the most peaceful of all the Emperors. During his rule he focused on making the law fairer for everyone. He expanded the rights for slaves and took steps to ensure slaves had more opportunities to be freed. He also came up with the idea of 'innocent until proven guilty' a legal right that still stands today.

What was the best thing he did?

No war! There are no records of any military conflicts during Antoninus’ reign – the guy achieved known world peace.

Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius Courtesy Pierre-Selim

Marcus Aurelius is arguably the best of the best when it comes to the 5 Good Emperors. He’s certainly the most famous. His thoughts on philosophy and how to live a good life are still read and followed by thousands of people. During his reign he had a lot to contend with. There were many wars and a plague that killed 5 million people. Despite all this, Marcus did his best for his people and, even with all the power at his fingertips, avoided going full "Thanos" on everyone.

What was the best thing that he did?

During the Antonine Plague, Rome was ravaged; thousands upon thousands of people died. Yet, despite all the fear and horror, Marcus stayed in Rome to lead his people. Even at the risk of being infected and dying himself. He was a leader who lead by example, how many brave heroes like this have there been in history? Not nearly enough, which means we should value the few all the more.


Is your class loving learning about the Romans? Then you'll definitely want to bring Imagining History's 'Roman Britain: A Time Travel Tour' workshop to your school!


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