Although most emperors from Diocletian onwards no longer resided in Rome, the city continued to be held in high regard throughout the fourth and fifth centuries. During this period, three usurpers once again established the Urbs Aeterna as their capital: Maxentius (306–312 CE), Nepotian (350 CE), and Priscus Attalus (409–410 CE). This article examines how each of them sought to employ the unique prestige of Rome as an asset to strengthen their claims to the purple. It argues that Rome was a flexible ideological concept that could be employed in a variety of ways to suit the circumstances of different rulers and appeal to various audiences. While Maxentius made some efforts to present himself as a civilis princeps, he mostly favored an exalted style as conservator Urbis suae, associating himself closely with Rome's aeternitas. Nepotian and particularly Attalus were more inclined to present themselves as senatorial emperors. As all three cases show, ambitious men could exploit the discrepancy between Rome's high status and political marginalization, yet a Rome-based emperorship also confronted them with hazards and limitations, such as the expectations of a huge volatile crowd and a long-established, powerful aristocracy.

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