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E&D 13: The Accession of Septimius Severus: Empire for Sale

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James Corke-Webster

on 31 January 2016

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Transcript of E&D 13: The Accession of Septimius Severus: Empire for Sale

RIC 1, BMC 2: denarius of Didius Julianus (AD 193). Obverse: bust of Julianus (IMP CAES M DID IVLIAN AVG). Reverse: Concordia holding legionary eagle & standard (CONCORDIA)
Imperator Caesar C. Pescennius Niger Justus Augustus
Caesar since 193

196 - troops to Gaul & claim to be
: why?
alienated by Septimius
links to the Antonines e.g. another rain miracle...
Septimius adopts self into Antonine family
son of Marcus Aurelius
deifies Commodus [3 years after
damnatio memoriae
calls self
Divi Commodi Frater
renames his son [now 7] Bassianus Marcus Aurelius Antoninus
[we know as Caracalla]
dynastic concerns key for army & people
[especially if dynastic principle been key to recent stability...]

battles in 197 in Lugdunum
defeated [w/ aid school teachers...?]
Albinus' commits suicide in house near Rhone
image war with Septimius
assassination attempt vs. murderer of Pertinax
196-197 fight for the right to Hercules
emphasis on Commodus, & ongoing [Jerusalem]

Imperator Caesar L. Septimius Severus Pertinax Augustus
9th April [12 days post-Pertinax] declared emperor
so far been looking at Rome... but again Rome not key [cf. Vespasian]
style self-avenger of Pertinax
marches on Rome
discharges the guard
deifies Pertinax

first emperor born & raised away from Rome & Italy (Tripolitania)
spent all but 4 of 18 year reign on the move
longer in Britain than any other emperor
military emperor

Commodus has changed the way the Empire works
centre of government removed
government now connected person emperor
superior emperor w/ strong divine claims
increase in imperial cult
public homage to ruler himself, own divinity & of dynasty

Imperator Caesar D. Clodius Septimius Albinus Augustus
after death Pertinax
declared emperor in Antioch, gains support east
equestrian origins
shadowy figure - little info

Septimius leaves Rome after less than 30 days to deal with Niger
Niger loses confidence
generals fail him [fear for their children...?]
slow retreat - military defeats
final battle at Issus; killed at Antioch by Anullinus [31 March 194?]

Severus offers Clodius Albinus [in Britain] title of Caesar
promise of accession [accepted]
own son Bassianus only 5
The Accession of Septimius Severus: Empire for Sale
(31 Dec. 192 - 28 Mar. 193)

(193 - 211)


(late Mar 193 - 2 Jun 193)

(Apr 193 - spring 194)

It is an unusual task and a difficult one to set down fairly in writing the lives of men who, through other men's victories, remained mere pretenders
, and for this reason not all the facts concerning such men are preserved in our records and histories in full. For, in the first place, notable events that redound to their honour are distorted by historians; other events, in the second place, are suppressed; and, in the third place, no great care is bestowed upon inquiries into their ancestry and life, since it seems sufficient to recount their presumption, the battle in which they were overcome, and the punishment they suffered.
Historia Augusta, Pescennius Niger

Cassius Dio,
Roman History
Historia Augusta
Roman History

Imperator Caesar P. Helvius Pertinax Augustus
31st Dec 192 - death of Commodus
disagreement Dio & Herodian
cf. Domitian
end of a dynasty
193 Pertinax acclaimed emperor by army
he offers throne to Claudius Pompeianus
rhetoric of reluctance
involved in the plot?
takes titles inc.
Pater Patriae

never stable - number of attempted coups
executed by Praetorians
unhappy with 66 year old emperor
lesser origins
army only agree under pressure people?
reputation for stinginess [depreciation coinage?]
87 day reign

positive legacy
influence of Cassius Dio
for the next year
Septimius Severus used as gateway to legitimacy

These are the things that happened in Rome, and now I will speak of what happened outside it
and the rebellions that were attempted. For during that time t
here were three men, each of whom was in command of three legions of citizens and many foreigners, who laid claim to power
. These were
Severus, governor of Pannonia, Niger, governor of Syria, and Albinus, governor of Britain
. It was these men, then, that were foretold by the three stars which suddenly appeared and surrounded the sun, when Julianus was performing the appropriate sacrifices at the beginning of his reign in front of the Senate-house while we were all there. They were so very obvious that even the soldiers kept looking up at them and pointing them out to each other; furthermore, they were spreading the opinion that something terrible would come upon Julianus. But although
we most of all hoped and prayed that this would happen
, we did not dare to look up at the stars, on account of the fear that gripped us, except for sideways glances. This much I myself experienced."
Cassius Dio 74.14.3
"After this had happened the Caledonians took part in the rebellion of the Maeatae, and Severus prepared to wage war on them himself. But a sickness took hold of him on the fourth of February, while he was in the process of doing so, with, so they say, Antoninus helping it along. At any rate,
before he died he is reported to have said the following to his sons (I will pass on only his actual words, not embellishing them): “be harmonious, enrich the soldiers, scorn everything else”
. After this his body was dressed in military uniform and placed on a pyre. The soldiers and his sons honoured him by marching round the pyre, and the gifts which the soldiers present had brought were thrown on before his sons lit the fire. Afterwards the bones were put into an urn of purple stone, carried back to Rome and placed in the imperial mausoleum. And it is said that just before he died Severus sent for the urn, felt it and announced “you will hold a man whom the whole world could not contain”."
Cassius Dio 77.15.2
"Didius Julianus, at once an insatiate money getter and a wanton spend-thrift, who was always eager for revolution, and hence had been exiled by Commodus to his native city of Milan, now, when he heard of the death of Pertinax, hastily made his way to the Praetorian camp and, standing at the gates of the enclosure, made bids to the soldiers for the rule over the Romans.
Then ensued a most disgraceful business and one unworthy of Rome. For, just as if it had been in some market or auction room, both the city and its entire empire were auctioned off.
The sellers were the ones who had slain their emperor, and the would-be buyers were Sulpicianus [father-in-law of Pertinax and Prefect of the City] and Julianus, who vied to outbid each other, one from the inside, the other from outside. They gradually raised their bids up to 20,000 sesterces per soldier. Some of the soldiers would carry word to Julianus, “Sulpicianus offers so much; how much more do you bid?” And to Sulpicianus in turn, “Julianus promises so much; how much do you raise him?” Sulpicianus would have won the day, being inside and being prefect of the city and also the first to name the figure of 20,000, had not Julianus raised his bid no longer by a small amount but by 5,000 at one time, shouting it in a loud voice and also indicating the amount with his fingers. So t
he soldiers, captivated by this extravagant bid and at the same time fearing that Sulpicianus might avenge Pertinax (an idea Julianus put into their heads), received Julianus inside and declared him emperor.
Cassius Dio 74.11.2-6
"But the praetorians' proposition was reported to a man named Julianus while he was giving a dinner in the late afternoon a
mid much drinking and carousing.
This Julianus had already served a term as consul and was thought to be a very wealthy man; he was one of the Romans censured for an intemperate way of life.
Then his wife and daughter and a mob of parasites persuaded him to leave his dining couch and hurry to the wall of the camp to find out what was going on.
All the way to the camp they urged him to seize the prostrate empire; he had plenty of money and could outbid anyone who opposed him.
When he had climbed up the ladder, Julianus
promised first to reinstate Commodus’ reputation
by restoring the honours and statues, which the Senate had removed, then
to allow them as much freedom as they had had under Commodus
, and finally
to give each man more money than he dreamt of asking or getting
. [... ... ...] This was enough for the soldiers [... ...] and they hailed Julianus as emperor, and
in addition to his family and gentile name they voted him the name of Commodus
. Then they lifted up their standards upon which the portraits of Commodus had been restored and hurried to set off in procession."

Herodian 2.6.4-12
"For these reasons Laetus and Eclectus attacked him, after making Marcia their confidant. At any rate, on the last day of the year, at night, when people were busy with the holiday,
they caused Marcia to administer poison to him in some beef
. But
the immoderate use of wine and baths, which was habitual with him, kept him from succumbing at once, and instead he vomited up some of it
; and thus suspecting the truth, he indulged in some threats. T
hen they sent Narcissus, an athlete, against him, and caused this man to strangle him while he was taking a bath
. Such was the end of Commodus, after he had ruled twelve years, nine months, and fourteen days. He had lived thirty-one years and four months; and
with him the line of the genuine Aurelii ceased to rule
Cassius Dio 73.22.4-5
"Upon establishing himself in power,
Septimius Severus erected a shrine to Pertinax, and commanded that his name should be mentioned at the close of all prayers and all oaths; he also ordered that a golden image of Pertinax should be carried into the Circus on a car drawn by elephants, and that three gilded thrones should be borne into the other amphitheatres in his honour
. His funeral, in spite of the time that had elapsed since his death, was carried out as follows: In the Roman Forum a wooden platform was constructed hard by the marble rostra, upon which was set a shrine, without walls, but surrounded by columns, cunningly wrought of both ivory and gold. In it there was placed a bier of the same materials, surrounded by heads of both land and sea animals and adorned with coverlets of purple and gold. Upon this rested an effigy of Pertinax in wax, laid out in triumphal garb; and a comely youth was keeping the flies away from it with peacock feathers, as though it were really a person sleeping...
When these had passed by,
Severus mounted the rostra and read a eulogy of Pertinax. We shouted our approval many times in the course of his address, now praising and now lamenting Pertinax
, but our shouts were loudest when he concluded. Finally, when the bier was about to be moved, we all lamented and wept together... There a pyre had been built in the form of a tower having three stories and adorned with ivory and gold as well as a number of statues,
while on its very summit was placed a gilded chariot that Pertinax had been wont to drive
. Inside this pyre the funeral offerings were cast and the bier was placed in it, and then Severus and the relatives of Pertinax kissed the effigy. The emperor then ascended a tribunal, while we, the Senate, except the magistrates, took our places on wooden stands in order to view the ceremonies both safely and conveniently. The magistrates and the equestrian order, arrayed in a manner befitting their station, and likewise the cavalry and the infantry, passed in and out around the pyre performing intricate evolutions, both those of peace and those of war.
Then at last the consuls applied fire to the structure, and when this had been done, an eagle flew aloft from it. Thus was Pertinax made immortal.
Cassius Dio 75.4-5
"In the reign of Severus, moreover, after Pertinax had received the full official approval of the senate, an honorary funeral, of the kind that would be accorded to a censor, was held for him, and Severus himself honoured him with a funeral eulogy.
Severus, furthermore, out of respect for so good a ruler, accepted from the senate the name Pertinax
.Pertinax' son was made his father's priest, and the Marcian brotherhood, who performed sacrifices to the Deified Marcus, were called Helviani in honour of Helvius Pertinax..
SHA, Pertinax 15.2
"Severus, on becoming emperor in the manner described,
inflicted the death penalty on the Praetorians who had taken part in the slaying of Pertinax
; and as for the others, he summoned them, before he came to Rome, and having surrounded them in the open while they were ignorant of the fate in store for them,
uttered many bitter reproaches against them for their lawless deed against their emperor, and then relieved them of their arms, took away their horses, and banished them from Rome
Cassius Dio 75.1.1
"The Year of the Five Emperors"

RIC 5, BMC p.2: denarius of Pertinax (AD 193). Obverse: bust of Pertinax (IMP CAES P HELV PERIN AVG). Reverse: Liberalitas standing left holding coin counter & cornucopiae (LIBERATIS CIVIBVS)
RIC 7, BMC 98: denarius of Clodius Albinus as Caesar (under Septimius Severus). Obverse: bust of Clodius Albinus (D CLOD SEPT ALBIN CAES), head not laureate! Reverse: Minerva with olive branch, shield & spear (MINER PACIF COS II)
RIC 41, BMC 302: denarius of Pescennius Niger, from Antioch mint (AD 194). Obverse: bust of Niger (IMP CAES C PES NIGER IVS AV). Reverse: Jupiter seated, holding Victory on globe & scepter, eagle at feet (IOVI CONSERV)
RIC 24A [Sep.], BMC 37: denarius issued under Septimius Severus of the deified Pertinax (AD 193). Obverse: bust of Pertinax (DIVVS PERT PIVS PATER). Reverse: eagle on globe (CONSECRATIO)
a schoolmaster who taught children their letters
, set out from Rome to Gaul for some reason or other, and
by pretending to be a Roman senator sent by Severus to raise an army, he collected a small force at first and killed a few of Albinus' cavalry
, and also performed some other daring exploits in Severus' interest.
Severus heard of it, and believing that he was really one of the senators, sent him a message commending him and bidding him increase his force
. The man did so, and among other remarkable exhibitions of his prowess, he captured and sent to Severus seventy million sesterces. After the latter's victory Numerianus came to him, concealing naught nor yet asking to be made a senator in very truth; on the contrary, though he might have been exalted to great honours and wealth, he did not choose to accept them, but
spent the remainder of his life in some country place, receiving a small allowance from the emperor for his daily needs
Cassius Dio, 76.5
"As some contemporary historians recorded - saying it not to curry favour, but in the interests of accuracy - the division of the army stationed opposite the sector where Severus and his command were fighting proved far superior;
the emperor slipped from his horse and fled, managing to escape by throwing off the imperial cloak
. [... ... ...] Severus’ soldiers, taking heart, wrapped the emperor in the imperial cloak again and mounted him on his horse. [... ... ...] He prevailed over them all by his courage. It is not possible to name another like Severus."
Roman History
3.7.3-8 (selections)
"Severus found his life imperiled when he lost his horse. When he saw all his men in flight,
he tore off his riding cloak, and drawing his sword, rushed among the fugitives, hoping either that they would be ashamed and turn back or that he might himself perish with them
Cassius Dio 76.6
"This was the letter that he gave to the trusted attendants that were sent to Albinus. He told them to deliver the letter in public; but, later, they were to say that they wished to confer with him privately on many matters pertaining to the war, the secrets of the camp, and the trustworthiness of the court, and when they had come to the secret meeting for this purpose of telling their errand,
five sturdy fellows were to slay him with daggers hidden in their garments.
And they showed no lack of fidelity. For they came to Albinus and delivered Severus' letter, and then, when he read it, they said that they had some matters to tell him more privately, and asked for a place far removed from all who could overhear. But when they refused to suffer anyone to go with Albinus to this distant portico, on the ground that their secret mission must not be made known,
Albinus scented a plot and eventually yielded to his suspicions and delivered them over to torture

SHA Clodius Albinus
"But before doing anything else, the conspirators thought it best to
choose a sensible elder statesman as the successor to the throne
, both to save themselves and to bring to all enjoyment of a respite from a tyrant so harsh and undisciplined. Discussing the matter among themselves,
they found no man so well qualified for the post as a native-born Italian named Pertinax
. This Pertinax was famous for his accomplishments, both civil and military; he had won many victories over the Germans and the Eastern barbarians and was
the only survivor of the revered advisers appointed for Commodus by his father
Roman History
"The emperor was little concerned about his own safety (he had many times scorned much greater dangers), but he was worried about this abrupt change from the autocracy of Commodus and about the noble ancestry of certain of the senators.
He suspected that these senators, after having been ruled by the most nobly born of all the emperors, would not be willing to let the reins of government fall into the hands of a man who came to the high office from humble and undistinguished antecedents
Roman History
his consistent and deliberate imitation of Marcus' reign, he delighted the older people, and won the good will of the others without difficulty
, released as they were from savage and oppressive tyranny to lead a well-ordered life, free from care. When the mildness of his rule became known everywhere,
all nations subject to Roman rule or friendly to the Romans, and all the armies in the field as well, came to regard his reign as that of a god.
And indeed, the barbarians who were formerly restless and rebellious, mindful of his brilliant achievements in his previous campaigns, feared him and willingly submitted to him. They put their trust in his reputation for never purposely doing an injustice and always treating every man according to his deserts; improper conduct and savage violence were completely foreign to his nature.
Embassies from all countries came to him, and everyone delighted in the rule of the Romans under Pertinax.

Herodian 2.4.2-3
"The governor, then just past middle age, had
won renown for his many brilliant exploits
He was reported to be a fair and capable man and was said to pattern his life after that of Pertinax
; the Romans, consequently, had great confidence in Niger. They called for him in all the public assemblies and insulted Julianus to his face by cheering the absent Niger and offering him the empire with loud shouts.
When the attitude of the Roman people and their actions were reported to him, Niger was naturally acquiescent and believed that affairs would turn out as he wished, with no difficulty.
The fact that Julianus had been deserted by the praetorians because he failed to give them the money he had promised and the fact that he was despised by the people for the shameful way in which he had bought the empire encouraged Niger to be sanguine about his chances of becoming emperor
Roman History
"But Julianus, as I have said, did not dare to venture forth from Rome. He did, however, send a message to the praetorians, begging them to take up arms, practice their drills, and dig trenches to defend the city.
In the city he made what preparations he could for the battle with Severus. All the elephants used by the Romans in parades were trained to carry men and towers on their backs.
It was hoped that the elephants would terrify the troops from Illyricum and stampede the enemy cavalry when these huge beasts, which the horses had never seen before, appeared on the field. The whole city was training in arms and preparing for battle."
Roman History
"It was Commodus' practice to keep in custody the children of the governors of the provinces in order to have pledges of their loyalty and good will.
Severus, familiar with this practice, when he was made emperor and Julianus was still alive, grew anxious about his children
. Sending for them in secret, he had them brought to him from Rome to prevent their falling into the hands of someone else.
When he came to Rome,
Severus gathered up the children of the governors and those who occupied positions of importance in the East and all Asia and held them in custody
; these children he kept so that the governors might be led to betray Niger in fear for the safety of their children, or, if they continued to favor his cause, envisaging the agony they would suffer if their children were killed, they might do something to protect them.
Roman History
"But when the army of Severus was about to abandon the siege and their opponents believed that their position was impregnable,
rain suddenly fell in torrents during the night, and much snow along with it...
Then Nature prevailed over man's handiwork, and the wall was unable to hold back the stream. The wall did briefly withstand the pressure of the water on its joints, but finally the foundations, which had been constructed hastily and without the usual care, were undermined by the torrent and the wall collapsed.
The whole fortification was exposed, and the stream, leveling the area, breached the defense works.
...Delighted by this turn of events,
the troops of Severus rejoiced, believing that they were under the guidance of divine providence
; when they saw the guards fleeing in all directions they crossed the Taurus Mountains without difficulty or opposition and marched into Cilicia."
Roman History
RIC 62, BMC 118: denarius of Septimius Severus (AD 195). Obverse: bust of Septimius Severus (L SEPT SEV PERT AVG IMP V). Reverse: two captives seated back to back, each on round shield with hands bound (PART ARAB PART ADIAB)
RIC 79: denarius of Septimius Severus (AD 196-7). Obverse: bust of Septimius Severus (L SEPT SEV PERT AVG IMP VIII). Reverse: Hercules with club + bow (HERCVLI DEFENS)
Septimius Severus & Julia Domna AV Aureus. Rome, 200-201 AD. SEVERVS AVG PART MAX, laureate bust right, lion’s skin over both shoulders
/ IVLIA AVGVSTA, draped bust of Julia Domna right. RIC 161b; Cohen 1. 7.35g, 20mm, 12h.
"And while in this position,
Pertinax did not avoid complicity in the murder of Commodus, when a share in this plot was offered him by the other conspirators

After Commodus was slain, Laetus, the prefect of the guard, and Eclectus, the chamberlain, came to Pertinax and reassured him, and then led him to the camp"
SHA Pertinax
3.4-5 (selections)
Pertinax was an excellent and upright man
, but he ruled only a very short time, and was then put out of the way by the soldiers.
While the fate of Commodus still remained a secret, the followers of Laetus and Eclectus came to him and informed him what had been done
; for because of his excellence and his rank they were glad to choose him"
Cassius Dio 74.1.1
Imperator Caesar M. Didius Severus Julianus Augustus
at death Pertinax, no successor ready - genuine mutiny?
power struggle
Sulpicianus [City Prefect & father in law Pertinax]
Didius Julianus [senior senator]
the auction of the Empire
Julianus best qualified?
"natural" successor?

weak position
only the praetorians onside (& no war since Marcomannic in 180)
Septimius & Niger immediately revolt
Julianus fortifies Rome
makes Septimius joint ruler
displaced once Septimius arrives
condemned to death as murderer of Pertinax
1st June - Julianus killed by common soldier
66 day reign

legacy negative
Cassius Dio had prosecuted Julianus in court
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