Cassius Dio
Roman History

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 Epitome of Book LXXIV

Pertinax was an excellent and upright man, but he ruled only a very short time, and was then put out of the way by the soldiers. While the fate of Commodus still remained a secret, the followers of Laetus and Eclectus came to him and informed him what had been done; for because of his excellence and his rank they were glad to choose him. And he, after seeing them and hearing their story, sent his most trustworthy companion to view the body of Commodus. When this man had confirmed the report of the deed, Pertinax than betook himself secretly to the camp. At first his arrival caused the soldiers alarm; but thanks to the presence of Laetus' adherents and to the offers that Pertinax made (he promised to give them twelve thousand sesterces apiece), he won them over. Indeed, they would have remained perfectly quiet, had he not in closing his speech made some such remark as this: "There are many distressing circumstances, fellow-soldiers, in the present situation; but the rest with your help shall be set right again." On hearing this, they suspected that all the privileges granted them by Commodus in violation of precedent would be abolished, and they were displeased; nevertheless, they remained quiet, concealing their anger. On leaving the camp, he came to the senate-house while it was still night, and after greeting us, so far as it was possible for anyone to approach him in the midst of such a jostling throng, he said off-hand: "I have been named emperor by the soldiers; however, I do not want the office and shall resign it at once, this very day, because of my age and feeble health, and because of the distressing state of affairs." This was no sooner said than we gave him our genuine approbation and chose him in very truth; for he was not only most noble in spirit but also strong in body, except that he suffered from a slight impediment in walking by reason of his feet.

In this way Pertinax was declared emperor and Commodus a public enemy, after both the senate and the populace had joined in shouting many bitter words against the latter. They wanted to drag off his body and tear it from limb to limb, as they did do, in fact, with his statues; but when Pertinax informed them that the corpse had already been interred, they spared his remains, but glutted their rage against him in other ways, calling him all sorts of names. For no one called him Commodus or emperor; instead they referred to him as an accursed wretch and a tyrant, adding in jest such terms as "the gladiator," "the charioteer," "the left-handed," "the ruptured." To those senators on whom the fear of Commodus had rested most heavily, have crowd called out: "Huzza! Huzza! You are saved; you have won." Indeed, all the shouts that they had been accustomed to utter with a kind of rhythmic swing in the amphitheatre, by way of paying court to Commodus, they now chanted with certain changes that made them utterly ridiculous. For now that they had of the rid of one ruler and as yet had nothing to fear from his successor, they were making the most of their freedom in the interval, and were gaining a reputation for boldness of speech in the security of the moment. For they were not satisfied merely to be relieved of further terror, but in their confidence they also wished to indulge in wanton insolence.

Pertinax was a Ligurian from Alba Pompeia; his father was not of noble birth, and he himself had received just enough education to enable him to gain a livelihood. This had brought him into association with Claudius Pompeianus, through whose influence he had become a tribune in the cavalry, and had reached such a height that he now was actually the emperor of his former patron. And it was at this time, under Pertinax, that I myself saw Pompeianus present in the senate for both the first and the last time. For he had been wont to spend most of his time in the country because of Commodus, and very rarely came down to the City, alleging his age and an ailment of the eyes as an excuse; and he had never before, when I was present, entered the senate. Furthermore, after the reign of Pertinax he was once more ailing; whereas under this emperor he had both his sight and good health, and used to take part in the deliberations of the senate. Pertinax showed him great honour in every way; and, in particular, he made him sit beside him on his bench in the senate. He also granted the same privilege to Acilius Glabrio; for this man, too, could both hear and see at that period. In addition to showing unusual honour to these men, he also conducted himself in a very democratic manner toward us senators; for he was easy of access, listened readily to anyone's requests, and in answer gave his own opinion in a kindly way. Again, he used to give us banquets marked by moderation; and whenever he did not do this, he would send round various dishes, even the most inexpensive, to different ones of us. For this the wealthy and vainglorious made great sport of him; but the rest of us, who valued virtue above licentiousness, approved his course.

So different was the opinion of everybody regarding Pertinax as contrasted with Commodus, that when people heard what had happened, they suspected that the story of his assassination had been put forth by Commodus to test them, and in consequence many of the governors in the provinces imprisoned the men who brought the news. It was not that they did not wish the report to be true, but that they were more afraid of appearing to have desired the death of Commodus than they were of failing to attach themselves to Pertinax. For of the latter no one, even if he committed an error so serious as this, was afraid, but of the former, every one, even if innocent of wrong-doing.

While Pertinax was still in Britain, after that great revolt which he quelled, and was being accounted worthy of praise on all sides, a horse named Pertinax won a race at Rome. It belonged to the Greens and was favoured by Commodus. So, when its partisans raised a great shout, crying, "It is Pertinax!" the others, their opponents, in disgust at Commodus, likewise prayed,— with reference to the man rather than to the horse,— "Would that it were so!" Later, when this same horse had left the race-track because of age and was in the country, it was sent for by Commodus, who brought it into the Circus after gilding its hoofs and adorning its back with a gilded skin. And the people, suddenly seeing it, cried out again: "It is Pertinax!" This very expression was doubtless an omen in itself, occurring, as it did, at the last horse-race that year; and immediately afterwards the throne passed to Pertinax. Similar views were expressed also concerning the incident of the club; for Commodus when about to contend on the final day had given it to Pertinax.

It was in this manner that Pertinax came into power. And he obtained all the customary titles pertaining to that office, and also a new one to indicate his wish to be democratic; for he was styled Chief of the Senate in accordance with the ancient practice. He at once reduced to order everything that had previously been irregular and confused; for he showed not only humaneness and integrity in the imperial administrations, but also the most economical management and the most careful consideration for the public welfare. Besides doing everything else that a good emperor should do, he removed the stigma attaching to those who had been unjustly put to death, and he furthermore took oath that he would never sanction such a penalty. And immediately some bewailed their relatives and others their friends with mingled tears and joy, even these exhibitions of emotion not having been permitted formerly. After this they exhumed the bodies, some of which were found intact and some in fragments, according to the manner of death or the lapse of time in each case; and after duly arranging them, they deposited them in their ancestral tombs.

At this time, then, there was such a dearth of funds in the imperial treasury that only a million sesterces could be found. Pertinax therefore raised money as best he could from the statues, the arms, the horses, the furniture, and the favourites of Commodus, and gave to the Pretorians all that he had promised and to the populace a hundred denarii per man. Indeed, all the articles that Commodus had collected, whether as luxuries or for gladiatorial combats or for chariot-driving, were exposed in the auction-room, primarily, of course, to be sold, yet with the further purpose of showing up the late emperor's deeds and practices, and also of finding out who their purchasers would be.

Laetus kept speaking well of Pertinax and abusing Commodus. For instance, he sent after some barbarians who had received a large sum of gold from Commodus for making peace (they were still on their way), and demanded its return, telling them to inform their people at home that Pertinax was ruler; for the barbarians knew his name only too well because of the reverses they had suffered when he made a campaign against them with Marcus. And here is another similar act of his intended to discredit Commodus. Discovering that some filthy clowns and buffoons, disgusting in appearance and with still more disgusting nicknames and habits, had been made extremely wealthy by Commodus on account of their wantonness and licentiousness, he made public their nicknames and the sums they had received. The former caused laughter and the latter wrath and grief, for there were some of them that possessed amounts such as Commodus had actually slain many senators to obtain. Laetus, however, did not remain permanently loyal to Pertinax, or, I might better say, he was never faithful even for a moment; for when he did not get what he wanted, he proceeded to incite the soldiers against him, as will be related.

Pertinax appointed as prefect of the city his father-in-law, Flavius Sulpicianus, a man in every way worthy of the office. Yet he was unwilling to make his wife Augusta or his son Caesar, though we granted him permission. In fact, he emphatically rejected both proposals, either because he had not yet firmly rooted his own power or because he did not choose either to let his unchaste consort sully the name of Augusta or to permit his son, who was still a boy, to be spoiled by the glamour and the prospects involved in the title of Caesar before he had received his education. Indeed, he would not even bring him up in the palace, but on the very first day he set aside everything that had belonged to himself previously and divided it between his children (he had also a daughter), and ordered that they should live with their grandfather; there he visited them occasionally, but rather as their father than as emperor.

Since, now, neither the soldiers were allowed to plunder any longer nor the imperial freedmen to indulge in lewdness, they both hated him bitterly. The freedmen, for their part, attempted no revolt, being unarmed; but the Pretorian troops and Laetus formed a plot against him. At first they selected Falco, the consul, for emperor, because he was distinguished for both his family and wealth, and they were planning to bring him to the camp while Pertinax was at the coast investigating the corn supply. But the emperor, learning of the plan, returned in haste to the city, and coming before the senate, said: "You should not be left in ignorance of the fact, Fathers, that although I found on hand only a million sesterces, yet I have distributed as much to the soldiers as did Marcus and Lucius, to whom were left twenty-seven hundred millions. It is these wonderful freedmen who are to blame for this shortage of funds." Now Pertinax was not telling the truth when he claimed to have bestowed upon the soldiers as much as Lucius and Marcus, inasmuch as they had given them about twenty thousand, and he only about twelve thousand, sesterces apiece; and the soldiers and the freedmen who were present in the senate in very large numbers became highly indignant and muttered ominously. But as we were about to condemn Falco and were already declaring him a public enemy, Pertinax rose and exclaimed: "Heaven forbid that any senator should be put to death while I am ruler, even for just cause." Thus was Falco's life spared, and thenceforth he lived in the country, preserving a cautious and respectful demeanour.

But Laetus, seizing upon the case of Falco as a handle, proceeded to put out of the way many of the soldiers, pretending that it was by the emperor's orders. The others, when they became aware of it, feared that they, too, should perish, and made a disturbance; but two hundred, bolder than their fellows, actually invaded the palace with drawn swords. Pertinax had no warning of their approach until they were already up on the hill; then his wife rushed in and informed him of what had happened. On learning this he behaved in a manner that one will call noble, or senseless, or whatever one pleases. For, even though he could in all probability have killed his assailants,— as he had in the night-guard and the cavalry at hand to protect him, and as there were also many people in the palace at the time,— or might at least have concealed himself and made his escape to some place or other, by closing the gates of the palace and the other intervening doors, he nevertheless adopted neither of these courses. Instead, hoping to overawe them by his appearance and to win them over by his words, he went to meet the approaching band, which was already inside the palace; for no one of their fellow-soldiers had barred the way, and the porters and other freedmen, so far from making any door fast, had actually opened absolutely all the entrances. The soldiers on seeing him were at first abashed, all save one, and kept their eyes on the ground, and they thrust their swords back into their scabbards; but that one man leaped forward, exclaiming, "The soldiers have sent you this sword," and forthwith fell upon him and wounded him. Than his comrades no longer held back, but struck down their emperor together with Eclectus. The latter alone had not deserted him, but defended him as best he could, even wounding several of his assailants; hence I, who felt that even before that he had shown himself an excellent man, now thoroughly admired him. The soldiers cut off the head of Pertinax and fastened it on a spear, glorying in the deed. Thus did Pertinax, who undertook to restore everything in a moment, come to his end. He failed to comprehend, though a man of wide practical experience, that one cannot with safety reform everything at once, and that the restoration of a state, in particular, requires both time and wisdom. He had lived sixty-seven years, lacking four months and three days, and had reigned eighty-seven days.

When the fate of Pertinax was noised about, some ran to their homes and others to those of the soldiers, all taking thought for their own safety. But Sulpicianus, who had been sent by Pertinax to the camp to set matters in order there, remained on the spot, and intrigued to get himself appointed emperor. Meanwhile Didius Julianus, at once an insatiate money-getter and a wanton spendthrift, who was always eager for revolution and hence had been exiled by Commodus to his native city of Mediolanum, now, when he heard of the death of Pertinax, hastily made his way to the camp, and, standing at the gates of the enclosure, made bids to the soldiers for the rule over the Romans. Then ensued a most disgraceful business and one unworthy of Rome. For, just as if it had been in some market or auction-room, both the City and its entire empire were auctioned off. The sellers were the ones who had slain their emperor, and the would-be buyers were Sulpicianus and Julianus, who vied to outbid each other, one from the inside, the other from the outside. They gradually raised their bids up to twenty thousand sesterces per soldier. Some of the soldiers would carry word to Julianus, "Sulpicianus offers so much; how much more do you make it?" And to Sulpicianus in turn, "Julianus promises so much; how much do you raise him?" Sulpicianus would have won the day, being inside and being prefect of the city and also the first to name the figure twenty thousand, had not Julianus raised his bid no longer by a small amount but by five thousand at one time, both shouting it in a loud voice and also indicating the amount with his fingers. So the soldiers, captivated by this excessive bid and at the same time fearing that Sulpicianus might avenge Pertinax (an idea that Julianus put into their heads), received Julianus inside and declared him emperor.

So toward evening the new ruler hastened to the Forum and the senate-house. He was escorted by a vast number of Pretorians with numerous standards, as if prepared for action, his object being to intimidate both us and the populace at the outset and thereby to secure our allegiance; and the soldiers were calling him "Commodus" and extolling him in various other ways. As for us senators, when the news was brought to each of us individually and we ascertained the truth, we were possessed by fear of Julianus and the soldiers, especially all of us who had done any favours for Pertinax or anything to displease Julianus. I was one of these, for I had received various honours from Pertinax, including the praetorship, and when acting as advocate for others at trials I had frequently proved Julianus to be guilty of many offences. Nevertheless, we made our appearance, partly for this very reason, since it did not seem to us to be safe to remain at home, for fear such a course might in itself arouse suspicion. So when bath and dinner were over we pushed our way through the soldiers, entered the senate-house, and heard him deliver a speech that was quite worthy of him, in the course of which he said: "I see that you need a ruler, and I myself am best fitted of any to rule you. I should mention all the advantages I can offer, if you were not already familiar with them and had not already had experience of me. Consequently I have not even asked to be attended here by many soldiers, but have come to you alone, in order that you may ratify what has been given to me by them." "I am here alone" is what he said, though he had actually surrounded the entire senate-house outside with heavy-armed troops and had a large number of soldiers in the chamber itself; moreover he reminded us of our knowledge of the kind of man he was, in consequence of which we both feared and hated him.

Having thus secured confirmation of the imperial power by decrees of the senate also, he proceeded up to the palace. And finding the dinner that had been prepared for Pertinax, he made great fun of it, and sending out to every place which by any means whatever something expensive could be procured at that time of night, he proceeded to gorge himself, while the corpse was still lying in the building, and then to play at dice. Among others that he took along with him was Pylades, the pantomime. The next day we went up to pay our respects to him, moulding our faces, so to speak, and posturing, so that our grief should not be detected. The populace, however, went about openly with sullen looks, spoke its mind as much as it pleased, and was getting ready to do anything it could. Finally, when he came to the senate-house and was about to sacrifice to Janus before the entrance, all fell to shouting, as if by preconcerted arrangement, calling him stealer of the empire and parricide. Then, when he affected not to be angry and promised them some money, they became indignant at the implication that they could be bribed, and all cried out together: "We don't want it! We won't take it!" And the surrounding buildings echoed back their shout in a way to make one shudder. When Julianus heard their reply, he could endure it no longer, but ordered those standing nearest to be slain. That exasperated the populace all the more, and it did not cease expressing its regret for Pertinax and abusing Julianus, invoking the gods and cursing the soldiers; but though many were wounded and killed in many parts of the city, they continued to resist. Finally they seized arms and rushed together into the Circus, and there spent the night and the following day without food or drink, shouting and calling upon the remainder of the soldiers, especially Pescennius Niger and his followers in Syria, to come to their aid. Later, exhausted by their shouting, by their fasting, and by their loss of sleep, they separated and kept quiet, awaiting the hoped-for deliverance from abroad.

"I do not assist the populace, for it his not called upon me."

After seizing the power in this manner Julianus managed affairs in a servile fashion, paying court to the senate as well as to all the men of any influence now he would make promises, now bestow favours, and he laughed and jested with anybody and everybody. He was constantly resorting to the theatres, and kept getting up banquets; in fine, he left nothing undone to court our favour. Yet he did not only play the part well, but incurred suspicion as indulging in servile flattery. For every act that goes beyond propriety, even though it seems to some to be gracious, is regarded by men of sense as trickery.

When the senate voted him a statue of gold, he declined to accept it, saying: "Give me a bronze one, so that it may last; for I observe that the gold and silver statues of the emperors that ruled before me have been destroyed, whereas the bronze ones remain." In this he was mistaken, for it is virtue that preserves the memory of rulers; and in fact the bronze statue that was granted him was destroyed after his own overthrow.

These were the occurrences in Rome. I shall now speak of what happened outside, and of the various rebellions. For three men at this time, each commanding three legions of citizens and many foreigners besides, attempted to secure the control of affairs — Severus, Niger and Albinus. The last-named was governor of Britain, Severus of Pannonia, and Niger of Syria. These, then, were the three men portended by the three stars that suddenly came to view surrounding the sun when Julianus in our presence was offering the Sacrifices of Entrance in front of the senate-house. These stars were so very distinct that the soldiers kept continually looking at them and pointing them out to one another, while declaring that some dreadful fate would befall the emperor. As for us, however much we hoped and prayed that it might so prove, yet the fear of the moment would not permit us to gaze up at them except by furtive glances. So much for this incident, which I give from my own knowledge. Now of the three leaders that I have mentioned, Severus was the shrewdest; he understood in advance that after Julianus had been deposed the three would clash and fight against one another for the empire, and he therefore determined to win over the rival who was nearest to him. So he sent a letter by one of his trusted friends to Albinus, appointing him Caesar; as for Niger, who was proud of having been summoned by the populace, he had no hopes of him. Albinus, accordingly, in the belief that he was to share the rule with Severus, remained where he was; and Severus, after winning over everything in Europe except Byzantium, was hastening against Rome. He did not venture outside the protection of arms, but having selected his six hundred most valiant men, he passed his time day and night in their midst; these did not once put off their breastplates until they were in Rome.

This man, when governor of Africa, had been tried and condemned by Pertinax for corruption, avarice, and licentiousness, but was at this time appointed consul? among the first by that same man, as a favour to Severus.

Julianus, on learning of this, caused the senate to declare Severus a public enemy, and proceeded to prepare against him. In the suburbs he constructed a rampart, provided with gates, so that he might take up a position out there and fight from that base. The city during these days became nothing more nor less than a camp, in the enemy's country, as it were. Great was the turmoil on the part of the various forces that were encamped and drilling,— men, horses, and elephants,— and great, also, was the fear inspired in the rest of the population by the armed troops, because the latter hated them. Yet at times we would be overcome by laughter; for the Pretorians did nothing worthy of their name and of their promise, for they had learned to live delicately; the sailors summoned from the fleet stationed at Misenum did not even know how to drill; and the elephants found their towers burdensome and would not even carry their drivers any longer, but threw them off, too. But what caused us the greatest amusement was his fortifying of the palace with latticed gates and strong doors. For, inasmuch as it seemed probable that the soldiers would never have slain Pertinax so easily if the doors had been securely locked, Julianus believed that in case of defeat he would be able to shut himself up there and survive.

He accordingly put to death both Laetus and Marcia, so that all who conspired against Commodus perished; for later Severus gave Narcissus to the wild beasts, causing it to be expressly proclaimed that he was the man who had strangled Commodus. Julianus also killed many boys as a magic rite, believing that he could avert some future misfortunes if he learned of them beforehand. And he kept sending men against Severus to slay him by treachery. But Severus presently reached Italy, and took possession of Ravenna without striking a blow. Moreover, the men whom Julianus kept sending against him, either to persuade him to turn back or to block his advance, were going over the Severus' side; and the Pretorians, in whom Julianus reposed most confidence, were becoming worn out by their constant toil and were becoming greatly alarmed at the report of Severus' near approach. At this juncture Julianus called us together and bade us appoint Severus to share his throne. But the soldiers, convinced by letters of Severus that if they surrendered the slayers of Pertinax and themselves kept the peace they would suffer no harm, arrested the men who had killed Pertinax, and announced this fact to Silius Messalla, who was then consul. The latter assembled us in the Athenaeum, so named from the educational activities that were carried on in it, and informed us of the soldiers' action. We thereupon sentenced Julianus to death, named Severus emperor, and bestowed divine honours on Pertinax. And so it came about that Julianus was slain as he was reclining in the palace itself; his only words were, "But what evil have I done? Whom have I killed?" He had lived sixty years, four months, and the same number of days, out of which he had reigned sixty-six days.

Dio, Book LXXIV: "It is the part of sensible men neither to begin war nor yet to shrink from it when it is thrust upon them, but rather to grant pardon to the one who has voluntarily come to his senses, even though he has previously made a mistake..."

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