HomeArticlesRoman Emperors Family Tree (Augustus Caesar to Justinian the Great)
Roman Emperors Family Tree (Augustus Caesar to Justinian the Great)
March 2, 2020
Today I’m going to show you the family tree
of Roman emperors. I’ll be starting with the first Roman emperor, Augustus, and going
all the way down to siks-th century emperor Justinian the Great. I’ll be using my Roman
emperors family tree chart, which is available as a poster from my website useful charts
dot com. The first thing I want to point out is that,
unlike later European monarchies, there’s not actually an unbroken bloodline between
all of these emperors. However, there were several dynasties at various points and these
are represented by the various colors on the chart.
I’m going to start up at the top with the first dynasty, which is the Julio Claudian
dynasty and, in fact, instead of starting with Augustus, I’m going start with his
very famous great uncle, Julius Caesar. Before Rome became an Empire, it was a republic
governed by a Senate but in the last days of the Republic, there were three generals
who came to dominate things and informally they were called the first triumvirate. These
three men were Julius Caesar, Pompey and Crassus. After Crassus died, there was a power struggle
between Pompey and Caesar and Caesar ended up winning and was named the dictator of the
Roman Republic. Eventually however, the Senate started to worry that Caesar was becoming
too popular and might end up being proclaimed king.
They therefore, quite famously, had him assassinated. The two main people behind the plot are actually
shown on this chart as well. Brutus was the son of Caesar’s mistress Servilia and Cassius
was the son-in-law of that same mistress, although through a different relationship.
So, after Caesar was assassinated, power was shared by a second triumvirate, consisting
of Mark Antony (previously a close ally of Julius Caesar), Octavian (who later becomes
Augustus; he was the grandson of Caesar’s sister Julia and Caesar actually ended up
adopting him as his own son) and finally Lepidus (who was another son-in-law of Caesar’s
mistress Servilia. Eventually, Octavian and Mark Antony become
enemies. Part of the reason was that Mark Antony was originally married to Octavian’s
sister but then started a relationship with Cleopatra, the Pharaoh of Egypt. Cleopatra
had earlier had a relationship with Julius Caesar and produced a son by him, named Caesarion.
There was a fear that this son might end up becoming the ruler of Rome so Octavian fought
against Mark Antony and eventually he won at the famous Battle of Actium. After that
Octavian became known as Augustus and he is generally considered to have been the first
emperor of Rome. If we go over here, you can see some of the
title used by the emperors of Rome. Initially, the emperors were not technically monarchs.
Instead, they held the title Princeps Civilatis, which meant “first citizen” or “first
among equals”. In reality though they held as much power as a monarch would, if not more.
But because of this title, the period we are about to look at is called the Principate.
Now, Augustus did not have any sons but he did have a daughter and that daughter married
the famous general Marcus Agrippa and these two did have sons who were meant to become
the heirs of Augustus but they died young and so Augustus named his two stepsons Tiberius
and Drusus as his heirs. Tiberius and Drusus were the sons of his wife
Livia his wife through her first husband Claudius and this is why the dynasty is called Julio
Claudian. Julio for the connection to Julius Caesar and Claudian for this link to Claudius.
Drusus was actually the favorite of Augustus but he died before Augustus so when Augustus
died, Tiberius was the only remaining heir. So he became the second emperor.
Now part of the agreement was that Tiberius would adopt Germanicus, son of Drusus, hence
the line would eventually go through Drusus after all. Germanicus was meant to be the
third emperor but he died before Tiberius and therefore his son Caligula became the
next emperor. Caligula had a short reign and was assassinated so the emperor-ship then
went to the brother of Germanicus, named Claudius. Claudius then adopted as his heir, Nero, the
grandson of Germanicus and therefore Nero became the fifth and final emperor of the
Julio Claudian dynasty. So you can see that all these early emperors
were all connected through some sort of adoption but also through some sort of blood relationship
to either the Julian or the Claudian family. Now, Nero was quite famously thought to be
involved in the Great Fire of Rome. He went mad in his later years and committed suicide.
After his death there was a power struggle in which four different military leaders were
proclaimed emperor. The Year 69 is known as the year of the Four emperors. Eventually
Vespasian won out and became emperor for the next ten years. He is the start of a new but rather short
dynasty, known as the Flavian dynasty. After he died, he was followed by his two sons,
Titus and Domitian. Domitian ended up being assassinated after which his advisor Nerva
was proclaimed emperor So with Nerva we get the third dynasty – sometimes
called the Nerva Antonene dynasty. Nerva was elderly at the time so he did not actually
reign long but he had adopted as his heir an individual named Trajan so that person
soon became the next emperor. It was during the rule of Trajan that Rome reached its peak
of power. You can see that at this point the emperor ship is once again passed on through
adoption on a regular basis, just like it was during the Julio Claudian dynasty. But
interestingly, there was also often a genealogical connection as well. For example, Trajan chose
as his heir, Hadrian. Both Trajan and Hadrian were descendants of this individual here.
They were also connected through Hadrian’s wife as well.
Anyway, if we continue forward, we see that Hadrian adopted Antoninus Pius who was his
wife’s sister’s daughter’s husband and Antoninus Pius adopted two individuals who
would become joint emperors after him – Lucius Verus and Marcus Aurelius. Lucius Verus was
married to Marcus Aurelius’s daughter and Marcus Aurelius was married to Antoninus Pius’s
daughter. Lucius Verus did not rul as long as Marcus
Aurelius so Marcus Aurelius is usually remembered as the main emperor for that period so if
we take him and the previous back to Nerva, we get FIVE emperors. These men are collectively
known as the five GOOD emperors because during this time Rome was at its peak and things
were fairly peaceful. This came to an end when Marcus Aurelius chose
his son Commodus as his heir instead of adopting someone. This is famously played out in the
Russell Crowe movie Gladiator, albeit with much creative license. With Commodus, Rome
started a slow climb downhill. Commodus is eventually assassinated and we then get the
year of FIVE emperor’s. One, two, three, four, five different individuals
are proclaimed emperor in the year 193 but eventually this individual, Severus, wins
out and becomes sole emperor. He established the Severen dynasty and during his time as
emperor he ruled partially with his two sons Geta and Caracalla. After Severus died, Caracalla assassinated
his brother but then he himself was assassinated and we get a non dynastic emperor for a year
or so. We then get some more distant relatives of Severus as emperors – Elagabulus and
Alexander Severus. They were the grandchildren of this Julia, who was the sister of this
Julia, who was the wife of Severus. Now the interesting thing about these four emperors
is that they can all trace their roots to an individual named Julius Basianus who was
a high priest in Syria. And that individual, through an unknown number
of generations is thought to have been a descendant of this priest-king (also in Syria) and that
priest-king was a direct descendant of Cleopatra and Mark Antony. So we have at least four
emperors who may have been descendants of both Cleopatra and Mark Antony.
Okay, after the death of Alexander Severus, we get a period known as the Crisis of the
Third Century. This is a time when, within about 50 years we get at least 25 different
emperors. It’s hard to get an exact count because some of them named their sons as joint
rulers but there was about 25 different emperors in a 50 year period so – pretty unstable.
In fact the year 238 is known as the year of – this time – SIX emperors. So this was
a time of great instability in the Empire and there were even a few breakaway states
for a while. Those were brought back into the fold by an emperor named Aurelian.
However, things didn’t really stabilize until we arrive at Diocletian. A few years
into his rule, he decided to solve the problem by splitting the empire in two. He retained
the title of emperor in the East and then he named another individual, Maximian, as
emperor of the west. This system was known as the Tetrarchy. Tetrarchy means ruled by
four and the reason for this is that each of the two senior emperors, also had a junior
emperor, called a Caesar, working under them so, in effect, there were always four rulers
of the empire any given time This is why I’ve restarted the numbers here.
The blue numbers represent the emperors in the East and the green numbers represent the
emperor’s in the west. I’ve also restarted the numbers because now we move into a period
known as The Dominate, which can be contrasted with the earlier Principate. Starting with
Diocletian, the emperors also held the title of Dominus, or Lord, meaning that everyone
now admitted that Rome was no longer a republic. Anyway, you can see that there’s some loose
family connections between the emperors of this period but mostly they were just chosen
by appointment. The tetrarchy system worked for a few decades,
up until an emperor named Constantine the Great. He defeated the other emperor and became
the first person since Diocletian to rule both the east and the west at the same time.
He was also the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity and he was the emperor who
moved the capital from Rome to Byzantium, renaming it Constantinople.
Anyway, his father was an emperor before him and three of his sons were emperors after
him so altogether, they can be considered the Constantinian dynasty. After the Constantinian
dynasty, there was a general named Jovian who was declared emperor and then another
general, who became emperor Valentinian the Great. He, his brother, and his two sons are
considered to be a dynasty but soon after the death of Valentinian the Great, we get
the start of another new dynasty – The Theodosian Dynasty. That dynasty started with Valentinian
the Great’s son-in-law Theodosius, who became Theodosius the Great.
Theodosius ended up ruling both halves of the Empire and was in fact, the last person
to do so. When he died in 395, the Empire became permanently divided with his son Honorius
ruling the West and Arcadius ruling the East. Let’s look at the West first. Both Honorius
and his nephew Valentinian III had fairly long reigns. But during this time the Western
Empire started to be taken over by various Germanic tribes. In fact, in the year 410
the city of Rome was sacked for the first time in 800 years. In the final decades of
the Western Empire, we get a bunch of different people taking on the role of emperor until
finally in 476, the West falls for good with a barbarian leader named Odoacer becoming
king. The final emperor in the West is usually considered
to be either Julius Nepos or Romulus Augustus. In the east, we get a totally different story.
There, things continued there for another 1000 years after the fall of the western empire.
However, the empire in the East during that period is often referred to as the Byzantine
Empire rather than the Roman Empire. But in the eyes of the people at the time, it was
simply the same old Roman Empire that had been started by Augustus.
So let’s look at a few more emperors in the East. I’m not going to cover them all
because they are actually continued on another chart. And I’ll tell you about that in a
moment. So after Arcadius, we get his son Theodosius II and then his son-in- law Marcian. You can also see here that Marcian had a daughter
who married one of the final emperors in the West. In fact, they then had a son who married
the daughter of the emperor who established the next dynasty in the East – the Leonid
dynasty. That was emperor Leo I. He was followed by
two son-in-laws, a grandson, and a brother-in-law. It was during the Leonid dynasty in the East
that the Fall of the Western Empire occurred. So once the West fell, the Eastern emperors
were once again the sole emperors and they certainly saw themselves as such.
After the Leonid dynasty, we get the Justinian dynasty, most notable because it included
the last really powerful Roman emperor – Justinian the Great. Justinian is important for many
reasons but one of them is that he managed to take back the city of Rome, which was at
the time now controlled by the Ostrogoths. The Byzantines then went on to retain control
of Rome until the time of Charlemagne. And this is where this particular chart comes
to an end. Not long after Justinian, the Byzantine emperors switched from using Latin to using
Greek. If you want to see the rest of the family tree of Byzantine emperors, you can
pick up the story using my European Royal Family Tree – North and East edition. There
the tree starts with Basil I of the Macedonian dynasty and goes down to Constantine the Eleventh
Palaiologos. If you interested in how things continued in Western Europe, you’ll want
to use my European Royal Family Tree – West edition. That chart starts with Charlemagne
and goes on to cover the monarchies of Spain, France, England, Germany, and so forth. Both
of these charts, as well as, the one we’ve looked at today are available from my website