Roman emperors faced high risk of violent death: Study

Washington, Dec 23 (PTI) Roman emperors were more likely to suffer violent death during their first year of rule, but the risk slowly reduced over the next seven years, according to a study.

The length of time from the beginning of the reign of Roman emperors until their death followed a set pattern, said researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology in the US.

Historical records show that of 69 rulers of the unified Roman Empire, 43 (62 per cent) suffered violent deaths either by assassination, suicide or during combat, they said.

Historical accounts typically examine each death as a single, random event alongside individual contributing factors such as allegiances and wealth.

The Roman Empire was founded when Augustus Caesar proclaimed himself the first emperor of Rome in 31 BC and came to an end with the fall of Constantinople in 1453 AD.

The study, published in the journal Palgrave Communications, found that it is not known whether there were any common, underlying patterns to how long each emperor's reign lasted before they died.

By applying statistical methods frequently used to test the reliability of components in engineering, the researchers modelled the typical length of time between the beginning of an emperor's reign and their subsequent death.

They found parallels between the seemingly random failures of components in engineering and the seemingly random deaths of emperors.

Joseph Saleh from Georgia Institute of Technology found that Roman emperors faced a high risk of violent death during their first year of reign.

This pattern is also seen when engineering components fail early, often as a result of a failure to function as intended or, in the case of an emperor, meet the demands of their role, the researchers said.

The risk of death stabilised by the eighth year but increased again after 12 years of rule, a pattern similar to the failure of components because of fatigue, corrosion or wear-out, they said.

When data points were aligned on a graph, the failure rate of Roman emperors displayed a bathtub-like curve, a model widely seen with mechanical and electrical components.

'It's interesting that a seemingly random process as unconventional and perilous as the violent death of a Roman emperor -- over a four-century period and across a vastly changed world -- appears to have a systematic structure remarkably well captured by a statistical model widely used in engineering,' Saleh said.

'Although they may appear as random events when taken singularly, these results indicate that there may have been underlying processes governing the length of each rule until death,' he said.

Researchers obtained the data from the De Imperatoribus Romanis, a peer-reviewed online encyclopedia of Roman emperors.

They cautions that the limitations of the data should be acknowledged, as sources of ancient history are often inconsistent and the exact causes of death may differ between accounts. PTI SAR SAR