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.
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
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
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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