In what was to become one of the most shameful episodes in the
political annals of the empire, the death of Pertinax launched a frantic search
for an imperial replacement. The imperial guard, who held de facto power,
decided to "right the wrongs" of Pertinax in a most self-serving manner: by
auctioning off the throne! Two of Rome's richest Senators, Didius Julianus and
Sulpicianus bid back and forth the donatives to be given to each soldier until
the sum of about 625 denarii was reached by Julianus. He was at this point
declared the winner amid a joyous uproar. A joyous uproar, of course, by the
soldiers who managed such a princely sum for themselves. The rest of Rome
cowered in angst at what fate may bring them in the near future. Gibbon, the
famous Roman historian of the eighteenth century, called it the "most insolent
excess of military license" and recalls that after the initial festivities of
the day were over Julianus "...passed a sleepless night; revolving most probably
in his mind his own rash folly, the fate of his virtuous predecessor, and the
doubtful and dangerous tenure of an empire, which had not been acquired by
merit, but purchased by money."
And if he did worry he had ample reason to: as soon as news of this travesty
reached the various legions scattered about the empire generals were driven to
condemn the new emperor and set out to seek the position for themselves, backed
by their veteran legions. Septimius Severus, the first to reach the capital,
quickly deposed and executed Julianus and then went on to defeat the other rival
contenders in a bloody and prolonged civil war.
AE Sestertius 28 March--2 June 193 A.D.
20.39 g., 27.7 mm.
Obv. IMP CAES M DID SEVER IVLIAN AVG: Laureate head right
Rev. P M TR P COS S C: Fortuna standing left and holding rudder on globe, bearing