The Five Good Emperors and Ara Pacis

Through the emperors after Augustus to Domitian, there was instability in Rome, thanks to some very mentally unstable emperors. But finally starting from 96 AD there was a period in Rome which was pretty stable, thanks to five emperors(Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antonius Pius, and Marcus Aurelius), who ruled from that time until 180 AD. These emperors were not really in an exact dynasty because they were not blood related at all, but instead appointed as an heir or adopted as son who became the heir. But what were the differences in the period that these five emperors ruled versus the period after Augustus’s death through to Domitian’s? Why do historians label these five emperors as “good”? The Ara Pacis or the Altar of Augustan Peace, is an Roman altar that was dedicated to the Roman goddess of peace, Pax. Here are some key details on this beautiful historic monument.

The Five Good Emperors

After the death of emperor Domitian( a pretty menally unstable figure, which leaves Rome also unstable), in 96 AD, the position of emperor was empty but there was no exact heir that was already assigned for the position. Usually in a situation like this it results in war, but luckily a man named Nerva(a Senator), was appointed by the Senate for the position. During his reign and past his reign with the four other “good” emperors, for a while there was a time of peace and stability in Rome.

The first difference between the period of these five emperors and the period after Augustus until Domitian’s is the fact that, after each emperor died instead of people fighting for the position of emperor the heir was already chosen by the emperor before his death. Even though almost all of these five emperors did not have any children of their own, they adopted a son(who they saw fit for the role), to become the heir and future emperor. So there was no arguing and fighting for the seat of emperor, unlike the period after Augustus until Domitian, which let me just say had a lot of issues when it came to choosing heirs.

The second difference between the two periods is the emperor’s themselves. The emperors in the period from after Augustus until Domitian were inconsistent, some were even insane, and mostly problematic, which of course reflected on the stability of Rome. But the period of the five good emperors though not perfect was far more stable, each emperor during that period didn’t make people worship them, unlike some of the previous emperors who made people treat them like gods.

The reason why historians refer to these five emperors as “good”? Well to begin with the five good emperors were a lot better than most of the emperors before them, for reasons above. Also they did manage to keep Rome in a stable condition throughout their reign, which was needed in Rome because some of the previous emperors left the state of Rome in shambles. Also they were the first line of emperors in a while that were not insane or had to be removed.

Ara Pacis

Like I mentioned above Ara Pacis was an altar dedicated to the Roman goddess of peace, Pax. This altar was commissioned by the Roman Senate in 13 BC, and was opened in 9 BC. The structure itself is an open air altar at its center but surrounded by walls; the structure itself is made entirely with Luna marble. These walls are covered in reliefs that depict different things. An example of one of the reliefs on these walls is a relief depicting the members of the imperial household. The altar itself was engraved with images depicting the ritual performed at the altar, which includes images depicting a procession of animals being led to be sacrificed; these images were carved in the Roman republican style, unlike the exterior walls.


In summary the period of the five good emperors was a period of relative stability in Rome. Even though there was still some unrest especially with the Christians, overall it was more stable compared to a lot of the period before and the period after. Unfortunately for Rome after those five emperors things go sideways for Rome. The Ara Pacis is a Roman altar that was dedicated to the Roman goddess of peace, which was commissioned in 13 BC. The notable features about this altar are the reliefs that cover the surrounding walls and the altar itself. Overall this historical monument is in decent condition and can be visited today.

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