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Donativum (plural donativa) was the name given to the gifts of money dispersed to the soldiers of the Roman legions or to the Praetorian Guard by the Roman Emperors. The English translation is donative.
The purpose of the donativa varied: some were expressions of gratitude for favors received, and others outright bribery for favors expected in return. Donativa were normally rendered at the beginning of each new emperor's reign. During the 2nd and 3rd centuries, this form of bribery became a crucial part of any successful ruler in Rome. Such was the case with many of the soldier-emperors from 235 to 248.
The Praetorian Guard, intimate to the emperor's person, was an even greater threat to security. The cohorts stationed in Rome were difficult to appease and quick to commit assassination. The donativum thus provided a terrific way to purchase the Guards' support and loyalty.
Emperor Augustus bequeathed the Praetorian Guard a substantial sum in his will, but it was not until Tiberius' reign that gifts of money were thought mandatory. The Praetorian Guard received such gifts for turning a blind eye when Sejanus, their prefect, fell from power. Each Praetorian Guard received 10 gold pieces for refraining from defending Sejanus's.
In 41, after the assassination of Caligula, the Guard supported Claudius, and after a brief time the Senate learned that the Guard had installed him on the throne. Claudius gave them 150 gold pieces, or some 3,750 denarii, to which the senators' 100 sesterces were added annually to commemorate Claudius's accession. The inevitable result of the custom of the donativum was the Praetorians' auctioning of the Empire to Didius Julianus in 193.
Imperial Donativa to the Praetorian Guard 14–193
|Imperial Donativa to the Praetorian Guard 14 - 193|
|31||Tiberius||Loyalty in Sejanus crisis||1,000|
|Annually||Claudius||Anniversary of accession to the throne||25|
|Pay for assassinations||500 or less|
|69||Galba||Promised by Nymphidius Sabinus, but not paid||7,500|
|81||Domitian||Considered doubling the donativum but opted for regular sum||unknown|
|117||Hadrian||Double normal sum||unknown|
|138||Antoninus Pius||Regular donativum and upon daughter's marriage||unknown|
|161||Marcus Aurelius||Joint rule with Verus||5,000|
|180||Commodus||Regular donativum; second promised but unpaid||unknown|
|193||Pertinax||Forced to pay donativum of Commodus||3,000|
|193||Didius Julianus||Purchased the throne||7,250|
|193||Septimius Severus||Promised a donativum but paid less||250|