Didius Julianus (Latin: Marcus Didius Severus Julianus Augustus; 30 January
133 or 2 February 137 – 1 June 193) was Roman emperor for nine weeks during
the year 193.
Julianus ascended the throne after buying it from the Praetorian Guard,
who had assassinated his predecessor Pertinax. This led to the Roman
Civil War of 193–197. Julianus was ousted and sentenced to death
by his successor, Septimius Severus.
Julianus was born to Quintus Petronius Didius Severus and Aemilia Clara.
Julianus's father came from a prominent family in Mediolanum (Milan) and
his mother was a north African woman of Roman descent, from a family of
consular rank. His brothers were Didius Proculus and Didius Nummius
Albinus. His date of birth is given as 30 January 133 by Cassius
Dio and 2 February 137 by the Historia Augusta.
Didius Julianus was raised by Domitia Lucilla, mother of Roman emperor
Marcus Aurelius. With Domitia's help, he was appointed at a very
early age to the vigintivirate, the first step towards public distinction.
He married a Roman woman named Manlia Scantilla, and sometime around 153,
Scantilla bore him a daughter and only child Didia Clara.
In succession Julianus held the offices of Quaestor and Aedile, and then,
around 162, was named as Praetor. He was nominated to the command
of the Legio XXII Primigenia in Mogontiacum (now Mainz). In 170,
he became praefectus of Gallia Belgica and served for five years.
As a reward for his skill and gallantry in repressing an invasion by the
Chauci, a tribe dwelling in the northwestern coastal area of present-day
Germany, in the drainage basin of the river Scheldt, he was raised to the
consulship in 175, along with Pertinax.
He further distinguished himself in a campaign against the Chatti, governed
Dalmatia and Germania Inferior, and then was made prefect charged with
distributing money to the poor of Italy. It was around this time
that he was charged with having conspired against the life of Commodus,
but he had the good fortune to be acquitted and to witness the punishment
of his accuser. He governed Bithynia and succeeded Pertinax as the
proconsul of Africa.
After the murder of Pertinax (28 March 193), the Praetorian assassins announced
that the throne was to be sold to the man who would pay the highest price.
Titus Flavius Claudius Sulpicianus, prefect of the city, father-in-law
of the murdered emperor, being at that moment in the camp to which he had
been sent to calm the troops, began making offers, whereupon Julianus,
having been roused from a banquet by his wife and daughter, arrived in
all haste, and being unable to gain admission, stood before the gate, and
with a loud voice competed for the prize.
As the bidding went on, the soldiers reported to each of the two competitors,
the one within the fortifications, the other outside the rampart, the sum
offered by his rival. Eventually Sulpicianus promised 20,000 sesterces
to every soldier; Julianus, fearing that Sulpicianus would gain the throne,
then offered 25,000. The guards immediately closed with the offer
of Julianus, threw open the gates, saluted him by the name of Caesar, and
proclaimed him emperor. Threatened by the military, the senate declared
him emperor. His wife and his daughter both received the title Augusta.
Upon his accession, Julianus immediately reversed Pertinax's monetary reforms
by devaluing the Roman currency to near pre-Pertinax levels, decreasing
the silver purity of the denarius from 87% to 81.5% — the actual silver
weight dropping from 2.75 grams to 2.40 grams. After the initial
confusion had subsided, the population did not tamely submit to the dishonour
brought upon Rome. Whenever Julianus appeared in public he was saluted
with groans, imprecations, and shouts of "robber and parricide."
The mob tried to obstruct his progress to the Capitol, and even threw stones.
When news of the public anger in Rome spread across the Empire, the generals
Pescennius Niger in Syria, Septimius Severus in Pannonia, and Clodius Albinus
in Britain, each having three legions under his command, refused to recognise
the authority of Julianus. Julianus declared Severus a public enemy
because he was the nearest of the three and, therefore, the most dangerous
foe. Deputies were sent from the senate to persuade the soldiers
to abandon him; a new general was nominated to supersede him, and a centurion
dispatched to take his life.
The Praetorian Guard, long strangers to active military operations, were
marched into the Campus Martius, regularly drilled, and trained in the
construction of fortifications and field works. Severus, however,
having secured the support of Albinus by declaring him Caesar, progressed
towards the city and made himself master of the fleet at Ravenna.
He defeated Tullius Crispinus, the Praetorian prefect, who had been sent
to halt his progress, and gained over to his cause the ambassadors sent
to turn his troops.
The Praetorian Guard, lacking discipline and sunk in debauchery and sloth,
were incapable of offering any effectual resistance. Matters being
desperate, Julianus now attempted negotiation and offered to share the
empire with his rival. Severus ignored these overtures and pressed
forward, all Italy declaring for him as he advanced. At last the
Praetorians, having received assurances that they would suffer no punishment
– provided they surrendered the actual murderers of Pertinax – seized the
ringleaders of the conspiracy and reported what they had done to Silius
Messala, the consul, by whom the senate was summoned and informed of the
The senate passed a motion proclaiming Severus emperor, awarded divine
honours to Pertinax, and sentenced Julianus to death. Julianus was
deserted by all except one of the prefects and his son-in-law, Repentinus.
Julianus was killed in the palace by a soldier in the third month of his
reign (1 June 193). Severus dismissed the Praetorian Guard and executed
the soldiers who had killed Pertinax. According to Cassius Dio, who
lived in Rome during the period, Julianus's last words were "But what evil
have I done? Whom have I killed?" His body was given to his wife
and daughter, who buried it in his great-grandfather's tomb by the fifth
milestone on the Via Labicana.
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