chapter  2
16 Pages

Roman Emperors and ‘Natural Disasters’ in the First Century A.D.

ByMISCHA MEIER

One of the most pressing tasks for a Roman princeps was to provide rapid, unbureaucratic, and e ective help in times of urgent need.1 When a large earthquake, fl ood, or other sudden disaster occurred in any part of the Roman Empire, the emperor would swiftly intervene, using spectacular measures to alleviate the su ering of the victims and bring about the restoration of the a ected city or region. In addition to voluntary initiatives taken by local leaders who assumed similar responsibilities in imperial systems, where ‘state’-organized disaster relief was unknown,2 the emperor came to play a central role in dealing with and clearing up after what today is commonly known as a ‘natural disaster.’3