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Year of the Five Emperors

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"The Year of the five Emperors" - That's what Rome called the events of 193 AD.

The situation when many rulers were replaced on the imperial throne in a year was not something unique for the Roman Empire. 68 AD is considered the "Year of the Four Emperors", and 238 AD is called the "Year of the Six Emperors".

Rome owes its army, especially the Praetorian army, to this leapfrog around the throne, although other legions also played a role. 193 AD began with the plot and assassination of Marcus Aurelius ' son, the Emperor Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus, who had fallen out with the nobility, army, and Praetorians during his 12-year reign. As a result, the plot and murder of Commodus was organized by his inner circle — Marcia's mistress, the city prefect Pertinax, Eclectus, the governor of the imperial court, and Quintus Aemilius Letus, the Praetorian prefect (commander of the Praetorians). Two of the conspirators, Pertinax and Eclectus, were freedmen who owed their rise to the Emperor Commodus. It should be noted that the Emperor Commodus is not among the "five emperors".

Bust of the Emperor Commodus, 2nd-3rd century A.D.

The first emperor is Pertinax.

Pertinax, shortly after the assassination of Commodus, was proclaimed the new emperor. He went down in history as the first freedman ( under Roman law, he was not a full-fledged Roman citizen ) on the throne. Pertinax did not stay in power for long, despite many populist edicts issued by him. The emperor allowed the Roman estates many things, for example, farmers were allowed to occupy as much free land as they could cultivate. In addition, he abolished all new duties and taxes imposed by Commodus. But even so, Pertinax failed to retain the Praetorian sympathies. And as a result, in March, he was overthrown. The Praetorians promised to give the throne of the Roman Empire to the highest bidder. Pertinax's own father-in-law, Sulpitian,offered 20,000 sesterces to each private, but Senator Didius Julian counter-offered 25,000 sesterces for the Praetorian. This amount was high, and as a result, the imperial throne was given to him.

Bust of Emperor Pertinax, 2nd-3rd century AD

The second emperor was Didius Julian.

Two months after the beginning of the reign, the Praetorians demanded the promised money from the new emperor. Julian in response offered them to wait, promising to give each of them 30 thousand in the end, but the Praetorians killed Julian. After that, three new contenders for the imperial throne appeared in different parts of the Empire at once.

Image on the coin of Didius Julianus, 2nd-3rd century AD.

Third Emperor-Gaius Pescennius Niger Justus

he came from an Italian equestrian family. It is known that he was a suffect consul, but the year of his consulate could not be established. During the reign of Julian, a revolt broke out among the common Roman population with the aim of elevating Pescennius Niger to the throne. It was rumored that after the rebellion was crushed, Didius Julian sent the centurion Aquilius to Syria with orders to kill Niger,but this was not done. Learning of this, Pescennius Niger decided that he could proclaim himself emperor of the Syrian Legion, which happened at the end of April 193. He adopted the nickname Justa, which meant that he was favored by Justicia (in Greek mythology, Astrea) — the goddess of justice. It is justice that has become the motto of Niger's government. Niger called the soldiers together on a certain day, and the people came and made a speech. The historian Herodian testifies that after the speech of Pescennius Niger to the people of Antioch, the soldiers and the assembled inhabitants proclaimed him emperor. At the same time, after the murder of Julian, Septimius Severus entered Rome with troops. A civil war broke out, during which Niger was defeated and killed.

Aureus with a portrait of Pescennius Niger, 2nd-3rd century AD.

The fourth emperor is Decimus Clodius Albinus.

Albinus means "white" in Latin. According to sources, Clodius had blonde hair, unlike the brunette Pescennius. Albinus was the Roman governor of Britain. He marched with Septimius Severus, who supported the Danubian legions against Pescinius. Soon the latter was defeated.

Coin of Clodius Albinus. The coin depicts one of the holidays celebrated in North Africa, where Albin was originally from. 2-3 century AD

The victorious forces occupied Rome. By that time, Septimius Severus had 12 legions, and Albinus only 3. Severus went to fight in the east, first with Roman troops loyal to Pescennius, then with the Parthian kingdom. At this time, Albinus in Rome proclaimed himself emperor. To establish himself firmly on the throne, he summoned legions from Britain and Gaul to help him. Severus responded by declaring himself emperor, and by the end of 193, the Empire had two self-proclaimed emperors.

Which of them will become the sole ruler of the Roman Empire was found out on the battlefields of the next few years. Only in February 197 did the armies of the two rivals meet in the decisive battle of Lugdunum (modern Lyon). The forces of the two sides were roughly equal, with Albinus ' forces winning first, so Severus even had to tear off his purple imperial cloak and hide among the common legionaries. The outcome of the battle was decided by the blow of the heavy cavalry of Julius Letus, commander of the North. The flank and rear of Albin's army were crushed, and his army suffered a crushing defeat. Albinus himself fled to Lugdunum, where he died when the city was sacked and burned by the troops of the North.

Severus became the sole emperor and ruled Rome until his death in 211 AD.

Thus ended the event that went down in history as the "Year of the Five Emperors".

Bust of Emperor Septimius Severus, 2nd-3rd century AD

Related topics

The Roman Empire, Year of the Four Emperors, The Emperors of Rome