fire sale

Yes, the complete Roman empire was once set on the auction block. Including Rome itself, the eternal city at the height of its glory. Yes, everything from Araby to Aragon. A very impressive piece of real estate indeed. The story is tragical comical. And true. But Didius Julianus?…

…Julianus shouted to the soldiers who he was, but to no avail. He was now more determined than ever. And he hit upon an ingenious plan: he had placards hoisted onto the walls to convey his message to the troops. He advertised that he intended to “resore the memory of Commodus.” It worked. A ladder was lowered so that the corpulent millionaire could climb onto the wall. Now the contest began. Didius Julianus against Mayor Sulpicianus for the Roman Empire.

—Dusk, and as the shadows lengthen over the streets of ancient Rome, the early evening quiet is shattered by a chorus of piercing screams.
It is the beginning of another of Emperor Nero’s infamous orgies.
Peering out of the palace windows, the emperor’s drunk guests are confronted by a shocking sight: a dozen terrified men, smeared with tar and bound to wooden stakes….And then, at a signal from Nero, they are set alight, their agonised cries accompanied by the whoops of the half-naked dancing girls.
Burning these Christians, Nero jokes to his guests, is the perfect way to illuminate his magnificent gardens.
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The soldiers loved every minute of it. As each man raised his offer, the world swayed back and forth. Finally, with the bids locked at twenty-three thousand sesterces, Julianus, the moneygrubbing richest man in Rome took a bold step. Instead of increasing the stakes by a couple hundred, he shouted out “Twenty-five thousand!” That did. It cinched the empire for Didius Julianus.

It came to roughly twelve hundred dollars a man, but for the moment the tidal wave of enthusiasm washed over even considerations of money- such things would come later. Didius Julianus was carried in triumph through the streets of Rome.

The Praetorian Guard knew the next step:senate ratification. They swiftly arranged an evening session so that Julianus might deliver what was at once a campaign speech and an inaugural address. The essense of his message was that in submission to the will of his countrymen he would accept the responsibilities of government.

“I come to you alone,” he said. He made no mention of his well-armed Praetorian supporters surrounding the senate house. He didn’t have to. After thanking one and all, the newly ratified emperor led his entourage to the imperial palace, where he came upon the headless corpse of Pertinax.

—Thomas Couture quoted the second-century Roman poet Juvenal in the catalogue for the 1847 Salon where the painting Romans of the Decadence was first exhibited: “Crueller than war, vice fell upon Rome and avenged the conquered world.” Thanks to cheap engraved reproductions, this lurid view of Rome was extremely well known to Americans by the late nineteenth century. It became the image of the late Roman Empire, the moment of abandonment and peacock tongues, one observed critically by two philosophers (possibly foreign visitors to Rome) in the foreground and right. Romans of the Decadence imagined the Roman orgy, taking place in the great halls amid the statues of virtuous republican or Augustan ancestors, false in every way, but with immense popular appeal. Widely reproduced, Romans of the Decadence became the mother of all toga parties.—Read More:

It made him laugh. His laughter increased when he saw the frugal meal that Pertinax had left uneaten. Vegetables?!! He ordered the meal thrown to the dogs

commanded a feast of feasts. Julianus, with his reputation as a glutton, had not forgotten that his own dinner had been interrupted for this…business.

In fact, the short reign of the dark horse emperor might well be epitomized as one very long banquet. Desperate for respect and for status, Julianus threw constant dinner parties for the senators.

But nothing could sweeten the taste of Julianus. The senate hated him and the people hated him. He reigned for sixty-six days. On July 1, 193 A.D., the army of Septimius Severus entered Rome and deposed the man who had purchased the empire between entree and dessert.

Septimus Severus was a pretty good emperor. Certainly he was a pretty wise one. His first act was to disband the Praetorian Guard. So much for the organization that had effected the most astonishing auction of all times.


(see link at end)…Despite the revolt of Niger and the Syrian legions, Julianus still had little concern for the continuation own authority. It was not until Niger was followed shortly after by Clodius Albinus in Britain and Septimius Severus in nearby Pannonia that Julianus grew understandably distressed. Agents sent against Severus, who had begun a march to Rome, were either defeated or defected to Severus’ side and there was little to stop his impending approach. Julianus attempted to negotiate a co-emperorship with Severus and even executed Laetus and Marcia (Commodus’ praetorian prefect and his concubine respectively who were deeply responsible in the assassination) in an attempt to appease the legions, but there was little hope of stopping Severus who found no resistance in his march. The praetorians understood their own precarious predicament and once again took matters into their own hands.

Assured by Severus that they would be left unharmed if they arrested the murderers of Pertinax and kept the peace in the city (essentially taking orders from Severus and isolating Julianus), the praetorians effectively switched sides. Dio Cassius describes the end of Julianus’ reign thusly: “We (the Senate) thereupon sentenced Julianus to death, named Severus emperor, and bestowed divine honors 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.” Read More:

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