Year of the Five Emperors

The Year of the Five Emperors refers to the year 193 AD, in which there were five claimants for the title of Roman Emperor: Pertinax, Didius Julianus, Pescennius Niger, Clodius Albinus and Septimius Severus. This year started a period of civil war where multiple rulers vied for the chance to become Caesar.

The political unrest began with the murder of Emperor Commodus on New Year’s Eve 192 AD. Once Commodus was assassinated, Pertinax was named emperor, but immediately aroused opposition from the Praetorian Guard. They plotted and carried out his assassination. Pertinax was killed while resisting.[1] He had only been emperor for three months. Didius Julianus, who purchased the title from the Praetorian Guard, succeeded Pertinax, but was ousted by Septimius Severus and executed on June 1. Severus was declared Caesar by the Senate, but Pescennius Niger was hostile when he declared himself emperor.[2] This started the civil war between Niger and Severus; both gathered troops and fought throughout the territory of the empire. Due to this war, Severus allowed Clodius Albinus, whom he suspected of being a threat, to be co-Caesar so that Severus did not have to preoccupy himself with imperial governance. This move allowed him to concentrate on waging the war against Niger.[1] Most historians count Severus and Albinus as two emperors, even though they ruled simultaneously. The Severan dynasty was created out of the chaos of 193 AD.[2]

Commodus’ sanity began to unravel when a close advocate, Cleander, was assassinated, which put Commodus in fear for his life. This triggered a series of summary executions of members of the aristocracy. He began removing himself from his identity as ruler ideologically by resuming his birth name instead of keeping the names that his father gave him when he succeeded to imperial rule. His behavior decayed further as he became more paranoid. He carried out a particularly large massacre in Rome during New Year’s Eve 192 AD, so that he could become the sole consul. Three nobles, Eclectus, Marcia, and Laetus, fearing that they would be targeted, had Commodus strangled before he could do so. The assassins then named Pertinax the new Caesar.[1]

The identity of the person who planned the murder of Commodus is still a debated topic. Some sources name Pertinax as the mastermind of the assassination because he obtained imperial rule once Commodus was killed. However, the accusations against Pertinax appear to have come from his enemies, an effort to damage his reputation; in reality, these accusers appear not to have known who masterminded the assassination.[1]

Pertinax gained his political clout by moving his way up the military ranks. He was proconsul of Africa, making him the first of several emperors who began their political roles in Africa.[3] Since most of the nobles had been murdered in the New Year’s Eve massacre, Pertinax was one of the few high-ranking officials left to become the new emperor. Pertinax had a tough road to climb when he became Caesar because Commodus left his regime with major financial difficulties. However, Pertinax had his own troubles right away when he was accused of planning the death of Commodus. He may also have been accused of the murder of Cleander, Commodus’ advocate, whose murder had triggered Commodus’ paranoia.

Pertinax was a great contrast to Commodus. He was disciplined but lost the favor of the troops early since he took away all of the favors that Commodus gave them. This led to a plot to assassinate Pertinax by the Praetorian Guard. The plot was carried out on March 28 and Pertinax was killed trying to stop the coup. Didius Julianus was his successor as Caesar.[1]

Didius Julianus gained power as proconsul of Africa, succeeding Pertinax in that position. Julianus was not just given the position of emperor after Pertinax’s death. He had competition in Pertinax’s father-in-law, Sulpicianus. The only way that Julianus gained the Senate’s favor was by outbidding Sulpicianus for the amount he would pay the troops. Julianus was originally accused of being Pertinax’s murderer. Two public figures used the public’s fear to take advantage of this crisis: Pescennius Niger, the governor of Syria, and Septimius Severus. Twelve days after Pertinax’s murder, Severus declared himself emperor in place of Julianus. The mobs, who regarded Julianus unfavorably, called on Pescennius Niger for assistance. Julianus was executed on June 1, just two months after Pertinax was killed.[1]

Niger began his career as the governor of Syria. Once the mobs started calling for his help, he became a rival to Severus since Severus believed that he should have total power and loyalty from the people of the empire. Niger ended up proclaiming himself emperor, which further angered Severus.[1] Niger had allies in the eastern part of the empire so when Severus threatened him with troops, he gathered an army from his allies and fought Severus throughout the empire for two years. He eventually lost the civil war to Severus near the city of Issus.[2]

This page was last edited on 25 June 2018, at 12:45 (UTC).
Reference: under CC BY-SA license.

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