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Nerdiest study of 2019 reveals a remarkable pattern in the violent deaths of Roman emperors

Nerdiest study of 2019 reveals a remarkable pattern in the violent deaths of Roman emperors
[Photo: Flickr user Anna & Michal]

We have your nerdy-and-totally-neutral holiday gathering anecdote: An aerospace engineer studied the death patterns of 69 Roman emperors and found that they mimic the lifespans of mechanical and electrical components.

Joseph Saleh, an associate professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, first analyzed Roman emperor deaths, 62% of which were from assassination, suicide, or combat. (Occupational safety people would call this job hazard a “high risk of severe outcome to personnel.”) He then applied the statistical models that engineers frequently use to predict the lifespans of mechanical and electrical components and, surprise, they’re similar! Both your dishwasher pump and Roman emperors face a high risk of failure in their first year, which drops until the eighth year, and then rises again at 12 years. On a graph, the curve looks like a bathtub.

This is intriguing because it means that the deaths of emperors, which are often analyzed as individual moments in history, are not as random as they seem. Saleh says that this “indicates that there may have been underlying processes governing the length of each rule until death.” He claims this is the first time-to-violent-death study of emperors.

So there you have it: Your garbage disposal and Constantin the Great have something in common. You can check out the full study here. Happy holidays!

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