Biography of Roman Emperor Didius Julianus Part 1

About the Roman senator turned Emperor Didius Julianus who bought his way into power when the Empire was for auction, his biography and 66 days in office.


Roman Emperor.

On the morning of March 28, 193 A.D., 300 members of the Roman Praetorian Guard (the private bodyguard of the Caesars numbering 12,000 in all) invaded the Emperor's palace--which they were supposed to protect--and hunted down their ruler, an honest and earthy disciplinarian named Pertinax. Members of the guard had long smarted under Emperor Pertinax's stringent rule, and now they had determined to get rid of him. They did not have to search long. Pertinax came forward to meet them, fearlessly reproaching the would-be assassins. Momentarily, they were immobilized and shamed. Suddenly, one guard broke from the rest, plunged forward, and ran his sword through Pertinax, and others joined in to decapitate him. The deed was done.

What followed next remains one of the more incredible episodes in the annals of history.

The brutal act of assassination left the throne of Rome vacant. The throne was an important one. For the man who sat on this throne ruled not only Italy but 150 million people scattered from the Rhine east to the Euphrates and west to the Thames, and thus in effect held sway over most of the known civilized world of the period.

Having eliminated their Emperor, members of the Praetorian Guard had to find someone to replace him. The scepter was offered to several senators. They refused it. Pertinax had been popular, and government officials as well as the populace were angered by the murder. The senators suspected the throne might become a hot seat.

Then an anonymous soldier, inspired, suggested that the guard give the job to the Roman citizen who paid the highest price for it. At once, other members of the guard suggested a public auction. Herodianus, the 3rd-century historian, tells us that a soldier with a loud voice immediately scrambled up the embankments surrounding the city and rushed along the ramparts bellowing, "The Empire is for auction! The Empire is for auction!"

This remarkable news was relayed to 61-year-old Didius Julianus, the wealthiest senator in Rome, as he sat at dinner with his wife Marilina Scantilla and his daughter Didia Clara. Milan-born Julianus, characterized by Edward Gibbon as "a vain old man," had made his fortune in the merchant marine. Now, convinced by his family and slaves that the purple mantle might fit neatly into his wardrobe, he hurried to the camp where the soldiers were impatiently waiting to get their auction under way.

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