Clodius Albinus (Latin: Decimus Clodius Septimius Albinus Augustus; ca.
150 – 19 February 197) was a Roman usurper who was proclaimed emperor by
the legions in Britain and Hispania (the Iberian Peninsula, comprising
modern Spain and Portugal) after the murder of Pertinax in 193 (known as
"Year of the Five Emperors"), and who proclaimed himself emperor again
in 196, before his final defeat the following year.
Albinus was born in Hadrumetum, Africa Province (Sousse, Tunisia) to an
aristocratic Roman family of Ceionia (gens) origin. His father, Ceionius,
said his son received the name of Albinus because of the extraordinary
whiteness of his complexion. Showing a disposition for military life,
he entered the army when very young and served with distinction, especially
in 175 during the rebellion of Avidius Cassius against Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
His merit was acknowledged by the Emperor in two letters in which he calls
Albinus an African, who resembled his countrymen but little, and who was
praiseworthy for his military experience and the gravity of his character.
The Emperor likewise declared that without Albinus the legions (in Bithynia)
would have gone over to Avidius Cassius, and that he intended to have him
The Emperor Commodus gave Albinus a command in Gallia Belgica and afterwards
in Britain. A false rumor having been spread that Commodus had died,
Albinus denounced the man before his soldiers in Britain, calling Commodus
a tyrant, and maintaining that it would be useful to the Roman Empire to
restore to the senate its ancient dignity and power. The Senate was
very pleased with these sentiments, but not so the Emperor, who sent Junius
Severus to relieve Albinus of his command. Despite this, Albinus
kept his command until after the murders of Commodus and his successor
Pertinax in 193.
Septimius Severus and Albinus:
After Pertinax was assassinated, the praetorian prefect Aemilius Laetus
and his men, who had arranged the murder, "sold" the imperial throne to
wealthy senator Didius Julianus, effectively crowning him emperor, but
a string of mutinies by the troops in the provinces meant the next Emperor
was far from decided. Immediately afterwards, Pescennius Niger was
proclaimed Emperor by the legions in Syria; Septimius Severus by the troops
in Illyricum and Pannonia; and Albinus by the armies in Britain and Gaul.
In the civil war that followed, Albinus was initially allied with Septimius
Severus, who had captured Rome. Albinus added the name Septimius
to his own, and accepted the title of Caesar from him; the two shared a
consulship in 194. Albinus remained effective ruler of much of the
western part of the Empire, with support from three British legions and
one Spanish. When Didius Julianus was put to death by order of the
Senate, who dreaded the power of Septimius Severus, the latter turned his
arms against Pescennius Niger. After the defeat and death of Niger
in 194, and the complete discomfiture of his adherents, especially after
the fall of Byzantium in 196, Severus resolved to make himself the absolute
master of the Roman Empire. Albinus, seeing the danger of his position,
prepared for resistance. He narrowly escaped being assassinated by
a messenger of Severus, after which he put himself at the head of his army,
which is said to have consisted of 150,000 men.
Albinus declares himself emperor:
In autumn 196, Albinus proclaimed himself Emperor (Imperator Caesar Decimus
Clodius Septimius Albinus Augustus) and crossed from Britain to Gaul, bringing
a large part of the British garrison with him. He defeated Severus'
legate Virius Lupus, and was able to lay claim to the military resources
of Gaul, but although he made Lugdunum the headquarters of his forces,
he was unable to win the allegiance of the Rhine legions.
On 19 February 197 Albinus met Severus' army at the Battle of Lugdunum.
After a hard-fought battle, with 150,000 troops on each side according
to Dio Cassius, Albinus was defeated and killed himself, or was captured
and executed on the orders of Severus. Severus had his naked body
laid out on the ground before him, so that he could ride his horse over
it, in a final act of humiliation. If Albinus' wife and sons were
initially pardoned by Severus, he appeared to change his mind almost immediately
afterwards, for as the dead Albinus was beheaded, so were they. Albinus'
headless body was thrown into the Rhône, together with the corpses
of his murdered family. Severus sent his head to Rome as a warning
to his supporters; with it he sent an insolent letter, in which he mocked
the senate for their loyalty to Albinus. The town of Lugdunum was
plundered, and the adherents of Albinus were cruelly persecuted by Severus.
Albinus was a severe and often cruel commander, and he has been called
the Catiline of his time. He had one son, or perhaps two, who were
executed with their mother by order of Severus. It is said that he
wrote a treatise on agriculture and a collection of Milesian tales.
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