the opportunist

It was early evening. The sun had just set after the assassination of Pertinex. Rome was at dinner. In the imperial courtyard a body lay without a head. The head of the emperor was a few hundred yards outside the city walls- in the hands of the Praetorian Guard. Dramatic. Symbolic and true. …

It was a wild moment. The emotional pitch of the soldiers was so high that laetus was afraid to speak- to propose himself or anyone else as emperor. It was not known who cooked up the idea, but soldiers were soon racing through the streets of Rome shouting that the imperial office was up for sale. Thats right. Rome was for sale.

—Yet history shows us that when someone with a powerful lust for pleasure can have absolutely everything they want, it is often an unedifying spectacle.
The Roman Empire, in particular, offers some illuminating examples, as chronicled by Suetonius in his history of The Twelve Caesars, written almost 2,000 years ago.
His catalogue starts relatively mildly with Julius Caesar, who merely enjoyed luxury and sex, but soon moves on to Augustus who added a taste for gambling to the list of vices.
Even in old age, he revelled in deflowering virgins, who were collected for him from all over the empire.
Augustus was succeeded by Tiberius, who spent much of his youth feasting, whoring and boozing before retiring to his private pleasure ground of Capri, where groups of young men and women would perform exotic sexual acts of quite stunning depravity in front of him to titillate his ageing libido.
His successor, Caligula, pursued every imaginable form of pleasure with energetic abandon.
He had sex with most women of rank in Rome, including his three sisters, though one of his favourite pastimes was to watch people being tortured and executed.
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Who could react to such an offer? Clearly none of the noble senators who understandably stayd indoors and would not venture near the Quirinal hill lest they suffer the fate of Pertinax. This was not the time for a good man in a storm, it was a situation tailor made for an unscrupulous opportunist.

The first “candiate” to arrive was Sulpicianus, the mayor of Rome. He evidently made a good impression on the soldiers, because the gates were closed to all others. Until word reached Didius Julianus. Who was Didius Julianus?

Well, he was an obese, moneygrubbing gourmand whose morals were so low that he had once been exiled by none other than Commodus. Didius Julianus was also the richest man in Rome. He was in the midst of dinner when informed of the soldiers’ offer. He was not really anxious to leave the table but his wife and daughter insisted. History has been spared the precise details, but his family finally persuaded him to go out and buy.

—One of the most striking paintings on show at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 1888 was a vast canvas by Alma-Tadema: “The Roses of Heliogabalus”. It depicts a notorious dinner party supposed to have been given by the Roman Emperor now more often known as “Elagabalus”. The Emperor himself (his features carefully copied from a bust in the Capitoline Museum in Rome) reclines with his chosen dinner companions at a high table; they are all watching in apparent fascination, as vast quantities of rose petals cascade down over the less important guests reclining at the tables below.
At first sight, it is a classic scene of Roman extravagance. But, for those who knew the stories of the depravities of the Emperor Elagabalus, who ruled the Roman world between 218 and 222 AD, it was something much nastier. For this must be his notorious dinner party at which, according to one Roman writer, so many flower petals were released from the ceiling that “some guests were actually smothered to death, being unable to crawl out to the top”. —Read More:

In a few minutes Didius Julianus was bustling through the streets of Rome, accompanied by his son-in-law, Repentinus. As they neared the city walls thay could hear the raucous shouting of the soldiers. Sulpicianus had the guardsmen to himself and evidently for himself. Julianus would see about this.

But the soldiers on the walls would not let him pass. The empire was being sold and Didius Julianus couldn’t even get close enough to get a piece of the auction. Sulpicianus was going to be emperor.

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 “restore the memory of Commodus.” It was a stroke of genius. Instantly, a ladder was lowered so that the corpulent millionaire

ld climb onto the wall. Now the contest began….( to be continued)


(see link at end)…It was Didius Julianus who bought the throne from the very same praetorians who assassinated Pertinax, his imperial predecessor….Shortly thereafter, Commodus was assassinated and Pertinax appointed to replace him (December 31, AD 192/January 1, AD 193). The reign of Pertinax was in turn undermined by the praetorians and he met a violent death at their hands in just 3 months (March 28, AD 193). The events that followed left a lasting stigma on the effectiveness of Roman succession policy and the praetorian guard as a political force. City prefect Flavius Sulpicianus (Pertinax’ father-in-law) approached the praetorian camp in an attempt to gain the empire for himself but seems to have been met with resistance from the praetorians. Perhaps fearing retribution from a relative of the murdered Pertinax for their part in his death, some of the men entered the city looking for alternative candidates. While most viable candidates likely locked themselves in their homes to wait out the crisis, they did find the opportunistic Didius Julianus and brought him to the camp.

With Sulpicianus on the inside and Didius Julianus without the two men began to make offers to the soldiers for their support. Monetary offers were waged against one another until ultimately Didius Julianus purchased the throne for 25,000 sesterces per Praetorian, according to contemporary historian and senator Dio Cassius. (With 10 double strength praetorian cohorts of approx. 800 men, the total payment may have been as much as 200 million sesterces or 50 million denarii). The Historia Augusta suggests that Didius Julianus actually ended up paying some 30,000 sesterces but another contemporary (Herodian… though a child at the time) disputes this entirely, suggesting that the funds simply weren’t available to make good on the promised payments. Additionally, Didius Julianus promised to restore the name of Commodus (which had been stricken from various public monuments and records) who had been very popular with the army. Sulpicianus’ connection to Pertinax on the other hand, and therefore the faction that ultimately replaced Commodus, likely did little to endear him the praetorians (though he did emerge from his imperial bid completely unharmed).

The senate did confirm Julianus as a legitimate successor to Pertinax preserving his place in the official list of “emperors”, but his reign was effectively little more than a passing moment in time. Despite his prominent political career, he seems to have had little support from the rest of the aristocracy. Dio Cassius’ account is particularly unflattering and he describes the populace as openly hostile. Whether the citizens were angry over the murder of Pertinax, the preceding assassination of Commodus or the unseemly sale of the empire to Julianus, or a combination thereof is debatable…Read More:

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