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Reasons Why Roman Leaders Was Killed

| 30.3.22 |

Reasons Why Roman Leaders Was Killed

 Ancient Rome was a dangerous place to be an emperor and its leader. For more than 500 years, about 20% of Rome's 82 emperors were assassinated while in power. What caused the fall of these Roman leaders? According to a study published in the journal Science Direct, rain could be one of the causes. The reason is quite unique. When the rains were low, the Roman soldiers—who depended on the rain to water crops grown by local farmers—would starve. "Ultimately, that will push them into a potential rebellion," said study researcher Cornelius Christian. 

"And that rebellion would undermine support for the emperor and make him more vulnerable to assassination," Christian said. Christian made the discovery using ancient climate data from a 2011 study in the journal Science. In the study, the researchers analyzed thousands of petrified tree rings from France and Germany. They then calculated how much rain has fallen there each spring for the past 2,500 years. This area was once the Roman border, where military troops were stationed. Later, Christian pulls data on military rebellions and the assassination of emperors in ancient Rome. "It's really just a matter of putting these disparate pieces of information together," Christian says. He plugged those numbers into a formula and found that lower rainfall meant there were more likely kills to occur. That's because less rain means less food."

Take, for example, Emperor Vitellius. He was assassinated in 69 C.E., a year of low rainfall on the Roman frontier, where troops were stationed. “Vitellius was an emperor recognized by his troops,” Christian says. "Unfortunately, there was low rainfall that year, and he was completely flabbergasted. His troops revolted and he was eventually killed in Rome." But, as is often the case, many factors can lead to murder. For example, Emperor Commodus was assassinated in 192 AD for abusing the law. There was no drought that led to Commodus' assassination, "but there is usually a drought before the emperor's assassination," Christian says. 

They are not trying to claim that rainfall was the only explanation for all the assassinations of Roman emperors and leaders. According to him, this is only one of many potential variables that could cause this to happen.
The study examines how climate affected ancient societies, said Joseph Manning, professor of classics and history at Yale University. However, while the new study lays a "good foundation" for the precipitation-kill hypothesis, researchers have a long way to go in supporting this idea, Manning said. For starters, it's relatively easy to find correlations between two things using statistics, he says. "They do a pretty good statistical job, but how do you know if you have the right mechanics?" In other words, correlation is not the same as causation, says Manning. Therefore, it is necessary to explore this hypothesis to determine whether the climate data do match the date of the kill. 

The hypothesis "sounds plausible," said Jonathan Conant, a professor of history at Brown University. But while rain may play a role, so can other factors, Conant added. For example, most of the murders of Rome occurred in the 3rd century C.E. At this time, the Roman Empire was experiencing massive inflation, plague, and external wars. All of this had an impact on the stability of the empire, Conant said. Conant says, "For me, the murder and rain hypothesis adds another layer of complexity and nuance to our understanding of the political history of the Roman Empire."

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