Year of the Five Emperors

The Year of the Five Emperors refers to the year 193 AD, in which there were five claimants for the title of Roman Emperor. The five were Pertinax, Didius Julianus, Pescennius Niger, Clodius Albinus and Septimius Severus.

The year 193 opened with the murder of Commodus on New Year's Eve, 31 December 192 and the proclamation of the City Prefect Pertinax as Emperor on New Year's Day, 1 January 193. Pertinax was assassinated by the Praetorian Guard on 28 March 193. Later that day, Didius Julianus outmanoeuvered Titus Flavius Sulpicianus (Pertinax's father-in-law and also the new City Prefect) for the title of Emperor.

Flavius Sulpicianus offered to pay each soldier 20,000 sestertii to buy their loyalty (eight times their annual salary; also the same amount offered by Marcus Aurelius to secure their favours in 161). Didius Julianus however offered 25,000 to each soldier to win the auction and was proclaimed Emperor by the Roman Senate on 28 March.

However, three other prominent Romans challenged for the throne: Pescennius Niger in Syria, Clodius Albinus in Britain, and Septimius Severus in Pannonia. Septimius Severus marched on Rome to oust Didius Julianus and had him decapitated on 1 June 193, then dismissed the Praetorian Guard and executed the soldiers who had killed Pertinax.

Consolidating his power, Septimius Severus battled Pescennius Niger at Cyzicus and Nicea in 193 and then decisively defeated him at Issus in 194. Clodius Albinus initially supported Septimius Severus believing that he would succeed him. When he realised that Severus had other intentions, Albinus had himself declared Emperor in 195 but was defeated by Septimius Severus at the Battle of Lugdunum on 19 February 197.


19th Emperor of the Roman Empire

Pertinax 1 August 126 - 28 March 193) was Roman Emperor for three months in 193. He is known as the first emperor of the tumultuous Year of the Five Emperors. A high-ranking military and Senatorial figure, he tried to restore discipline in the Praetorian Guards, whereupon they rebelled and killed him. Upon his death he was succeeded by Didius Julianus, whose reign was similarly short.

His career before becoming emperor is documented in the Historia Augusta and confirmed in many places by existing inscriptions. Born in Alba Pompeia in Italy, the son of freedman Helvius Successus, originally Pertinax made his way as a grammaticus (teacher of grammar), but he eventually decided to find a more rewarding line of work and through the help of patronage he was commissioned an officer in a cohort.

In the Parthian war that followed, he was able to distinguish himself, which resulted in a string of promotions, and after postings in Britain (as military tribune of the Legio VI Victrix) and along the Danube, he served as a procurator in Dacia. He suffered a setback as a victim of court intrigues during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, but shortly afterwards he was recalled to assist Claudius Pompeianus in the Marcomannic Wars. In 175 he received the honor of a suffect consulship and until 185, Pertinax was governor of the provinces of Upper and Lower Moesia, Dacia, Syria and finally governor of Britain.

In the decade of the 180s, Pertinax took a pivotal role in the Roman Senate until the praetorian prefect Sextus Tigidius Perennis forced him out of public life. He was recalled after three years to Britain, where the Roman army was in a state of mutiny. He tried to quell the unruly soldiers there but one legion mutinied and attacked his bodyguard, leaving Pertinax for dead. When he recovered, he punished the mutineers severely, which led to his growing reputation as a disciplinarian. When he was forced to resign in 187, the reason given was that the legions had grown hostile to him because of his harsh rule.

He served as proconsul of Africa during the years 188-189, and followed this term of service with the urban prefecture of Rome, and a second consulship as ordinarius with the emperor as his colleague.

When Commodus' behaviour became increasingly erratic throughout the early 190s, Pertinax is thought to have been implicated in the conspiracy that led to his assassination on 31 December 192. The plot was carried out by the Praetorian prefect Quintus Aemilius Laetus, Commodus' mistress Marcia, and his chamberlain Eclectus.

After the murder had been carried out, Pertinax, who was serving as urban prefect at this time, was hurried to the Praetorian Camp and proclaimed emperor the following morning. His short reign (86 days) was an uneasy one. He attempted to emulate the restrained practices of Marcus Aurelius, and made an effort to reform the alimenta but he faced antagonism from many quarters.

Ancient writers detail how the Praetorian Guard expected a generous donativum on his ascension, and when they were disappointed, agitated until he produced the money, selling off Commodus' property, including the concubines and youths Commodus kept for his sexual pleasures. He revalued the Roman currency dramatically, increasing the silver purity of the denarius from 74% to 87% - the actual silver weight increasing from 2.22 grams to 2.75 grams.

His currency reform was far-sighted, but would not survive his death. He attempted to impose stricter military discipline upon the pampered Praetorians. In early March he narrowly averted one conspiracy by a group to replace him with the consul Quintus Sosius Falco while he was in Ostia inspecting the arrangements for grain shipments. The plot was betrayed; Falco himself was pardoned but several of the officers behind the coup were executed.

On 28 March 193, Pertinax was at his palace when, according to the Historia Augusta, a contingent of some three hundred soldiers of the Praetorian Guard rushed the gates (two hundred according to Cassius Dio). Ancient sources suggest that they had received only half their promised pay. Neither the guards on duty nor the palace officials chose to resist them. Pertinax sent Laetus to meet them, but he chose to side with the insurgents instead and deserted the emperor.

Although advised to flee, he then attempted to reason with them, and was almost successful before being struck down by one of the soldiers. Pertinax must have been aware of the danger he faced by assuming the purple, for he refused to use imperial titles for either his wife or son, thus protecting them from the aftermath of his own assassination.

The praetorian guards auctioned off the imperial position, which Senator Didius Julianus won and became the new Emperor, an act which triggered a brief civil war over the succession, won later in the same year by Septimius Severus.

After his entry to Rome, Septimius recognized Pertinax as a legitimate emperor, executed the soldiers who killed him, and not only pressured the Senate to deify him and provide for him a state funeral,[41] but also adopted his cognomen of Pertinax as part of his name, and also for some time held games on the anniversary of Pertinax's ascension and his birthday.

Didius Julianus

20th Emperor of the Roman Empire

Didius Julianus (January 30, 133 or February 2, 137 - June 1, 193), was Roman Emperor for three months during the year 193. He ascended the throne after buying it from the Praetorian Guard, who had assassinated his predecessor Pertinax. This led to the Roman Civil War of 193-197. Julianus was ousted and sentenced to death by his successor, Septimius Severus.

Julianus was born to Quintus Petronius Didius Severus and Aemilia Clara. Julianus's father came from a prominent family in Mediolanum (Milan) and his mother was an African woman, of Roman descent. Clara came from a family of consular rank. His brothers were Didius Proculus and Didius Nummius Albinus. He was raised by Domitia Lucilla, mother of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. With Domitia's help, he was appointed at a very early age to the vigintivirate, the first step towards public distinction. He married a Roman woman called Manlia Scantilla and about 153, Scantilla bore him a daughter and only child Didia Clara.

After the murder of Pertinax (28 March 193), the Praetorian assassins announced that the throne was to be sold to the man who would pay the highest price. Titus Flavius Sulpicianus, prefect of the city, father-in-law of the murdered emperor, being at that moment in the camp to which he had been sent to calm the troops, began making offers, when Julianus, having been roused from a banquet by his wife and daughter, arrived in all haste, and being unable to gain admission, stood before the gate, and with a loud voice competed for the prize.

As the bidding went on, the soldiers reported to each of the two competitors, the one within the fortifications, the other outside the rampart, the sum offered by his rival. Eventually Sulpicianus promised 20,000 sesterces to every soldier; Julianus, fearing that Sulpicianus would gain the throne, then offered 25,000. The guards immediately closed with the offer of Julianus, threw open the gates, saluted him by the name of Commodus, and proclaimed him emperor. Threatened by the military, the Senate declared him emperor. His wife and his daughter both received the title Augusta.

Upon his accession, Julianus immediately devalued the Roman currency, decreasing the silver purity of the denarius from 87% to 81.5% - the actual silver weight dropping from 2.75 grams to 2.40 grams. After the initial confusion had subsided, the population did not tamely submit to the dishonour brought upon Rome. Whenever Julianus appeared in public he was saluted with groans, imprecations, and shouts of "robber and parricide." The mob tried to obstruct his progress to the Capitol, and even threw stones.

When news of the public anger in Rome spread across the Empire, the generals Pescennius Niger in Syria, Septimius Severus in Pannonia, and Clodius Albinus in Britain, each having three legions under his command, refused to recognize the authority of Julianus.

Julianus declared Severus a public enemy because he was the nearest of the three and, therefore, the most dangerous foe. Deputies were sent from the Senate to persuade the soldiers to abandon him; a new general was nominated to supersede him, and a centurion dispatched to take his life. The Praetorian Guard, long strangers to active military operations, were marched into the Campus Martius, regularly drilled, and trained in the construction of fortifications and field works. Severus, however, having secured the support of Albinus by declaring him Caesar,progressed towards the city, made himself master of the fleet at Ravenna, defeated Tullius Crispinus, the Praetorian Prefect, who had been sent to halt his progress, and gained over to his cause the ambassadors sent to seduce his troops.

The Praetorian Guard, lacking discipline and sunk in debauchery and sloth, were incapable of offering any effectual resistance. Matters being desperate, Julianus now attempted negotiation and offered to share the empire with his rival. But Severus ignored these overtures and pressed forward, all Italy declaring for him as he advanced. At last the Praetorians, having received assurances that they would suffer no punishment - provided they surrendered the actual murderers of Pertinax - seized the ringleaders of the conspiracy and reported what they had done to Silius Messala, the consul, by whom the Senate was summoned and informed of the proceedings.

The Senate passed a motion proclaiming Severus emperor, awarding divine honours to Pertinax, and sentencing Julianus to death. Julianus was deserted by all except one of the prefects and his son-in-law, Repentinus.Julianus was killed in the palace by a soldier in the third month of his reign (1 June 193). Severus dismissed the Praetorian Guard and executed the soldiers who had killed Pertinax. According to Cassius Dio, who lived in Rome during the period, Julianus's last words were "But what evil have I done? Whom have I killed?' His body was given to his wife and daughter, who buried it in his great-grandfather's tomb by the fifth milestone on the Via Labicana.

Pescennius Niger

Usurper of the Roman Empire

Pescennius Niger c. 135 - 140-194) was a Roman usurper from 193 to 194 during the Year of the Five Emperors. He claimed the imperial throne in response to the murder of Pertinax and the elevation of Didius Julianus, but was defeated by a rival claimant, Septimius Severus and killed while attempting to flee from Antioch.

Although Niger was born into an old Italian equestrian family, around the year 135, he was the first member of his family to achieve the rank of Roman senator. Not much is known of his early career; it is possible that he held an administrative position in Egypt, and that he served in a military campaign in Dacia early in CommodusŐ reign. During the late 180s, Niger was elected as a Suffect consul, after which Commodus made him imperial legate of Syria in 191.

He was still serving in Syria when news came through firstly of the murder of Pertinax, followed by the auctioning off of the imperial title to Didius Julianus. Niger was a well regarded public figure in Rome and soon a popular demonstration against Didius Julianus broke out, during which the citizens called out for Niger to come to Rome and claim the imperial title for himself. As a consequence, it is alleged that Julianus dispatched a centurion to the east with orders to assassinate Niger at Antioch.

The result of the unrest in Rome saw Niger proclaimed Emperor by the eastern legions by the end of April 193.On his accession, Niger took the additional cognomen Justus, or "the Just". Although imperial propaganda issued on behalf of Septimius Severus later claimed that Niger was the first to rebel against Didius Julianus, it was Severus who beat Niger to it, claiming the imperial title on April 9. Although Niger sent envoys to Rome to announce his elevation to the imperial throne, his messengers were intercepted by Severus. As Niger began bolstering his support in the eastern provinces, Severus marched on Rome which he entered in early June 193 after Julianus had been murdered.

Severus wasted no time consolidating his hold on Rome, and ordered his newly appointed prefect of the watch, Gaius Fulvius Plautianus to capture NigerŐs children and hold them as hostages. Meanwhile, Niger was busy securing the support of all of the governors in the Asiatic provinces, including the esteemed proconsul of Asia, Asellius Aemilianus, who had occupied Byzantium in NigerŐs name. Niger then proceeded to secure direct control over Egypt, while Severus did as much as he could to protect the wheat supply, and ordered troops loyal to him to keep watch on the western border of Egypt and prevent the legion stationed there Legio II Traiana Fortis from sending military aid to Niger.

Although these lands contained great wealth, his military resources were inferior to SeverusŐ. While Severus had the sixteen Danubian legions at his disposal, Niger possessed only six: three in Syria, the two stationed in Arabia Petraea, and one located at Melitene. Niger therefore decided to act aggressively, and sent a force into Thrace where it defeated a part of SeverusŐ army under Lucius Fabius Cilo at Perinthus.

Severus now marched from Rome to the east, sending his general Tiberius Claudius Candidus ahead of him. Niger, having made Byzantium his headquarters, gave Asellius Aemilianus the task of defending the southern shore of the Sea of Marmara. As Severus approached, he offered Niger the opportunity to surrender and go into exile, but Niger refused, trusting in the outcome of a military encounter.

In the fall of 193, Candidus met Aemilianus in battle at Cyzicus, resulting in NigerŐs forces being defeated as well as the capture and death of Aemilianus. Byzantium was now placed under siege, forcing Niger to abandon the city and retreat back to Nicaea.The city remained loyal to Niger, and it would take Severus till the end of 195 to finally capture Byzantium.

Another battle took place outside of Nicea in later December 193, which also resulted in a defeat for Niger. Nevertheless, he was able to withdraw the bulk of his army intact to the Taurus Mountains, where he was able to hold the passes for a few months as Niger returned to Antioch. However, the problem now for Niger was that his support in Asia was falling. Some cities previously loyal to him decided that it was time to change their allegiance, in particular Laodicea and Tyre. By February 13, 194, Egypt had declared for Severus, as had the imperial legate of Arabia, further diminishing NigerŐs chances.

After Severus had replaced Candidus with another general, Cornelius Anullinus, Niger met Anullinus in battle at Issus in May 194, where after a long and hard fought struggle, Niger was decisively defeated. Forced to retreat to Antioch, Niger was captured while attempting to flee to Parthia. He was beheaded, and his severed head was taken to Byzantium, but the city refused to surrender. Eventually, Severus stormed and completely destroyed Byzantium before he had it rebuilt. NigerŐs head eventually found its way to Rome where it was displayed.

After his victory in the east, Severus punished all of NigerŐs supporters. He also had NigerŐs wife and children put to death, while his estates were confiscated.

The name "Niger" means "black", which incidentally, contrasts him with one of his rivals for the throne in 194 AD, Clodius Albinus, whose name means "white". According to the notoriously unreliable Historia Augusta, his cognomen of "Niger" was given due to the fact that his neck was black.

Clodius Albinus

Usurper of the Roman Empire

Clodius Albinus (ca. 150 Đ February 19, 197) was a Roman usurper proclaimed emperor by the legions in Britain and Hispania (the Iberian Peninsula, comprising modern Spain and Portugal) upon the murder of Pertinax in 193.

Albinus was born into an aristocratic family at Hadrumetum in Africa. According to his father, he received the name of Albinus because of the extraordinary whiteness of his body. Showing great disposition for a military life, he entered the army at an early age and served with great distinction, especially during the rebellion of Avidius Cassius against the Emperor Marcus Aurelius in 175. His merits were acknowledged by the Emperor in two letters in which he calls Albinus an African, who resembled his countrymen but little, and who was praiseworthy for his military experience and the gravity of his character. The Emperor likewise declared that without Albinus the legions (in Bithynia) would have gone over to Avidius Cassius, and that he intended to have him chosen consul.

The Emperor Commodus gave Albinus a command in Gallia Belgica and afterwards in Britain. A false rumor having been spread that Commodus had died, Albinus denounced the man before his soldiers in Britain, calling Commodus a tyrant, and maintaining that it would be useful to the Roman Empire to restore to the senate its ancient dignity and power. The Senate was very pleased with these sentiments, but not so the Emperor, who sent Junius Severus to relieve Albinus of his command. At this time Albinus must have been a very distinguished man, which we may conclude from the fact that some time before Commodus had offered him the title of Caesar, which he declined. Notwithstanding the appointment of Junius Severus as his successor, Albinus kept his command until after the murders of Commodus and his successor Pertinax in 193.

After Pertinax was assassinated, the praetorian prefect Aemilius Laetus and his men, who had arranged the murder, "sold" the imperial throne to wealthy senator Didius Julianus, effectively crowning him emperor, but a string of mutinies from the troops in the provinces meant the next Emperor was far from decided. Immediately afterwards, Pescennius Niger was proclaimed Emperor by the legions in Syria; Septimius Severus by the troops in Illyricum and Pannonia; and Albinus by the armies in Britain and Gaul.

In the civil war that followed, Albinus was initially allied with Septimius Severus, who had captured Rome, took his own name Septimius and accepted the title of Caesar from him; the two shared a consulship in 194. Albinus remained effective ruler of much of the western part of the Empire with support from three British legions and one Spanish.[5] When Didius Julianus was put to death by order of the Senate, who dreaded the power of Septimius Severus, the latter turned his arms against Pescennius Niger.

After the defeat and death of Niger in 194, and the complete discomfiture of his adherents, especially after the fall of Byzantium in 196, Severus resolved to make himself the absolute master of the Roman Empire. Albinus seeing the danger of his position, prepared for resistance. He narrowly escaped being assassinated by a messenger of Severus, after which he put himself at the head of his army, which is said to have consisted of 150,000 men.

In autumn 196, Albinus proclaimed himself Emperor (Imperator Caesar Decimus Clodius Septimius Albinus Augustus), crossed from Britain to Gaul, bringing a large part of the British garrison with him. He defeated Severus' legate, Virius Lupus, and was able to lay claim to the military resources of Gaul. And although he made Lugdunum the headquarters of his forces, he was unable to win the allegiance of the Rhine legions.

On February 19, 197, Albinus met Severus' army at the Battle of Lugdunum. After a hard-fought battle, with 150,000 troops on either side recorded by Dio Cassius, Albinus was defeated and killed himself, or was captured and executed on the orders of Severus. Severus had his naked body laid out on the ground before him, so that he could ride his horse over it, in a final act of humiliation. If Albinus' wife and sons were initially pardoned by Severus, he appeared to almost immediately afterwards change his mind again. For as the dead Albinus was beheaded, so were they.

Albinus' headless body was thrown into the Rhine, together with the corpses of his murdered family. His body was ill treated by Severus, who sent his head to Rome as a warning to his supporters. With it he sent an insolent letter, in which he mocked the senate for their loyalty to Albinus. The town of Lugdunum was plundered and destroyed, and the adherents of Albinus were cruelly persecuted by Severus.

Albinus was a man of great bodily beauty and strength; he was an experienced general; a skillful gladiator; a severe, and often cruel commander; and he has been called the Catiline of his time. He had one son, or perhaps two, who were executed with their mother, by order of Severus. It is said that he wrote a treatise on agriculture, and a collection of stories, called Milesian.

Septimius Severus

21st Emperor of the Roman Empire

Septimius Severus (April 11, 145 - February 4, 211), also known as Severus, was Roman Emperor from 193 to 211. Severus was born in Leptis Magna in the province of Africa. As a young man he advanced through the customary succession of offices under the reigns of Marcus Aurelius and Commodus. Severus seized power after the death of Emperor Pertinax in 193 during the Year of the Five Emperors. After deposing and killing the incumbent emperor Didius Julianus, Severus fought his rival claimants, the generals Pescennius Niger and Clodius Albinus. Niger was defeated in 194 at the Battle of Issus in Cilicia. Later that year Severus waged a short punitive campaign beyond the eastern frontier, annexing the Kingdom of Osroene as a new province. Severus defeated Albinus three years later at the Battle of Lugdunum in Gaul.

After solidifying his rule over the western provinces, Severus waged another brief, more successful war in the east against the Parthian Empire, sacking their capital Ctesiphon in 197 and expanding the eastern frontier to the Tigris. Furthermore, he enlarged and fortified the Limes Arabicus in Arabia Petraea.

In 202, he campaigned in Africa and Mauretania against the Garamantes; capturing their capital Garama and expanding the Limes Tripolitanus along the southern frontier of the empire. Late in his reign he traveled to Britain, strengthening Hadrian's Wall and reoccupying the Antonine Wall.

In 208 he invaded Caledonia modern Scotland, but his ambitions were cut short when he fell fatally ill in late 210. Severus died in early 211 at Eboracum, succeeded by his sons Caracalla and Geta. With the succession of his sons, Severus founded the Severan Dynasty, the last dynasty of the empire before the Crisis of the Third Century.