Find Out What the Roman Emperors Looked Like -Here Are Their Faces

What did Nero, Caligula, Hadrian, and the other Roman emperors look like? Well, we have combed through the ancient authors to find that out. Turns out Nero, for example, had blondish hair and blue eyes.

We also covered the ethnicity of each ruler since they came from all over the empire, which included most of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. You may have the same nationality/ethnicity as one of the emperors!

So let’s dive in and see what each Roman emperor looked like.

* Some Roman emperors only lasted a few days on the throne. We have only included the emperors that 1) lasted more than three years on the throne, 2) have surviving statues.

Julio-Claudian Dynasty
The truly Roman emperors

The juicy details about the looks of:

Hair color: Blondish

Eye color: Blue

Skin tone: Average European

Characteristics: Handsome. Bright eyes, his eyebrows met, slightly aquiline nose, small teeth, wavy hair. Calm expression. Carried himself with natural elegance. Short stature, well-proportioned body. Weak constitution, prone to illnesses. Always wore a hat. In winter, he wore several layers of clothing.

Birthplace: Rome or Nola, Italy, Europe.

Ethnicity: Roman/Latin and other Italian blood

The ancient gossip:

“The late Emperor Augustus had azure eyes… the white [part of the eye] being larger than with other men.” Pliny 11.54. Pliny was born 10 years after Octavian’s death.

“He [Octavian] entered the Forum, aged about fourteen… Then… all the citizens looked upon him, because of his comeliness and very evidently noble descent…
On account of his youthful charm, seeing that he attracted many women…
And there came many people on legal business and many on no business at all except for a sight of the boy [Octavian]; for he was well worth beholding, especially when he assumed the dignity and honorable aspect of office.”
 Nicolaus of Damascus, Life of Augustus 4 and 5. Nicolaus was Octavians’ contemporary.

“He [Octavian] was unusually handsome and exceedingly graceful at all periods of his life, though he cared nothing for personal adornment… His expression, whether in conversation or when he was silent, was so calm and mild, that one of the leading men of the Gallic provinces admitted to his countrymen that it had softened his heart and kept him from carrying out his design of pushing the emperor over a cliff, when he had been allowed to approach him under the pretence of a conference, as he was crossing the Alps. He had clear, bright eyes…; but in his old age he could not see very well with his left eye. His teeth were wide apart, small, and ill-kept; his hair was slightly curly and inclining to golden; his eyebrows met. His ears were of moderate size, and his nose projected a little at the top and then bent slightly inward. His complexion was between dark and fair. He was short of stature (although Julius Marathus, his freedman and keeper of his records, says that he was five feet and nine inches in height), but this was concealed by the fine proportion and symmetry of his figure, and was noticeable only by comparison with some taller person standing beside him.” Suetonius, Augustus 79. Suetonius was born 55 years after Octavian died and had access to the Imperial Library.

It is said that his body [Octavian’s] was covered with spots and that he had birthmarks scattered over his breast and belly…; also numerous callous places resembling ringworm, caused by a constant itching of his body and a vigorous use of the strigil. He was not very strong in his left hip, thigh, and leg, and even limped slightly at times… He sometimes found the forefinger of his right hand so weak, when it was numb and shrunken with the cold, that he could hardly use it for writing even with the aid of a finger-stall of horn. He complained of his bladder too, and was relieved of the pain only after passing stones in his urine.” Suetonius, Augustus 80

“In the course of his life he suffered from several severe and dangerous illnesses…” Suetonius, Augustus 81

“In winter, he protected himself with four tunics and a heavy toga, besides an undershirt, a woollen chest-protector and wraps for his thighs and shins, while in summer he slept with the doors of his bed-room open, oftentimes in the open court near a fountain, besides having someone to fan him. Yet he could not endure the sun even in winter, and never walked in the open air without wearing a broad-brimmed hat, even at home. He travelled in a litter, usually at night… Yet in spite of all he made good his weakness by great care…” Suetonius, Augustus 82

Hair color:

Eye color: Brown? (based on the inlaid eyes of a bronze statue of his)

Skin tone: Fair

Characteristics: Handsome, very large eyes, longish hair. Stern countenance. Tall, big frame, well-proportioned. Broad chest and shoulders. Strong, healthy. Later in life bald, slender, stooped, had a rash on the face. Spoke slowly.

Birthplace: Rome, Italy, Europe

Ethnicity: Roman/Latin

The ancient gossip:

“As for his personal beauty, it was second only to that of his brother [Tiberius].” Velleius Paterculus, Roman History 2,97. Velleius ws a contemporary of Tiberius.

“He [Tiberius] was large and strong of frame, and of a stature above the average; broad of shoulders and chest; well proportioned and symmetrical from head to foot…. He was of fair complexion and wore his hair rather long at the back, so much so as even to cover the nape of his neck… His face was handsome, but would break out suddenly with many pimples. His eyes were unusually large and, strange to say, had the power of seeing even at night and in the dark, but only for a short time when first opened after sleep; presently they grew dim-sighted again.” Suetonius, Tiberius 68. Suetonius was born 32 years after Tiberius died and had access to the Imperial Library.

“His [Tiberius’] left hand was the more nimble and stronger, and its joints were so powerful that he could bore through a fresh, sound apple with his finger, and break the head of a boy, or even a young man, with a fillip.” Suetonius, Tiberius 68

“He [Tiberius] strode along with his neck stiff and bent forward, usually with a stern countenance and for the most part in silence, never or very rarely conversing with his companions, and then speaking with great deliberation and with a kind of supple movement of his fingers. All of these mannerisms of his, which were disagreeable and signs of arrogance…” Suetonius, Tiberius 68

“He [Tiberius] enjoyed excellent health, which was all but perfect during nearly the whole of his reign, although from the thirtieth year of his age he took care of it according to his own ideas, without the aid or advice of physicians.” Suetonius, Tiberius 68

“…In order to poke fun at the emperor [Tiberius], who was bald.” Cassius Dio 58,19

“Some thought that in his old age he [Tiberius] was ashamed of his personal appearance. He had indeed a tall, singularly slender and stooping figure, a bald head, a face full of eruptions, and covered here and there with plasters.” Tacitus, Annals 4,57. Tacitus was born 19 years after Tiberius’death.

“Tiberius distinguished his reign by great indolence, excessive cruelty, unprincipled avarice, and abandoned licentiousness…” Eutropius, Short History 7,11

Hair color: Brown? (from a statue that has traces of paint)

Eye color: Brown? (from a statue that has traces of paint)

Skin tone: Pale complexion ^

Characteristics: Tall, ill-shaped. Slender neck and legs, hairy body. Hollow eyes, fixed and steady gaze, broad and knit eyebrows, balding since young. Wore a fake golden beard. Liked to dress shockingly, sometimes as a woman.

Birthplace: Antium, Italy, Europe

Ethnicity: Roman/Latin

The ancient gossip:

“He [Caligula] was tall, of a pale complexion, ill-shaped, his neck and legs very slender, his eyes and temples hollow, his brows broad and knit, his hair thin, and the crown of the head bald. The other parts of his body were much covered with hair… His countenance, which was naturally hideous and frightful, he purposely rendered more so, forming it before a mirror into the most horrible contortions.” Suetonius, Caligula 50. Suetonius was born 28 years after Caligula died and had access to the Imperial Library.

“In the fashion of his clothes, shoes, and all the rest of his dress, he [Caligula] did not wear what was either national, or properly civic, or peculiar to the male sex, or appropriate to mere mortals. He often appeared abroad in a short coat of stout cloth, richly embroidered and blazing with jewels, in a tunic with sleeves, and with bracelets upon his arms; sometimes all in silks and habited like a woman; at other times in the crepide or buskins; sometimes in the sort of shoes used by the light-armed soldiers, or in the sock used by women, and commonly with a golden beard fixed to his chin, holding in his hand a thunderbolt, a trident, or a caduceus, marks of distinction belonging to the gods only. Sometimes, too, he appeared in the habit of Venus. He wore very commonly the triumphal ornaments, even before his expedition, and sometimes the breastplate of Alexander the Great, taken out of his coffin.” Suetonius, Caligula 52

“Emperor Caius [Caligula]… had a fixed, steady gaze.” Pliny, Natural History 11,54. Pliny was a contemporary of Caligula.

“A most wicked and cruel prince [Caligula], who effaced even the memory of Tiberius’s enormities… He committed incest with his sisters, and acknowledged a daughter that he had by one of them. While tyrannizing over all with the utmost avarice, licentiousness, and cruelty…” Eutropius, Short History 7,12

Hair color: Grey

Eye color:

Skin tone: –

Characteristics: Tall, not slender. Majestic when standing or resting. Had a limp, his head and hands trembled sometimes, had something in the corner of his eyes that tended to become bloodshot; tendency to stutter. He was born with physical impairments.

Birthplace: Lugdunum, Gaul. His Roman parents were stationed there.
(Modern Lyon, France, Europe)

Ethnicity: Roman/Latin and other Italian blood

The ancient gossip:

“Either standing or sitting, but especially when he [Claudius] lay asleep, he had a majestic and graceful appearance; for he was tall, but not slender. His grey locks became him well, and he had a full neck. But his knees were feeble, and failed him in walking, so that his gait was ungainly, both when he assumed state, and when he was taking diversion. He was outrageous in his laughter, and still more so in his wrath, for then he foamed at the mouth, and discharged from his nostrils. He also stammered in his speech, and had a tremulous motion of the head at all times, but particularly when he was engaged in any business, however trifling.” Suetonius, Claudius 30. Suetonius was born 15 years after Claudius died.

“Claudius Caesar had at the corners of the eyes a white fleshy substance, covered with veins, which would occasionally become suffused with blood.” Pliny, Natural History 11,54. Pliny was Claudius’ contemporary.

“Word comes to Jupiter that a stranger had arrived [Claudius], a man of fair height and hair well sprinkled with grey; he seemed to be threatening something, for he wagged his head ceaselessly; he dragged the right foot. They asked him what nation he was of; he answered something in a confused mumbling voice…” Seneca, Apocolocyntosis 5. Seneca was the tutor of Claudius’ stepson (Nero), so he must have known Claudius personally.

“Throughout almost the whole course of his childhood and youth he [Claudius] suffered so severely from various obstinate disorders that the vigour of both his mind and his body was dulled, and even when he reached the proper age he was not thought capable of any public or private business. For a long time, even after he reached the age of independence, he was in a state of pupillage and under a guardian… It was also because of his weak health that contrary to all precedent he wore a cloak when he presided at the gladiatorial games which he and his brother gave in honour of their father…” Suetonius, Claudius 2

“Though his health was very infirm during the former part of his life, yet, after he [Claudius] became emperor, he enjoyed a good state of health, except only that he was subject to a pain of the stomach. In a fit of this complaint, he said he had thoughts of killing himself.” Suetonius, Claudius 31

“In mental ability he [Claudius] was by no means inferior, as his faculties had been in constant training (in fact, he had actually written some historical treatises); but he was sickly in body, so that his head and hands shook slightly. Because of this his voice was also faltering, and he did not himself read all the measures that he introduced before the senate, but would give them to the quaestor to read, though at first, at least, he was generally present. Whatever he did read himself, he usually delivered sitting down…” Cassius Dio 60,2-3

“From a child he [Claudius] had been reared a constant prey to illness and great terror, and for that reason had feigned a stupidity greater than was really the case (a fact that he himself admitted in the senate).” Cassius Dio 60,5

“After him reigned Claudius... His reign was of no striking character; he acted, in many respects, with gentleness and moderation, in some with cruelty and folly.” Eutropius, Short History 7,13

Hair color: Blondish

Eye color: Light blue

Skin tone:

Characteristics: Agreeable face, dull eyes, freckly or bad skin, longish hair. Thick neck, prominent belly, slender legs. Short stature, sound constitution. Careless about his dress, appeared in public frequently without shoes.

Birthplace: Antium, Italy, Europe

Ethnicity: Roman/Latin

The ancient gossip:

“In stature he [Nero] was a little below the common height; his skin was foul and spotted; his hair inclined to yellow; his features were agreeable rather than handsome; his eyes grey and dull, his neck was thick, his belly prominent, his legs very slender, his constitution sound. For, though excessively luxurious in his mode of living, he had, in the course of fourteen years, only three fits of sickness; which were so slight, that he neither forbore the use of wine, nor made any alteration in his usual diet.” Suetonius, Nero 51. Suetonius was born 1 year after Nero died.

“In his dress, and the care of his person he [Nero] was so careless, that he had his hair cut in rings, one above another; and when in Achaia, he let it grow long behind; and he generally appeared in public in the loose dress which he used at table, with a handkerchief about his neck, and without either a girdle or shoes.” Suetonius, Nero 51

“Nero had capped his crimes by murdering his mother and had made himself ridiculous in the eyes of the people.” Herodian 1,3,4

“To him succeeded Nero, who greatly resembled his uncle Caligula, and both disgraced and weakened the Roman Empire; he indulged in such extraordinary luxury and extravagance, that, after the example of Caius Caligula, he even bathed in hot and cold perfumes, and fished with golden nets, which he drew up with cords of purple silk. He put to death a very great number of the Senate. To all good men he was an enemy.” Eutropius, Short History 7,14

But where are Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, Pompey, and all the other famous Romans that lived before the emperors? They are here.

Flavian Dynasty
From elsewhere in Italy

The juicy details about the looks of:

Hair color: –

Eye color: –

Skin tone: –

Characteristics: Well-proportioned body, neither slender nor fat; sturdy limbs. Strong. Excellent health. Later in life had gout and was bald.

Birthplace: Falacrine, Italy, Europe

Ethnicity: Italian

The ancient gossip:

“He [Vespasian] was well built, with strong, sturdy limbs, and the expression of one who was straining. Apropos of which a witty fellow, when Vespasian asked him to make a joke on him also, replied rather cleverly: “I will, when you have finished relieving yourself.” Suetonius, Vespasian 20. Suetonius was a contemporary of Vespasian.

“He [Vespasian] enjoyed excellent health, though he did nothing to keep it up except to rub his throat and the other parts of his body a certain number of times in the tennis court, and to fast one day in every month.” Suetonius, Vespasian 20

“It was after the events just narrated that Vespasian fell sick, not, if the truth be known, of his accustomed gout, but of a fever… He said: ‘This is an omen, not for me, but for the Parthian king; for he has long hair, whereas I am bald.’” Cassius Dio 66,17

“To him succeeded Vespasian, who had been chosen emperor in Palestine, a prince indeed of obscure birth, but worthy to be compared with the best emperors, and in private life greatly distinguished… At Rome he acted with the greatest forbearance during his government;… he was also of a most mild and amiable disposition, insomuch that he never willingly inflicted a severer penalty than banishment, even on persons convicted of treason against himself.
Offences and animosities he never bore in mind; reproaches uttered against himself by lawyers and philosophers he bore with indulgence, but was a strenuous enforcer of military discipline…
After having thus become an object of love and favor with the Senate and the people, and indeed with all men…” Eutropius, Short History 7, 19-20

Hair color: –

Eye color: –

Skin tone: Ruddy face, very pale body

Characteristics: Handsome. Large eyes, angry gaze. Stern countenance. Tall, graceful when young. Later in life, bald, protruding belly, thin legs. Didn’t like exercise.

Birthplace: Rome, Italy, Europe

Ethnicity: Italian

The ancient gossip:

“He [Domitian] was tall of stature, with a modest expression and a high colour. His eyes were large, but his sight was somewhat dim. He was handsome and graceful too, especially when a young man, and indeed in his whole body with the exception of his feet, the toes of which were somewhat cramped. In later life he had the further disfigurement of baldness, a protruding belly, and spindling legs, though the latter had become thin from a long illness.” Suetonius, Domitian 18. Suetonius and Domitian were contemporaries.

“He [Domitian] was so conscious that the modesty of his expression was in his favour, that he once made this boast in the senate: ‘So far, at any rate, you have approved my heart and my countenance.’ He was so sensitive about his baldness, that he regarded it as a personal insult if anyone else was twitted with that defect in jest or in earnest; though in a book ‘On the Care of the Hair,’ which he published and dedicated to a friend, he wrote the following by way of consolation to the man and himself:
‘O you not see that I am too tall and comely to look on. And yet the same fate awaits my hair, and I bear with resignation the ageing of my locks in youth. Be assured that nothing is more pleasing than beauty, but nothing shorter-lived.’“
 Suetonius, Domitian 18

“Domitian was terrible even to behold; pride in his brow, anger in his eyes, a feminine paleness^ in the rest of his body, in his face shamelessness suffused in a glowing red.” Pliny the Younger, Panegyric of Trajan 48. Pliny was Domitian’s contemporary.

“Under Domitian, it was the principal part of our miseries to behold and to be beheld: when our sighs were registered; and that stern countenance, with its settled redness, his defense against shame, was employed in noting the pallid horror of so many spectators.” Tacitus, Life of Gnaeus Julius Agricola 45. Tacitus and Domitian were contemporaries.

“The exploits of Domitian, as well, were marked by excessive savagery.” Herodian 1,3,4

“Domitian… more like Nero, or Caligula, or Tiberius, than his father or brother. In the commencement however of his reign he used his power with moderation; but, soon proceeding to the greatest excesses of licentiousness, rage, cruelty, and avarice, he provoked such universal detestation, that he effaced the remembrance of his father’s and his brother’s merits. He put to death the most distinguished of the Senate. He was the first that required to be addressed as Lord and God; and he suffered no statue to be erected to him in the Capitol except of gold or silver. He put his own cousins to death. His pride also was execrable.” Eutropius 7,23

Nerva-Antonine Dynasty
The emperors from Spain

The juicy details about the looks of:

Hair color: Gray

Eye color: –

Skin tone: –

Characteristics: Glowing eyes. Tall, strong body. Majestic.
Dignified but affable. Liked simplicity and jests. Courageous.
The rulers of this dynasty are called the ‘Five Good Emperors.’ Trajan was the second good one (after Nerva, who ruled briefly).

Birthplace: Italica, a Roman colony in Spain, Europe

Ethnicity: Italian. Maybe Spanish too.
His originally-Italian family had been living in Spain for generations. So he may also have had Spanish blood. Romans considered him an outsider.

The ancient gossip:

“Furthermore, many writings of the ancients and pictures inform us that Theodosius resembled Trajan in his manners and physique: thus, his stature was eminent, his limbs the same, likewise his hair and his mouth, except that his legs were somewhat weak for marching and his eyes were not as glowing (I am not sure whether he was as kind, or had as much of a beard, or walked with so dignified a gait).” Epitome de Caesaribus 48,8

“His seriousness is not lessened by his cheerfulness, his gravity by his simplicity, or his dignity by his humanity. He is steady, tall, and stately in mien and bearing; and though he is in the prime of life his hair becoming gray – a sign of approaching age. These are the marks that proclaim the prince.” Pliny the Younger’s Panegyric of Trajan 4. Pliny was a contemporary of Trajan.

“He  was strong in body, being in his forty-second year when he began to rule, so that in every enterprise he toiled almost as much as the others; and his mental powers were at their highest…” Cassius Dio 68,6

“But the enemy, seeing his majestic gray head and his august countenance, suspected his identity, shot at him and killed a cavalryman in his escort.” Cassius Dio 68,31

“His association with the people was marked by affability and his intercourse with the senate by dignity, so that he was loved by all and dreaded by none save the enemy. He joined others in the chase and in banquets, as well as in their labours and plans and jests. Often he would take three others into his carriage, and he would enter the houses of citizens, sometimes even without a guard, and enjoy himself there…” Cassius Dio 68,6

“To him succeeded Ulpius Cretinus Trajan, born at Italica in Spain, of a family rather ancient than eminent for his father was the first consul in it… He exercised the government in such a manner, that he is deservedly preferred to all the other emperors. He was a man of extraordinary skill in managing affairs of state, and of remarkable courage. The limits of the Roman Empire, which, since the reign of Augustus, had been rather defended than honorably enlarged, he extended far and wide.” Eutropius, Short History 8,2

Hair color: –

Eye color: –

Skin tone: –

Characteristics: Tall, strongly built. Elegant in appearance. He was the first emperor to wear a beard, and it became a trend from then on. He curled his hair; never covered his head nor in heat or cold.
Athletic, walked a lot, hunted often. Hardworking, witty, great memory, lead a rigorous life. Hadrian is the third of the ‘Five Good Emperors.’

Birthplace: Probably Italica, a Roman colony in Spain, Europe. Could also have been born in Rome, Italy.

Ethnicity: Italian and Spanish
His originally-Italian family had lived in Spain for generations. Romans considered him an outsider.

The ancient gossip:

“He [Hadrian] was tall of stature and elegant in appearance; his hair was curled on a comb, and he wore a full beard to cover up the natural blemishes on his face; and he was very strongly built. He rode and walked a great deal and always kept himself in training by the use of arms and the javelin.” Historia Augusta, Hadrian 26

“It was Hadrian who first set the fashion of wearing a beard.” Cassius Dio 68,15. Dio was born 18 years after Hadrian died.

“And in order that they should be benefited by observing him [Hadrian], he everywhere led a rigorous life and either walked or rode on horseback on all occasions, never once at this period setting foot in either a chariot or a four-wheeled vehicle. He covered his head neither in hot weather nor in cold, but alike amid German snows and under scorching Egyptian suns he went about with his head bare. In fine, both by his example and by his precepts he so trained and disciplined the whole military force throughout the entire empire that even to‑day the methods then introduced by him are the soldiers’ law of campaigning.” Cassius Dio 69,9

“Cold and bad weather he [Hadrian] could bear with such endurance that he never covered his head.” Historia Augusta, Hadrian 17

“He [Hadrian] ordered senators and knights to wear the toga whenever they appeared in public except when they were returning from a banquet, and he himself, when in Italy, always appeared thus clad. At banquets, when senators came, he received them standing, and he always reclined at table dressed either in a Greek cloak or in a toga.” Historia Augusta, Hadrian 22

“He [Hadrian] went hunting as often as possible.” Cassius Dio 69,7

“He [Hadrian] devoured the pursuits and customs of the Athenians, having mastered not merely rhetoric, but other disciplines, too, the science of singing, of playing the harp, and of medicine, a musician, geometrician, painter, and a sculptor from bronze or marble…” Epitome of Caesaribus 14,2

“With a power of memory beyond that which is believable for anyone, he [Hadrian] was able to review by their names places, affairs, troops, and even those absent. He was of immense industry.” Epitome of Caesaribus 14,3-4

“With respect to questioning and likewise to answering in earnest, in jest, or in invective, he [Hadrian] was very skillful; he returned verse to verse, speech to the speaker, so you might actually believe that he had given advance thought to everything.” Epitome of Caesaribus 14,7

“He [Hadrian] enjoyed peace, however, through the whole course of his reign… He went about through the Roman Empire, and founded many edifices. He spoke with great eloquence in the Latin language, and was very learned in the Greek. He had no great reputation for clemency, but was very attentive to the state of the treasury and the discipline of the soldiers.” Eutropius, Short History 8,7

Hair color: –

Eye color: –

Skin tone: –

Characteristics: Strikingly handsome. Tall, robust, long limbs, aristocratic countenance. His voice was horse, resonant but agreeable.
Gifted speaker, a scholar. Gentle, calm. A good administrator, yet generous with others. Mindful of others’ rights. Well-liked.
He is the fourth of the ‘Five Good Emperors.’

Birthplace: Lanuvium, Italy, Europe

Ethnicity: Italian; may have had some French blood
Antoninus’ originally-Italian family had lived in Roman Gaul for generations, so he may have had some Gaulic blood.

The ancient gossip:

“In personal appearance he [Antoninus] was strikingly handsome, in natural talent brilliant, in temperament kindly; he was aristocratic in countenance and calm in nature, a singularly gifted speaker and an elegant scholar, conspicuously thrifty, a conscientious land-holder, gentle, generous, and mindful of others’ rights.” Historia Augusta, Antoninus 2

“He [Antoninus] was a handsome man, and tall in stature; but being a tall man, when he was bent by old age he had himself swathed with splints of linden-wood bound on his chest in order that he might walk erect. Moreover, when he was old, he ate dry bread before the courtiers came to greet him, in order that he might sustain his strength. His voice was hoarse and resonant, yet agreeable.” Historia Augusta, Antoninus 13

“A justness which he [Antoninus] adorned with a serious, handsome countenance, long of limb, suitably robust.” Epitome de Caesaribus 15

“He [Antoninus] was cruel to none, but indulgent to all. His reputation in military affairs was but moderate; he studied rather to defend the provinces than to enlarge them. He sought out the most just men to fill political offices. He paid respect to the good; for the bad he showed dislike without treating them with harshness…
He was very rich before he began to reign, but diminished his wealth by pay to the soldiers and bounties to his friends; he left the treasury, however, well stored. It was for his clemency that he was surnamed 
Pius.” Eutropius, Short History 8,8

Hair color: –

Eye color: –

Skin tone: –

Characteristics: Beautiful. Long beard (copying the Greek philosophers), curly hair. Dignified, calm expression. His face did not show joy or sorrow. Unadorned, dressed simply. Vigorous and sports-loving while very young, but then frail body and prone to illnesses. Could only eat a little and at night. Could not endure the cold; nonetheless, he campaigned throughout his life.
He was unpretentious. He was loved by his people. Marcus was the last of the ‘Five Good Emperors.’

Birthplace: Rome, Italy, Europe

Ethnicity: Roman. Maybe Spanish.
His mother was thoroughly Roman/Latin. His father was Roman, but some of his ancestors had lived in Spain, so Marcus may have had some Spanish blood.

The ancient gossip:

“Accordingly Marcus was summoned and came in looking excessively dignified and showing the effect of his studies in the expression of his eyes and his lined brows. His aspect was unutterably beautiful from the very fact that he was careless of his appearance and unadorned by art; for he wore a very long beard, his dress was plain and sober, and from lack of nourishment his body was very shining and transparent, like light most pure and stainless.” Julian, Caesars 317

“He [Marcus] was extremely placid, so much so that from infancy he changed his expression neither from joy nor sorrow.” Epitome de Caesaribus 16

“Yet he [Marcus] was so frail in body that at first he could not endure the cold… and he took but very little food and that always at night. It was never his practice to eat during the daytime, unless it were some of the drug called theriac. This drug he took, not so much because he feared anything, as because his stomach and chest were in bad condition; and it is reported that this practice enabled him to endure both this and other maladies.” Cassius Dio, Roman History 72, 6

“To be sure, he [Marcus] could not display many feats of physical prowess; yet he had developed his body from a very weak one to one capable of the greatest endurance.” Cassius Dio, Roman History 72,34

“As a result of his close application and study he [Marcus] was extremely frail in body, though in the beginning he had been so vigorous that he used to fight in armour, and on the chase would strike down wild boars while on horseback… However, he did not meet with the good fortune that he deserved, for he was not strong in body and was involved in a multitude of troubles throughout practically his entire reign. But for my part, I admire him all the more for this very reason, that amid unusual and extraordinary difficulties he both survived himself and preserved the empire.” Cassius Dio, Roman History 72,35

“Besides, he [Marcus] gave some attention to painting… He was also fond of boxing and wrestling and running and fowling, played ball very skilfully, and hunted well. But his ardour for philosophy distracted him from all these pursuits and made him serious and dignified, not ruining, however, a certain geniality in him, which he still manifested toward his household, his friends, and even to those less intimate, but making him, rather, austere, though not unreasonable, modest, though not inactive, and serious without gloom.” Historia Augusta, Marcus Aurelius, Part one, 4

“He [Marcus] used always to salute the most worthy men in the House of Tiberius, where he lived, before visiting his father, not only without putting on the attire befitting his rank, but actually dressed as a private citizen, and receiving them in the very apartment where he slept. He used to visit many who were sick, and never missed going to his teachers. He would wear a dark cloak whenever he went out unaccompanied by his father, and he never employed a torch-bearer for himself alone…” Cassius Dio, Roman History 72, 35

“After him Marcus Antoninus held the government alone, a man whom any one may more easily admire… He was, from his earliest years, of a most tranquil disposition… He was devoted to the Stoic philosophy, and was himself a philosopher, not only in his way of life, but in learning. He was the object of so much admiration, while yet a youth, that Hadrian intended to make him his successor.” Euotropius 8,11

“Most of all, however, he [Marcus] owed his advancement to his own natural gifts; for even before he associated with those teachers he had a strong impulse towards virtue. Indeed, while still a boy he so pleased all his relatives, who were numerous, influential and wealthy, that he was loved by them all; and when Hadrian, chiefly for this reason, had adopted him, he did not become haughty.” Cassius Dio, Roman History 72,35

“In addition to possessing all the other virtues, he [Marcus] ruled better than any others who had ever been in any position of power.” Cassius Dio, Roman History 72,34

“Marcus Aurelius Antonius… showed himself to be of all virtues and of celestial character.” Epitome de Caesaribus 16

“Marcus, indeed, was so averse to bloodshed that he even used to watch the gladiators in Rome contend, like athletes.” Cassius Dio, Roman History 72,29

“He [Marcus] remitted all debts owed by anyone to the emperor’s private treasury or to the public treasury.” Cassius Dio, Roman History 72,32

“Alone of the emperors, he [Marcus] gave proof of his learning not by mere words or knowledge of philosophical doctrines but by his blameless character and temperate way of life.” Herodian 1,2,4. Herodian was a contemporary of Marcus.

“When the announcement about his [Marcus’] death reached Rome, with the city convulsed with public lamentation, the senate gathered in the senate house, wrapped in mourning garb, weeping.” Epitome de Caesaribus 16,13

“Such love for him [Marcus] was manifested on the day of the imperial funeral…
This man, so great, so good, and an associate of the gods both in life and in death… People of every age, sex, degree and rank in life, gave him all honours given to the gods… Even to‑day, in fine, statues of Marcus Antoninus stand in many a home among the household gods.” Historia Augusta, Marcus Aurelius, Part two 19

Hair color: Blond

Eye color: –

Skin tone: –

Characteristics: Genial expression, long beard. Tall, well-proportioned, stately. Vigorous, liked sports.
Pleasure-loving, spend-drift, no interest in military pursuits or government (fortunately, he had a co-ruler; while Lucius partied, Marcus Aurelius governed).

Birthplace: Rome, Italy, Europe

Ethnicity: Italian

The ancient gossip:

“Verus was well-proportioned in person and genial of expression. His beard was allowed to grow long, almost in the style of the barbarians; he was tall, and stately in appearance, for his forehead projected somewhat over his eyebrows. He took such pride in his yellow hair, it is said, that he used to sift gold-dust on his head in order that his hair, thus brightened, might seem even yellower. He was somewhat halting in speech, a reckless gambler, ever of an extravagant mode of life, and in many respects, save only that he was not cruel or given to acting, a second Nero.” Historia Augusta, Lucius Verus 10,6-8

 “Lucius, on the other hand, was a vigorous man of younger years…” Cassius Dio, Roman History 71,1

“His [Lucius’] father’s family came mostly from Etruria [in Italy], his mother’s from Faventia [in Italy].” Historia Augusta, Lucius Verus 1,9

“…No longer hampered by Verus’ faults, neither by those of excessive candour and hot-headed plain speaking, from which Verus suffered through natural folly…” Historia Augusta, Marcus Aurelius 16,3

“He [Lucius] was devoted to pleasure, too care-free, and very clever, within proper bounds, at every kind of frolic, sport, and raillery… He loved hunting and wrestling, and indeed all the sports of youth.” Historia Augusta, Lucius Verus 3,9-10

“When he [Lucius] set out for Syria, however, his name was smirched not only by the licence of an unbridled life, but also by adulteries…” Historia Augusta, Lucius Verus 4,4

“As far as the Syrians were concerned, he [Lucius] was an object for ridicule.” Historia Augusta, Lucius Verus 7,4

“When the German war broke out, the two Emperors went to the front together, for Marcus [Aurelius] wished neither to send Lucius to the front alone, nor yet, because of his debauchery, to leave him in the city.” Historia Augusta, Lucius Verus 9,7

“He [Lucius] was a man who had little control over his passions, but who never ventured to do anything outrageous, from respect for his brother.” Eutropius, Short History 8,10 

Hair color: Naturally blond. He may have sprinkled his hair with gold dust to make it look more radiant.

Eye color: –

Skin tone: –

Characteristics: Good-looking face, dull expression. Well-proportioned, strong, athletic body. He may have had a growth in a groin, perhaps a hernia. Liked to dress as Hercules, Mercury, or as a woman. During a period, he shaved his head for religious reasons.
Liked to fight in the arena as a gladiator. Unbecoming behavior. Cruel, drunkard. An incapable ruler.

Birthplace: Lanuvium, Rome, Europe

Ethnicity: Roman/Latin with possibly a bit of Spanish blood

The ancient gossip:

“At this time he [Commodus] was in the prime of youth, striking in appearance, with a well-developed body and a face that was handsome without being pretty. His commanding eyes flashed like lightning; his hair, naturally blond and curly, gleamed in the sunlight as if it were on fire; some thought that he sprinkled his hair with gold dust before appearing in public, while others saw in it something divine, saying that a heavenly light shone round his head. To add to his beauty, the first down was just beginning to appear on his cheeks.” Herodian 1,7,5. Herodian and Commodus were contemporaries.

“Physically he [Commodus] was very well proportioned. His expression was dull, as is usual in drunkards, and his speech uncultivated.” Historia Augusta, Commodus 17

“He [Commodus] was… the handsomest man of his time, both in beauty of features and in physical development. If it were fitting to discuss his manly qualities, he was inferior to no man in skill and in marksmanship, if only he had not disgraced these excellent traits by shameful practices.” Herodian 1,7,12

“…And issued orders that he was to be called not Commodus, son of Marcus, but Hercules, son of Zeus. Abandoning the Roman and imperial mode of dress, he donned the lion skin, and carried the club of Hercules. He wore purple robes embroidered with gold, making himself an object of ridicule…” Herodian 1,14,8

“He [Commodus] allowed statues of himself to be erected with the accoutrements of Hercules; and sacrifices were performed to him as to a god… He practised the worship of Isis and even went so far as to shave his head and carry a statue of Anubis.” Historia Augusta, Commodus 9

“Before entering the amphitheatre he [Commodus] would put on a long-sleeved tunic of silk, white interwoven with gold, and thus arrayed he would receive our greetings; but when he was about to go inside, he put on a robe of pure purple with gold spangles, donning also after the Greek fashion a chlamys of the same colour, and a crown made of gems from India and of gold, and he carried a herald’s staff like that of Mercury. As for the lion-skin and club [symbols of Hercules], in the street they were carried before him, and in the amphitheatres they were placed on a gilded chair, whether he was present or not. He himself would enter the arena in the garb of Mercury, and casting aside all his other garments, would begin his exhibition wearing only a tunic and unshod.” Cassius Dio, Roman History 73,17. Dio was a senator and a contemporary of Commodus.

“He [Commmodus] was called also the Roman Hercules, on the ground that he had killed wild beasts in the amphitheatre at Lanuvium… He had, besides, an insane desire that the city of Rome should be renamed Colonia Commodiana… He had also a desire to drive chariots in the Circus, and he went out in public clad in the Dalmatian tunic and thus clothed gave the signal for the charioteers to start.” Historia Augusta, Commodus 8

“He actually ordered that Rome itself should be called Commodiana, the legions Commodian, and the day on which these measures were voted Commodiana. Upon himself he bestowed, in addition to a great many other names, that of Hercules. Finally, all the months were named after him [after his nicknames].” Cassius Dio, Roman History 72,15

“But, though vigorous enough for such exploits, he [Commodus] was otherwise weak and diseased; indeed, he had such a conspicuous growth on his groin that the people of Rome could see the swelling through his silken robes. Many verses were written alluding to this deformity;…
Such was his complete indifference to propriety, that time and again he sat in the theatre or amphitheatre dressed in a woman’s garments and drank quite publicly.” Historia Augusta, Commodus 13 (the Historia Augusta is not always a reliable source and may sometimes be sarcastic).

“Perennis indulged the emperor’s [Commodus] youthful appetites, permitting him to spend his time in drinking and debauchery, and relieved him of imperial cares and responsibilities.” Herodian 1,8,1

“He [Commodus] was ever the greatest coward.” Cassius Dio, Roman History 72,13

“As Commodus was both too young and also rather simple-minded…” Cassius Dio, Roman History 72,23

“But when he came into the amphitheater naked, took up arms, and fought as a gladiator, the people saw a disgraceful spectacle, a nobly born emperor of the Romans… disgracing his high position by degrading and disgusting exhibitions.” Herodian 1,15,7

“He [Commodus] was quite fierce with sexual desire and greed, with cruelty, faithful to no one… So depraved was he that he often battled with gladiatorial weapons in the amphitheater.” Epitome de Caesaribus 17, 3-4

“Commodus was guilty of many unseemly deeds, and killed a great many people.” Cassius Dio, Roman History 72,4

“These proceedings had much to do with his running short of funds… Hence he brought accusations against both men and women, slaying some and to others selling their lives for their property. And finally he ordered us [the senators], our wives, and our children each to contribute two gold pieces every year on his birthday as a kind of first-fruits, and commanded the senators in all the other cities to give five denarii apiece. Of this, too, he saved nothing, but spent it all disgracefully on his wild beasts and his gladiators.” Cassius Dio, Roman History 72,16

“Commodus was a greater curse to the Romans than any pestilence or any crime.” Cassius Dio, Roman History 72,15

“His successor, Lucius Antoninus Commodus, had no resemblance to his father… He endeavored to alter the name of the month of September to his own, so that it should he called Commodus. But he was corrupted with luxury and licentiousness. He often fought, with gladiator’s arms, in the fencing school, and afterwards with men of that class in the amphitheater.” Eutropius, Short History 8,11

Severan Dynasty
From Africa and the Middle East to the world

The juicy details about the looks of:

Hair color: Probably black (from a surviving painting)

Eye color: Probably brown (from a surviving painting)

Skin tone: – ^

Characteristics: Handsome. Long beard, curly hair. Short stature, corpulent. Fearsome countenance. Clear voice. Wore simple clothes, ate sparingly.
Great general and strategist, cunning, good administrator, ambitious. Educated, spoke three languages (his native Punic, plus Latin, and Greek). Spoke Latin with an accent. Harsh temper, murdery.

Birthplace: Libya, North Africa
(Ancient Leptis Magna, Africa Procunsularis)

Ethnicity: Italian, Lebanese; may have had some native African blood.
> His mother was of Italian stock; his father was Phoenician (Lebanese). Since both families had lived in North Africa for generations, he may have had some native African blood.

The ancient gossip:

“In person he [Septimius] was large and handsome. His beard was long; his hair was grey and curly, his face was such as to inspire respect. His voice was clear, but retained an African accent even to his old age. After his death he was much beloved, for then all envy of his power or fear of his cruelty had vanished.” Historia Augusta, Septimius Severus 19

“Severus was small of stature but powerful, though he eventually grew very weak from gout; mentally he was very keen and very vigorous.” Cassius Dio, Roman History 77,16. Dio was a contemporary of Severus and knew him well.

“Next came Severus, a man of excessively harsh temper and delighting to punish. ‘Of him,’ said Silenus, ‘I have nothing to say, for I am terrified by his forbidding and implacable looks.’” Julian, Caesars 313

“His clothing [Septimius’] was of the plainest; indeed, even his tunic had scarcely any purple on it, while he covered his shoulders with a shaggy cloak. He was very sparing in his diet, was fond of his native beans, liked wine at times, and often went without meat.” Historia Augusta, Septimius Severus 19

“And so, although he was now well advanced in years and crippled with arthritis, Severus announced his expedition to Britain…” Herodian 3,14,2. Herodian was a contemporary of Severus.

“The following is the manner of life that Severus followed in time of peace. He was sure to be doing something before dawn, and afterwards he would take a walk, telling and hearing of the interests of the empire. Then he would hold court…. Moreover… he allowed the litigants plenty of time and he gave us, his advisers, full liberty to speak. He used to hear cases until noon; then he would ride, so far as his strength permitted, and afterward take some kind of gymnastic exercise and a bath. He then ate a plentiful luncheon, either by himself or with his sons. Next, he generally took a nap. Then he rose, attended to his remaining duties, and afterwards, when walking about, engaged in discussion in both Greek and Latin.” Cassius Dio, Roman History 77,17

“Often when he [Septimius] was journeying through very high and very cold mountains, the emperor strode along bareheaded through rain and snow, setting an example of courage and constancy for his soldiers.” Herodian 3,6,10

“…A Libyan named Severus, a born administrator and a man of tremendous energy. Accustomed to a rugged life, he was physically able to endure heavy labor; mentally, he was quick to understand and quick to act once he understood.” Herodian 2,9,2

“Everything about the man [Septimius] was extraordinary, but especially outstanding were his shrewd judgment, his endurance of toils, and his spirit of bold optimism in everything he did.” Herodian 2,14,2

“Severus, in addition to his glory in war, was also distinguished in the pursuits of peace, being not only accomplished in literature, but having acquired a complete knowledge of philosophy.” Eutropius, Short History 8,19

“He [Septimius] was sufficiently educated in Latin literature, erudite in the Greek language, more at ease with Punic eloquence.” Epitome de Caesaribus 20

“As for education, he was eager for more than he obtained, and for this reason was a man of few words, though of many ideas. Toward friends not forgetful, to enemies most oppressive, he was careful of everything that he desired to accomplish, but careless of what was said about him. Hence he raised money from every source, except that he killed no one to get it.” Cassius Dio, Roman History 77,16

“By nature quick to anger [Septimius].” Herodian 3,6,1

“When the truth was that he was driven by an insatiable lust for money; no other emperor was ever so greedy for gold.” Herodian 3,8,7

“Septimius Severus then assumed the government of the Roman Empire; a native of Africa, born in the province of Tripolitana, and town of Lepcis… He was very parsimonious, and naturally cruel.” Eutropius, Short History 8,18

Hair color: Probably black (from a surviving painting)

Eye color: Probably very dark (from a surviving painting)

Skin tone: – ^

Characteristics: Stern and savage expression. Bald since young. Short of stature, physically strong, fond of physical challenges. While campaigning in Germany, he liked to dress like a German and wore a blond wig; he also dressed in Macedonian garb.
During campaigns, he scorned luxuries, ate frugally, ground his bread, dug ditches, marched with the troops. Highly murderous, tyrannical.

Birthplace: Lyon, France, Europe. His father was stationed there as governor.
(Ancient Lugdunum, Gaul)

Ethnicity: Arab, Lebanese, Italian. Maybe a bit of African.
> Arab through his mother. Italian, Phoenician (Lebanese), and perhaps native African through his father.

The ancient gossip:

“Since he [Caracalla] was almost entirely bald…” Herodian 4,8,5. Herodian was a contemporary of Caracalla.

“And it is certainly true that the performance of such strenuous tasks by a man [Caracalla] of small stature was worthy of admiration.” Herodian 4,7,7

“For Paulinus had said that Antoninus [Caracalla] looked as if he were angry, the fact being that the emperor was wont to assume a somewhat savage expression.” Cassius Dio, Roman History 78,11. Senator Dio knew Caracalla personally.

“He [Caracalla] grew especially fond of the Germans in those regions; after gaining their friendship, he entered into alliances with them… He frequently put off the Roman cloak and donned German dress, appearing in the short, silver-embroidered cloaks which they customarily wear, augmented by a yellow wig with the locks arranged in the German style.” Herodian 4,7,3

“But since he [Caracalla] had brought very many garments from Gallia and had made ankle-length tunics and forced the urban population to enter dressed in such clothing for the purpose of saluting him, he was from this garment given the cognomen Caracalla…
After he viewed the body of Alexander of Macedon, he ordered himself to be called ‘the Great’ and ‘Alexander,’ having been drawn by the intrigues of flatterers to the point that, with fierce expression and neck turned toward his left shoulder (which he had noted in Alexander’s face), he reached the point of conviction and persuaded himself that he was of very similar countenance.” Epitome de Caesaribus 21

“At times we saw ridiculous portraits, statues with one body which had on each side of a single head the faces of Alexander and the emperor. Caracalla himself went about in Macedonian dress, affecting especially the broad sun hat and short boots. He enrolled picked youths in a unit which he labeled his Macedonian phalanx; its officers bore the names of Alexander’s generals.” Herodian 4,8,2

“He himself [Caracalla] in his boyhood was winsome and clever, respectful to his parents and courteous to his parents’ friends, beloved by the people, popular with the senate, and well able to further his own interests in winning affection. Never did he seem backward in letters or slow in deeds of kindness, never begrudging in largess or tardy in forgiving…
All this, however, was in his boyhood. For when he passed beyond the age of a boy… he became more reserved and stern and even somewhat savage in expression, and indeed so much so that many were unable to believe that he was the same person whom they had known as a boy. Alexander the Great and his achievements were ever on his lips, and often in a public gathering he would praise Tiberius and Sulla. He was more arrogant than his father; and his brother, because he was very modest, he thoroughly despised.” Historia Augusta, Caracalla 1-2

“By contrast [with his brother], Caracalla was harsh and savage in everything he did, scorning the pursuits mentioned above, and pretending a devotion to the military and martial life. Since he did everything in anger and used threats instead of persuasion, his friends were bound to him by fear, not by affection.” Herodian 4,3.4.

“On necessary and urgent campaigns, however, he [Caracalla] was simple and frugal, taking his part scrupulously in the menial duties on terms of equality with the rest. Thus, he would march with the soldiers and run with them… helping them in every task and choosing exactly the same food as they had… The duties of a commander, however…, he performed in a very unsatisfactory manner.” Cassius Dio, Roman History 78,13

“He [Caracalla] used to be rubbed dry with oil, and would ride on horseback as much as a hundred miles; and he had practiced swimming even in rough water. In consequence of these pursuits he was vigorous enough in a fashion, but he forgot his intellectual training as completely as if he had never heard of such a thing. And yet he was not lacking either in ability to express himself or in good judgment, but showed a very shrewd understanding of most matters and talked very readily. For, thanks to his authority and his impetuosity, as well as to his habit of blurting out recklessly everything alike that came into his head and of feeling no shame at all about airing all his thoughts, he often stumbled upon a happy phrase.” Cassius Dio, Roman History 78,11

“Antoninus [Caracalla] belonged to three races; and he possessed none of their virtues at all, but combined in himself all their vices; the fickleness, cowardice, and recklessness of Gaul were his, the harshness and cruelty of Africa, and the craftiness of Syria, whence he was sprung on his mother’s side.” Cassius Dio, Roman History 78,6

“Caracalla, was a man very much of his father’s disposition, but somewhat more rough and vindictive.” Eutropius, Short History 8,20

“Antoninus [Caracalla] reined in his horse and drew his sword, as if he were going to strike his father [Emperor Severus] in the back. But the others who were riding with them, upon seeing this, cried out, and so Antoninus, in alarm, desisted from his attempt.” Cassius Dio, Roman History 77,14

“Antoninus [Caracalla] wished to murder his brother [they were co-rulers]… Antoninus induced his mother to summon them both, unattended, to her apartment, with a view to reconciling them… But when they were inside, some centurions… struck down Geta [his brother]… And so she, tricked in this way, saw her son perishing in the most impious fashion in her arms… But she was not permitted to mourn or weep for her son…” Cassius Dio, Roman History 78,2

“For he [Caracalla] was sick not only in body, partly from visible partly from secret ailments, but in mind as well, suffering from certain distressing visions, and often he thought he was being pursued by his father and by his brother, armed with swords.” Cassius Dio, Roman History 78,15

“But he [Caracalla] made it his business to strip, despoil, and grind down all the rest of mankind, and the senators by no means least.” Cassius Dio, Roman History 78,9

“… Indeed, he [Caracalla] often used to say: ‘Nobody in the world should have money but me.’” Cassius Dio, Roman History 78,10

“In everything he [Caracalla] was very hot-headed and very fickle…” Cassius Dio, Roman History 78,10

“The naturally savage and quick-tempered Caracalla.” Herodian 4,9,3 

“Indeed, he [Caracalla] had no regard whatever for the higher things… as he himself admitted; and hence he actually held in contempt those of us who possessed anything like education.” Cassius Dio, Roman History 78,11

“He [Caracalla] indulged to an extravagant degree in bloodshed.” Cassius Dio, Roman History 78,16

“The body of Antoninus [Caracalla] was burned and his bones were deposited in the tomb of the Antonines, after being brought into Rome secretly at night; for absolutely everybody, both senators and the rest of the population, men and women alike, hated him most violently.” Cassius Dio, Roman History 79,9

Hair color: –

Eye color: –

Skin tone: –

Characteristics: Beautiful and tall. Wore splendid foreign clothes; first Roman to wear clothes wholly of silk. Dressed in Dalmatian garb, as a woman and, perhaps, as a male prostitute. Wore a jeweled diadem. Painted his eyes and face with cosmetics. Depilated his body.
He was murdery. Had no head for government, only sought to please himself.

Birthplace: Emesa, Syria, Asia. Or Rome, Italy.

Ethnicity: Arab

The ancient gossip:

“Bassianus [Elagabalus], in the prime of youth, was the handsomest lad of his time. With physical beauty, bloom of youth, and splendor of attire combining to produce the same effect, the youth might well be compared to the handsome statues of Bacchus.” Herodian 5,3,7. Herodian was a contemporary of Elagabalus.

“Elagabalus, moreover, was notable for his beauty and stature and for the priesthood which he held.” Historia Augusta, Macriunus 9

“…And after him the pretty boy from Emesa [Elagabalus].” Julian, Caesars 313

“Bassianus [Elagabalus] was the chief priest of this god [Elagabal, an Asian god]… He went about in barbarian dress, wearing long-sleeved purple tunics embroidered with gold which hung to his feet; robes similarly decorated with gold and purple covered his legs from hip to toe, and he wore a diadem of varicolored precious gems.” Herodian 5,3,6

“His [Elagabalus’] youthful beauty attracted the eyes of all. At that time a huge army was quartered at Emesa to guard Phoenicia… The soldiers were therefore frequent visitors in the city and went to the temple on the pretext of worshiping the god; there they delighted in watching Bassianus.” Herodian 5,3,9

“They were annoyed when they saw the emperor [Elagabalus], his face painted more elaborately than that of any modest woman, dancing in luxurious robes and effeminately adorned with gold necklaces.” Herodian 5,8,1

“He [Elagabalus] was the first of the Romans, it is said, who wore clothing wholly of silk, although garments partly of silk were in use before his time. Linen that had been washed he would never touch, saying that washed linen was worn only by beggars. He would often appear in public after dinner dressed in a Dalmatian tunic…” Historia Augusta, Elagabalus 16

“Immediately he [Elagabalus] plunged into his mad activities, performing for his native god the fantastic rites in which he had been trained from childhood. He wore the richest clothing, draping himself in purple robes embroidered in gold; to his necklaces and bracelets he added a crown, a tiara glittering with gold and jewels.” Herodian 5,5,3

“His [Elagabalus’] dress showed the influence of the sacred robe of the Phoenicians and the luxurious garb of the Medes. He loathed Greek and Roman garments because they were made of wool, in his opinion an inferior material; only the Serian cloth met with his approval. Accompanied by flutes and drums, he went about performing, as it appeared, orgiastic service to his god.” Herodian 5,5,4

“She [Elagabalus’ grandmother] was afraid that his [Elagabalus’] appearance, obviously foreign and wholly barbaric, would offend those who saw him; they were not used to such garb and considered his ornaments suitable only for women.” Herodian 5,5,5

“He [Elagabalus] never put on the same shoes twice and never, it is said, wore the same ring a second time.” Historia Augusta, Elagabalus 32

“He [Elagabalus] had no desire to sin in secret, but appeared in public with eyes painted and cheeks rouged; these cosmetics marred a face naturally handsome.” Herodian 5,6,10

“He [Elagabalus] worked with wool [a woman’s pastime], sometimes wore a hair-net, and painted his eyes, daubing them with white lead and alkanet. Once, indeed, he shaved his chin and held a festival to mark the event; but after that he had the hairs plucked out, so as to look more like a woman. And he often reclined while receiving the salutations of the senators.” Cassius Dio, Roman History 80,15. Dio was a Roman senator and a contemporary of Elagabalus.

“When trying someone in court he [Elagabalus] really had more or less the appearance of a man, but everywhere else he showed affectations in his actions and in the quality of his voice. For instance, he used to dance [Roman men did not dance, it was considered effeminate], not only in the orchestra, but also, in a way, even while walking, performing sacrifices, receiving salutations, or delivering a speech.” Cassius Dio, Roman History 80,15

“… An account will be given presently of his [Elagabalus’] marriages, in which he both married and was bestowed in marriage; for he appeared both as man and as woman, and in both relations conducted himself in the most licentious fashion.” Cassius Dio, Roman History 80,5

“When Aurelius addressed him [Elagabalus] with the usual salutation, ‘My Lord Emperor, Hail!’ He bent his neck so as to assume a ravishing feminine pose, and turning his eyes upon him with a melting gaze, answered without any hesitation: ‘Call me not Lord, for I am a Lady.’” Cassius Dio, Roman History 80,16

“And ordered that he [Elagabalus] be called by the feminine name Bassiana, instead of Bassianus.” Epitome de Caesaribus 23

“Afterwards he [Elagabalus]cohabited with Aquilia Severa, thereby most flagrantly violating the law; for she was consecrated to Vesta [the Vestal Virgins were chaste nuns and were sacred in Rome], and yet he most impiously defiled her.” Cassius Dio, Roman History 80,9

“But this Sardanapalus [Elagabalus]… lived most licentiously himself from first to last… He used his body both for doing and allowing many strange things, which no one could endure to tell or hear of; but his most conspicuous acts, which it would be impossible to conceal, were the following. He would go to the taverns by night, wearing a wig, and there ply the trade of a female huckster. He frequented the notorious brothels, drove out the prostitutes, and played the prostitute himself. Finally, he set aside a room in the palace and there committed his indecencies, always standing nude at the door of the room, as the harlots do, and shaking the curtain which hung from gold rings, while in a soft and melting voice he solicited the passers-by. There were, of course, men who had been specially instructed to play their part.” Cassius Dio, Roman History 80,13

“And whereas he [Elagabalus] had appeared before the harlots in a woman’s costume and with protruding bosom, he met the catamites in the garb of a boy who is exposed for prostitution.” Historia Augusta, Elagabalus 16

“I will not describe the barbaric chants which Sardanapalus [Emperor Elagabalus], together with his mother and grandmother, chanted to Elagabalus [an Asian god], or the secret sacrifices that he offered to him, slaying boys and using charms, in fact actually shutting up alive in the god’s temple a lion, a monkey, and a snake, and throwing in among them human genitals, and practising other unholy rites…” Cassius Dio, Roman History 80,11

“…The offence consisted, not in his [Elagabalus’] introducing a foreign god into Rome or in his exalting him in very strange ways, but in his placing him even before Jupiter himself and causing himself to be voted his priest, also in his circumcising himself… He had planned, indeed, to cut off his genitals altogether, but that desire was prompted solely by his effeminacy; the circumcision which he actually carried out was a part of the priestly requirements of Elagabalus [the god], and he accordingly mutilated many of his companions in like manner. Furthermore, he was frequently seen even in public clad in the barbaric dress which the Syrian priests use…” Cassius Dio, Roman History 80,11

“[Elagabalus] was in every respect an empty-headed young idiot.” Herodian 5,7,1

“Though he [Elagabalus] found a large amount of money in the imperial treasury, squandered it all, and the revenues did not suffice for expenditures.” Cassius Dio, Roman History 80,12

“The madness of Heliogabalus increased to such a degree that… to charioteers, comedians, and actors of mimes he entrusted the most important and responsible imperial posts.” Herodian 5,7,8

“After these, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus [Elagabalus] was made emperor… Having come to Rome with high expectations on the part of the army and the Senate, he polluted himself with every kind of impurity. He led a life of the utmost shamelessness and obscenity…” Eutropius, Short History 8,22

Hair color: –

Eye color: –

Skin tone: –

Characteristics: Manly beauty, graceful. Tall, strong, athletic. Dressed plainly, never wore jewels.
Civilized, kind, wise. Liked the arts. He was well-liked, a good ruler.

Birthplace: Arqa, Lebanon, Asia
(Arca Caesarea, Phoenicia)

Ethnicity: Arab

The ancient gossip:

“As to his [Alexander’s] physique, in addition to the grace and the manly beauty still to be seen in his portraits and statues, he had the strength and height of a soldier and the vigour of the military man who knows the power of his body and always maintains it. Besides this, he endeared himself to all men; some even called him Pius, but all regarded him as a holy man and one of great value to the state.” Historia Augusta, Severus Alexander 4

“He [Alexander] himself usually wore a scarlet cloak, but when in Rome and the cities of Italy he was always dressed in the toga. On the other hand, he never assumed the bordered or the gold-embroidered toga except when consul… He also assumed the bordered toga when he performed sacrifices, but then only as pontifex maximus, and not as emperor. He was always eager to get good linen, without any purple in it… And as for inserting gold threads, he deemed it madness… He always wore bands on his legs, and he used white trousers, not scarlet ones, as had formerly been the custom.” Historia Augusta, Severus Alexander 40

“He [Alexander] forbade men to call him Lord, and he gave orders that people should write to him as they would to a commoner, retaining only the title Imperator. He removed from the imperial footwear and garments all the jewels that had been used by Elagabalus, and he wore a plain white robe without any gold, just as he is always depicted, and ordinary cloaks and togas…” Historia Augusta, Severus Alexander 4

“So considerate was he [Alexander] that he would never have anyone ordered to stand aside, always showed himself courteous and gracious to all, visited the sick, not merely his friends of the first and second degrees, but also those of lower rank, desired that every man should speak his thoughts freely and heard him when he spoke, and, when he had heard, ordered improvement and reform as the case demanded; but if anything was not done well, he would reprove it in person, though without any arrogance or bitterness of spirit...
In short, he never allowed a day to pass without doing some kind, some generous, or some righteous deed, and yet he never ruined the public treasury.” Historia Augusta, Severus Alexander 20

“He [Alexander] could deliver orations in Greek better than in Latin, he wrote verse that was not lacking in charm, and he had a taste for music… He was a student of geometry, he painted marvellously, and he sang with distinction, though he never allowed any listeners to be present except his slaves. He composed in verse the lives of the good emperors. He could play the lyre, the clarinet, and the organ, and he could even blow the trumpet, but this he never  did openly while emperor… Moreover, he was a wrestler of the first rank, and he was great in arms, winning many wars and with great glory.” Historia Augusta, Severus Alexander 27

“Alexander’s deportment was governed by a character naturally mild and civilized, and much inclined to benevolence.” Herodian 6,1,6  

“He [Alexander] was also in great favor at Rome.” Eutropius, Short History 8,23  

Up until now, most emperors had at least a bit of Roman or Italian blood and came from the nobility. But that changed in AD 212, when Caracalla bestowed Roman citizenship on every free man in the empire.

From now on, most emperors have zero Italian blood, and many come from humble backgrounds.

The Crisis of the Third Century
Emperors from all over

The juicy details about the looks of:

Hair color: –

Eye color: –

Skin tone: Very white

Characteristics: ‘Handsome in a manly way’, big eyes. Taller than anyone else, corpulent, extraordinarily strong. Some said he was over 8 ft (2,4 m) tall. Impressive in one-on-one combat, great warrior.
Military-minded, fierce, courageous, rough, haughty. As an emperor, ruthless and greedy.

Birthplace: Bulgaria/Romania, Europe
(Ancient Thrace or Moesia)

Ethnicity: Bulgarian
> Ancient Thracian (Bulgarian), and perhaps of German and Alanic (Iranian) descent. His first language was Thracian. The Romans saw him as a barbarian.

The ancient gossip:

“In his early youth he [Maximinus] was a herdsman… For certainly he was strikingly big of body, and notable among all the soldiers for courage, handsome in a manly way, fierce in his manners, rough, haughty, and scornful, yet often a just man…” Historia Augusta, The Two Maximini 2

“In height and size and proportions, in his great eyes, and in whiteness of skin he [Maximinus] was pre-eminent among all.” Historia Augusta, The Two Maximini 3

“There was in the Roman army a man named Maximinus whose half-barbarian family lived in a village in the most remote section of Thrace. They say that as a boy he was a shepherd, but that in his youthful prime he was drafted into the cavalry because of his size and strength.” Herodian 6,8,1. Herodian was a contemporary of Maximinus.

“He [Maximinus] was of such size, so Cordus reports, that men said he was six inches over eight feet in height; and his thumb was so huge that he used his wife’s bracelet for a ring. Other stories are reported almost as common talk — that he could drag wagons with his hands and move a laden cart by himself… that he could crumble tufaceous stone and split saplings, and that he was called, finally, by some Milo of Croton, by others Hercules…” Historia Augusta, The Two Maximini 6

“The emperor’s [Maximinus’] appearance was frightening and his body was huge; not easily would any of the skilled Greek athletes or the best-trained warriors among the barbarians prove his equal.” Herodian 7,1,12

“Eventually, indeed, when he [Maximinus] almost believed himself immortal because of his great size and courage.” Historia Augusta, The Two Maximini 9

“This youth [Maximinus], half barbarian and scarcely yet master of the Latin tongue, speaking almost pure Thracian, publicly besought the Emperor to give him leave to compete… Severus, struck with his bodily size, pitted him first against sutlers… Whereupon Maximinus overcame sixteen sutlers at one sweat, and received his sixteen prizes… and was commanded to serve in the army.” Historia Augusta, The Two Maximini 2

“He [Maximinus] was born in a village in Thrace bordering on the barbarians, indeed of a barbarian father and mother, the one, men say, being of the Goths, the other of the Alani. At any rate, they say that his father’s name was Micca, his mother’s Ababa. And in his early days Maximinus himself freely disclosed these names; later, however, when he came to the throne, he had them concealed, lest it should seem that the emperor was sprung on both sides from barbarian stock.” Historia Augusta, The Two Maximini 1

“It is agreed, moreover, that often in a single day he [Maximinus] drank a Capitoline amphora of wine, and ate forty pounds of meat, or, according to Cordus, no less than sixty. It seems sufficiently agreed, too, that he abstained wholly from vegetables, and almost always from anything cold, save when he had to drink.” Historia Augusta, The Two Maximini 4

“Maximinus… by nature passionate, fierce, and bloody.” Historia Augusta, Maximus and Balbinus 1

“His character [Maximinus’] was naturally barbaric, as his race was barbarian. He had inherited the brutal disposition of his countrymen, and he intended to make his imperial position secure by acts of cruelty…” Herodian 7,1,2

“Maximinus thus became well established in the throne, but the people universally regretted the change of a moderate emperor for a cruel tyrant. Maximinus was of obscure birth, and therefore on his exaltation to the imperial dignity, his excessive insolence in his new authority eclipsed those good qualities with which nature had endowed him. He thus became intolerable to all men, not only doing injuries to those that were in honorable offices, but being guilty of the greatest cruelties in the exercise of his power, bestowing favors only upon sycophants who laid information against quiet persons, by charging them with being debtors to the imperial treasury. At length he went so far as to murder persons out of avarice, before he heard them plead in their own defence, seized on the towns as his own, and plundered the inhabitants.” Zosimus, New History 1,13,3

Hair color: –

Eye color: –

Skin tone: –

Characteristics: Handsome, agreeable, merry, loved by all

Birthplace: Not known, perhaps Rome

Ethnicity: Unclear. His ancestors may have been from Rome, Asia Minor, and/or Greece.

The ancient gossip:

“He was a light-hearted lad, handsome, winning, agreeable to everyone, merry in his life, eminent in letters; in nothing, indeed, save in his age was he unqualified for empire. Before Philip’s conspiracy he was loved by the people, the senate, and the soldiers as no prince had ever been before. Cordus says that all the soldiers spoke of him as their son, that he was called son by the entire senate, and that all the people said Gordian was their darling.” Historia Augusta, Gordian III 31

Hair color:

Eye color:

Skin tone:

Characteristics: Clever, ambitious, disloyal

Birthplace: Shahba, Syria, Asia
(Ancient Bostra, Arabia)

Ethnicity: Arab

The ancient gossip:

“He [Philip] rose from humble station, from a father who was a most noble commander of brigands.” Epitome de Caesarius 28,4

“This Philip was low-born but arrogant, and now could not contain himself in his sudden rise to office and immoderate good fortune, but immediately, through the soldiers, began to plot against Gordian, who had begun to treat him as a father.” Historia Augusta, Gordians 29

“Philip was a native of Arabia… and had advanced his fortune by no very honorable means. As soon as he was fixed in his office, he aspired at the imperial dignity… Observing that abundance of military provisions was supplied, while the emperor was staying about Carrhae and Nisibis, he ordered the ships that brought those provisions to go further up the country, in order that the army, being oppressed with famine, might be provoked to mutiny.” Zosimus 1,18,3

Hair color: –

Eye color:

Skin tone:

Characteristics: Moderate. Was captured and enslaved by the Persians.

Birthplace: Unknown, probably Italy

Ethnicity: Unknown, at least partly Italian

The ancient gossip:

“All his life long Valerian has been a censor. A wise senator, a modest senator, a respected senator. The friend of the good, the enemy of tyrants, the foe of crimes, the foe of vices. He it is whom we all accept as censor, whom we all desire to imitate. Foremost in family, noble in blood, free from stain in his life, famed for his learning, matchless in character, a sample of the olden times.” Historia Augusta, Valeriani 6

“Licinius Valerian… was next made general by the army, and soon after emperor… The reign of these princes was injurious, and almost fatal, to the Roman name, either through their ill-fortune or want of energy. The Germans advanced as far as Ravenna [in Italy]. Valerian, while he was occupied in a war in Mesopotamia, was overthrown by Sapor king of Persia, and being soon after made prisoner, grew old in ignominious slavery among the Parthians.” Eutropius, Short History 9,7 

“Licinius Valerianus… Sprung from parents most distinguished, he was nevertheless stupid and extremely indolent, unfit by mind or deeds for any holding of public office… But, indeed, Valerianus, waging war in Mesopotamia, was defeated by Sapor, King of the Persians, immediately captured, too, and among the Persians grew old in ignoble servitude.” Epitome de Caesaribus 32

Hair color: Unknown. Dyed his hair yellow and sprinkled it with gold dust.

Eye color:

Skin tone:

Characteristics: Wore luxurious clothes and covered himself in jewels.
Debauch. Did not pay attention to government; the provinces of the empire were invaded during his reign.

Birthplace: Unknown, perhaps Italy

Ethnicity: Unknown, probably Italian

The ancient gossip:

“He [Gallienus] sprinkled his hair with gold-dust. He went out in public adorned with the radiate crown, and at Rome – where the emperors always appeared in the toga – he appeared in a purple cloak with jewelled and golden clasps. He wore a man’s tunic of purple and gold and provided with sleeves. He used a jewelled sword-belt and he fastened jewels to his boot-laces…” Historia Augusta, Gallieni Duo 16

“He [Gallienus] loved also a barbarian maid, Pipara by name, the daughter of a king. And for this reason Gallienus, moreover, and those about him always dyed their hair yellow.” Historia Augusta, Gallieni Duo 21

“Next entered Gallienus… with the dress and languishing gait of a woman.“ Julian, Caesars 313

“Now while Gallienus, continuing in luxury and debauchery, gave himself up to amusements and revelling and administered the commonwealth like a boy who plays at holding power, the Gauls… called Postumus to the imperial power; and the armies, too, joined with them, for they complained of an emperor who was busied with his lusts.” Historia Augusta, Gallieni Duo 4

“Such was the life of Gallienus… who, born for his belly and his pleasures, wasted his days and nights in wine and debauchery and caused the world to be laid waste by pretenders…” Historia Augusta, Gallieni Duo 16

“And he used to say that he was making merry, whereas he had brought the world on all sides to ruin. But the soldiers he treated with excessive cruelty, killing as many as three or four thousand of them in a single day.” Historia Augusta, Gallieni Duo 17-18

“He [Gallienus] was then for a long time quiet and gentle; afterwards, abandoning himself to all manner of licentiousness, he relaxed the reins of government with disgraceful inactivity and carelessness. The Alemanni [Germans]… penetrated into Italy. Dacia… was lost. Greece, Macedonia, Pontus, Asia, were devastated by the Goths [Germans]. Pannonia was depopulated by the Sarmatians and Quadi [Iranians and Germans]. The Germans made their way as far as Spain, and took the noble city of Tarraco. The Parthians, after taking possession of Mesopotamia, began to bring Syria under their power…” Eutropius, Short History 9,8

Hair color:

Eye color:

Skin tone:

Characteristics: Good looking, tall, strong. Manly grace. Wore a diadem and clothes with jewels. Liked exercise, disciplined.
Great military man, recuperated the lost provinces. Had integrity and a sense of duty. Good ruler but overly harsh.

Birthplace: Either Sofia, Bulgaria or Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia
(Ancient Serdica, Dacia and Sirmium, Pannonia)

Ethnicity: Bulgarian or Serbian

The ancient gossip:

“He [Aurelian] was a comely man, good to look upon because of his manly grace, rather tall in stature, and very strong in his muscles; he was a little too fond of wine and food, but he indulged his passions rarely; he exercised the greatest severity and a discipline that had no equal, being extremely ready to draw his sword.” Historia Augusta, Aurelian 6

“That man [Aurelian] first introduced among the Romans a diadem for the head, and he used gems and gold on every item of clothing to a degree almost unknown to Roman custom.” Epitome de Caesaribus 35

“Clothing made wholly of silk he [Aurelian] would neither keep in his own wardrobe nor present to anyone else for his use; and when his wife besought him to keep a single robe of purple silk, he replied, ‘God forbid that a fabric should be worth its weight in gold.’ For at that time a pound of silk was worth a pound of gold.” Historia Augusta, Aurelian 45,4-5

“Aurelian, born of humble parents and from his earliest years very quick of mind and famous for his strength, never let a day go by… on which he did not practise with the spear, the bow and arrow, and other exercises in arms.” Historia Augusta, Aurelian 4

“When ill, he [Aurelian] never summoned a physician, but always cured himself, chiefly by abstaining from food.” Historia Augusta, Aurelian 50,1

“His [Aurelian’s] amusements, indeed, were few.” Historia Augusta, Aurelian 50,4

“This letter shows how great was his [Aurelian’s] sternness, so that even Valerian said that he feared him.” Historia Augusta, Aurelian 8,5

“Aurelian -it cannot be denied- was a stern, a savage, and a blood-thirsty prince.” Historia Augusta, Aurelian 36,2

“He [Aurelian] was born in Dacia Ripensis, and was a man of ability in war, but of an ungovernable temper, and too much inclined to cruelty. He defeated the Goths [Germans] with great vigor, and extended the Roman Empire, by various successes in the field, to its former limits.” Eutropius, Short History 9,13

“He [Aurelian] was indeed cruel and sanguinary, and rather an emperor necessary for the times in some respects than an amiable one in any. He was always severe, and put to death even the son of his own sister. He was however a reformer, in a great degree, of military discipline and dissoluteness of manners.” Eutropius, Short History 9,14

“Except for certain internal riotings his [Aurelian’s] reign was most prosperous. The Roman people loved him, while the senate held him in fear.” Historia Augusta, Aurelian 50,5

Aurelian… a man of so much greater merit.” Zosimus 1,47

“He [Aurelian] was buried on the spot with great magnificence by the army in consideration of the great services he had performed, and the dangers he had undergone for the good of the public.” Zosimus 1,62,3

Hair color:

Eye color:

Skin tone:

Characteristics: Physically strong.
Great military man, great ruler.

Birthplace: Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia, Europe
(Ancient Sirmium, Pannonia Inferior)

Ethnicity: Serbian
> Ancient Pannonian

The ancient gossip:

“As a youth Probus became so famed for his bodily strength…” Historia Augusta, Probus 3,5

“Probus was a native of Pannonia, of the city of Sirmium, his mother was of nobler birth than his father, his private fortune was modest, and his kindred unimportant.” Historia Augusta, Probus 3,1

“Probus sprung from a rustic father…” Epitome de Caesaribus 37

“Probus… a man rendered illustrious by the distinction which he obtained in war.” Eutropius, Short History 9,17

“He [Probus] was a man of spirit, activity, and justice, equalling Aurelian in military glory, and surpassing him in affability of manners.” Eutropius, Short History 9,17

“When Probus, who was a brave and just prince…”  Zosimus 1,71,4

“…Probus, who in less than seven years restored seventy cities and was in many ways a wise administrator…” Julian, Caesars 314

“It would be a lengthy task, were I to enumerate all the exploits of so great a man.”  Historia Augusta, Probus 6,1

“For they knew well that no one could rule more worthily than Probus.” Historia Augusta, Probus 10,8

“The soldiers’ love for Probus was always unbounded. Never, indeed, did he permit any of them to commit a wrong. Moreover, he often prevented Aurelian from some act of great cruelty.” Historia Augusta, Probus 8,1

“As for myself, when I compare Probus as a ruler with other emperors, in whatever way almost all Roman leaders have stood out as courageous, as merciful, as wise, or as admirable, I perceive that he was the equal of any, or indeed, if no insane jealousy stands in the way, better than all.” Historia Augusta, Probus 22,1

“The senate mourned greatly at the death of Probus, and likewise the people also.” Historia Augusta, Probus 24,4

The Tetrarchy
Eastern Europe is in the house

The juicy details about the looks of:

Hair color: –

Eye color: –

Skin tone: –

Characteristics: Wore silk and purple robes. He adorned his clothes with jewels and gold.
An able ruler and a reformer. He stabilized the empire after the Third Century Crisis.He shared power and then stepped down voluntarily.
He may have been a freedman or the son of a freedman.

Birthplace: Solin, Croatia, Europe
(Ancient Salona, Dalmatia)

Ethnicity: Croatian
> Ancient Dalmatian. His first language was likely not Latin.

The ancient gossip:

He [Diocletian] put ornaments of precious stones on his dress and shoes, when the imperial distinction had previously been only in the purple robe, the rest of the habit being the same as that of other men.” Eutropius, Short History 9,26

“[Diocletian] Wore gorgeous robes of silk and purple and footwear adorned with gold.” Aurelius Victor, Liber de Caesaribus 39

“He [Diocletian] was the first that introduced into the Roman Empire a ceremony suited rather to royal usages than to Roman liberty, giving orders that he should be adored, whereas all emperors before him were only saluted.” Eutropius, Short History 9,26

“Diocletian, a native of Dalmatia, of such extremely obscure birth, that he is said by most writers to have been the son of a clerk, but by some to have been a freedman of a senator named Anulinus.” Eutropius, Short History 9,19

“Diocletian, a Dalmatian, freedman of the senator Anulinus, was, until he assumed power, called in their language Diocles, from his mother and likewise from a city named Dioclea; when he took control of the Roman world, in the fashion of the Romans, he converted the Greek name.” Epitome de Caesaribus 39

“Diocletian, as being of a timorous disposition.” Lactantius, On the Deaths of the Persecutors 10. Lactantius knew Diocletian personally.

“Diocletian was of a crafty disposition, with much sagacity, and keen penetration. He was willing to gratify his own disposition to cruelty in such a way as to throw the odium upon others; he was however a very active and able prince.” Eutropius, Short History 9,26

“He was at this time in command of the household-troops, an outstanding man and wise, devoted to the commonwealth, devoted to his kindred, duly prepared to face whatever the occasion demanded, forming plans that were always deep though sometimes over-bold, and one who could by prudence and exceeding firmness hold in check the impulses of a restless spirit.” Historia Augusta, Numerius 13

Hair color: –

Eye color: –

Skin tone: –

Characteristics: Stern appearance. Fierce, rustic, uncouth. He was a loyal friend and had military skills. He was cruel and violent.

Birthplace: Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia, Europe
(Ancient Sirmium, Pannonia Inferior)

Ethnicity: Serbian
> Ancient Pannonian

The ancient gossip:

“But Herculius was undisguisedly cruel, and of a violent temper, and showed his severity of disposition in the sternness of his looks. Gratifying his own inclination, he joined with Diocletian in even the most cruel of his proceedings.” Eutropius, Short History 9.27

“Aurelius Maximian, with the cognomen Herculius, was fierce by nature, burning with lust, stolid in his counsels, of rustic and Pannonian stock. For even now, not far from Sirmium, there is a spot prominent because of a palace constructed there, where his parents once worked wage-earning jobs.” Epitome de Caesaribus 40,10

“For he was a man inclined to every kind of cruelty and severity, faithless, perverse, and utterly void of consideration for others.” Eutropius, Short History 10,3

“A colleague trustworthy in friendship, if somewhat boorish, and of great military talents.” Aurelius Victor, Liber de Caesaribus 39,44

Hair color: –

Eye color: –

Skin tone: –

Characteristics: Physically attractive. Tall, corpulent, fearsome countenance. Rough manners.
Skilled warrior, uncultivated. Very cruel. Hated Rome.

Birthplace: Sofia, Bulgaria, Europe
(Ancient Serdica, Dacia Ripensis)

Ethnicity: Bulgarian
> Ancient Dacian through his mother, ancient Thracian through his father

The ancient gossip:

“The form of Galerius corresponded with his manners. Of stature tall, full of flesh, and swollen to a horrible bulk of corpulency; by his speech, gestures, and looks, he made himself a terror to all that came near him…” Lactantius, On the Deaths of the Persecutors 9. Lactantius knew Galerius personally.

“Galerius, moreover, although possessed of an uncultivated and rustic justice, was praiseworthy enough, physically attractive, a skilled and fortunate warrior, sprung from country parents, a keeper of cattle, whence for him the cognomen Armentarius (‘Herdsman’).” Epitome de Caesaribus 40,14

“But the other Maximian (Galerius), chosen by Diocletian for his son-in-law, was worse… worse than all the bad princes of former days. In this wild beast there dwelt a native barbarity and a savageness foreign to Roman blood; and no wonder, for his mother was born beyond the Danube, and it was an inroad of the Carpi that obliged her to cross over and take refuge in New Dacia.” Lactantius, On the Deaths of the Persecutors 9

“He kept bears, most resembling himself in fierceness and bulk.” Lactantius, On the Deaths of the Persecutors 21

“He was born and also buried in Dacia Ripensis, a place which he had called Romulianum from the name of his mother, Romula.” Epitome de Caesaribus 40,16-17

“Then he began to act extravagantly, insomuch that, as if he had been a second Romulus, he wished to pass for and to be called the offspring of Mars… He became altogether outrageous, and of unbounded arrogance.” Lactantius, On the Deaths of the Persecutors 9

“As often as he chose to indulge his humour, he ordered some particular bear to be brought in, and men were thrown to that savage animal… and when their limbs were torn asunder, he laughed with excessive complacency… Men of private station were condemned to be burnt alive… At length they did expire, when, after many hours, the violent heat had consumed their skin and penetrated into their intestines.” Lactantius, On the Deaths of the Persecutors 21

“But that which gave rise to public and universal calamity, was the tax imposed at once on each province and city… Neither youth, nor old age, nor sickness, afforded any exemption… Whatever, by the laws of war, conquerors had done to the conquered, the like did this man presume to perpetrate against Romans [the Romans, as conquerors, were traditionally exempt from taxation] and the subjects of Rome, because his forefathers had been made liable to a like tax imposed by the victorious Trajan, as a penalty on the Dacians for their frequent rebellions…” Lactantius, On the Deaths of the Persecutors 23

“Galerius, a man of excellent moral character, and skilful in military affairs…” Eutropius, Short History 10,2

“And thus did he, once a Roman emperor, but now the ravager of Italy… Long ago, indeed, and at the very time of his obtaining sovereign power, he had avowed himself the enemy of the Roman name [he was Dacian]; and he proposed that the empire should be called, not the Roman, but the Dacian empire.” Lactantius, On the Deaths of the Persecutors 27

Constantine Dynasty
Eastern Europe + one Briton joins the party

Constantine the Great created a second capital in the East, Constantinople. So from AD 337 onwards, two emperors rule simultaneously the Roman Empire. One rules the West (from Italy), the other, the East (from Constantinople). We are going to follow the emperors that ruled the West.

The juicy details about the looks of:

Hair color: –

Eye color: –

Skin tone: –

Characteristics: Handsome. Tall, graceful, physically strong. Had a vigorous body throughout his life. Dignified, soft manners, serene. Wore a diadem and gems.
Intelligent, wise, educated, liked the fine arts. Agreeable during the first part of his reign.

Birthplace: Nis, Serbia, Europe
(Ancient Naissus, Dardania)

Ethnicity: Bulgarian and Greek
> Ancient Dacian through his father (Bulgarian), and Greek through his mother. Constantine’s first language was Latin.

The ancient gossip:

“For no one was comparable to him [Constantine] for grace and beauty of person, or height of stature; and he so far surpassed his compeers in personal strength as to be a terror to them. He was, however, even more conspicuous for the excellence of his mental qualities than for his superior physical endowments; being gifted in the first place with a sound judgment, and having also reaped the advantages of a liberal education. He was also distinguished in no ordinary degree both by natural intelligence and divinely imparted wisdom.” Eusebius, Life of Constantine 1,19. Eusebius and Constantine were contemporaries.

“Constantius also had a son, Constantine, a young man of very great worth, and well meriting the high station of Caesar. The distinguished comeliness of his figure, his strict attention to all military duties, his virtuous demeanour and singular affability, had endeared him to the troops, and made him the choice of every individual.” Lactantius, On the Deaths of the Persecutors 19. Lactantius was one of Constantine’s advisors.

“The royal garb he [Constantine] adorned with gems, and his head, at all times, with a diadem. Nevertheless, he was most agreeable in many matters: by means of laws most severe he checked malicious prosecutions; he nurtured the fine arts, especially studies of literature; he himself read, wrote, reflected, and listened to legations and the complaints of the provinces.” Epitome de Caesaribus 41,14

“And now, all rising at the signal which indicated the emperor’s [Constantine’s] entrance, at last he himself proceeded through the midst of the assembly, like some heavenly messenger of God, clothed in raiment which glittered as it were with rays of light, reflecting the glowing radiance of a purple robe, and adorned with the brilliant splendor of gold and precious stones. Such was the external appearance of his person; and with regard to his mind, it was evident that he was distinguished by piety and godly fear. This was indicated by his downcast eyes, the blush on his countenance, and his gait. For the rest of his personal excellencies, he surpassed all present in height of stature and beauty of form, as well as in majestic dignity of mien, and invincible strength and vigor. All these graces, united to a suavity of manner, and a serenity becoming his imperial station, declared the excellence of his mental qualities to be above all praise.”  Eusebius, Life of Constantine 3,10

“At this age [60s] he [Constantine] still possessed a sound and vigorous body, free from all blemish, and of more than youthful vivacity; a noble mien, and strength equal to any exertion; so that he was able to join in martial exercises, to… endure the fatigues of travel, engage in battle, and erect trophies over his conquered enemies, besides gaining those bloodless victories by which he was wont to triumph over those who opposed him.” Eusebius, Life of Constantine 4,53

“Constantine, being a man of great energy, bent upon effecting whatever he had settled in his mind, and aspiring to the sovereignty of the whole world.” Eutropius, Short History 10,15

“He [Constantine] was a mocker rather than a flatterer.” Epitome de Caesaribus 41,16

“His military genius [Constantine’s] was made evident by his achievements and needs no words of mine… He unlocked its doors and on the instant flooded the whole country with wealth, and then, in less than ten years, he founded and gave his name to a city that as far surpasses all others as it is itself inferior to Rome… Your father’s achievements were many and brilliant.” Julian, Panegyric of Constantius

“He [Constantine] was a man, who, in the beginning of his reign, might have been compared to the best princes; in the latter part of it, only to those of a middling character. Innumerable good qualities of mind and body were apparent in him; he was exceedingly ambitious of military glory, and had great success in his wars; a success, however, not more than proportioned to his exertions.” Eutropius, Short History 10,7

Hair color: –

Eye color: –

Skin tone:

Characteristics: Mischievous, proud, stubborn, cruel

Birthplace: Unknown

Ethnicity: Syrian and Eastern European
> Through his mother, Syrian. Through his father, ancient Pannonian.

The ancient gossip:

“Such was the state of the affairs of Maxentius, who conducted himself with cruelty and licentiousness towards all the inhabitants of Italy, and even to Rome itself.” Zosimus 2,14,4

“Now Maximian Herculius had a son, Maxentius, married to the daughter of Galerius, a man of bad and mischievous dispositions, and so proud and stubborn withal, that he would never pay the wonted obeisance either to his father or father-in-law, and on that account he was hated by them both.” Lactantius, On the Deaths of the Persecutors 18. Lactantius was a contemporary of Maxentius.

Hair color: –

Eye color: –

Skin tone: –

Characteristics: Had severe arthritis since young.
He was energetic and just at first, then he was full of vices. Cruel, a tyrant.

Birthplace: Unknown. Grew up in Constantinople (modern Istanbul, Turkey, Asia).

Ethnicity: Greek, Bulgarian, Syrian, and other Eastern European
> Through his father, Greek and ancient Dacian (Bulgarian). Through his mother, Syrian and ancient Pannonian (Eastern European).

The ancient gossip:

“Disabled in the feet and hands through a malady of the joints, he [Constans] was fortunate in temperateness of climate, in an abundance of harvests, and in no terror from barbarians, things which would have been still greater indeed, if he had promoted governors of provinces not for a price, but on the basis of judgment.” Epitome de Caesaribus 41,24

“For he [Constans] was mad about the chase though fighting constant arthritis, which he suffered as a result of an excess of pleasures, living intemperately.” Zonaras, The History 13,6

“After he [Constans] had lived so licentiously…” Zonaras, The History 13,6

“The rule of Constans was for some time energetic and just, but afterwards, falling into ill-health, and being swayed by ill-designing friends, he indulged in great vices; and, becoming intolerable to the people of the provinces, and unpopular with the soldiery, was killed by a party headed by Magnentius.” Eutropius, Short History 10,9

Hair color: –

Eye color: –

Skin tone: Dark

Characteristics: Bulging eyes, clean-shaven, soft hair. Short stature. Long torso, short and bowed legs. Strong body, physical prowess, liked athletic pursuits and military exercises. Sound health.
Always dignified, drank and ate with moderation, chaste. Mediocre as an emperor; seems to have meant well but lacked the necessary skills. A bit murdery.

Birthplace: Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia, Europe
(Ancient Sirmium, Pannonia)

Ethnicity: Greek, Bulgarian, Syrian, and other Eastern European
> Through his father, Greek and ancient Dacian (Bulgarian). Through his mother, Syrian and ancient Pannonian (Eastern European).

The ancient gossip:

“His [Constantius’] bodily appearance and form were as follows: he was rather dark, with bulging eyes and sharp-sighted; his hair was soft and his regularly shaven cheeks were neat and shining; from the meeting of neck and shoulders to the groin he was unusually long, and his legs were very short and bowed, for which reason he was good at running and leaping.” Ammian, The History 21,16,19. Ammian was a contemporary of Constantius and served in his army.

“For he [Constantius] both stooped when passing through lofty gates (although he was very short), and as if his neck were in a vice, he kept the gaze of his eyes straight ahead, and turned his face neither to right nor to left, but (as if he were a clay figure) neither did he nod when the wheel jolted nor was he ever seen to spit, or to wipe or rub his face or nose, or move his hands about… Furthermore, that during the entire period of his reign he neither took up anyone to sit beside him in his car, nor admitted any private person to be his colleague in the insignia of the consulship… and many like habits which in his pride of lofty conceit he observed…” Ammian, The History 16,10

“By your active life you [Constantius] achieved perfect health; your temperance was the result of obedience to the laws; you enjoy a body of unusual strength by reason of your self-control, and a soul of unusual rectitude because of your physical powers of endurance.” Julian, Panegyric of Constantius. Julian and Constantius were first-cousin; Julian later became emperor himself.

“So Constantius, elated by this extravagant passion for flattery.” Ammian, The History 15,1

“And later in his published edicts he [Constantius] arrogantly lied about a great many matters, frequently writing that he alone (although he had not been present at the action) had both fought and conquered… [and] had fought in the front ranks.” Ammian, The History 16,12,68

“… Constantius, who was in other respects a moderate emperor, but cruel and implacable if anyone, however obscure, had whispered in his ear anything…” Ammian, The History 14,9

“He [Constantius] made great pretensions to learning, but after failing in rhetoric because of dullness of mind, he turned to making verses, but accomplished nothing worth while… He was content with little sleep when time and circumstances so required. Throughout the entire span of his life he was so extraordinarily chaste, that not even a suspicion could be raised against him even by an ill-disposed attendant… In riding, in hurling the javelin, and especially in the skilful use of the bow, and in all the exercises of the foot-soldiers, he was an adept.” Ammian, The History 21,16,16

“He [Constantius] was a man of a remarkably tranquil disposition, good-natured, trusting too much to his friends and courtiers, and… his wives. He conducted himself with great moderation in the commencement of his reign; he enriched his friends, and suffered none, whose active services he had experienced, to go unrewarded. He was however somewhat inclined to severity, whenever any suspicion of an attempt on the government was excited in him; otherwise he was gentle. His fortune is more to be praised in civil than in foreign wars.” Eutropius, Short History 10,15

Hair color:

Eye color:

Skin tone:

Characteristics: Huge size.
Liked reading, sharp of tongue. Haughty, cowardly. Cruel, ruthless.
He and/or his ancestors had been slaves of the Romans.

Birthplace: Amiens, France, Europe
(Ancient Samarobriva, Gaul)

Ethnicity: British and German
> His father was a Celtic Briton and his mother was a Frank (a Germanic tribe)

The ancient gossip:

“As he [Magnentius] was of immense size… He sprang from barbarian parents, who inhabited Gallia; he was inclined toward the study of reading, sharp of tongue, of a haughty spirit, and cowardly beyond measure; a master, nevertheless, for concealing terror under a pretext of boldness.” Epitome de Caesaribus 42 6-7

“He [Magnentius] was of barbarian extraction, but lived among the Leti, a people of Gaul. He understood Latin, was bold when favored by fortune, but cowardly in adversity, ingenious in concealing his natural evil disposition, and deemed by those who did not know him to be a man of candor and goodness.” Zosimus 2,54,1

“Magnentius , who had been born from a British father.” Zonaras, The History 13,6

“…The most enthusiastic of his [Magnentius’] followers were, in virtue of their ties of  kinship, the Franks and Saxons, the most warlike of the tribes who live beyond the Rhine and on the shores of the western sea… When these allies of the usurper began to pour into Italy from all quarters…” Julian the Apostate, Oration 1,91. Julian fought against Magnentius. Julian became emperor later on.

“But he [Magnentius] betook himself to the neighbouring town which is devoted to pleasure and high living, and spent his time in public shows and sensual pleasures… Moreover, intemperate as he was by nature, he thought it clear gain to be able to indulge his appetites at so dangerous a crisis.” Julian the Apostate, Oration 1,100

“I need not mention all the usurper’s [Magnentius’] offences against the community and against individuals. He assassinated his own master. For he had actually been the slave of the murdered emperor’s ancestors, a miserable remnant saved from the spoils of Germany. And then he aimed at ruling over us…” Julian the Apostate, Oration 1,88-89

“Magnentius also employed enchantments. For a certain female magician advised him to slaughter a maiden, to mix her blood with wine, and to give it to the soldiers to taste of… while she recited some spells…” Zonaras, The History 13,8

“But time would fail me were I to tell of all his [Magnentius’] crimes and of the vast proportions that his tyranny had assumed.” Julian the Apostate, Oration 1,89

“…So far surpassed his [Magnentius’] own former cruelty… all the ruthless and brutal modes of punishment… and derived the most exquisite pleasure from the spectacle of the sufferings of the wretched citizens.” Julian the Apostate, Oration 1,103

A youngish man with abundant curly hair and a long wavy beard. He has a mustache too. He has big deep-set eyes, his nose is missing, and has a small mouth. His face is rectangular. He has a pleasing face.
Probably Julian. 4th cent. National Archaeological Museum, Athens, Greece. (Photo: George E. Koronaios/Public domain)

Eye color:

Skin tone:

Hair color:

Characteristics: Attractive face. Fine eyes, full of fire and charm. Handsome eyebrows, straight nose. Largish mouth with pendulous lower lip. Smooth hair. Long, shaggy beard trimmed to end in a point. Hairy body. Blushed easily. Short stature but well-proportioned body. Thick neck, broad shoulders. Inborn majesty. Strong, good runner, liked athletic pursuits. Endurance of cold and heat.
Chaste, learned, wise. Affable, talkative but spoke calmly. A good man and a great ruler. Loved by his people.

Birthplace: Istanbul, Turkey, Asia
(Ancient Constantinople)

Ethnicity: Bulgarian and Greek
> He called himself a Thracian (Bulgarian). His mother was Greek.

The ancient gossip:

“The figure and proportion of his [Julian’s] body were as follows. He was of medium stature. His hair lay smooth as if it had been combed, his beard was shaggy and trimmed so as to end in a point, his eyes were fine and full of fire, an indication of the acuteness of his mind. His eyebrows were handsome, his nose very straight, his mouth somewhat large with a pendulous lower lip. His neck was thick and somewhat bent, his shoulders large and broad. Moreover, right from top to toe he was a man of straight well-proportioned bodily frame and as a result was strong and a good runner.” Ammian 25,4,22. Ammian was an officer in Julian’s army.

“And with due admiration welcomed the Caesar [Julian], brilliant with the gleam of the imperial purple. Gazing long and earnestly on his eyes, at once terrible and full of charm, and on his face attractive in its unusual animation, they divined what manner of man he would be, as if they had perused those ancient books, the reading of which discloses from bodily signs the inward qualities of the soul.” Ammian 15,8,15-16

“Over his [Julian’s] strong neck… his eyes brilliant and blinking like stars.” Mamertinus, Speech of Thanks to Julian 6

“Because he [Julian] had grown his beard long, they dubbed him ‘Billy Goat’ and the same people began saying that he was ideal for the braiding of ropes.” Zonaras 13,12

“But since the length of my [Julian’s] beard is displeasing to you, and my unkempt locks…” Julian, Misopogon 365

“Now as for praising myself [Julian], though I should be very glad to do so, I have no reason for that; but for criticising myself I have countless reasons, and first I will begin with my face. For though nature did not make this any too handsome…, I myself out of sheer perversity and ill-temper have added to it this long beard of mine, to punish it, as it would seem, for this very crime of not being handsome by nature… And let no one suppose that I am offended by your satire. For I myself furnish you with an excuse for it by wearing my chin as goats do…” Julian, Misopogon 338

“But as though the mere length of my [Julian’s] beard were not enough, my head is dishevelled besides, and I seldom have my hair cut or my nails, while my fingers are nearly always black from using a pen. And if you would like to learn something that is usually a secret, my breast is shaggy, and covered with hair… and I have never in my life made it smooth… nor have I made any other part of my body smooth or soft.” Julian, Misopogon 338

“For it seemed almost like a dream that this young man [Julian], just come to his growth [he was 31], of small stature but conspicuous for great deeds…” Ammian 22,2

“For he [Julian] was ridiculed as a Cercops**, as a dwarf, spreading his narrow shoulders and displaying a billy-goat’s beard, taking mighty strides… But although he was indignant for these and similar reasons, he held his peace, kept control of his feelings, and continued to celebrate the festivals.” Ammian 22,14. **Cercops was a philosopher; Cercopes were men that Zeus turned into monkeys

“[Julian’s enemies saying] ‘This fellow, a nanny-goat and no man, is getting insufferable with his victories,’ jibing at him for being hairy, and calling him a ‘chattering mole’ and ‘an ape in purple…” Ammian 17,11,1

“There had been in him [Julian] immense knowledge of literature and of affairs, he had equaled the philosophers and the wisest of the Greeks. He was very disposed toward exercise of the body, in which he was strong indeed, but he was short.” Epitome de Caesaribus 43,5-6

“His [Julian’s] fortitude is shown by the great number of his battles and by his conduct of wars, as well as by his endurance of excessive cold and heat.” Ammian 25,4,10

“He [Julian] was equally to be admired for his eloquence and his modesty, for there was no subject he ever discoursed upon without blushing: all persons enjoyed his affability, the best men his confidence also; and first among them all was He, our fellow-citizen, the only man without reproach, that had subdued envy by his merit.” Libanius, Funeral Oration for Emperor Julian

“Being now an Augustus he [Julian] celebrated quinquennial  games; and he wore a magnificent diadem, set with gleaming gems, whereas at the beginning of his principate he had assumed and worn a cheap crown, like that of the director of a gymnasium attired in purple.” Ammian 21,1

“Caesar [Julian]… with his native calmness of speech.” Ammian 16,12,8

“He [Julian] was somewhat talkative, and very seldom silent; also too much given to the consideration of omens and portents, so that in this respect he seemed to equal the emperor Hadrian.” Ammian 25,4,16

“On seeing this, Caesar [Julian], who was courageous in the face of the greatest dangers…” Ammian 16,12,27

“In the first place, he [Julian] was so conspicuous for inviolate chastity that after the loss of his wife it is well known that he never gave a thought to love.” Ammian 25,4,2

“For your [Julian’s] bed shall be free even from permitted and legitimate pleasures being more chaste than the couches of the Vestals [chaste nuns], bareheaded you shall endure in summer the dust of the Alamanni, in winter the frosts of Thrace…” Mamertinus, Speech of Thanks to Julian 13

“Our emperor [Julian] extends the working hour by depriving himself of leisure.” Mamertinus, Speech of Thanks to Julian 14

“Our most revered emperor [Julian] takes infinite pains that we should have suitable homes, that we should enjoy an abundance of goods, that we should lead virtuous, certainly, but also cheerful lives…” Mamertinus, Speech of Thanks to Julian 12

“Perhaps someone is astonished that a prince [Julian] so mild and gentle…” Libanius, Funeral Oration for Emperor Julian

“… Not strutting arrogantly, nor annoying people, nor claiming public attention by the multitude of his [Julian’s] attendants…; his dress of the ordinary kind; his looks not contemptuous towards others; salutations to whomsoever came in his way; no rude repulsing of the beggar; and when invited entering a house; and stopping still even before he was called; and taking his place where it was the rule for the rest to stand; and being addressed in the same way as the other scholars; and taking his departure in company with the rest; and seeking for no precedence over them; so that anyone coming upon them from outside, and looking at a class, and not knowing who and whose children they were, would not have discovered in any outward circumstances the superiority of his rank.” Libanius, Funeral Oration for Emperor Julian

“He [Julian] gained a reputation among foreign nations for eminence in bravery, sobriety, and knowledge of military affairs, as well as of all noble qualities; and his fame gradually spread and filled the entire world.” Ammian 22,7,9

“This emperor [Julian] was kindly disposed to his subjects, aligned with justness with regard to his verdicts, controlled with regard to his regimen aiming at propriety in the disposition of positions of leadership and honors, appointing no one to the senate who did not have a share of culture…” Zonaras, The History 13,11

“He [Julian] was a remarkable man, and one that would have governed the Empire with honor… He was eminently accomplished in liberal branches of knowledge… He was possessed of great and ready eloquence, and of a most tenacious memory. In some respects he was more like a philosopher than a prince. Towards his friends he was liberal… To the people of the provinces he was most just, and remitted the taxes on them as far as was possible. He was indulgent towards all men; he felt no great anxiety about the public treasury; but of glory he was a great lover, and manifested even an intemperate desire for the attainment of it… He was not unlike Marcus Antoninus, whom he even studied to rival.” Eutropius, Short History 10,16. Eutropius was born the year Julian died.

Valentinian dynasty
Eastern Europe is on a roll

The juicy details about the looks of:

Hair color: –

Eye color: Blue

Skin tone: Fair

Characteristics: Good-looking. Regular features, brilliant complexion, stern gaze, shining hair. Fine stature. Strong, muscular body. Majestic.
A good military man, stern. Clever, serious, chaste. Neat. Had a great memory, man of few words. Artistic, inventor. Greedy.

Birthplace:  Vinkovci, Croatia, Europe
(Ancient Cibalis, Pannonia)

Ethnicity: Croatian
> Ancient Illyrian

The ancient gossip:

“His [Valentinian’s] strong and muscular body, the gleam of his hair, his brilliant complexion, his grey eyes, with a gaze that was always sidelong and stern, his fine stature, and his regular features completed a figure of regal charm and majesty.” Ammian, The History 30,9,6

“He [Valentinian] sometimes assumed an appearance of mildness, although his hot temper made him more inclined to severity… For he was never found to be content with a mild punishment, but he continually ordered blood-thirsty investigations one after the other; and in his cruel inquisitions some were tortured even to the danger of their lives.” Ammian, The History 30,8

“While Valentinian was on his journey towards Constantinople, he was seized with a distemper, which increased his natural choleric temper to a degree of cruelty, and even to madness…” Zosimus, New History 4,1,1

“They therefore elected Valentinian, a native of Cibalis in Pannonia. He was an excellent soldier, but extremely illiterate.” Zosimus, New History 3,36,2

“He [Valentinian] hated the well dressed, the learned, the rich, and the high-born; and he depreciated brave men, in order to give the appearance of surpassing all men in good qualities.” Ammian, The History 30,8,10

“In every observance of chastity he [Valentinian] was pure at home and abroad; he was stained by the foul touch of no obscene feelings or lewdness; and for that reason he controlled the wantonness of the imperial court as if by a curb…; he showed no indulgence to his own kindred…” Ammian, The History 30,9,2

“He [Valentinian] wrote a neat hand, was an elegant painter and modeller, and an inventor of new kinds of arms. His memory was lively; so was his speech (although he spoke seldom), and he was vigorous therein, almost to the point of eloquence. He loved neatness, and enjoyed banquets that were choice but not extravagant.” Ammian, The History 30,9,4

“Valentinian was seemly in countenance, clever in character, serious in mind, most cultivated in conversation, although a man of few words, stern, vehement, tainted by faults, and most of all that of greed, of which he was a keen lover, and, in these things which I shall mention, very close to Hadrian: he was a most elegant painter, had a most powerful memory, reflected upon new weapons, fashioned images by means of wax or clay, made prudent use of places, times, and conversation; and so, in order to conclude briefly, if it had been permitted that he, who had entrusted himself as if to men most reliable and most prudent, had lacked men inimical to him, or that he had employed praiseworthy and erudite advisors, without doubt, he would have shone forth, a perfect princeps.” Epitome de Caesaribus 45,5

Hair color:

Eye color:

Skin tone:

Characteristics: He was probably beautiful; his mother and sister were great beauties. Liked sports.

Birthplace: Trier, Germany, Europe
(Ancient Treveri, Gaul)

Ethnicity: Croatian. Probably also had Roman and Bulgarian blood.
>Ancient Illyrian (Croatian) through his father. Through his mother, probably Roman and Dacian (Bulgarian).

The ancient gossip:

“Valentinian the Younger used to hunt bears and lions; but while he was only in his twentieth year, he was deprived of his life, his imperial purple, and his field-sports. He was also uncontrollable in his rage, and this was the chief cause of his death. For on one occasion, when he was conversing in the palace with Arbogastes, and was roused to anger by something that he said, he attempted to draw a sword against his Master of the Horse [a few days later, Arbogastes killed Valentinian].” Philostorgius, Epitome of Book 11, chapter 1.

Theodosian dynasty
Back to Spain

The juicy details about the looks of:

Hair color:

Eye color:

Skin tone:-

Characteristics: Beautiful.
Indecisive, weak, allowed others to govern for him.
During his reign, Italy was permanently invaded by the Germans. The Germanic tribes sacked the city of Rome in 410 while Honorius was hiding in Ravenna.

Birthplace: Istanbul, Turkey, Asia
(Ancient Constantinople)

Ethnicity: Spanish

The ancient gossip:

“Prince [Honorius], fairer than the day-star, who shootest thine arrows with an aim more sure than the Parthian’s, rider more daring than the Geloni, what praise shall match thy lofty mind, what praise thy brilliant beauty?” Claudian, Fescennine Verses in Honour of the Marriage of the Emperor Honorius. Claudian was a contemporary of Honorius.

“Hadst thou [Honorius]… gone against the cruel Amazons in all thy beauty… Thy beauty alone would have ended the war.” Claudian, Fescennine Verses in Honour of the Marriage of the Emperor Honorius

“The signs of toil, the dust stains, the disorder of thy [Honorius’] hair all do but increase thy beauty.” Claudian, Panegyric on the Fourth Consulship of Honorius

“He strengthened thy [Honorius’] young limbs with hard toils and rude was the training wherewith he exercised thy tender powers. Thou wert taught to bear winter’s cruel cold, to shrink not before storm and tempest, to face the heat of summer, to swim across loud-roaring torrents, to climb mountains, to run o’er the plain, to leap ravines and hollows, to spend sleepless nights of watching under arms, to drink melted snow from thy casque, to shoot the arrow from the bow or hurl the acorn-missiles with a Balearic sling.” Claudian, Panegyric on the Third Consulship of Honorius

“Spain with its rivers of gold gave birth to thy [Honorius] sire… The West is the cradle of thy race but the East was thine own nurse rivals are they for so dear a pledge, either hemisphere claims thee as its citizen.” Claudian, Panegyric on the Fourth Consulship of Honorius

“In the Eastern parts Rufinus held the highest post of esteem with Arcadius, whilst in the West Stilicho held the same position with respect to Honorius. Both of these generals… retained in their own hands the actual authority of empire, each of them ruling his own emperor.” Philostorgius 11,3

“During this period many tyrants rebelled against Honorius in the Western government.” Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History 10,11

“The emperor [Honorius]… occasioned the innumerable calamities by which the commonwealth was overwhelmed.” Zosimus, New History 5,36

So did any of the emperors have the same nationality/ethnicity as you do?

* The realistic illustrations were created by the gifted virtual reality specialist Daniel Voshart (

^ In Roman art, men have tan/dark skin and women, white. That is because men were supposed to be outdoors in military campaigns under the sun. They were expected to be tanned. While virtuous women were supposed to be inside the house, so their skin was expected to be white. Thus in Roman art, free men have a manly tan, while women, children, and slaves have white skin. That Caligula and Septimius are shown with a tan in these works is a given; as it is that child Caracalla is shown with light skin. In reality, their skin tones may have been different.

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