Why were Roman emperors assassinated?

Droughts and famines could prompt military forces to revolt, overthrow, and assassinate Roman emperors.

During the more than 500 years the Roman Empire existed, about 20% of the 82 emperors were assassinated while in power. The cause of their demise could be rain, according to research published in the October issue of the journal Economics Letters.

Why were Roman emperors assassinated?
Busts of Roman emperors. (Photo: iStock).

The researchers speculated that when rainfall was low , the Roman army would starve to death due to its dependence on rainwater to irrigate fields planted by local farmers. “That will push them to cross the line and rebel. It was that rebellion that caused the pro-emperor forces to collapse and made the emperor more susceptible to assassination,” Live Science quoted research leader Cornelius Christian, assistant professor of economics at Brock University, Ontario. Canada.

Christian discovered this using ancient weather data from a study published in 2011 in the journal Science. In that study, the scientists analyzed thousands of fossil tree rings in France and Germany, then calculated how much rain each spring has received over the past 2,500 years. This area was located on the border of the Roman Empire, where the army was stationed.

Next, Christian collects data on coups and assassinations of emperors in ancient Rome. He formulated the calculation and found that “lower rainfall means a higher probability of imminent assassinations because low rainfall means less food”.

For example, the emperor Vitellius was assassinated in 69, after a year of little rain on the Roman frontier. “Vitellius was made emperor by his army. Unfortunately, it rained little that year and Vitellius was completely taken by surprise. His army revolted and in the end, Vitellius was assassinated in Rome,” Christian said.

However, many factors may have contributed to the assassination. Emperor Commodus, for example, was assassinated in 192 in part because of military resentment over his abuses of power, including forcing gladiators to concede defeat to the emperor in the Colosseum. “We’re not trying to say that rainfall is the best explanation for all assassinations. It’s just one of many factors that can make this happen,” Christian said.