Favorite Roman EmperorsThis is my list of FAVORITE Roman Emperors (ones I think are the most unique, interesting, or just plain awesome) not a list of who I think are the BEST Emperors.
Publius Licinius Egnatius Gallienus. Emperor from 253-268 CE, which was quite possibly the worst stretch of the Crisis of the Third Century. The eastern half of the Empire had seceded to the Palmyrene Empire, and the west had seceded to the Gallic Empire, leaving Gallienus alone in the middle. Lambasted by old historians as weak, ineffective, and apathetic to the events of his time, Gallienus is now viewed in a better light. He fought endlessly during his reign against Gothic invaders and internal revolts and was by all accounts a skilled commander and Emperor. Ruling during the 3rd century was getting the extra short end of the stick. Gallienus deserves praise just by establishing the Mobile Cavalry, a pretty awesome idea.
Lucius Domitius Aurelianus. Emperor from 270-275 CE. Another Crisis of the Third Century Emperor, and quite possibly the greatest Emperor since Trajan. Due to his short but productive reign, Aurelian has been called the "Sandy Koufax of Roman Emperors". He won't be listed in the Top 5 Greatest, but for those 5 years, Aurelian was invincible. Single handedly reuniting the fractured Empire and setting the groundwork for the Crisis Years to finally be put to rest, 'Hand on Hilt' is a prime example of what intense discipline, grit, and vision can accomplish.
Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus. Possessing the best name of any Emperor, Diocletian is someone you will see on the Top 5 Greats list. Diocletian closed the door on the Crisis of the Third Century, ruling from 284-305 CE and effectively reinvented the Roman Empire. No other Emperor since Augustus built a governmental apparatus that was as efficient as Diocletian did with his Tetrarchy. The breadth and scale of his reforms are hard to overstate. Diocletian's reign was the first major shift into the period known as Late Antiquity.
Gaius Messius Quintus Traianus Decius. Ruling from 249-251 CE, Decius is another of the numerous, forgettable "Barracks Emperors" that ruled during the Third Century. Decius is not known for much beyond intensely persecuting early Christians, and being the first Roman Emperor to be killed by a foreign enemy in battle, at the Battle of Abritus. There is a quote that is credited to Decius, and the quote alone is what cements Decius on this list:
Upon hearing news that his son Herennius had just been killed by the Goths, Decius rallied his troops by saying "Let no man mourn! The death of one soldier is no great loss to The Republic."
Titus Flavius Domitianus. Ruled from 81-96 CE, the last of the Flavian Dynasty. Domitian is on the favorites list for being misunderstood and misrepresented by historians for ages. Due to his extremely autocratic style, and growing paranoia in his later years, Domitian was intensely hated by the Senatorial class (the class that all the ancient historians belonged to.) Although admittedly a bit as a military commander, Domitian created a civil government that was ruthlessly efficient and anti-corruption. He revalued the worth of the Denari, gave a huge pay increase to the Army, and instated a building program that built Rome back up after falling into disrepair. The 'evil tyrant Domitian,' a label affixed to him for centuries, is clearly not the truth.
Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus. The third Emperor of Rome, ruling from 37-41 CE. A man who needs no introduction, Caligula is one of the most infamous rulers of all time. An unrepentant hedonist and sadist, Caligula set the standard for violent psychotics everywhere. His formative years are a near constant cycle of violence, fear, and suppression, and his life is a wellspring of entertainment for any historian interested in the dark side of absolute power.
Imperator Caesar Augustus. The first Emperor of Rome. Ruling from 27 BCE to 14 CE, Augustus is the most prominent and famous of all the Emperors. Always found in 1st or 2nd place on the list of the greatest, Augustus lands in 7th on my favorites. The sheer magnitude of the charisma and ambition the Principe possessed is unparalleled almost anywhere else in history.
Flavius Valerius Constantinus. Ruling from 306 to 337 CE, Constantine is an unavoidable name when speaking of the all time great Emperors. Most famous for being the "Christian Emperor" and turning Rome from Pagan to Christian. Constantine was an incredibly skilled military commander as well as administrator and mediator in religious conflicts. Constantine took the groundwork laid by Diocletian and flew it into the stratosphere. He established the Eastern Roman Empire as a political force that would last for another thousand years.
Flavius Claudius Julianus. Ruling from 361 to 363 CE, Julian is a late antiquity Emperor who is most known for being the last "Pagan Emperor." Julian attempted to revert the course the Empire had taken under Constantine and return the Empire to its pagan roots. Unfortunately for Julian, Christianity had been the religion of the Empire for 30 years, proving difficult to remove. A poorly planned war against the Sassanids ended Julian's ambitious but fruitless reign.
Titus Flavius Vespasianus. Ruling from 69 to 79 CE, Vespasian was the winner in the dramatic "Year of the Four Emperors" that occurred following the death of Nero in 69 CE. Vespasian is a top ten great, and his inclusion on my favorites list is simply because he ordered the construction of the Coliseum, which the Romans called the "Flavian Amphitheatre." A neat fact to keep stored away for trivia night.