roman assassin

The Great Roman Assassins


Ruling emperors, despite their dictatorial rights of rule, had many enemies. Discover the emperors whose lives ended in assassination. Discover the assassins who changed Roman history.

Throughout Roman history the assassin was in a sense the ombudsman of the ancient world, sometimes the front man for a politically hungry rival. Many an emperor saw his end at the hands of these paid killers.

The Empire was riddled with intrigue and corruption. Ruling what in one sense was a military dictatorship was undoubtly hard. Each emperor had to face the enormous challenges as he traversed the dangerous world of Roman politics. Discissions about local, national and provincial policies about general life, the military, the borders and frontiers, and even the life of slavery, were not always appealing to those in the Senate or even family members. Worst though was the booty that had to be paid to soldiers and most especially the praetorian guards to keep their loyalty. Many an emperor became unable to maintain the support of his closest men, and in a sense fell victim to the whims of his own administration.

The most famous assassination was by far that of Julius Caesar at the hands of fellow politicians. Even this great general and dictator could not have anticipated how precarious Roman politics could become. In fact it was this very killing that led his nephew and adopted heir, Octavian (Augustus), to form a brotherhood of personal bodyguards, the Praetorian Guard. However, even the Praetorian proved to be loyal at a price. The highest bidder usually became the victor and in some cases, the next emperor.

The following is a list of assassinated emperors and the assassins, named and unnamed, who changed the course of Roman history:

 14 to 37 AD  Tiberius  Gaius Caligula (next emperor)
 37 to 41 AD  Gaius Caligula  Cassius Chaerea, Prefect Arrecinus Clemens and the Praetorian Guard
 41 to 51 AD  Claudius  Empress Agrippina the Younger
 69 AD  Galba  Praetorian Guards
 69 AD  Vitellius  Vespasian’s soldiers
 81 to 96 AD  Domitian  Empress Domitia Longina, Stephanus, Petronius Secundus, and chamberlain Norbanus
 180 to 192 AD  Commodus  Commodus’ mistress Marcia, the athlete Narcissus, chamberlain Eclectus, urban prefect Pertinax (next emperor), and Prefect Quintus Laetus
 193 AD  Pertinax  Praetorian Guards
 193 AD  Didius Julianus  Senatorially ordered soldiers
 211 AD  Geta  Geta’s brother
 211 to 217 AD  Caracalla  Prefect of the Guard Macrinus and Julius Martialis
 218 to 222 AD  Elagabalus  murdered in the Castra Praetoria by the Praetorian Guard
 222 to 235 AD  Severus Alexander  mutinying soldiers during the Danube Wars
 235 to 238 AD  Maximinus I  dissatisfied soldiers
 238 AD  Pupienus and Balbinus  Praetorian Guard
 238 to 244 AD  Gordian III  soldiers under orders from Praetorian Prefect Philip
 251 to 253 AD  Trebonianus Gallus  Roman soldiers
 253 AD  Aemilian  Roman soldiers
 253 to 268 AD  Gallienus  General Aurelian, General Marcianus, General Claudius Gothicus and Prefect Heraclianus
 260 to 268 AD  Postumus  Roman soldiers
 270 to 275 AD  Aurelian  Thracian Praetorian Mucapor and other Praetorian officers
 276 AD  Florian  Roman soldiers
 276 to 282 AD  Probus  Roman soldiers
 282 to 283 AD  Carus  cause of death officially registered as lightning, but evidence shows Praetorian Prefect Arrius Aper to be responsible
 283 to 285 AD  Carinus  Roman imperial officer
 283 to 284 AD  Numerian  Arrius Aper
 337 to 350 AD  Constans I  Magnentius’ assassin
 367 to 383 AD  Gratian  Andragathius, a Roman army officer
 375 to 392 AD  Valentinian II  Magister Militum Arbogast
 461 to 465 AD  Libius Severus  Roman soldiers
 474 to 475 AD  Julius Nepos  Glycerius, Ovida and Viator

As the Roman Empire drew to a close and corruption, disease and other factors plagued Italy and its provinces, it is not surprising to see that assassinations became a common thing during its last centuries. It is also quite clear that even in the modern world, politics is a dangerous game where even the politically hungry are not above resorting to assassinating world leaders.