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Emperor Didius Julianus

On Tuesday 27 July 2010 Senate Republicans turned back legislation that required political advocacy groups, corporations and unions to disclose their spending on U.S. political campaigns, and bans financing from companies with more than 20 percent foreign ownership. The U.S. Senate failed to act Tuesday on a bill that would counter a recent Supreme Court ruling that overturned long-standing campaign finance limits, allowing corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money in elections. US President Barack Obama had urged the Senate to approve the legislation. Obama said unregulated special interests are damaging to democracy, and that so-called "shadow groups" are building funds of tens of millions of dollars to influence the November U.S. elections. The U.S. Supreme Court in January struck down decades-old limits on corporate spending in political campaigns. The opinion signed by a majority of the justices stated that corporations have the same right to free speech as citizens, and that previous campaign finance laws were unconstitutional.

Marcus Didius Severus Julianus, the son of Petronius Didius Severus and Clara Emilia, was born at Milan AD 133. He was governor of Africa under Commodus, and "Prefectus vigilum" under Pcrtinax. On the death of the latter prince the empire was put up for sale by the Praetorian Guard, and Didius Julianus, having offered the largest sum, was proclaimed emperor AD 193 ; This disgraceful transaction raised up several rivals against the unworthy Didius Julianus. These were Septimius Severus, who commanded the Roman legions in Pannonia; Pescennius Niger, in Syria; and Clodius Alhinus, in Britain. On the news of the approach of Severus, who had been chosen emperor by the legions of Pannonia, Didius was put to death by order of the senate the same year, having reigned only sixty-six days. Septimius Severus reached Rome before his rivals and was made Emperor.

Didius Julianus, who gained possession of the empire after Pertinax, was the great-grandson of Salvius Julianus, a man who was twice consul, prefect of the city, and an authority in jurisprudence - which, more than anything else, had made him famous. His mother was Aemilia Clara, his father Petronius Didius Severus, his brothers Didius Proculus and Nummius Albinus ; another Salvius Julianus was his uncle. His father's father was an Insubrian from Milan, his mother's came from the colony of Hadrumetum.

He himself was reared at the home of Domitia Lucilla, the mother of the Emperor Marcus, and through the support of this lady he was elected to the Board of Twenty. He was appointed quaestor a year before he reached the legal age, and through the support of Marcus he attained to the office of aedile. Again with the support of Marcus he became praetor. After his praetorship he commanded the Twenty-Second Legion, the Primigenia, in Germany, and following that he ruled Belgium long and well. Here, with auxiliaries hastily levied from the provinces, he held out against the Chauci (a people of Germany who dwelt on the river Elbe) as they attempted to burst through the border ; and for these services, on the recommendation of the emperor, he was deemed worthy of the consulship.

Next he took charge of Dalmatia and cleared it of the hostile tribes on its borders. Then he governed Lower Germany ; and after that he was deemed worthy of superintending the distribution of grants of money to the poor in Italy. In this position he was accused by one Severus Clarissimus, a soldier, of being an associate of Salvius in his conspiracy against Commodus. But Commodus had already put many senators and many distinguished and powerful men to death on the charge of treason, and so he was afraid of acting too harshly and therefore pardoned Didius and executed his accuser. Thus acquitted, Didius was sent again to govern a province. Then he governed Bithynia, but not as creditably as the other provinces.

Pertinax, the immediate successor of Commodus, reigned for eighty-six days. His virtues, his moderation, his expressed and obvious determination to repair the damage done to the state and to private individuals by Commodus, so far as in him lay, once more made life tolerable to all but the praetorian guards, the household dependents, and the debauched associates of the late emperor. To them virtue was a hateful thing. The praetorian guards dreaded a return to discipline and order. Laetus, the praefect of the praetorian guard, awoke to the fact that the new emperor would reward a servant, but would not be ruled by a favorite.

In his consulship Didius Julianus had served with Pertinax; in the proconsulship of Africa, moreover, he succeeded him. Pertinax always spoke of him as his colleague and successor; on that day, in particular, when Julianus, after betrothing his daughter to a kinsman of his own, came to Pertinax and informed him of the fact, Pertinax said: " . . . and due respect, for he is my colleague and successor ". The death of Pertinax ensued immediately afterwards.

Two attempts to place others in the emperor's stead having failed, a general sedition broke out in the camp. Some two or three hundred soldiers marched at noonday to the palace; the gates were thrown open to them by the soldiers on guard. Pertinax disdained either to conceal himself or to fly; Dio Cassius (lxxiiii. 10) relates that "the soldiers on seeing him were at first abashed, all save one, and kept their eyes on the ground, and they thrust their swords back into their scabbards; but that one man leaped forward, exclaiming, "The soldiers have sent you this sword," and forthwith fell upon him ...". Pertinax fell pierced with many wounds on the 28th March, AD 193. From that date the Roman republic was a military despotism.

From the ramparts the praetorians proclaimed that the Roman world was to be disposed of to the highest bidder. The scene at the camp is described in greater detail by Dio Cassius (lxxiiii. 11), especially the famous auction of the empire by the soldiers, in which Sulpicianus, the father-in-law of the late emperor Pertinax, and Didius bid against each other.

"Didius Julianus, at once an insatiate money-getter and a wanton spendthrift, who was always eager for revolution and hence had been exiled by Commodus to his native city of Mediolanum, now, when he heard of the death of Pertinax, hastily made his way to the 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 and Julianus, who vied to outbid each other, one from the inside, the other from the outside. They gradually raised their bids up to twenty thousand sesterces per soldier. Some of the soldiers would carry word to Julianus, "Sulpicianus offers so much; how much more do you make it?" 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 twenty thousand, had not Julianus raised his bid no longer by a small amount but by five thousand at one time, both shouting it in a loud voice and also indicating the amount with his fingers. So the soldiers, captivated by this excessive bid and at the same time fearing that Sulpicianus might avenge Pertinax (an idea that Julianus put into their heads), received Julianus inside and declared him emperor. "

Dio's account, however, must be used with caution, for his whole narrative shows a decided animus against Didius.

When Sulpicianus was making plans to be hailed emperor in the camp, Julianas, together with his son-in-law, came to the senate, which, he heard, had been summoned, but found the doors closed. At the same time he discovered there two tribunes, Publius Florianus and Vectius Aper, who immediately began urging him to seize the throne; and though he pointed out to them that another man was already proclaimed emperor, they held him fast and conducted him to the praetorian camp. When they arrived at the camp, however, Sulpicianus, the prefect of the city and the father-inlaw of Pertinax, was holding an assembly and claiming the empire himself, and no one would let Julianus inside, despite the huge promises he made from outside the wall. Julianus then first warned the soldiers not to proclaim anyone emperor who would avenge Pertinax, and next wrote on placards that he would restore the good name of Commodus ; so he was admitted and proclaimed emperor, the soldiers at the same time requesting that he would not in any way injure Sulpicianus for aiming at the throne.

The camp gates were thrown open to him. He was declared emperor. The praetorian guard, after taking the oath of allegiance to Didius Julianus, led him to the senate, who obsequiously conferred on him every branch of imperial power. Immediately thereafter, on the recommendation of the praetorians themselves, Julianus appointed Flavius Genialis and Tullius Crispinus prefects of the guard, and through the efforts of Maurentius, who had previously declared for Sulpicianus, he was attended by the imperial body-guard. Although he had promised five and twenty thousand sesterces to each soldier, he gave thirty. According to Herodian (ii. 7, 1) Didius did not pay what he had promised, because the money was not available.

Then, after holding an assembly of the soldiers, he came in the evening to the senate, and entrusted himself to it without conditions ; thereupon, by decree of the senate he was acclaimed emperor and, after being raised to a place among the patrician families, he received the tribunician power and the rights of a proconsul. The emperors of the Julio-Claudian house had been patricians, and hence it was considered necessary for the emperor to have this rank. Accordingly, when a plebeian was elected - as was the case from Vespasian onward, with the sole exception of Nerva - the senate raised him to the patriciate.

His wife Manlia Scantilla, moreover, and his daughter, Didia Glara, were given the name Augusta; and thereupon he betook himself to the Palace and thither summoned his wife and daughter, who came, though with considerable trepidation and reluctance as if they already foresaw impending doom. Cornelius Repentinus, his son-in-law, he made prefect of the city in place of Sulpicianus.

The people, meanwhile, detested Julianus because it had been their belief that the abuses of Commodus' regime were to be reformed by the influence of Pertinax, and he was considered to have been killed with Julianus' connivance. And now, those who had begun to hate Julianus were the first to spread it abroad that on the very first day of his reign, to show his contempt for Pertinax' board, he had served an extravagant banquet embellished with such dainties as oysters and fatted birds and fish. This story, it is generally agreed, was false.

When the day dawned, he admitted the senators and knights who came to the Palace, and greeted each very cordially, either as brother, or son, or father, according to his age. The populace, however, at the Rostra and in front of the senate-house,2 assailed him with violent revilings, hoping that he might resign the sovereignty which the soldiers had given him ; and they even launched a shower of stones. As he came down to the senate-house with the soldiers and senate, they heaped curses upon him, and when he performed the sacrifices, wished that he might not obtain favourable omens; they even hurled stones at him, though Julianus, with uplifted hand, continually sought to calm them. When he entered the senate-house, he spoke calmly and discreetly, and returned thanks because he had been chosen, and because he, his wife, and his daughter, had been given the titles of Augustus and Augusta. He accepted also the name of Father of his Country, but refused a silver statue. Then, as he proceeded from the senate-house to the Capitol, the populace placed themselves in his way, but by the sword, by wounds, and by promises of gold-pieces, the number of which he himself, in order to inspire trust, kept showing to them on his fingers, they were dispersed and beaten back.

Thereupon, all went to the games at the Circus ; but here, after everyone had seized seats indiscriminately, the populace redoubled their insults against Julianus and called for Pescennius Niger (who was said to have already declared himself emperor) to protect the city. All this Julianus took with perfect equanimity ; indeed all through the time he was on the throne he was exceedingly tolerant. The populace, however, kept inveighing with the utmost violence against the soldiers, who had slain Pertinax, so they said, for money. And so, in order to win favour with the people, Julianus restored many measures which Commodus had enacted and Pertinax had repealed. Concerning Pertinax himself he took no steps either good or evil, a fact which to very many seemed a serious matter. It is generally agreed, however, that it was his fear of the soldiers that caused him to keep silent about the honours due Pertinax.

The armies of Britain, of Syria, and of Pannonia refused to ratify the ignominious bargain of the praetorians. As a matter of fact, however, Julianus had no fear of either the British or the Illyrian army ; but being chiefly afraid of the Syrian army, he despatched a centurion of the first rank with orders to murder Niger. Consequently Pescennius Niger in Syria and Septimius Severus in Illyricum, together with the armies which they commanded, revolted from Julianus.

But when he received the news of the revolt of Severus, whom he had not suspected, then he was greatly troubled and came to the senate and prevailed upon them to declare Severus a public enemy. As for the soldiers who had followed Severus, a day was appointed for them after which they would be considered as public enemies if they were still with Severus. Besides this, legates of consular rank were sent by the senate to the soldiers to persuade them that they should reject Severus and let him be emperor whom the senate had chosen.

Among others of the legates was Vespronius Candidus, an old man of consular rank, now for a long time repugnant to the soldiers because of his harsh and penurious rule. Valerius Catullinus was sent as Severus' successor, as if, in sooth, it were possible to appoint a successor to a man who already had an army devoted to himself. And in addition to these others, the centurion Aquilius, notorious as the assassin of senators, was sent for the purpose of murdering Severus. But as for Julianus himself, he gave orders that the praetorians should be led outside the city, and that the fortifications should be manned ; but it was a slothful force that he led out, and one demoralized by the fleshpots of the city and intensely averse to active service, so much so, indeed, that they actually hired substitutes for the duties severally enjoined upon them.

All the while, Severus was approaching the city with a hostile army; but in spite of that, Didius Julianus accomplished nothing with his praetorian troops, and the populace hated and laughed at him more and more every day. And although he had escaped from Commodus' clutches by the aid of Laetus, nevertheless, unmindful of this great favour, Julianus ordered Laetus to be put to death in the expectation that he would side with Severus. He gave orders likewise that Marcia should be put to death at the same time.

While Julianus was engaged in these activities, however, Severus seized the fleet stationed at Ravenna ; whereupon the envoys of the senate who had promised their services to Julianus passed over to Severus. Tullius Crispinus, the prefect of the guard, who had been sent to oppose Severus and lead out the fleet, failed in his attempt and therefore returned to Rome. When Julianus learned of these events, he came to the senate with a proposal that the Vestal Virgins and the priests, along with the senate itself, should go out to meet Severus' troops and entreat them with fillets held in outstretched hands - a futile step, surely, to take against soldiers of barbarian blood. In this proposal, however, Plautius Quintillus, an augur and man of consular rank,5 opposed him, declaring that he who could not withstand an opponent by force of arms had no right to rule ; in this objection many senators agreed with him. Infuriated at this, Didius Julianus called for soldiers from the camp in order either to force the senators to obedience or to slaughter them. But this plan found no favour. For it was scarcely fitting that the senate, after declaring Severus a public enemy for Julianus' sake, should find an enemy in this same Julianus. And so Julianus came to the senate with a better plan, and asked it to pass a decree effecting a division of empire. And this was forthwith done.

After the senate had passed this decree, Didius Julianus forthwith despatched2 one of the prefects, Tullius Crispinus, and he also created a third prefect3 in the person of Veturius Macrinus, whom Severus had already notified by letter that he was to be prefect. Nevertheless, the people avowed and Severus suspected that this peace was merely a strategem and that Tullius Crispinus, the prefect of the guard, was commissioned to murder Severus. Finally, in accordance with the general wish of his soldiers, Severus declared that he would rather be Julianus' enemy than colleague ; he at once, moreover, wrote to a great number of men at Rome, and secretly sent proclamations, which were posted up. Julianus, furthermore, was mad enough to perform a number of rites with the aid of magicians, such as were calculated either to lessen the hate of the people or to restrain the arms of the soldiers. For the magicians sacrificed certain victims that are foreign to the Roman ritual4 and chanted unholy songs, while Julianus performed rites, which took place, so it is said, before a mirror, into which boys are said to gaze, after bandages have been bound over their eyes and charms muttered over their heads. And in this performance one lad, it is said, saw the arrival of Severus and the retirement of Julianus.

Septimius Severus, who was at the head of the army of Pannonia, crossed the Alps, and hastened with his legions towards Rome. Arrived at Interamna, about seventy miles from Rome, Septimius Severus despatched his emissaries to the Capitol to assure the guards that on condition of their abandoning Julianus and the perpetrators of the murder of Pertinax to the justice of the conquerors, he would not treat the murder as an act of the whole body of the praetorians. The praetorians, fearing the Pannonian legions, seized the greater part of the assassins, and signified to the senate that they no longer defended the cause of Julianus.

And as for Crispinus, he met with Severus' advance-guard and was put to death by Severus on the advice of Julius Laetus. The decrees of the senate, moreover, were torn down, and when Julianus called a meeting of the senate and asked their opinions as to what should be done, he could get nothing definite out of them. Presently, however, on his own responsibility he ordered Lollianus Titianus to arm the gladiators at Capua, and called Claudius Pompeianus from his estate at Tarracina to share the empire with him, because he had been an emperor's son-in-law and had long been in command of troops. Claudius, however, refused on the ground that he was now old and his eye-sight was weak. The soldiers in Umbria had meanwhile deserted to Severus, and Severus had sent on letters in advance in which he ordered the murderers of Pertinax to be kept under guard. In a short time Julianus was deserted by all and left alone in the Palace with one of his prefects, Genialis, and with Repentinus, his son-in-law. Finally, it was proposed that the imperial power be taken away from Julianus by order of the senate.

Severus was forthwith acclaimed emperor, while it was given out that Julianus had taken poison. Nevertheless, the senate despatched a delegation and through their efforts on the 2nd June, AD 193 Julianus was beheaded as a common criminal in the Palace by a common soldier, while beseeching the protection of Caesar, that is to say, Severus. Severus was acknowledged emperor, and divine honors were decreed to Pertinax.

The body of Julianus was, by order of Severus, delivered for burial to his wife, Manlia Scantilla, and to his daughter, and it was laid in the tomb of his great-grandfather by the fifth mile-stone on the Labican Way. Manlia Scantilla, the wife of Didius Julianus, retired into private life after the death of her husband. Didia Clara, the daughter of Didius Julianus and Manlia Scantilla, was born about AD 153. She married the senator Cornelius Repentinus, profect of Rome under Julianus. Julianus had emancipated his daughter when he got control of the empire and had presented her with her patrimony, but this, together with the name Augusta, was at once taken away from her.

These charges were brought against Julianus : that he had been a glutton and a gambler; that he had exercised with gladiatorial arms ; and that he had done all these things, moreover, when advanced in years, and after escaping the stain of these vices in his youth. The charge of pride was also brought against him, although he had really been very unassuming as emperor. He was, moreover, very affable at banquets, very courteous in the matter of petitions, and very reasonable in the matter of granting liberty. He lived fifty-six years and four months. He ruled two months and five days. This particularly was held to his discredit: that men whom he ought to have kept under his own governance he appointed as his officials for governing the state.




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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 13:28:38 ZULU