Pattern Discovered in Deaths of Roman Emperors

(CN) – Emperors of the Roman Empire were not long-reigning rulers as a majority of them met an untimely end from either assassins, suicide or combat. New research released Sunday finds that the truncated lifespan of a Roman emperor, seemingly random, appears to match a particular pattern found in engineering.

Of the 69 emperors, 43 were killed by violent means. One ruler, Pertinax, was in power for only 86 days before being assassinated by his soldiers after threatening to impose stricter rules on them. This high risk of death is not surprising, according to a new study published in the journal Palgrave Communications.

Researchers discovered that Roman emperors faced an exceedingly high probability of death in the first year of their reign. The risk, however, slowly decreased over the next seven years. When modeled statistically, researchers discovered parallels between the random deaths of Roman emperors and random failures of engineering components.

Caligula, who ruled from 37 AD to 41 AD, was assassinated by a conspiracy of guards and senators. (Photo courtesy of Joseph Saleh)

“In engineering, the reliability of a component or process is defined as the probability that it is still operational at a given time,” said Joseph Saleh, aerospace engineer at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “The time it takes for a component or process to fail is referred to as its time-to-failure and this shows similarities to the time-to-violent-death of Roman emperors.”

Just as emperors faced a greater risk of death in their first year of rule, engineering components also face early failure “often as a result of a failure to function as intended or, in the case of an emperor, meet the demands of their role.”

The risk of violent death stabilized after seven years of rule, but jumped up again after 12 years. That pattern also matches the failure of engineering components as they tend to break down due to corrosion, fatigue or wear-out.

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

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

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