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Scientists determine 75% of Rome’s emperors died from violent deaths on battlefield or palace plots

Publicado em 15 outubro 2021

More than 75 percent of the 69 men who ruled the Roman Empire from 63BC to 395AD died from violent deaths – either on the battlefield or they were brutally murdered by conspirators looking to remove them form the throne, scientists have determined.

The rest, which accounts to just one in four, died of natural causes like sickness or old age.

Data scientists University of São Paulo’s Institute of Mathematical and Computer Sciences (ICMC-USP) in São Carlos determined the 80/20 rule is associated with the deaths of the Roman rulers, as they were more likely to die of unnatural causes.

Analyzing the deaths further, researchers found an emperor was more likely to perish from unnatural causes shortly after taking the thrown and the threat did not decline for 13 years after.

One such famous death was that endured by Julius Caesar, who reigned from 46BC to 44BC.

Caesar died at age 55 when he was violently stabbed 23 times, in a plot among 40 conspirators on the Ides of March.

However, other well-known emperors like Augustus (Caesar’s adopted son) at age 75 of natural causes and Marcus Aurelius died at 55 years years old from a hemorrhage.

The researches set out to see if the death data was associated with any mathematical patterns, leading them to the 80/20 rule – the probability that a common occurrence happens 80 percent of the time and a rare event is about 20 percent.

In the case of Roman emperors, the rare event was them dying of natural causes.

‘When we analyzed time to death for each emperor, we found that the risk was high when the emperor took the throne,’ data scientist Francisco Rodrigues, a professor at ICMC-USP and principal investigator for the study, told Agência FAPESP.

‘This could have something to do with the difficulties and demands of the job and the new emperor’s lack of political expertise.

‘The risk then declines systematically until the emperor has reigned for 13 years. At that point, it rises sharply again.’

If the 80/20 rule is a well-known pattern, the sharp downturn in the survival curve around year 13 is a novel finding.

‘We envisaged several possible explanations for this turning-point. It may be that after the 13-year cycle the emperor’s rivals concluded they were unlikely to ascend the throne by natural means,’ said Rodrigues.

‘Perhaps his old enemies regrouped, or new rivals may have come to the fore.

‘A crisis may have arisen owing to all these factors combined. It’s worth noting that the risk falls again after this turning-point.’

Julius Caesar was a politician and general of the late Roman republic who lived from 100 – 44 BC.

As a general from 60 – 68 BC, Caesar added the whole of modern France and Belgium to the Roman empire, and crushed rebel Gallic forces across Europe in the Gallic wars.

In total he made two expeditions to Britain, in 55 BC and 54 BC, though never established a force of occupation.

Caesar returned to Italy a hero and famously crossed the Rubicon river in 49 BC without disbanding his army, insulting the authority of the Roman senate.

In the ensuing civil war Caesar defeated the republican forces, and took control of the Empire as dictator.

He used his power to carry out much-needed reform, relieving debt, enlarging the senate, building the Forum Iulium and revising the calendar.

Caesar’s ambition and success eventually led to his downfall when a group of republican senators assassinated him in 44 BC.

Traditional bust of Caesar have not included the strange bump. Pictured, a bronze bust of Julius Caesar is displayed in the lobby at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas

Julius Caesar was stabbed (23 times) to death in the Roman Senate led by Marcus Junius Brutus, Gaius Cassius Longinus and 60 other co-conspirators.

On his way to the Theatre of Pompey where he would be assassinated, the all-powerful Caesar visited a seer who had foretold that harm would come to him not later than the Ides of March.

Caesar joked, ‘The ides of March are come’, to which the seer replied ‘Ay, Caesar, but not gone.’

His wife Calpurnia had dreamed of his body streaming with blood and tried to prevent him from leaving the house.

As Caesar took his Senate seat, the conspirators gathered around him. One then took hold of his purple toga and ripped it away from his neck.

A dagger was thrust at Caesar’s throat but missed and only wounded him.

Another assassin then drove a dagger into his chest as he twisted away from the first assailant.

Brutus struck Caesar in the groin. It was later written that Brutus was reproached in Greek with the words ‘You, too, my child?’