Praetorian Guard

The Pisonian Conspiracy. April 19, 65 AD.

Gaius Calpurnius Piso, a leading Roman statesman, benefactor of literature, and orator, intended to have Nero assassinated, and replace him as Emperor through acclamation by the Praetorian Guard. He enlisted the aid of several prominent senators, equestrians, and soldiers with a loosely conceived plan. Nero had been Emperor since 54 AD, and the ruling class had grown weary of his tyrannical reign. Although the conspiracy ended a failure, it sowed the seeds for the downfall of Nero, his suicide and the ensuing chaos of the Year of Four Emperors. The fact that senators, soldiers, and equestrians were willing to work together outlines the widespread hatred of Nero. It seems as if only Piso and perhaps Plautius Lateranus were driven to participate for the love of Rome. Others plotters, such as...

The First Battle of Bedriacum. 14 April 69 AD.

Marcus Salvius Otho, with the support and aid of the Praetorian Guard, had his predecessor Galba murdered in January and claimed the throne. Legate Aulus Vitellius, governor of the province of Germania Inferior, had also claimed the throne earlier in the month and marched on Rome with his troops. Vitellius’ forces were divided into two armies, one commanded by Aulus Caecina Alienus and the other by Fabius Valens. The Vitellian forces included legions XXI Rapax, V Alaudae and powerful vexillationes from all the other legions stationed on the Rhine, together with a strong force of Batavian auxiliaries, a force of around 70,000 men. The forces commanded by Caecina crossed the Alps by the Great St. Bernard Pass to reach northern Italy. They attacked Placentia but were repulsed by the Oth...

Caligula Emperor. March 28, 37 AD.

When Tiberius died on 16 March 37 AD, his estate and the titles of the principate were left to Caligula and Tiberius’s own grandson, Gemellus, who were to serve as joint heirs. Although Tiberius was 77 and on his death bed, some ancient historians still conjecture that he was murdered. Tacitus writes that the Praetorian Prefect, Macro, smothered Tiberius with a pillow to hasten Caligula’s accession, much to the joy of the Roman people. Seneca the Elder and Philo, who both wrote during Tiberius’s reign, record Tiberius as dying a natural death. Backed by Macro, Caligula had Tiberius’s will nullified with regard to Gemellus on grounds of insanity, but otherwise carried out Tiberius’s wishes. Caligula accepted the powers of the principate as conferred by the sena...

Maximinus Thrax and the Year of the Six Emperors. March 19, 325 AD.

  “The Romans could bear his barbarities no longer — the way in which he called up informers and incited accusers, invented false offences, killed innocent men, condemned all whoever came to trial, reduced the richest men to utter poverty and never sought money anywhere save in some other’s ruin, put many generals and many men of consular rank to death for no offence, carried others about in waggons without food and drink, and kept others in confinement, in short neglected nothing which he thought might prove effectual for cruelty — and, unable to suffer these things longer, they rose against him in revolt.” —    Historia Augusta. The emperor at the beginning of the year was Maximinus Thrax, who had ruled since March 20, 235. Later sources claim he was a cruel tyrant...

Otho, Emperor of Rome. January 15, 69 AD.

Galba was childless and far advanced in years, and Otho, encouraged by the predictions of astrologers, aspired to succeed him. He came to a secret agreement with Galba’s favourite, Titus Vinius, agreeing to marry Vinius’ daughter in exchange for his support. However, in January 69 AD, his hopes were dashed by Galba’s formal adoption of Lucius Calpurnius Piso Licinianus. Desperate as Otho was because of the state of his finances, he found the money needed to purchase the services of some twenty-three soldiers of the Praetorian Guard. On the morning of 15 January, Otho attended as usual to pay his respects to Galba, and then hastily excused himself and hurried from the Palatine Hill to meet his accomplices. He was then escorted to the Praetorian camp, where he was saluted a...

Caracalla and Geta. December 19, 211 AD.

Caracalla’s father, Septimius Severus, died on 4 February 211 at Eboracum while on campaign in Caledonia, north of the Roman Britannia. Caracalla and his brother, Geta, jointly inherited the throne upon their father’s death. Caracalla and Geta ended the campaign in Caledonia after concluding a peace with the Caledonians that returned the border of Roman Britain to the line demarcated by Hadrian’s Wall. During the journey back to Rome with their father’s ashes, Caracalla and his brother continuously argued with one another, their relations growing increasingly hostile. Caracalla and Geta considered dividing the empire in half along the Bosphorus to make their co-rule less hostile. Caracalla was to rule in the west and Geta was to rule in the east. They were persuaded...

Trajan, Nerva´s successor. October 28,97 AD.

In September 96, Emperor Domitian was succeeded by Marcus Cocceius Nerva. After a brief and turbulent year in power, culminating in a revolt by members of the Praetorian Guard, Nerva was compelled to adopt the more popular Trajan as his heir and successor. Since Nerva was really unpopular with the army and had recently been forced to execute Domitian´s killers by his Praetorian Prefect, he felt the need to gain support of the military in order to avoid being deposed. He accomplished this on October 28 of 97 by naming Trajan as his adoptive son and successor, pleading only Trajan´s outstanding military merits. There are hints that Trajan´s adoption was imposed on Nerva, as Pliny wrote, and if this is what happened, then Trajan would be an usurper, and the notion of natural continuity betwee...

Domitian, Emperor. September 13, 81 AD.

After a short reign, Titus, the elder son of Vespasian, died unexpectedly as a result of a disease on the 13th September 81. Next day, his younger brother Domitian was proclaimed emperor by the Praetorian Guard, his reign being the longest since that of Tiberius and the last of the Flavian Dynasty. He is described by classical sources as a cruel and paranoid tyrant, comparing his vileness to that of Nero or Caligula. Nevertheless, this sources have proven to be not very objective, as they come from writers openly hostile to the emperor, and modern research has shown that he was a ruthless but efficient monarch that developed cultural and economic programs that set the foundation of a very prosperous 2nd century.

Battle of the Margus River – July, 285 AD

The crisis of the Third Century nearly destroyed the Roman Empire through instability of the position of emperor and various rebel breakaway empires. When Probus was murdered in 282 AD, Marcus Aurelius Carus was elevated by the military from his appointed position of prefect of the Praetorian Guard to Augustus, in turn naming his sons Carinus and Numerian as co-Caesari. Also during this time, Diocles rose through the ranks to become commander of the elite cavalry assigned to the Imperial household. Instead of going to Rome, Carus remained on campaign, leaving Carinus in charge of the western part of the empire from Gaul and taking Numerian with him to deal with the Persians. Along the way, Carus and Numerian took back areas lost previously over the years by defeating the Quadi and Sarmatia...

The Year of Four Emperors – 69 AD

When January 1, 69 arrived, Servius Sulpicius Galba was on the throne of the Roman Empire, following the suicide of Nero in June the previous year. It was a tumultuous time in the empire, with civil war breaking out in several regions. Galba himself rose to the purple through the machinations of the Praetorian Guard prefect, Nymphidius Sabinus, after the failed attempt of Vindex to promote Galba, while he was governor of Hispania Tarraconensis, to replace Nero. Galba marched into Rome with the Legion VII Galbiana, which would later be renamed VII Genima. Support was tenuous for Galba in the beginning as it was, even though he was confirmed by the Senate. Two of the legions in Gaul refused to support him and instead wanted the governor of their region, Aulus Vitellius Germanicus, proclaimed...

Nerva Born – November 8, 30 AD

Marcus Cocceius Nerva was born in Italy-Narni on November 8, 30 AD (or 35 AD – there are conflicting sources) to a lineage of very well-connected politicians. His grandfather and father were both consuls and the Cocceii family was connected to the Julio-Claudian dynasty through marriage. Most of Nerva’s life was spent in the background of Roman politics, but was apparently very productive. He was appointed praetor-elect in 65 and was one of Nero’s advisors. He helped expose the Pisonian Conspiracy in 65, plotting the assassination of Nero. Whatever his involvement in exposing the plot, it must have been considerable as Nero gave him triumphal honors and the right to have his statues placed around the palace. Nero was also very fond of Nerva’s literary skills. Also in Nero’s circle at the t...

Claudius Poisioned – October 13, 54 AD

Upon the murder of Caligula by the praetorian guards on January 24, 41 AD, there were only three surviving males in the Julio-Claudian dynasty that had been ruling the Roman Empire – Claudius (50, son of Nero Claudius Drusus and Antonia); Nero (4, son of Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus and Agrippina Junior); and Brittanicus (1, son of Claudius and Valeria Messalina). While Caligula was being relieved of his mortal coil, Claudius hid behind some curtains in the palace. The praetorians found him and led him to their camp. To his great surprise, he was there elevated to emperor for two likely reasons – the Senate was debating possibly turning from the Empire model and back to the old Republican one; and the praetorians likely expected they could easily control Claudius because of his impaired con...

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