chapter  11
2 Pages


IN THE JUDGMENT of his contemporaries, Marcus Aurelius had been the perfect emperor. Posterity confirmed the verdict. There was one qualification: his choice of successor. Commodus, the first emperor born in the purple, became ‘a greater curse to the Romans than any pestilence or any crime’, in the words of Dio. He was hated by his own class, and was continually plotted against. Only interested in his pleasures, he let his favourites rule, first the chamberlain Saoterus, then Tigidius Perennis, as praetorian prefect a coldly efficient Grand Vizier, then another freedman chamberlain, Cleander. When these three were gone, Commodus began to break loose (in 190) and to indulge his fantasies to the full. A new plot was formed and on New Year’s Eve 192 he was strangled in his bath. The ‘royalest of all emperors’ was replaced by Helvius Pertinax, the freedman’s son and former schoolmaster, who proclaimed a return to the policies of Marcus. Less than three months later he too was dead from assassination, succeeded, after the notorious auction of the empire at the praetorian camp, by Didius Julianus, the one-time protégé of Domitia Lucilla. Didius began under a cloud and never had a chance. The men who had backed Pertinax acted, and their nominee, Septimius Severus, marched on Rome from Pannonia. It took four years, from 193-197, for Severus to secure the throne, in two more civil wars.1