Contents -- Previous Article -- Next Article

Didius Julianus

Emperor A.D 193

It is a part of the human experience that often, we covet something so much that we are willing to pay any price asked to obtain it, even to the selling of our own principles. Once we obtain the object that we covet so highly, we find that all we have done is bring great misfortune upon ourselves and paid a healthy price for it. So it was with the rich senator Didius Julianus who lusted after being Roman Emperor. He paid 25,000 sestertii to each Praetorian Guardsman for the privilege and signed his own death warrant without realizing it.

The Praetorian Guard had murdered the previous emperor, Pertinax, whose only crime had been to try to establish discipline in an army which had grown soft and arrogant, always expecting bonuses and extra privileges. After this treacherous deed, they auctioned off the throne. In the spirited bidding between City Prefect Titus Flavius Sulpicianus and Didius Julianus, Julianus won the throne with his 25,000 sestertii bid.

No sooner had he become emperor than several men rebelled, proclaiming Julianus a traitor, coward, and a weakling. Their aim was to &quotsave" Rome from this sordid blot on their government and help themselves to greatness at the same time. It soon became clear to almost everyone but Julianus that all he had bought with his fortune was the privilege of being hunted down and slaughtered like a common criminal.

Upon hearing of this farce, two imperial generals rebelled and marched on Rome, intent on erasing this shameful mistake. In April, A. D.193, the nine Eastern legions proclaimed the governor of Syria, Pescennius Niger, as their emperor. Meanwhile, sixteen legions on the Rhine and Danube under Septimius Severus rebelled on April 13. Severus was governor of Upper Pannonia at the time. Within sixteen days of having bought the throne, Didius Julianus' fate was sealed. He would live only as long as it took the quickest of these experienced generals to reach Rome.

In the meantime, Julianus attempted to appease the factions arrayed against him by having Laetus executed. He also made some quick plans for his defense, though they were woefully inadequate. The forces of Septimius Severus were closest to Rome and were advancing rapidly. Julianus barricaded himself in the palace. The Senate quickly renounced Didius Julianus and proclaimed Septimius Severus emperor. Julianus was declared a public enemy. The Praetorian Guard began to see what a dangerous situation they were in and decided to put Didius Julianus to death. The emperor' luck had finally run out and he was led to a private room in the palace baths for execution They quickly ended his life by beheading him.

On arrival at Rome, the new emperor issued orders for the Praetorian Guard to assemble together and meet him outside the city. Severus had his own officers surround the faithless guardsmen and relieve them of their rank and weapons. They were cashiered out of the army and sent home in disgrace.

Go to next article on Emperor Clodius Albinus
Go back to previous article on Emperor Pertinax

Return to Roman Emperors Table of Contents