Emperor Nerva: The 3 Things He Is Known For

Steerpike - Own work
Statue of the Roman Emperor Nerva, Forum Romanum, Rome
BornNovember 8th, 30 AD
Died27th of January, 98 AD
Famous Quote“I have done nothing that would prevent me laying down the imperial office and returning to private life in safety.”
Known ForRestoring some degree of freedom to the Roman people, pausing the treason trials, helping to stop a Roman financial collapse
Region of WorldRome, Italy, 1st century AD
Further ReadingThe 3 Emperors Of The Flavian Dynasty And Their Importance

After the death of Emperor Domitian in 96 AD his close advisor Marcus Cocceius Nerva would become the 13th emperor of Rome. With this Nerve would start the 3rd imperial dynasty of Rome, the Nerva-Antonine dynasty which would rule for 96 years. Here are the 3 things which Emperor Nerva is best known for.

Emperor Nerva would only rule for 16 months, however during this time he would be known for 3 things. First, Nerva worked to restore some freedoms and rights to the Roman people. Second, Emperor Nerva put a stop to treason trials in the Roman Senate. Third, Nerva helped to stop a collapse of the entire Roman economy.

Nerva would only rule for 16 months. He was 66 years old when elected Emperor, one of the oldest in the history of the Roman Empire. We don’t have much primary source evidence from the reign of Nerva. Much of our knowledge comes from his successor Emperor Trajan.

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Without further ado, here are the 3 things that Emperor Nerva is known for.

Nerva Worked To Restore Certain Freedoms And Rights To The Roman People That Were Taken Under Domitian

derivative work: Steerpike (talk) Nerva_bust_Cologne.jpg: Claire Houck on Flickr - Nerva_bust_Cologne.jpg Originally uploaded from Flickr.
Bust of the Roman Emperor Nerva (reigned 96–98), from the Roman-Germanic Museum of Cologne, Germany.

One of the main things that Emperor Nerva is known for was working hard to return rights to the people of Rome.

Towards the end of his reign Emperor Domitian began to remove liberties that the Roman people enjoyed. One of these was the forced following of strict morals installed under Emperor Augustus.

However, Emperor Nerva was known to begin to give back freedoms to the Roman people. Historians don’t know what freedoms were given back but we do know from subsequent ancient historians that this was a return to an Empire that was controlled by more senatorial authority.

The Historian Tacitus is our best known source on Nerva. He lived during Nerva’s reign and wrote positively about how much Nerva worked to return liberties and sovereignties to the Roman people.

These liberties and freedoms more than likely took the form of reduced taxation and a reduction in the official morals of the Empire. This is because Nerva was the first emperor that was completely elected by the Roman Senate.

We know from coins minted during the reign of Emperor Nerva that he is depicted as being a just and kind emperor who restored the rights of the people. However, we don’t know what rights he restored as there simply are no sources.

Today historians debate on what Nerva did to warrant such positive reports. He are slowly uncovering archeological evidence that demonstrates that Nerva was a Roman emperor that sought to help the Roman people.

As such one of the main things that Emperor Nerva was known for was restoring liberty and freedom to the Roman people.

Emperor Nerva Put A Stop To Treason Trials In The Roman Senate And Restoring Seized Property

Another thing that Emperor Nerva was best known for was putting a stop to the treason trials that were common during the end of Domitian’s reign.

In order to control the power of the Roman Senate Emperor Domitian would begin to purge the members by accusing them of treason against the state/him. This made the entirety of Roman politics fearful of saying or acting against the emperor in any capacity.

Upon ascending to the Roman throne Emperor Nerva made a public oath to the people of Rome that he would not engage in treason trials. Further, anyone who was exiled or imprisoned under these charges were to be immediately released.

Further, Nerva would return any property seized by Domitian from treason trials. This property would be justly returned to the families of the senators accused of treason.

As such over the course of Nerva’s reign the Roman government began to see a reemergence of power in the Roman Senate. Historians are largely unaware at how significant this reemergence was however because Nerva still relied upon the imperial bureaucracy installed under Emperor Domitian.

Therefore one of the main things that Emperor Nerva is known for was putting a stop to treason trials and returning property taken under Domitian.

Nerva Helped Stop A Collapse Of The Entire Roman Economy

One of the main things that Nerva was known for was helping to stop a financial collapse of the Roman Empire.

Under Emperor Domitian the Roman people would suffer. When Nerva became the emperor of Rome he would begin to give out massive donations from the imperial treasury.

All Roman citizens were exempted from paying an inheritance tax. This prevented people from falling into poverty due to liquidation concerns on their assets.

After this Nerva made loans to Italian landowners to buy up large portions of land. In return they would have to pay interest of 5% but not to the Imperial household. Instead this interest payment would go to the lower class of Rome.

On top of this Nerva abolished the religion tax against the Jewish people in the east.

However, because of all of these tax cuts and welfare programs Emperor Nerva would eventually start to strain the economy of the Roman Empire. In order to combat this pending economic catastrophe Nerva would cut spending on religious rituals, gladiatorial games and races.

Further, Nerva would sell nearly all of Domitian’s imperial possessions such as his golden statues, boats, estates, and furniture. All of these funds would go to help the Imperial household. This restructuring of the Roman economy ended up setting up the Roman Empire for rapid expansion during the reign of Nerva’s successor Trajan.

As such one of the main things that Emperor Nerva is known for was helping to prevent an economic collapse of the Roman Empire.


There you have it; an entire article on the 3 things that Emperor Nerva is known for.

It is unfortunate that more sources don’t exist for the reign of Nerva. Several prominent ancient historians detail him as one of the best emperors of Rome. However, these sources have either not been discovered or are lost to us today.

Here at The History Ace I strive to publish the best history articles on the internet. If you enjoyed this article then consider subscribing to the free newsletter and sharing around the internet.

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