Birthday: February 2, 137
Died At Age: 56
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Also Known As: Marcus Didius Severus Julianus Augustus
Born Country: Roman Empire
Born in: Mediolanum
Famous as: Roman Emperor
Emperors & Kings
Ancient Roman Men
Spouse/Ex-: Manlia Scantilla
father: Quintus Petronius Didius Severus
mother: Aemilia Clara
children: Didia Clara
Died on: June 1, 193
Cause of Death: Killed In Action
Who was Didius Julianus?
Didius Julianus was one of the Roman emperors who reigned in the Year of the Five Emperors. His rule lasted for nine weeks between March and June 193. Originally from the ancient city of Mediolanum, Julianus hailed from a prominent family. He had an impressive career in politics and served as a governor of multiple provinces, including Dalmatia and Germania Inferior. He also served in the Roman military and registered significant victories against the Germanic tribes Chauci and Chatti. As a reward, he was subsequently made a consul in 175. However, Emperor Commodus, fearing Julianus and his rising influence, made him a prefect, an act that many modern historians consider to be a demotion. This led to the stagnation of his career. He became the emperor after purchasing the crown from the Praetorian Guard, who had murdered his predecessor, Pertinax. In the ensuing civil war, three generals rebelled against Julianus and declared themselves as emperors, the most prominent of them being Septimius Severus. Ultimately, Severus’ forces defeated the Praetorian Guard and took control of Rome. Julianus was murdered by a soldier in the royal palace. Even during his reign, he was widely despised because he bought the throne and did not gain it through conquest or succession.
Childhood & Early Life
Julianus was born in the ancient city of Mediolanum, which was located in Italy at the same place where Milan stands now. His parents were Quintus Petronius Didius Severus and Aemilia Clara. According to Cassius Dio, he was born on January 30, 133. The Historia Augusta disputes this and states that his birth date was February 2, 137.
His paternal family was powerful and influential. His maternal family was North African of Roman descent, and several members of it held the rank of consul. He grew up under the care of Domitia Lucilla, mother of the emperor Marcus Aurelius. She helped him get a position in the vigintivirate when he was quite young.
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Military & Political Career
Didius Julianus served in various positions throughout his tenure in the public sector. He was a quaestor and aedile before he was appointed a praetor around 162. He was elected to be the commander of the Legio XXII Primigenia in Mogontiacum (now Mainz).
In 170, he was appointed praefectus of Gallia Belgica and held that position for the next five years.
He successfully thwarted an invasion of the Germanic tribe Chauci that originally lived in the drainage basin of the river Scheldt, the north-western coastal area of present-day Germany.
He was subsequently promoted to the consulship in 175. In the next few years, he garnered fame by preventing an invasion from another Germanic tribe, the Chatti, which resided near the upper Weser (Visurgis).
He served as a governor of Dalmatia and Germania Inferior. He was subsequently appointed prefect. In that position, his job was to hand out money to the poor of Italy. Several modern historians regard this as a demotion. Emperor Commodus was worried about Julianus’ increasing power as a political figure. This effectively ceased his further rise in the political ladder.
During this period, he was accused of planning to assassinate Commodus, but the jury absolved him of these charges and convicted and sentenced the accuser instead. He was then made the governor of Bithynia and became the proconsul of North Africa after Pertinax.
Accession & Reign
After the Praetorian Guard assassinated Emperor Pertinax on March 28, 193, they declared that the crown would be given to whoever offered them the most money. The prefect of Rome at the time was Titus Flavius Claudius Sulpicianus, who was also Pertinax’s father-in-law. He was present in the Praetorian camp apparently to pacify the soldiers. After he heard the announcement, he made the first offer.
Didius Julianus also came to the camp and put forward his offer. In response to Sulpicianus’ offer to pay 20,000 sesterces to every soldier, Julianus promised 25,000. The guards accepted Julianus’ proposal and gave him the crown. Intimidated by the military, the senate accepted him as the emperor. His wife and daughter were granted the title Augusta.
One of Julianus’ first acts as the emperor was the retraction of Pertinax’ economic reforms by decreasing the value of the Roman currency back to its pre-Pertinax standards.
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He was incredibly despised as an emperor, especially because he bought his crown and did not obtain it through the customary methods of succession or conquest. His public appearances were often marred by groans and shouts of "robber and parricide”.
As the news of public fury reached various parts of the empire, three powerful generals, Pescennius Niger in Syria, Septimius Severus in Pannonia, and Clodius Albinus in Britain, declared rebellion. All of them had their own legions and refused to accept Julianus’ sovereignty, proclaiming themselves as emperors.
As Severus’ rebellion was taking place the closest to Rome, Julianus dubbed him a “public enemy” and dispatched senators to convince Severus’ soldiers to leave him. He also ordered a centurion to assassinate Severus.
As the Praetorian Guard had little to no battle experience, Julianus ordered them to march into the Campus Martius. Once they were there, he trained them in the construction of fortifications and fieldwork. However, the guards were still no match for the field legionaries of Severus.
Severus ensured that Albinus would back him by proclaiming him Caesar. He then took control of Ravenna and its fleet. He murdered Tullius Crispinus, the Praetorian prefect, who was dispatched to work out a treaty with him and halt his advance to Rome. He also converted the senators, who were sent to persuade his men to desert him, to his side.
According to Cassius Dio, the Praetorian Guard attempted to put up a resistance but was swept aside. The modern historians, however, believe that they just fled. Didius Julianus offered to make Severus his co-emperor but was rejected. As Severus advanced towards Rome, more and more cities in Italy joined his cause.
After Severus established control over Rome, he offered clemency to the remnants of the Praetorian Guard. In return, they had to give up the ones who had actually murdered Pertinax. The ringleaders were then arrested and executed.
After the senate was informed of what had transpired, it introduced a motion, declaring Severus the emperor. It granted divine honours to Pertinax, and gave Julianus a death sentence.
Family & Personal Life
Didius Julianus was married to Manlia Scantilla. Around 153, their daughter, Didia Clara, was born. Later, Didia wedded Sextus Cornelius Repentinus, whose father, the elder Sextus Cornelius Repentinus, served as a quaestor and head of the Praetorian Guard during the reign of Roman emperors Antoninus Pius (reigned 138-161) and Marcus Aurelius (reigned 161-180).
Death & Legacy
At the time of the sentencing, everyone with political influence had abandoned Didius Julianus, save for one of the prefects and his son-in-law, Repentinus.
On June 1, 193, a soldier murdered Julianus in the royal palace. His reign lasted for only 66 days. Cassius Dio writes that the last words of Julianus were "But what evil have I done? Whom have I killed?"
His body was handed over to his wife and daughter, who interred him in his great-grandfather's tomb by the fifth milestone on the Via Labicana. The senate issued a damnatio memoriae motion to denounce Julianus and his legacy. A few months later, Julianus’ wife passed away in obscurity. Both Didia Clara and her husband vanished from history after this.
In the 1964 American epic film ‘The Fall of Roman Empire’, English actor Eric Porter was cast as Julianus.