Ancient Roman and Greek Coins:

Pescennius Niger
135/140 Ė 194




          Pescennius Niger (Latin: Gaius Pescennius Niger Augustus; c. 135/140 Ė 194) was Roman Emperor from 193 to 194 during the Year of the Five Emperors.  He claimed the imperial throne in response to the murder of Pertinax and the elevation of Didius Julianus, but was defeated by a rival claimant, Septimius Severus, and killed while attempting to flee from Antioch.

Early career:
          Although Niger was born into an old Italian equestrian family, around the year 135, he was the first member of his family to achieve the rank of Roman senator.  Not much is known of his early career; it is possible that he held an administrative position in Egypt, and that he served in a military campaign in Dacia early in Commodusí reign.  During the late 180s, Niger was elected as a Suffect consul, after which Commodus made him imperial legate of Syria in 191.
          He was still serving in Syria when news came through firstly of the murder of Pertinax, followed by the auctioning off of the imperial title to Didius Julianus.  Niger was a well regarded public figure in Rome and soon a popular demonstration against Didius Julianus broke out, during which the citizens called out for Niger to come to Rome and claim the imperial title for himself.  As a consequence, it is alleged that Julianus dispatched a centurion to the east with orders to assassinate Niger at Antioch.
          The result of the unrest in Rome saw Niger proclaimed Emperor by the eastern legions by the end of April 193.  On his accession, Niger took the additional cognomen Justus, or "the Just".  Although imperial propaganda issued on behalf of Septimius Severus later claimed that Niger was the first to rebel against Didius Julianus, it was Severus who beat Niger to it, claiming the imperial title on April 9.  Although Niger sent envoys to Rome to announce his elevation to the imperial throne, his messengers were intercepted by Severus.  As Niger began bolstering his support in the eastern provinces, Severus marched on Rome which he entered in early June 193 after Julianus had been murdered.

Septimius Severus and Niger:
          Severus wasted no time consolidating his hold on Rome, and ordered his newly appointed prefect of the watch, Gaius Fulvius Plautianus to capture Nigerís children and hold them as hostages.  Meanwhile, Niger was busy securing the support of all of the governors in the Asiatic provinces, including the esteemed proconsul of Asia, Asellius Aemilianus, who had occupied Byzantium in Nigerís name.  Niger then proceeded to secure direct control over Egypt, while Severus did as much as he could to protect the wheat supply, and ordered troops loyal to him to keep watch on the western border of Egypt and prevent the legion stationed there Legio II Traiana Fortis from sending military aid to Niger.
          Although these lands contained great wealth, his military resources were inferior to Severusí.  While Severus had the sixteen Danubian legions at his disposal, Niger possessed only six: three in Syria, the two stationed in Arabia Petraea, and one located at Melitene.  Niger therefore decided to act aggressively, and sent a force into Thrace where it defeated a part of Severusí army under Lucius Fabius Cilo at Perinthus.
          Severus now marched from Rome to the east, sending his general Tiberius Claudius Candidus ahead of him.  Niger, having made Byzantium his headquarters, gave Asellius Aemilianus the task of defending the southern shore of the Sea of Marmara.  As Severus approached, he offered Niger the opportunity to surrender and go into exile, but Niger refused, trusting in the outcome of a military encounter.  In the fall of 193, Candidus met Aemilianus in battle at Cyzicus, resulting in Nigerís forces being defeated as well as the capture and death of Aemilianus.  Byzantium was now placed under siege, forcing Niger to abandon the city and retreat back to Nicaea.  The city remained loyal to Niger, and it would take Severus until the end of 195 to finally capture Byzantium.
          Another battle took place outside of Nicea in later December 193, which also resulted in a defeat for Niger.  Nevertheless, he was able to withdraw the bulk of his army intact to the Taurus Mountains, where he was able to hold the passes for a few months as Niger returned to Antioch.  However, the problem now for Niger was that his support in Asia was falling.  Some cities previously loyal to him decided that it was time to change their allegiance, in particular Laodicea and Tyre.  By February 13, 194, Egypt had declared for Severus, as had the imperial legate of Arabia, further diminishing Nigerís chances.
          After Severus had replaced Candidus with another general, Publius Cornelius Anullinus, Niger met Anullinus in battle at Issus in May 194, where after a long and hard fought struggle, Niger was decisively defeated.  Forced to retreat to Antioch, Niger was captured while attempting to flee to Parthia.  He was beheaded, and his severed head was taken to Byzantium, but the city refused to surrender.  Eventually, Severus stormed and completely destroyed Byzantium before he had it rebuilt.  Nigerís head eventually found its way to Rome where it was displayed.
          After his victory in the east, Severus punished all of Nigerís supporters.  He also had Nigerís wife and children put to death, while his estates were confiscated.

          The name "Niger" means "black", which incidentally, contrasts him with one of his rivals for the throne in 194, Clodius Albinus, whose name means "white".  According to the notoriously unreliable Historia Augusta, his cognomen of "Niger" was given due to the fact that his neck was black.

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