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This Week In History

Pertinax Declared Emperor – January 1, 193 AD

The Roman emperor, Commodus, was murdered on December 31, 192 AD by Praetorian prefect Quintus Aemilius Laetus, Commodus’s mistress Marcia and chamberlain Eclectus. At the time, Publius Helvius Pertinax was the urban prefect and was rushed to the Praetorian camp and declared emperor on January 1, 193. Upon ascending to the throne, Pertinax immediately ran into issues with the Praetorians, who suspected he was part of the conspiracy to rid the world of Commodus and expected to be rewarded in helping him gain his new title. This is a category of  Denarius.

Alba_Iulia_National_Museum_of_the_Union_2011_-_Possible_Statue_of_Roman_Emperor_Pertinax_Close_Up,_Apulum.JPG

Alba Julia National Museum of the Union 2011 – Possible Statue of Emperor Pertinax

Pertinax felt the military needed stricter discipline as they were getting too accustom to a licentious living, and instituted reforms, which they resisted and hated him for it. He also did not want to pay the Praetorians the donative they expected for their assistance, until he was greatly pressured to do so. In order to raise the funds for the donative, Pertinax had to sell Commodus’s property, including his concubines and youths he kept for sexual pleasures. Even with the donative paid, Pertinax was constantly the target of other conspiracies and narrowly avoided a plot to have him replaced while in Ostia only by one of the conspirators exposing it himself (and was thusly pardoned for it).

The restrained practices of Marcus Aurelius formed the basis of what Pertinax attempted to accomplish. He tried to reform the alimenta, but that proved too difficult with resistance from many groups. The alimenta involved the grain distribution to the citizens. He did manage to reform the currency and increased the silver purity of the denarius from 74% to 87% and increased the weight from 2.22 grams to 2.75 grams. Sadly, this reform only lasted as long as his short reign.

While at his palace on March 28, 200 to 300 Praetorians rushed the gates, unstopped by the guards on duty or palace officials. Pertinax sent Laetus, the same Praetorian who helped murder Commodus, out to meet the group, but Laetus joined them instead. Pertinax decided to go out and meet them personally to discuss the matter they were saying they only received half the donative they were promised. He appeared to be having some success until one of the soldiers killed him instead, ending his reign after less than three months – the first emperor of a year which would see five emperors rule the Roman Empire.

With no one immediately available to take the purple, the Praetorians auctioned the title to the highest bidder. The honor was won by senator Didius Julianus, triggering a short civil war, and would see another take the throne a mere 66 days later.

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