The Life of Pertinax


Historia Augusta


1

1

Publius Helvius Pertinax was the son of a freedman, Helvius Successus by name, who confessed that he gave this name to his son because of his own long-standing connection with the timber-trade, for had conducted that business with pertinacity.

2

Pertinax himself was born in the Apennines on an estate which belonged to his mother. The hour he was born a black horse climbed to the roof, and after remaining there for a short time, fell to the ground and died.

3

Disturbed by this occurrence, his father went to a Chaldean, and he prophesied future greatness for the boy, saying that he himself had lost his child.

4

As a boy, Pertinax was educated in the rudiments of literature and in arithmetic and was also put under the care of a Greek teacher of grammar and, later, of Sulpicius Apollinaris; after receiving instruction from this man, Pertinax himself took up the teaching of grammar.

5

But when he found little profit in this profession, with the aid of Lollianus Avitus, a former consul and his father's patron, he sought an appointment to a command in the ranks.

6

Soon afterwards, in the reign of Titus Aurelius, he set out for Syria as prefect of a cohort, and there, because he had used the imperial post without official letters of recommendation, he was forced by the governor of Syria to make his way from Antioch to his station on foot.


2

1

Winning promotion because of the energy he showed in the Parthian war, he was transferred to Britain and there retained.

2

Later he led a squadron in Moesia, and after that he supervised the distribution of grants to the poor on the Aemilian Way.

3

Next, he commanded the German fleet. His mother followed him all the way to Germany, and there she died, and her tomb is said to be still standing there.

4

From this command he was transferred to Dacia at a salary of two hundred thousand sesterces, but through the machinations of certain persons he came to be distrusted by Marcus and was removed from this post; afterwards, however, through the influence of Claudius Pompeianus, the son-in‑law of Marcus, he was detailed to the command of detachments on the plea that he would become Pompeianus' aide.

5

Meeting with approval in this position, he was enrolled in the senate.

6

Later, when he had won success in war for the second time, the plot which had been made against him was revealed, and Marcus, in order to remedy the wrong he had done him, raised him to the rank of praetor and put him in command of the First Legion. Whereupon Pertinax straightway rescued Raetia and Noricum from the enemy.

7

Because of his conspicuous prowess in this campaign he was appointed, on the recommendation of Marcus, to the consulship.

8

Marcus' speech has been preserved in the works of Marius Maximus; it contains a eulogy of him and relates, moreover, everything that he did and suffered.

9

And besides this speech, which it would take too much space to incorporate in this work, Marcus praised Pertinax frequently, both in the assemblies of soldiers and in the senate, and publicly expressed regret that he was a senator and therefore could not be made prefect of the guard.

10

After Cassius' revolt had been suppressed, Pertinax set out from Syria to protect the bank of the Danube,

11

and presently he was appointed to govern both the Moesias and, soon thereafter, Dacia. And by reason of his success in these provinces, he won the appointment to Syria.


3

1

Up to the time of his administration of Syria, Pertinax preserved his honesty, but after the death of Marcus he became desirous of wealth, and was in consequence assailed by popular gibes.

2

It was not until after he had governed four consular provinces and had become a rich man that he entered the Roman senate-chamber, which, during all his career as senator, he had never before seen, for during his term as consul he had been absent from Rome.

3

Immediately after this, he received orders from Perennis to retire to his father's farm in Liguria, where his father had kept a cloth-maker's shop.

4

On coming to Liguria, however, he bought up a great number of farms, and added countless buildings to his father's shop, which he still kept in its original form; and there he stayed for three years carrying on the business through his slaves.

5

After Perennis had been put to death, Commodus made amends to Pertinax, and in a letter asked him to set out for Britain.

6

After his arrival there he kept the soldiers from any revolt, for they wished to set up some other man as emperor, preferably Pertinax himself.

7

And now Pertinax acquired an evil character for enviousness, for he was said to have laid before Commodus the charge that Antistius Burrus and Arrius Antoninus were aspiring to the throne.

8

And certainly he did suppress a mutiny against himself in Britain, but in so doing he came into great danger; for in a mutiny of a legion he was almost killed, and indeed was left among the slain.

9

This mutiny Pertinax punished very severely.

10

Later on, however, he petitioned to be excused from his governorship, saying that the legions were hostile to him because he had been strict in his discipline.


4

1

After he had been relieved of his post, he was put in charge of the grants to the poor. Next he was made proconsul of Africa.

2

During this proconsulship, it is said, he suppressed many rebellions by the aid of prophetic verses which issued from the temple of Caelestis. Next he was made prefect of the city,

3

and in this office, as successor to Fuscianus, a very stern man, Pertinax was exceedingly gentle and considerate, and he proved very pleasing to Commodus himself, for he was . . . when Pertinax was made consul for the second time.

4

And while in this position, Pertinax did not avoid complicity in the murder of Commodus, when a share in this plot was offered him by the other conspirators.

5

After Commodus was slain, Laetus, the prefect of the guard, and Eclectus, the chamberlain, came to Pertinax and reassured him, and then led him to the camp.

6

There he harangued the soldiers, promised a donative, and said that the imperial power had been thrust upon him by Laetus and Eclectus.

7

It was pretended, moreover, that Commodus had died a natural death, chiefly because the soldiers feared that their loyalty was merely being tested.

8

Finally, and at first by only a few, Pertinax was hailed as emperor. He was made emperor on the day before the Kalends of January, being then more than sixty years old.

9

During the night he came from the camp to the senate, but, when he ordered the opening of the hall of the senate-house and the attendant could not be found, he seated himself in the Temple of Concord.

10

And when Claudius Pompeianus, Marcus' son-in‑law, came to him and bemoaned the death of Commodus, Pertinax urged him to take the throne; Claudius, however, seeing that Pertinax was already invested with the imperial power, refused.

11

Without further delay, therefore, all the magistrates, in company with the consul, came to the senate-house, and Pertinax, who had come in by night, was saluted as emperor.


5

1

Pertinax, on his part, after his own praises had been recited by the consuls and Commodus had been execrated in the outcries of the senate, returned thanks to the senate in general, and in particular to Laetus, the prefect of the guard, through whose instrumentality Commodus had been slain and he himself declared emperor.

2

When Pertinax had returned thanks to Laetus, however, Falco, the consul, said: "We may know what sort of an emperor you will be from this, that we see behind you Laetus and Marcia, the instruments of Commodus' crimes".

3

To him Pertinax replied: "You are young, Consul, and do not know the necessity of obedience. They obeyed Commodus, but against their will, and as soon as they had an opportunity, they showed what had always been their desire."

4

On the same day that he was entitled Augustus, at the very hour at which he was paying his vows on the Capitolium, Flavia Titiana, his wife, was also given the name of Augusta.

5

Of all the emperors he was the first to receive the title of Father of his Country on the day when he was named Augustus.

6

And at the same time he received the proconsular power and the right of making four proposals to the senate — a combination which Pertinax regarded as an omen.

7

And so Pertinax repaired to the Palace, which was vacant at that time, for Commodus had been slain in the Vectilian Villa. And on the first day of his reign, when the tribune asked for the watchword, he gave "let us be soldiers," as if reproving the former reign for its inactivity. As a matter of fact, he had really used this same watchword before in all his commands.


6

1

But the soldiers would not tolerate a reproof and straightway began making plans for changing the emperor.

2

On this same day also he invited the magistrates and the chief men of the senate to a banquet, a practice which Commodus had discontinued.

3

But, indeed, on the day after the Kalends of January, when the statues of Commodus were overthrown, the soldiers groaned aloud, for he gave this same watchword for the second time, and besides they dreaded service under an emperor advanced in years.

4

Finally on the third of the month, just as the vows were being assumed, the soldiers tried to lead Triarius Maternus Lascivius, a senator of distinction, to the camp, in order to invest him with the sovereignty of the Roman Empire.

5

He, however, fled from them quite naked and came to Pertinax in the Palace and presently departed from the city.

6

Induced by fear, Pertinax ratified all the concessions which Commodus had made to the soldiers and veterans.

7

He declared, also, that he had received from the senate the sovereignty which, in fact, he had already assumed on his own responsibility.

8

He abolished trials for treason absolutely and bound himself thereto by an oath, he recalled those who had been exiled on the charge of treason, and he re-established the good name of those who had been slain.

9

The senate granted his son the name of Caesar, but Pertinax not only refused to allow the name Augusta to be conferred on his wife but also, in the case of his son, said: "Only when he earns it".

10

And since Commodus had obscured the significance of the praetorian rank by countless appointments thereto, Pertinax, after securing the passage of a decree of the senate, issued an order that those who had secured the rank of praetor not by actual service, but by appointment, should be ranked below those who had been praetors in reality.

11

But by this act also he brought on himself the bitter enmity of many men.


7

1

He gave orders for the taking of a new census. He gave orders, too, that men convicted of lodging false accusations should be punished with severity, exercising, nevertheless, greater moderation than former emperors, and at the same time ordaining a separate punishment for each rank in case any of its members should be convicted for this offence.

2

He enacted a law, moreover, that an old will should not become invalid before the new one was formally completed, fearing that some time the privy-purse might in this way succeed to an inheritance.

3

He declared that for his own part he would accept no legacy which came to him either through flattery or by reason of legal entanglements if thereby the rightful heirs and the near of kin should be robbed of their rights, and when the decree of the senate was passed, he added these words:

4

"It is better, O Conscript Fathers, to rule a state that is impoverished, than to attain to a great mass of wealth by paths of peril and dishonour".

5

He paid the donatives and largesses which Commodus had promised,

6

and provided with the greatest care for the grain-supply. And when the treasury was drained to such a degree that he was unable to put his hands on more than a million sesterces, as he himself admitted, he was forced, in violation of a previous promise, to exact certain revenues which Commodus had remitted.

7

And finally, when Lollianus Gentianus, a man of consular rank, brought him to task for breaking his promise, he excused himself on the ground that it was a case of necessity.

8

He held a sale of Commodus' belongings, even ordering the sale of all his youths and concubines, except those who had apparently been brought to the Palace by force.

9

Of those whom he ordered sold, however, many were soon brought back to his service and ministered to the pleasures of the old man, and under other emperors they even attained to the rank of senator.

10

Certain buffoons, also, who bore the shame of unmentionable names, he put up at auction and sold.

11

The moneys gained in this trafficking, which were immense, he used for a donative to the soldiers.

8

1

He also demanded from Commodus' freedmen the sums wherewith they had been enriched when Commodus held his sales.

2

In the sale of Commodus' goods the following articles were especially noteworthy: robes of silk foundation with gold embroidery of remarkable workmanship; tunics, mantles and coats; tunics made with long sleeves in the manner of the Dalmatians and fringed military cloaks; purple cloaks made for service in the camp.

3

Also Bardaean hooded cloaks, and a gladiator's toga and harness finished in gold and jewels;

4

also swords, such as those with which Hercules is represented, and the necklaces worn by gladiators, and vessels, some of pottery, some of gold, some of ivory, some of silver, and some of citrus wood.

5

Also cups in the shape of the phallus, made of these same materials; and Samnite pots for heating the resin and pitch used for depilating men and making their skins smooth.

6

And furthermore, carriages, the very latest masterpieces of the art, made with entwined and carven wheels and carefully planned seats that could be turned so as to avoid the sun at one moment, at another, face the breeze.

7

There were other carriages that measured the road, and showed the time; and still others designed for the indulgence of his vices.

8

Pertinax restored to their masters, moreover, all slaves who had come from private homes to the Palace.

9

He reduced the imperial banquets from something absolutely unlimited to a fixed standard, and, indeed, cut down all expenses from what they had been under Commodus.

10

And from the example set by the emperor, who lived rather simply, there resulted a general economy and a consequent reduction in the cost of living;

11

for by eliminating the unessentials he reduced the upkeep of the court to half the usual amount.


9

1

He established rewards for the soldiers, paid the debt which he had contracted at the beginning of his reign, and restored the treasury to its normal condition.

2

He set aside a fixed sum for public buildings, furnished funds for repairing the highways, and paid the arrears in the salaries of very many men. Finally, he made the privy-purse capable of sustaining all the demands made upon it,

3

and with rigorous honesty he even assumed the responsibility for nine years' arrears of money for the poor which was owed through a statute of Trajan's.

4

Before he was made emperor he was not free from the suspicion of greed, for he had extended his own holdings at Vada Sabatia by foreclosing mortgages;

5

indeed, in a line quoted from Lucilius he was called a land-shark.

6

Many men, moreover, have set down in writing that in those provinces which he ruled as proconsul he conducted himself in a grasping manner; for he sold, they say, both exemptions from service and military appointments.

7

And lastly, although his father's estate was very small, and no legacy was left him, he suddenly became rich.

8

As a matter of fact, however, he restored to everyone the property of which Commodus had despoiled him, but not without compensation.

9

He always attended the stated meetings of the senate and always made some proposal. To those who came to greet him or who accosted him he was always courteous.

10

He absolved a number of men whose slaves had assailed them with false charges, and punished severely those who brought the accusation, crucifying all such slaves; and he also rehabilitated the memory of some who had died.


10

1

A plot was attempted against him by Falco the consul, who, being eager to rule, made complaint in the senate.

2

He, in fact, was believed by the senate, when a certain slave, on the ground that he was the son of Fabia and . . . of the household of Ceionius Commodus, laid a baseless claim to the residence on the Palatine and, on being recognised, was sentenced to be soundly flogged and returned to his master.

3

In the punishment of this man those who hated Pertinax are said to have found an opportunity for an outbreak.

4

Nevertheless, Pertinax spared Falco, and furthermore asked the senate to pardon him.

5

In the end Falco lived out his life in security and in possession of his property, and at his death, his son succeeded to the inheritance.

6

Many men, however, claimed that Falco was unaware that men were planning to make him emperor,

7

and others said that slaves who had falsified his accounts assailed him with trumped-up charges.

8

However, a conspiracy was organized against Pertinax by Laetus, the prefect of the guard, and sundry others who were displeased by his integrity.

9

Laetus regretted that he had made Pertinax emperor, because Pertinax used to rebuke him as a stupid babbler of various secrets. It seemed to the soldiers, moreover, a very cruel measure, that in the matter of Falco he had had many of their comrades put to death on the testimony of a single slave.


11

1

And so three hundred soldiers, formed into a wedge, marched under arms from the camp to the imperial residence.

2

On that day, it was said, no heart had been found in the victim when Pertinax performed a sacrifice, and when he tried to avert this evil omen, he was unable to discover the upper portion of the liver. And so on that day the great body of the soldiers remained in the camp.

3

Some, indeed, had come forth from the camp in order to act as escort to the emperor, but Pertinax, because of the unfavourable sacrifice, postponed for that day a projected visit to the Athenaeum, where he had planned to hear a poet, and thereupon the escort began to return to the camp.

4

But just at that moment the band of troops mentioned above arrived at the Palace, and neither could they be prevented from entering nor could their entrance be announced to the Emperor.

5

In fact, the palace-attendants hated Pertinax with so bitter a hatred that they even urged on the soldiers to do the deed.

6

The troops arrived just as Pertinax was inspecting the court-slaves, and, passing through the portico of the Palace, they advanced as far as the spot called Sicilia and the Banqueting-Hall of Jupiter.

7

As soon as he learned of their approach, Pertinax sent Laetus, the prefect of the guard, to meet them; but he, avoiding the soldiers, passed out through the portico and betook himself home with his face hidden from sight.

8

After they had burst into the inner portion of the Palace, however, Pertinax advanced to meet them and sought to appease them with a long and serious speech.

9

In spite of this, one Tausius, a Tungrian, after haranguing the soldiers into a state of fury and fear, hurled his spear at Pertinax' breast.

10

And he, after a prayer to Jupiter the Avenger, veiled his head with his toga and was stabbed by the rest.

11

Eclectus also, after stabbing two of his assailants, died with him, and the other court-chamberlains

12

(his own chamberlains, as soon as he had been made emperor, Pertinax had given to his emancipated children) fled away in all directions.

13

Many, it is true, say that the soldiers even burst into his bedroom, and there, standing about his bed, slew him as he tried to flee.


12

1

He was a stately old man, with a long beard and hair brushed back. His figure was somewhat corpulent, with somewhat prominent abdomen, but his bearing was regal. He was a man of mediocre ability in speaking, and suave rather than kindly, nor was he ever considered ingenuous.

2

Though friendly enough in speech, when it came to deeds, he was ungenerous and almost mean — so mean, in fact, that before he was made emperor he used to serve at his banquets lettuce and the edible thistle in half portions.

3

And unless someone made him a present of food, he would serve nine pounds of meat in three courses, no matter how many friends were present;

4

if anyone presented him with an additional amount, moreover, he would put off using it until the next day, and would then invite a great number of guests.

5

Even after he had become emperor, if he had no guests he would dine in the same style.

6

And whenever he in turn wished to send his friends something from his table, he would send a few scraps or a piece of tripe, or occasionally the legs of a fowl. But he never ate pheasants at his own banquets or sent them to others.

7

And when he dined without guests, he would invite his wife and Valerianus, who had been a teacher together with him, in order that he might have literary conversation.

8

He removed none of those whom Commodus had put in charge of affairs, preferring to wait until the anniversary of the founding of the city, which he wished to make the official beginning of his reign; and thus it came about, it is said, that the servants of Commodus plotted to slay him in his bath.


13

1

The imperial power and all the appurtenances thereof he abhorred, and he always made it quite evident that they were distasteful to him. In short, he did not wish to seem other than he really was.

2

In the senate-house he was most punctilious, doing reverence to the senate when it expressed its good will and conversing with all the senators as though still prefect of the city.

3

He even wished to resign the throne and retire to private life,

4

and was unwilling to have his children reared in the Palace.

On the other hand, he was so stingy and eager for money that even after he became emperor he carried on a business at Vada Sabatia through agents, just as he had done as a private citizen.

5

And despite his efforts, he was not greatly beloved; certainly, all who talked freely together spoke ill of Pertinax, calling him the smooth-tongued, that is, a man who speaks affably and acts meanly.

6

In truth, his fellow-townsmen, who had flocked to him after his accession, and had obtained nothing from him, gave him this name. In his lust for gain, he accepted presents with eagerness.

7

He was survived by a son and a daughter, and by his wife, the daughter of the Flavius Sulpicianus whom he made prefect of the city in his own place.

8

He was not in the least concerned about his wife's fidelity, even though she carried on an amour quite openly with a man who sang to the lyre. He himself, it is said, caused great scandal by an amour with Cornificia.

9

The freedmen attached to the court he kept within bounds with a strong hand, and in this way also he brought upon himself a bitter hatred.


14

1

The warnings of his death were these: three days before he was killed he himself, on looking into a pool, seemed to behold a man attacking him with a sword.

2

And on the day he was killed, they say, the pupils of his eyes, as well as the little pictures which they reflect, were invisible to those who looked into them.

3

And when he was performing sacrifices to the Lares the living coals died out, though they are wont to flame up. Furthermore, as we related above, the heart and upper portion of the liver could not be found in the victims. And on the day before he died, stars of great brilliancy were seen near the sun in the day-time.

4

He was responsible himself, it is said, for an omen about his successor, Julianus. For when Didius Julianus presented a nephew of his, to whom he was betrothing his daughter, the Emperor exhorted the young man to show deference to his uncle, and added: "Honour my colleague and successor."

5

For Julianus had previously been his colleague in the consulship and had succeeded him in his proconsular command.

6

The soldiers and court-retainers regarded him with hatred, but the people felt great indignation at his death, since it had seemed that all the ancient customs might be restored through his efforts.

7

His head, fixed on a pole, was carried through the city to the camp by the soldiers who killed him.

8

His remains, including his head, which was recovered, were laid in the tomb of his wife's grandfather.

9

And Julianus, his successor, buried his body with all honour, after he had found it in the Palace.

10

At no time, however, did he make any public mention of Pertinax either before the people or in the presence of the senate, but when he, too, was deserted by the soldiers Pertinax was raised to the rank of the gods by the senate and the people.

15

1

In the reign of Severus, moreover, after Pertinax had received the full official approval of the senate, an honorary funeral, of the kind that would be accorded to a censor, was held for him, and Severus himself honoured him with a funeral eulogy.

2

Severus, furthermore, out of respect for so good a ruler, accepted from the senate the name Pertinax.

3

Pertinax' son was made his father's priest,

4

and the Marcian brotherhood, who performed sacrifices to the Deified Marcus, were called Helviani in honour of Helvius Pertinax.

5

There were added, also, circus-games and a celebration to commemorate the anniversary of his accession, but these were afterwards abolished by Severus. The birthday-games decreed for him, however, are still observed.

6

He was born on the Kalends of August in the consulship of Verus and Ambibulus, and was killed on the fifth day before the Kalends of April in the consulship of Falco and Clarus. He lived sixty years, seven months and twenty-six days,

7

and reigned for two months and twenty-five days. He gave the people a largess of one hundred denarii apiece, and promised twelve thousand sesterces to each soldier of the guard, though he gave only six thousand. The sum promised to the armies he did not give for the reason that death forestalled him.

8

A letter which Marius Maximus included in his life of Pertinax shows that he shrank from taking the imperial power, but this letter, on account of its great length, I have not thought best to insert.