• Imagining History

The 5 Worst Roman Emperors - A Fun Guide for Kids

There were five Roman Emperors that were considered 'good'. These rulers genuinely tried to do their best for the citizens of Rome; to be just, to be kind and to make Rome a better place. But for every Luke Skywalker, there must be a Darth Vader. For every Frodo, there must be a Sauron. For every Bob the Builder, there must be... well, you get the idea. If there are five good Emperors then there must also be five terrible, evil, horrible and, in all likelihood, pretty smelly Emperors too. And, as luck would have it, here they are!



Emperor Caligula

Emperor Caligula

Who was he?

This list of the worst Roman Emperors isn't in any sort of ranked order but, if it were, then bad boy Caligula would likely top the list. Whilst he started off doing a decent job, Caligula soon became a baddie. Why the change of heart? Perhaps due to an illness or botched assassination attempt. Either way, he went on to do a lot of nasty stuff!


What did he do that was so bad?

So, so much. Caligula was alleged to have murdered a ton of people, including his father, his adopted son, father-in-law, his grandmother and a whole bunch of other unrelated citizens. Caligula wanted everyone to treat him like a god and he supposedly fed prisoners to wild beasts. He even wanted to make his horse, Incitatus, a Consul, just to insult the Senate members. The senators shouldn't have been surprised at this behaviour. Prior to demanding a promotion for Incitatus, Caligula had presented his beloved four-hooved friend with a stall made from marble, a bejewelled collar and a brand-new house.


What happened to him?

Caligula was the first Roman Emperor to be assassinated. The Praetorian Guard - the Emperor's bodyguard - decided to off Caligula, his wife and child. Rome sure was a violent place!




Emperor Nero:

Emperor Nero
Courtesy cjh1452000

Who was he?

Nero took over from his great-uncle Claudius (the Emperor responsible for finally conquering Britain) and went on to make a great big mess of being Roman Emperor.


What did he do that was so bad?

The usual murdering of family members that Roman Emperors seemingly enjoyed so much. Nero killed off his own mother and wife and many others too. He also failed to deal with a massive fire that caused Rome to burn for nine days. Some even believe that he was responsible for the fire so that it would clear the area to give him space for a massive palace. Nero even competed in the Ancient Olympics and used his position as Emperor to cheat and win every event.


What happened to him?

After utterly botching the rule of Rome with his ineffective and cruel rule, the Praetorian Guard labelled Nero as an enemy of Rome. When he realised he couldn’t flee, Nero decided to take his own life.



Further Reading*:

We found the following book very handy in researching this article.

If you'd like to learn more about the Romans then it's well worth a look.


Ancient Rome (Eyewitness) by DK




Emperor Domitian

Emperor Domitian
Courtesy Sailko

Who was he?

Domitian managed to rule Rome for fifteen years, which is a pretty impressive feat as most Emperors were assassinated long before that. Domitian was the brother of Emperor Titus and took charge when his older brother died of an illness (or died from a severe case of murder, depending on who you believe).


What did he do that was so bad?

Domitian started off doing a decent job ruling Rome but sadly his paranoia got the best of him and led him to do some very stupid, and very cruel, things. Domitian killed members of the senate who opposed him, executed vestal virgins and killed many others. He also came up with horrible new tortures to inflict on the population.


What happened to him?

Take a guess. That’s right, assassinated! Domitian was killed by family, friends and servants who feared for their lives. One of the imperial staff stabbed him in the groin before everyone else joined in and stabbed everywhere else. Ouch!




Emperor Commodus

Emperor Commodus
Courtesy Marie-Lan Nguyen

Who was he?

Commodus was the son of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Marcus Aurelius went down in history as being one of the best Emperors of Rome. Unfortunately, Commodus was nothing like his philosopher father. Commodus was a nasty Emperor who believed he was a reincarnation of the demi-god Hercules.


What did he do that was so bad?

First off, he was a bit of a rubbish Emperor. The economy tanked under his rule, which meant everyone, rich and poor alike, ended up with less denarius in their togas. Bizarrely Commodus also decided to compete as a gladiator in the arena, killing many wild animals to try to make himself look all tough.


What happened to him in the end?

The Romans were appalled that their Emperor was competing as a gladiator - this was certainly quite the scandal. When Commodus announced that he was intending to celebrate the rebirth of Rome on New Year’s Day by having some fisticuffs in the arena, it was going far too far. Commodus’ fitness coach, Narcissus, took matters into his own hands – quite literally – by strangling the Emperor to death.


Further Reading*:

We found the following book very handy in researching this article.

If you'd like to learn more about the Romans then it's well worth a look.


Ancient Romans (Lift the Flap History) by Imagine That



Emperor Caracalla

Emperor Caracalla
Courtesy Marie-Lan Nguyen

Who was he?

Caracalla was the son of Emperor Septimius Severus – who was a dependably decent ruler of Rome. Sadly, Caracalla’s record was not off to a good start when he promptly murdered his older brother, Geta, so he could be Emperor instead.


What did he do that was so bad?

Other than murder his own brother, Caracalla murdered a lot of others too. He set about exterminating all of Geta’s followers. Because that wasn’t enough killing for Caracalla, he followed this by wiping out a local uprising in Alexandria. On the plus side, he did extend Roman citizenship to all free men in the Roman Empire, which is nice, though he doubtfully did it out of the goodness of his own heart. Instead Caracalla was a big spender and needed all the extra tax money from these new Roman citizens to fund his luxurious lifestyle.


What happened to him in the end?

What happens to all bad Emperors? Assassination, of course! Caracalla was killed by the Praetorian Guard. Their reason? One of their officers wanted to be Emperor instead. The worst thing is, the officers decided to kill Caracalla whilst he was having a wee at the side of the road. Oh the infamy!



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