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This webpage reproduces part of the
Historia Augusta

published in the Loeb Classical Library,

The text is in the public domain.

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Septimius Severus

(Vol. I) Historia Augusta

 p349  The Life of Didius Julianus

1 1   [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Didius Julianus, who gained possession of the empire after Pertinax, was the great-grandson of Salvius Julianus,1 a man who was twice consul, prefect of the city, and an authority in jurisprudence — which, more than anything else, had made him famous. 2 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.

3 He himself was reared at the home of Domitia Lucilla,2 the mother of the Emperor Marcus, 4 and through the support of this lady he was elected to the Board of Twenty.3 He was appointed quaestor a year before he reached the legal age,4 5 and through the support of Marcus he attained to the office of aedile. Again with the support of Marcus he became praetor.5 6 After his praetorship he commanded the Twenty-second Legion,6 the Primigenia, in Germany, 7 and following that he ruled Belgium7 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; 8 and for these services, on the recommendation of the emperor, he was deemed worthy of the consulship. He also gained a crushing victory over the Chatti. 9 Next he took charge of Dalmatia and cleared it of the hostile tribes on its borders. 2[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 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.8 In this position he was accused by one Severus Clarissimus, a soldier, of being an associate of Salvius9 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. 2 Thus acquitted, Didius was sent again to govern a province. Then he governed Bithynia, but not as creditably as the other provinces.

3 His consulship he served with Pertinax; in the proconsulship of Africa,10 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".11 The death of Pertinax ensued immediately afterwards. 4 After his death,  p353 when Sulpicianus12 was making plans to be hailed emperor in the camp, Julianus, together with his son-in‑law, came to the senate, which, he heard, had been summoned, but found the doors closed. 5 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 praetor camp.13 6 When they arrived at the camp, however, Sulpicianus, the prefect of the city and the father-in‑law 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 name14 of Commodus; 7 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.

3 1 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 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. 2 Although he had promised five and twenty thousand sesterces to  p355 each soldier, he gave thirty.15 3 Then, after holding an assembly of the soldiers, he came in the evening to the senate,16 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,17 he received the tribunician power and the rights of a proconsul.18 4 His wife Manlia Scantilla, moreover, and his daughter, Didia Clara, were given the name Augusta;19 5 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.20 6 Cornelius Repentinus, his son-in‑law, he made prefect of the city in place of Sulpicianus.

7 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. 8 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.21 9 For according to report, Julianus was so frugal as to make  p357 a suckling pig or hare last for three days, if anyone by chance presented him with one; and often, moreover, even when there was no religious reason therefor, he was contest to dine on cabbages and beans without meat.22 10 Furthermore, he gave no banquet until after Pertinax was buried, and, because of his death, took what food he did in a very depressed state of mind, and passed the first night in continual wakefulness, disquieted by such a fate.

4 1 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] But 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. 2 The populace, however, at the Rostra and in front of the senate-house,23 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. 3 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; 4 they even hurled stones at him, though Julianus, with uplifted hand, continually sought to calm them. 5 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. 6 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  p359 he himself, in order to inspire trust, kept showing to them on his fingers, they were dispersed and beaten back. 7 Thereupon, all went to the games at the Circus; but here, after everyone had seized seats indiscriminately,24 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.25 8 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. 9 Concerning Pertinax himself he took no steps either good or evil,26 a fact which to very many seemed a serious matter. 10 It is generally agreed, however, that it was his fear of the soldiers that caused him to keep silent about the honours due Pertinax.

5 1 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] As a matter of fact, however, Julianus had no fear of either the British27 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.28 2 Consequently Pescennius Niger in Syria29 and Septimius Severus in Illyricum,30 together with the armies which they commanded, revolted from Julianus. 3 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. 4 As for the soldiers who had followed Severus,  p361 a day was appointed for them after which they would be considered as public enemies if they hand still with Severus. 5 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. 6 Among others of the legates was Vespronius Candidus,31 an old man of consular rank, now for a long time repugnant to the soldiers because of his harsh and penurious rule. 7 Valerius Catullinus was sent as Severus' successor,32 as if, in sooth, it were possible to appoint a successor to a man who already had an army devoted to himself. 8 And in addition to these others, the centurion Aquilius, notorious as the assassin of senators, was sent for the purpose of murdering Severus.33 9 But as for Julianus himself, he gave orders that the praetorians should be led outside the city, and that the fortifications should be manned;34 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.

6 1 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 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. 2 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.35 He gave orders likewise that Marcia should be put to death at the same time.

 p363  3 While Julianus was engaged in these activities, however, Severus seized the fleet stationed at Ravenna;36 whereupon the envoys of the senate who had promised their services to Julianus passed over to Severus.37 4 Tullius Crispiness, the prefect of the guard, who had been sent to oppose Severus and lead out the fleet, failed in his attempt38 and therefore returned to Rome. 5 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 hands39 — a futile step, surely, to take against soldiers of barbarian blood. 6 In this proposal, however, Plautius Quintilius, an augur and man of consular rank,40 opposed him, declaring that he who could not withstand an opponent by force of arms had no right to rule; 7 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. 8 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. 9 And so Julianus came to the senate with a better plan, and asked it pass a decree effecting a division of empire.41 And this was forthwith done.

7 1 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] At that time an omen, for which Julianus himself had been responsible when he accepted the imperial power, came to everyone's mind. 2 For when the consul-elect, in voting on Julianus, delivered  p365 himself of the following: "I vote that Didius Julianus be declared emperor," Julianus prompted "Say also Severus," the name of his grandfather and great-grandfather, which he had added to his own.42 3 However, there are some who say that Julianus never planned to slaughter the senate, because it had passed so many decrees in his favour.

4 After the senate had passed this decree, Didius Julianus forthwith despatched43 one of the prefects, Tullius Crispinus, 5 and he also created a third prefect44 in the person of Veturius Macrinus, whom Severus had already notified by letter that he was to be prefect. 6 Nevertheless, the people avowed and Severus suspected that this peace was merely a stratagem and that Tullius Crispinus, the prefect of the guard, was commissioned to murder Severus. 7 Finally, in accordance with the general wish of his soldiers, Severus declared that he would rather be Julianus' enemy than colleague; 8 he at once, moreover, wrote to a great number of men at Rome, and secretly sent proclamations, which were posted up. 9 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. 10 For the magicians sacrificed certain victims that are foreign to the Roman ritual45 and chanted unholy songs, so we are told, before a mirror, into which boys are said to gaze, after bandages have been bound over their eyes and charms muttered over their heads. 11 And in this performance one lad, it is said, saw the arrival of Severus and the retirement of Julianus.

 p367  8 1   [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] And as for Crispinus,46 he met with Severus' advance-guard and was put to death by Severus on the advice of Julius Laetus. 2 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. 3 Presently, however, on his own responsibility he ordered Lollianus Titianus to arm the gladiators at Capua, and called Claudius Pompeianus from his estate at Tarracina47 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. 4 The soldiers in Umbria had meanwhile deserted to Severus,48 5 and Severus had sent on letters in advance in which he ordered the murderers of Pertinax to be kept under guard.49

6 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.50 7 Finally, it was proposed that the imperial power be taken away from Julianus by order of the senate.51 This was done, and Severus was forthwith acclaimed emperor, while it was given out that Julianus had taken poison. 8 Nevertheless, the senate despatched a delegation and through their efforts Julianus was slain in the Palace by a common soldier, while beseeching the protection of Caesar, that is to say, Severus. 9 He had emancipated52 his daughter when he got control of the empire and had presented her with her patrimony, but this, together with the name  p369 Augusta, was at once taken away from her. 10 His body 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.53

9 1 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 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.54 2 He was, moreover, very affable at banquets, very courteous in the matter of petitions, and very reasonable in the matter of granting liberty.

3 He lived fifty-six years55 and four months. He ruled two months and five days.56 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.

The Editor's Notes:

1 See Hadr. xviii.1 and note. It is improbable that Didius was related to Salvius Julianus, for his family came from Milan, and since an inscription which connected Salvius with this city has been shown to be a forgery, there is no reason for supposing that he was a native of Milan. At any rate, Salvius, who was born toward the end of the first century, was not the great-grandfather of Didius, who was born not later than 137 (see c. ix.3 and note).

2 See Marc. i.3.

3 According to an inscription found at Rome (CIL VI.1401 = Dessau, Ins. Sel. 412) he was decemvir litibus iudicandis, on which see note to Hadr. ii.2.

4 See note to Pius vi.10.

5 A rescript addressed to him by Marcus is mentioned in Digesta, XXVIII.1.20.9.

6 The inscription does not mention this command, but records that he was assistant (legatus) to the proconsuls both of Achaia and Africa.

7 This and the four other provincial governorships are all enumerated in the inscription.

8 See note to Pert. iv.1. The mention of this office seems to be out of the chronological order, for he was consul about 175 (see below), and the alleged conspiracy of P. Salvius Julianus against Commodus was not until 182 (see Com. iv.8).

9 i.e. P. Salvius Julianus.

10 Cf. Pert. iv.1.

11 Cf. Pert. xiv.4.

12 Cf. Pert. xiii.7.

13 The scene at the camp is described in greater detail by Dio (lxxiii.11), especially the famous auction of the empire by the soldiers, in which Sulpicianus and Didius bid against (p353)each other. Dio's account, however, must be used with caution, for his whole narrative shows a decided animus against Didius.

14 i.e. restore it to the public records and monuments; see Com. xvii.6; xx.5.

15 Marcus and Verus had given twenty thousand (Marc. vii.9), Pertinax twelve thousand (Pert. xv.7). According to Herodian (II.7.1) Didius did not pay what he had promised, because the money was not available.

16 His appearance before the senate is more fully described by Dio, who was present; see lxxiii.12. Dio's account is much less favourable to Didius than the account given here, which seems to aim at representing him as the choice of the senate.

17 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 (p355)(as was the case from Vespasian onward, with the sole exception of Nerva), the senate raised him to the patriciate.

18 See note to Pius iv.7.

19 Augusta appears on the coins of both see Cohen III2 p401 f.

20 According to Herodian (II.6.7) it was the two women who persuaded Didius to bid for the throne.

21 Dio, however, asserts it as a fact; see LXXIII.13.1.

22 On the other hand, Herodian (II.7.1) emphasizes his luxury and extravagance.

23 A similar description of what happened in front of the (p357)senate-house and in the Circus is given by Dio, LXXIII.13.3‑5.

24 The populace took the seats that were reserved for senators and knights.

25 Cf. Pesc. Nig. iii.1.

26 Except to give his body honourable burial; see c. iii.10 and Pert. xiv.9.

27 Under the command of Clodius Albinus.

28 Cf. Pesc. Nig. ii.4.

29 See Pesc. Nig. ii.1.

30 See Sev. v.1.

31 He had been governor of Dacia under Commodus; see CIL III.1092.

32 Cf. Pesc. Nig. ii.5.

33 Cf. Sev. v.8; Pesc. Nig. ii.6.

34 A picture of the confusion in Rome is given in Dio, LXXIII.16.

35 According to Dio (LXXIII.16.5) he executed Laetus, Marcia and the athlete Narcissus in order toº punish those guilty of the murder of Commodus.

36 The station of the Adriatic fleet; the headquarters of the fleet that guarded the western coast were at Misenum, on the Bay of Naples.

37 Cf. Sev. v.6.

38 His troops deserted to Severus; see c. viii.4 and Dio, LXXIII.17.1.

39 The conventional attitude of suppliants.

40 He was consul in 177.

41 Cf. Sev. v.7.

42 This name appears in the inscription cited above (see note to c. i.4) on some of his coins; see Cohen III2 p398 f., nos. 1, 3, 7, etc.

43 i.e. to Severus, offering him a share of the empire.

44 See note to Hadr. ix.5.

45 According to Dio, LXXIII.16.5, he sacrificed a number of children.

46 See c. vii.4.

47 He was very old and in poor health. During the reign of Pertinax he remained at Rome and attended meetings of the senate, but when Pertinax was killed, he withdrew to his country estate; see Dio, LXXIII.17.3.

48 See c. vi.4 and note.

49 Acting on this order the soldiers of the guard seized the murderers and informed the consul of the fact; see Dio, LXXIII.17.3.

50 Cf. c. iii.6.

51 A description of this meeting is given in Dio, LXXIII.17.4.

52 See note to Pert. xi.12.

53 This road ran SE from the city, joining the Via Latina at Toleria. It took its name from the town of Labicini, on the northern slope of the Alban hills.

54 See c. iii.9 and note.

55 Sixty years, according to Dio, LXXIII.17.5; this figure is (p369)usually regarded as more correct than that given in the biography; accordingly, he was born in 133.

56 Sixty-six days, according to Dio, l.c. Accordingly, he was killed on 1st June, 193.

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