Year of the Five Emperors
|Part of a series on Roman imperial dynasties|
|Year of the Five Emperors|
The Year of the Five Emperors, 193 AD, was a year in Rome in which five different men took successive control as emperor after the assassination of Commodus on December 31, 192. The five emperors were Pertinax, Didius Julianus, Niger, Clodius Albinus, and Septimus Severus, respectively. This was able to happen so easily because of all that was going on in imperial Rome at this time. Civil war, anarchy, and assassination were contributing factors to the quick succession of emperors. Assassination became an accepted form of gaining power in the empire, which caused anarchy for the government and the citizens of Rome.
Commodus proved a poor leader to the citizens of Rome, so the Romans looked for a different man to lead them. They put their faith in Publius Helvius Pertinax, later Augustus. Pertinax was the son of a freed slave in Alba Pompeia and received a classical education. He started out as a grammar teacher, transitioned to a military general in Britain, and retired to be a procurator. Then he became a governor in Syria and Britain, rejoined the military to put down mutinies in Britain, and finally ended as a consul for the emperor Commodus. Pertinax became city prefect of Rome in 189 AD, and the praetorians led an uprising against Commodus on December 31, 192 AD. On that night, Pertinax assumed the throne. He was seen as a mean-spirited, greedy disciplinarian with mediocre public-speaking skills. In his time as emperor, Pertinax gave the praetorians half of the bonus he promised and cut their privileges, sparking the fire for rebellion. The first attempt at a revolt was on January 3, 193 AD when the praetorians set up a senator to become emperor. The senator tells Pertinax the plot and leaves Rome, while the emperor punishes those involved. The second try involved Quintus Sosius Falco to take the throne while Pertinax was off doing business out of Rome. A slave informs Pertinax of the conspiracy, Falco is pardoned, and some of the praetorians involved were executed. The final revolt began on March 28, 193 AD, in response to the executions. Three hundred praetorians came to the palace gates while the guards watched them. Pertinax did not flee, but instead tried to convince them not to rebel until he was killed by a spear through his chest. He ruled for eighty-seven days and was succeeded by Didius Julianus.
Caesar Marcus Didius Severus Julianus Augustus, the son of Quintus Petronius Didius Severus and Aemilia Clara, was born in Milan on either 30 January 133 or 2 February 137 with the correct date being unknown. His father came from a prominent family in Milan and his mother from the North African colony of Hadrumetum. Didius Julianus was related to many successful and important Romans, most importantly Salvius Julianus. He was raised and educated in the household of Domitia Lucilla, mother of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, and rose through Roman public distinction through the support of the Emperor and his mother. Didius Julianus held a multitude of positions within the Roman Empire at different times, most notably Questor and Aedile in succession, and then Praetor around ca. 162 BCE. After his praetorship, he commanded the XXII Primigenia Legion in Mogontiacum (Mainz), Germany. Didius Julianus was also known for his success as a military general, continually crushing barbarian rebellions in the Northern parts of the empire. After jumping around a little more, Didius finally landed a consulship as the proconsul of Africa, ironically replacing Pertinax, whom he had previously held a consulship. Pertinax had been quoted referring to Didius Julianus as, “ my colleague and successor”, before becoming emperor. Then, Pertinax was murdered by the Praetorian Guard which in turn announced the “Auction of the Empire”, which Didius Julianus is infamous for winning. He defeated the father-in-law of Pertinax, Titus Flavius Claudius Sulpicianus, the prefect of Rome. Didius Julianus outbidded him, offering to pay the Praetorian Guard 25000 sesterces for the throne. The Senate declared Julianus emperor in fear of the military, but his rule was to be short-lived; Three other generals and governors across the empire declared themselves the rightful heir, and Septimius Severus marched on Rome. The people of Rome despised and rejected Juliunus from the start, because they believed he was involved with the corruption. Without the support of Rome the Imperial Guard would not fight for Julianus and Severus marched into the palace, declared himself emperor, and killed Didius Julianus after just sixty-six days of rule.
Lucius Pescennius Niger
Around the same time as Didius Julianus, Lucius Pescennius Niger became an emperor of Rome. Niger was born in Aquinum, Italy to a Roman officer and his wife. He served in the military as a prefect and general during the reigns of Marcus Aurelius and Commodus. Niger was accepted as a senator and former praetor because of his service to the empire. He became the governor of the Gallia Lugdunensis province to crush a gang of thieves, then became the governor of Syria. After Didius Julianus bought the Roman Empire, the people would cry that they wanted Niger on the throne. Niger proclaimed himself the emperor on April 9, 193 AD. The only one opposed to this move was the enraged Julianus and the supporters of Pannonia Superior's governor, Septimius Severus, who claimed the throne at the same time Niger did. Niger's fellow-commander Decimus Clodius Albinus also proclaimed himself emperor, but stepped down to become the intended successor of Severus. Niger and Severus fight for the throne until Niger retreats to Syria when he was defeated at Nicaea in January 194 AD and losing Egypt in February. On March 31, 194 AD, Niger was defeated at Issus by Severus who sent his head to Byzantium as a threat. Three emperors began a war, but only one, Severus, was left standing. Pescennius Niger's reign was short-lived and Severus ruled after his death.
Clodius Albinus was governor of Britain in 192 A.D., where his power and influence was able to grow because of the support from Commodus and Septimius Severus. Albinus was appointed governor because of Britain soldiers’ hatred of Commodus. As a result of Albinus’ appointment, Commodus named Albinus his successor in order to solidify his own position. This, however, backfired when Albinus realized that Commodus was a lost cause and broke his allegiance to Commodus. In 193 A.D., Severus recognized Albinus’ powerful position in Britain and sought Albinus’s allegiance by following Commodus’ example and named Albinus his successor. By 194 A.D., Severus shared the consulship with Albinus as he dealt with invaders in the east. The senators of Rome encouraged Albinus to come to Rome and rule while Severus was in the east because of his Italian pedigree. News of this reached Severus who decided his succession should pass to his sons, Caracalla and Geta. Severus ordered one of his aides to assassinate Albinus, but Albinus discovered the aides’ intentions before he could perform the deed. As a result of this attempt on Albinus’s life, in 195 A.D., the British garrison was mobilized and Albinus was proclaimed Augustus by his troops. Albinus went to Gaul where a mint was struck in Lyon to pay his soldiers. Albinus remained in Lyon while his troops were sent to battle Severus’s army. Albinus lost the battle and the city of Lyon was punished for aiding Albinus. It is unknown what happened to Clodius Albinus in the aftermath of battle. Some reports indicated that he took his own life when the battle went ill, another that he was captured and executed, or that a slave or his own soldiers killed him for a bounty, regardless, Clodius Albinus was dead.
Lucius Septimius Severus Pertinax was born April 11, 145 B.C.E. During his life Severus accomplished numerous feats, most of which were during his 18 year reign as Roman emperor. In 173 he was elected to senate, to consul in 190, and to governor of Upper Pannonia in 192. When Emperor Commodus was murdered Marcus Didius Julianus took his place. After Julianus’s murder Severus’s troops declared him emperor, and he marched into Rome without resistance. As emperor Severus made many changes for Rome. He replaced the Praetorian Guard with a 15,000 man guard from his Danubian legions. Severus was aggressive, defeating Gaius Pescennius Niger of Syria in 194 and Albinius, who had declared himself emperor, in 197. Afterwards he executed 30 of Albinius’s senatorial supporters. To justify his actions he declared himself adoptive son of emperor Marcus Aurelius and descent of emperor Neva. Back in Rome by 202 Severus began making changes to the governmental structure. He gave his army a dominant role in state, increased soldiers pay and allowed them to marry, and reduced number of legions under generals to control power. In doing this he ignored the Senate, which quickly declined in power. Severus made many extensive law reforms. Even with making donations to the urban poor and funding large building projects he managed to keep a full treasury. After naming his son Caracalla as his successor, Severus succumbed to disease at Eboracum while on campaign to Britain on February 4, 211 B.C.E. His descendants remained in power until 235 B.C.E. except for a brief reign by Marcus Opellius Macrinus (217-218).
- Dec 31, 192- Commodus is assassinated
- January 1, 193- Pertinax takes over
- Angry soldiers march on palace, assassinate Pertinax, Julianus assumes power
- Outlying legions (Severus) overthrow and execute Julianus, Niger seizes power even though Severus overthrew Julianus
- Severus defeats Niger who is later killed
- Albinus claims the throne
- Severus defeats Albinus and kills him
- Severus becomes final emperor of the year, remains in power until 211
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- Pertinax, De Imperatoribus Romanis
- Didius Julianus, De Imperatoribus Romanis
- Septimius Severus, De Imperatoribus Romanis
- Pertinax, Livius
- Didius Julianus, Livius
- Titus Flavius Sulpicianus, Livius