CHAPTER XXIX, from the third volume of the Story of Civilization: Caesar and Christ, A History of Roman Civilization and of Christianity from their beginnings to A.D. 325

Copyright by Will Durant. See the book at Amazon


ON January 1, 193, a few hours after the assassination of Commodus, the Senate met in a transport of happiness, and chose as emperor one of its most respected members, whose just administration as prefect of the city had continued the finest traditions of the Antonines. Pertinax accepted with reluctance a dignity so exalted that any fall from it must be fatal. He “demeaned himself as an ordinary man,” says Herodian, attended the lectures of the philosophers, encouraged literature, replenished the treasury, reduced taxes, and auctioned off the gold and silver, the embroideries and silks and beautiful slaves, wherewith Commodus had filled the imperial palace; “in fact, he did everything,” says Dio Cassius, “that a good emperor should do.” The freedmen who had lost their perquisites through his economy conspired with the Praetorian Guard, which disliked his restoration of discipline. On March 28, 300 soldiers forced their way into the palace, struck him down, and carried his head upon a spear to their camp. The people and the Senate mourned and hid. The leaders of the Guard announced that they would bestow the crown upon that Roman who should offer them the largest donative. Didius Julianus was persuaded by his wife and daughter to interrupt his meal and enter his bid. Proceeding to the camp, he found a rival offering 5000 drachmas ($3000) to each soldier in return for the throne. The agents of the Guard passed from one millionaire to the other, encouraging higher bids; when Julianus promised each man 6250 drachmas the Guard declared him emperor.