THIRD MILLENNIUM LIBRARY
A ROMAN EMPEROR 1 JANUARY-20 MARCH. A.D 193
AFTER the death of Commodus, the first care of those who had killed him was to secure their lives, by endeavoring to give him a successor who should owe to them his elevation to the empire. They cast their eyes on Pertinax, who, from the lowest condition, had raised himself, by his merit and the favor of Marcus Aurelius’, to a rank above which there was nothing but the throne. That wise prince had made him consul, and invested him successively with several governments of provinces, or military commands. He was a long while a senator, and even a consular, without ever having seen the senate : for his employments kept him always at a distance, from Rome, and he was consul without so much as setting his foot within the city. He entered the senate-house for the first time, in the reign of Commodus ; and soon after, the hatted and jealousy of Perennis brought upon him, as we observed before, a disgrace, and exile of three years. After the fall of that minister, Pertinax came again into favor. The meanness of his birth might perhaps be a circumstance which recommended him to Commodus, by whom, from the time of his being recalled he was constantly employed, and promoted to the highest posts; being made, first commander of the legions in Britain, afterwards superintendent of the provisions, then proconsul of Africa, and lastly consul for the second time, and governor of Rome : which last office he held when Commodus was killed.
The renown which Pertinax had acquired equalled, or ever surpassed the splendour of his dignities. Equally fit for civil or military affairs, brave, and intelligent in the art of war, his name was become the terror of the barbarians; and at the same time he had kept up a strict discipline amongst the mutinous troops. In the government of Rome, he behaved with such mildness, affability, and goodness, as made every one love him. Plain in his manners, and so modest as even then to acknowledge for his patron Lollianus Avitus, whose equal at least he was become, but whom he always gratefully respected, as the first author of his fortune; an enemy to luxury, and a lover of frugality : History charges him with no other fault than being too great an economist, and too ready to promise more than he intended to perform, in order to pay with words those whom he could not satisfy with deeds.
No one was more worthy of the empire than Pertinax, and the conspirators did themselves an infinite honour in placing him upon the throne. If we believe Capitolinus and Julian the apostate, he was privy to their conspiracy against the life of Commodus. Dion Cassius and Herodian suppose the contrary; and their opinion seems the most probable, if we consider how soon the design was put in execution after it was formed.
The moment Commodus expired under the hand of Narcissus, Laetus and Eclectus, sensible of what consequence the least delay might be, hastened to Pertinax, acquainted him with what had passed, and invited him to take possession of the vacant throne. According to Herodian, Pertinax, on seeing them rush into his chamber, thought they were come to kill him by the emperor's command, and accordingly told them, that he had long expected not to be spared any more than the other friends of Marcus Aurelius, and looked upon each night as the last of his life, adding, that they might execute their commission. When they had explained themselves, he hesitated whether he should accept of their offer, until one of his domestics, whom he had sent to see and examine the dead body, returned with a confirmation of what the praetorian prefect and the chamberlain had told him; upon which he went with Laetus to the camp of the praetorians.
Still he feared, and not without reason, that the soldiery, who loved Commodus, might not be favourably disposed towards him; and therefore he resolved to back his pretensions with the suffrages of the people. It was then midnight; and, by his order, some of those that were about him ran to the different quarters of the city, crying aloud in the streets, that Commodus was dead, and Pertinax going to the camp to take possession of the empire. This news occasioned a great commotion in Rome. The inhabitants rose hastily from their beds, left their houses, and congratulated each other, especially the great and the rich, on their deliverance from a cruel and insupportable tyranny. Some ran to the temples, to return thanks to the gods : but the greater number crowded round the camp, in order to intimidate the soldiers, who, they thought, would not easily relish, so strict a government as that of Pertinax was like to be after the licentiousness in which they had been indulged by Commodus.
In the meantime Pertinax and Laetus arrived at the camp; and the latter, having assembled the soldiers in virtue of his office of praetorian praefect, after acquainting them with the death of Commodus, and imputing it to the sudden effect of an apoplexy, added : “To fill the place of your deceased emperor, the Roman people and I present you a man of a venerable age, (Pertinax was then sixty-six years old) a spotless character, and of approved valour in war. Your good fortune gives you, not an emperor, but a father. You know him: his elevation will not be pleasing only to you; it will fill with joy the legions on the frontiers, all of which have been witnesses of his exploits. We shall no longer be obliged to purchase peace of the barbarians: the remembrance of what he has made them suffer will keep them in awe”.
Pertinax spoke next, and promised the praetorians twelve thousand sesterces a man. This largess, the esteem they could not help having for him, and respect for their commander Laetus, who, bad as he was seems nevertheless to have had both capacity and courage, inclined the soldiers to relish the proposal that was made to them. But a word which Pertinax let drop displeased them. He told, that he hoped, with their assistance, to remedy several abuses which had crept in during the late government. This the Praetorians looked upon as a menace aimed at them; because they were sensible that Commodus had granted them many things contrary to rule. They therefore hesitated, and were silent: but the people, who had broken into the camp in great numbers, proclaimed Pertinax Augustus, with loud shouts of joy, and the praetorians thereupon followed their example, rather out of decency and a kind of necessity, that from any motive of love or affection.
From the camp, Pertinax repaired to the senate, which met before it was day. He appeared there without any mark of the imperial dignity; as if his fate depended on the decision of that assembly. This modesty was right, and consistent with the true principles of the ancient government. But another motive for it was a secret anxiety which disturbed Pertinax. The affection of the soldiers for Commodus had alarmed him a few moments before: but now he feared lest the senate should look upon him with contempt, on account of the meanness of his birth. He even declared, that though the troops had named him emperor, he willingly renounced the splendour of the supreme power, too burdensome for a man of his age; and desired, first Pompeianus, son-in-law to Marcus Aurelius, and afterwards Acilius Glabrio, the most noble of the patricians, to take upon them that high rank, for which they were much better qualified. This declaration and offer came too late. Pertinax had already secured the suffrages of the soldiers, and the senate was too wise to quarrel with them. Glabrio answered Pertinax: “You think me worthy of the empire; I cede it to you; and the whole senate decrees you all the honours and prerogatives of the supreme power”. The senate applauded. Pertinax was unanimously declared Augustus, and Commodus a public enemy: and to this particular time belong properly the invectives mentioned before against the memory of that prince. His successor was at once honoured with all the titles of the imperial dignity, not excepting even that of Father of his country, which the emperors had not used to receive until after a certain time; and he himself desired the senators to add that of Prince of the senate, a popular title, which savoured of the ancient republic, but which was now almost forgotten and disused. The senate likewise proposed giving the title of Augusta to his wife Favia Titiana, and that of Caesar to his son; but he refused the former and declared with respect to his son, that he should stay until he came to riper years, and had deserved that honour.
It was not until after these preliminaries, in which we see all the formalities of an election, that Pertinax ascended the imperial throne, as if forced so to do by the desire of the senate, to whom he returned thanks; at the same time giving them to understand how much he feared the difficulties of the sublime station to which they had raised him. He promised, that his government should be agreeable to the laws, directed by the counsels of the senate, and rather aristocratical than monarchial: and, lastly, he expressed his acknowledgment to Laetus, author of the death of Commodus, and to whose friendship he owed the empire; for there was no farther occasion now to dissemble the truth of that affair.
Laetus was undoubtedly, on many accounts, very unworthy of being praised to the senate; and Q. Sosius Falco, a young and aspiring man, who entered upon the discharge of the consulship that very day, the first of January, catching at the encomiums given him, boldly said to Pertinax: “One may judge what sort of emperor you will be, by your praising the ministers of the crimes of Commodus”. Pertinax coolly replied; “Consul, you are young, and do not know what it is to be forced to obey. It was against their wills that they executed the orders they received: but the first moment they could, they showed what were their true sentiments”.
If Pertinax spoke sincerely, he was much mistaken in Laetus, and ascribed to him motives far more noble than those he really had. However that may be, the murder of Commodus was universally approved of, for the Pagans made no doubt of its being lawful, and even laudable, to kill a tyrant. The mildness of the gospel has alone the glory of having proscribed that doctrine, by which the life, even of the best of princes, is in danger.
Thus ended the meeting of the senate, from which the new emperor went directly to the capitol, to offer up his vows, and was conducted from thence, with great pomp, to the imperial palace. In the evening, he invited the magistrates and chief men of the senate to sup with him; renewing a custom which Commodus had interrupted : and, during the entertainment, he behaved with such ease, good humour, and affability, to all his guests, as made them love him; especially when, they compared his manners with the haughty and disdainful carriage of his predecessor.
The senate and the people gave a loose to joy, and conceived great hopes of happiness under the government of a wise and moderate emperor. But the praetorians, fond of licentiousness, and raised above the level of their fellow-citizens by the tyranny of Commodus, 0f which they had been the instruments, were much dissatisfied. They could pot doubt but that Pertinax intended to reestablish good order among them, and to keep them to their duty. The first day, the word he gave the tribune was, Militemus, Let us be soldiers : giving thereby to understand, that discipline had been so much neglected by them for some time past, that they stood in need of serving a new apprenticeship. He forbid their abusing the common people, or striking any who should desire to approach his person. Dissatisfied with these beginnings, and fearful of what might follow, the praetorians regretted Commodus, and sighed when they saw his statues pulled down.
On the third of January, the day on which public vows were made every year for the prosperity of the emperors, they undertook to change the state of affairs; and to that end seized by force an illustrious senator, named Triarius Maternus Lascivius, and attempted to carry him to the camp, in order to raise him to the empire. Triarius, who was not privy to their designs, resisted, escaped out of their hands, almost naked, and ran to the palace where Pertinax was, from whence he retired into the country.
Pertinax, sensible of the necessity of proceeding cautiously with men capable of so audacious a deed, set about satisfying them. To that end, he confirmed all the privileges and gifts which Commodus had granted them, and took effectual measures for the speedy payment of the largess he himself had promised them. Finding only a million of sesterces in the treasury, be resolved to sell all the apparatus of the mad luxury of his predecessor; and accordingly he put up to auction the statues, pictures, and rich furniture of the palace, together with the gold and silver plate set with jewels, the horses, the slaves destined to debauchery, and all that Commodus had made use of in his chariot-races and combats with gladiators. History mentions in particular carriages so artfully contrived, that their seats turned which ever way the rider pleased, either to avoid the sun, or enjoy the benefit of a fresh gale of wind; and others, which measured the way, and showed the hour. The product of this sale enabled Pertinax to pay twelve thousand sesterces a-piece to the praetorians, and four hundred to every citizen.
Besides this first and chief advantage arising from the sale of these costly effects, Pertinax had likewise another point in view. He was glad to depreciate the memory of Commodus more and more, by giving the public ocular proofs of the monstrous folly of that prince. Laetus seconded him admirably well in that design. He sought out all the vile ministers of Commodus’s pleasures, and posted up their names, which, alone, implied infamy; and in the condemnations which he pronounced against them, he took care to express the value of their forfeited estates, which often exceeded the fortune of the richest senators, whom Commodus had put to death for the sake of their spoils.
Another step which he took, though of a different nature, tended to the same end. The deputies of certain barbarians to whom Commodus had agreed to pay a yearly tribute, on condition that they should not take up arms, had been at Rome, and received their money, but were not yet out of the territories of the empire when the revolution happened. Laetus sent after them, and demanded back what they had received. “Carry to your country”, said he to them, “the news of the change which you have seen. Tell those who sent you, that it Pertinax who now governs the empire”. The difference between the two governments could not be more strongly expressed than by this haughty message to nations to whom a tribute had so lately been paid. The effect answered. The barbarians were awed by the bare name of Pertinax.
His virtue was universally esteemed. When the news of the death of Commodus, and of the election of Pertinax reached the provinces, the people doubted the truth of the report. They were afraid of its being a snare laid by Commodus, in order to have a pretence to exercise his cruelties and rapines. In this uncertainty, several governors resolved to wait until it should be confirmed, and in the meantime imprisoned the messengers who brought it, not doubting but that, if the news was true, Pertinax would readily forgive them a fault which did not proceed from any disaffection towards him. The allies of the empire held him in equally high esteem. His elevation filled them with joy, and they sent ambassadors to congratulate the senate and Roman people upon the happy choice of their new emperor.
The praetorian being quieted, Pertinax enjoyed some repose, during which, short as it was, he displayed all the virtues of a great and prudent prince!
I have already spoken of his modesty with respect to his relations. The only thing he did for any of them, was his appointing his father-in-law, Flavius Sulpicianus, governor of Rome; an office of which Dion Cassius says he would have been highly worthy, even if he had not been father-in-law to the emperor.
He refused, as I observed before, the title of Augusta for his wife, and that of Caesar for his son. Several reasons induced him not to heap many honours upon a woman who had no regard for her own reputation, and who publicly carried on an intrigue with a musician. As to his son, modesty seems to have been the motive of his conduct towards him. He was yet very young, and Pertinax feared least the poisonous charms of grandeur should corrupt his tender years. He did not keep him in the palace, but, after emancipating him, and a daughter which he had, divided between them his paternal estate, and placed them under the care of the governor of the city, who was their grandfather by the mother’s side. From thence the son of the emperor went to the public schools, without being in the least distinguished from others of his age. Pertinax saw him but seldom, and always without pomp, as if he had been only a private man.
He observed the same modesty, as far as his rank would permit, in what concerned his own person. Far from forgetting himself in his high station, he with pleasure remembered his first condition, and often made Valerianus, who had been his companion in the public profession of letters, dine with him. He was easy of access to all, heard them with patience, and answered them with kindness. He was familiar with the senators, and in the common intercourse of life, treated them almost as his equals. His behaviour towards the senate, whose meetings he never failed to attend, was full of respect. He expressed the greatest regard for Pompeianus and Glabrio, of whom a less judicious prince would perhaps have been jealous : nor would he suffer any of the effects, furniture, or buildings, which he enjoyed as emperor, to be marked with his name, saying, that they belonged not to him, but to the empire.
Under Commodus, the expence of the emperor’s table had been enormous. Pertinax reformed it, and reduced it within the bounds of a decent frugality. He often invited some of the senators to dine or sup with him, and sent to others of them dishes from his own table, not as rarities but as tokens of his remembrance. The rich and voluptuous laughed at the homeliness of these presents: but those among us, says Dion Cassius, who esteemed virtue more than luxury, received them with joy and admiration.
Capitolinus, following the opinion of those lovers of ostentation whom Dion blames, accuses Pertinax of being sordidly covetous, and instances, among other things, his sending in this manner half a capon, or part only of any other dish. Such simplicity is, doubtless, not calculated to catch the eye; and this emperor, by retrenching at once half the expence of his household, banished an idle pomp, with which vain men are pleased. But let that tinsel appearance be for a moment compared with the solid good arising from a prudent economy. In a reign of less than three months, Pertinax paid all the debts he had contracted at his accession to the empire; secured rewards for military services; established funds for public works; found money to repair the highways; paid old debts of the state; filled the imperial treasury, which his predecessor had exhausted, and enabled it to answer all necessary demands. Such an administration deserves the greatest praises, and shows a prince who knew his duty, and was a true judge of real greatness.
Among the advantages which Rome owed to the frugality of Pertinax, may likewise be reckoned the diminution of the luxury of private men, who were ashamed not to imitate the example of their prince. Thence arose a public good, cheapness of provisions, which, being no longer monopolized by the voluptuous and rich, fell to a price within the reach of the generality of the people.
It is proper to observe, that the immense sums which Pertinax stood in need of for the several uses before-mentioned, were not the fruit of injustice, or raised by tyrannical means. Far from encouraging informers, he punished severely those who had followed that infamous trade in former reigns, and abolished all accusations for pretended crimes of treason. He declared, that he would not accept of any legacies from such had lawful heirs or their own, and that instead of making the slightest cause a pretence for seizing the inheritances of others, as his predecessor had done, he would not receive any to which he was not called according to all the formalities of the laws; adding these remarkable words : “It is better to leave the republic poor, than to enrich it by base and dishonourable means”. It is true, that Pertinax, contrary to the promise he had made somewhat too hastily, was obliged to levy with rigour certain taxes which Commodus had remitted. But the good use he made of the money arising therefrom, and the necessity there was for it, plead his excuse: These taxes were probably old ones, confirmed by long custom, for as to the new imposts, which the tyranny of the publicans had introduced, Herodian assures us that Pertinax suppressed them, that the freedom of trade might not be cramped.
He designed increase the revenues of the state, not by augmenting the imposts, but by rendering large tracts of land which lay uncultivated, both in Italy, and in the provinces. All these, not excepting even such as were part of the imperial demesne, he gave to whoever undertook to cultivate them; and, the more to encourage and assist the new possessors, he exempted them from all taxes for ten years; well knowing that, if his scheme succeeded, the republic would afterwards reap with ample interest what she seemed to lose for the present moment.
Zealous for equity and the observation of the laws, he often administered justice in person. He restored the memory of those who had been unjustly condemned by Commodus, or, if they were still living, recalled them from exile : returning to these last, or to the heirs of such as were dead, their forfeited estates. And here I cannot believe upon the bare word of Capitolinus, that he made them buy that justice of him. I have already said, that he punished informers. If they were slaves, he ordered them to be crucified. He restored to their masters such slaves as had run away from private families in order to enter into the prince’s service. He suppressed the insolence of the imperial freed-men, who, under the late reign, had disposed of everything with an absolute power; and he stripped them of the immense riches they had acquired by purchasing at a low price the effects of those whom Commodus had condemned. His old acquaintance, the inhabitants of the town of Alba-Pompeia, where he was born, flocked to Rome as soon as they knew of his being upon the throne, big with expectation of mighty favours. They found their mistake: Pertinax not thinking it right for him to enrich with the public money persons who had only private connections with him.
By a conduct so perfect in every respect, he renewed the happy reign of Marcus Aurelius; and making all his subjects taste the sweets of a mild and just government, he filled with double joy those who found again in him that wise prince whose memory was infinitely dear to them.
Amidst this general satisfaction, two orders of men, the praetorians and the old court, who, under Commodus, had given an unbounded loose to all their insolence, and glutted their rapacious, avarice at the expence of the public, vowed the death of a reformer who curbed their iniquitous desires. Pertinax had not yet displaced one of those to whom his predecessor had intrusted any part of the ministry. But they knew that he waited only for the twenty-first of April, the anniversary of the foundation of Rome, as a day of renewal, on which he intended to alter the whole face of the court. To prevent this, they resolved his death, and some of the freed-men proposed stifling him in the bath : but that project was laid aside, as too dangerous; and the praetorian prefect Laetus undertook to get rid of him by other means.
This officer soon repented his having raised Pertinax to the throne. He had flattered himself with hopes of reigning under the name of a prince indebted to him for the sovereignty: but finding that Pertinax not only governed alone, but seldom consulted him, allowed him no power, and often taxed him with imprudence and wrong notions of things, he grew extremely dissatisfied. His private views which had induced him to take away the life of Commodus, and his giving him, in order to varnish over the heinousness of that deed, a virtuous successor, under whom he hoped to be able to gratify his own ambition, being now frustrated, he resolved to destroy his own work by a second crime still greater than the first. The troops under his command were ready to second him, and he took care to encourage in them that spirit of animosity and revolt. Accordingly he formed his plan determined to raise to the empire Sosius Falco, of whose daring boldness I have already mentioned an instance, and whose great birth and riches seemed to qualify him for the highest post.
Laetus, watching his opportunity while Pertinax was gone to the sea-coast (probably to Ostia), to give orders concerning the supplying of the city with provisions, a thing he was extremely careful of, thought to take advantage of his absence, to carry Falco to the camp of the praetorians. Pertinax, being informed of it, returned immediately, and thereby disconcerted the scheme. He complained to the senate of the treachery of the soldiers, to whom he had given a very great largess, though he had found the public treasury quite exhausted. Falco was arraigned, and on the point of being condemned by the senators, when Pertinax, interposing strongly in his behalf, cried out: “No senator, even though he be guilty, shall ever be put to death whilst I govern”. Some have pretended, that Falco was not privy to the plot by which he was to have been raised to the throne: but that is hardly probable, and the very words of Pertinax manifestly suppose the contrary. However, he lived some years after in peaceable possession of his fortune, and, at his death, bequeathed it to his son. It is still more surprising that Laetus was continued in his command. He must have played his cards so artfully, that Pertinax either did not suspect, or was able to convict him. Impunity, far from mending his perfidious heart, served only to encourage him to plunge still deeper into guilt, and, under a false appearance of zeal, to incense the soldiers more and more against their sovereign.
Capitolinus intermixes with his account of this affair, a confused story of a slave, who, pretending to be the son of Fabia, daughter of Marcus Aurelius, claimed as such a right of inheritance to the empire. He was detected, whipped, and restored to his master. Laetus, laying hold of this pretence, caused several of the guards to be put to death, as accomplices of the mad designs of this wretch; giving out, that they were thus punished by the emperor’s command. His aim was, to exasperate the praetorians to the utmost, by letting them see the blood of their comrades shed upon the deposition of a slave.
His black design succeeded. On a sudden three hundred of the most determined sallied forth from the camp, crossed the city at noon-day, and sword in hand, marched towards the palace. They must have been m very sure of not meeting with any opposition, either from the soldiers who were upon guard, or from the officers within the palace; for otherwise their attempt would have been as mad as it was criminal, and could not possibly have been expected to succeed. Pertinax, being informed of their coming, ordered Laetus to go out and meet them; so, little was he acquainted with the intrigues of that traitor. Laetus, author of the plot, but unwilling to declare himself until the blow was struck, avoiding meeting the soldiers, and retired to his own house. The assassins arrived at the palace, of which they found all the gates open, and the avenues free. The guards let them pass; and the freed-men and chamberlains of the emperor, far from resisting, encouraged them to proceed.
In this great danger, several advised Pertinax to secure his life by a speedy flight, which Dion Cassius assures us he might easily have done; adding, that if he had but avoided the first fury of the soldiers, he would have found a safeguard and a rampart in the affections of the people. But, relying too much upon his own courage, and flattering himself that there yet remained in the hearts of the praetorians some sense of honour, which the presence of their emperor would awaken in them, he advanced towards them with a stern look and intrepid air. For a few moments, he had reason to think he had taken the right step; for, struck with awe, they let him speak. “What!” said he to them, “do you, whose duty it is to watch over the safety of your prince, and to guard him from foreign dangers, do you come here to murder him! Of what have you any cause to complain? Is it the death of Commodus that you want to revenge? I am innocent of it; and am ready to grant you everything that you can reasonably desire from a good and prudent emperor”.
These few words pronounced with majesty, made an impression upon the mutinous band. With down-cast looks, most of them had already sheathed their swords, when one of them, by birth a Tongrian, more savage and intractable than the rest, upbraiding them with their faint-heartedness as he called it, darted his javelin at thfe efnperor. This action roused all the fury of his companions, who instantly prepared to follow his example, upon which Pertinax, seeing no hope left, covered his head with his robe, and, invoking Jupiter the avenger, received their blows without attempting to resist.
One only person remained faithful to him in this last moment. This was the chamberlain Eclectus, one of the murderers of Commodus, who, full of courage, bravely fought the assassins, wounded some of them, and was killed by his master’s side.
The praetorians cut off Pertinax’s head, and sticking it upon a spear, carried that horrid trophy through the city to their camp.
This melancholy event happened on the 28th of March of the year 193 of the Christian era. Pertinax was born the 1st of August of the year 126: consequently he was sixty-six years and near eight months old when he was killed, after having reigned somewhat less than three months. He left a son and a daughter, who lived like private persons, without ever claiming, or having imputed to them, any sort of right to the throne. This, with many other proofs, shows plainly, that the Roman empire was not hereditary.
Dion Cassius seems positive that Pertinax brought upon himself his untimely end, by being in too great a hurry to reform the state; not considering, with all his experience, that, in such cases, true policy proceeds slowly, first correcting one abuse, and then another; but never attacks them all at once. This reflection may be just: but, on the other hand, we must beg leave to observe, that it is easy to judge of a thing by the event; and that men are often very ingenious at pointing out the causes of misfortunes, after they have happened.
Pertinax was certainly one of the greatest princes that ever sat upon the throne of the Caesars, though the shortness of his reign did not permit him to show his talents. The senate and people were at liberty to say what they thought of him, in the reign of Severus; and they then made his eulogium, with acclamations proceeding from their hearts, and dictated by truth. “Under Pertinax”, cried they, “we lived without uneasiness, and were exempt from fear. He was a good father to us, a father to the senate, and a father to all honest men”. The emperor Severus pronounced himself his funeral oration; and the following is, according to a fragment of Dion Cassius, which seems to have been extracted from that discourse, the picture which he drew of him. “Military courage easily degenerates into ferocity, and political wariness into effeminacy. Pertinax possessed both those virtues, without any tincture of the defects which frequently accompany them. He was prudently bold against our enemies abroad, and against the seditious.at home; mild and just towards the citizens, and the protector of all good men. His virtue was proof against the greatest height of grandeur; and maintained with dignity the majesty of the supreme power, without ever debasing it by meanness, of rendering it odious by pride. He was grave without austerity, gentle without weakness, prudent without artifice, just without rigour, frugal without avarice, magnanimous without haughtiness”.
This encomium includes all that can be wished. But the reader will remember that it is taken from a panegyrist, and that it requires some restriction with respect to two articles which I hinted at before. In fact, it is difficult to clear Pertinax entirely of the imputation of avarice, of which Capitolinus instances several minute details. He assures us, that Pertinjax, after having behaved with integrity and disinterestedness during the life of Marcus Aurelius, altered his conduct after the death of that virtuous prince, and showed his love of money; that he grew rich on a sudden, by what means was not well known; that he extended his demesnes by usurpations over his neighbors, whom he had ruined by his usury; that, when general of the army, he sold the preferments in it; and lastly, that, both before and after he was emperor, he carried on a sordid traffic, more becoming his original station, than that to which his merit had raised him. Such a testimony as this seems to be of greater weight than the authority of Herodian, who says only in general; that Pertinax was poor under the reign of Commodus, and that he owed his safety to that poverty.
The second reproach laid to his charge is, that he was more liberal of words than deeds, and apt to suit his speeches to the present circumstances, rather than to the strict rules of sincerity and truth. This fault, which Capitolinus takes notice of, may possibly have deceived that historian himself, who tells us seriously, that Pertinax dreaded the imperial dignity, that he never put on the ornaments of it without a kind of fear and terror, and that he designed to abdicate it as soon as he could without danger. The manner in which Pertinax accepted the empire, gives no room to think that the weight of it was disagreeable to him. He seems rather to have been desirous and forward to obtain it. His intimations of fear, and of a desire to return to a private life, were, undoubtedly, in him, as in Augustus, a modest language, calculated to set off him that used it.
His morals were not better than those of his wife; and History mentions a certain Cornificia, whom he was passionately fond of, even at the expence of his reputation.
Notwithstanding these defects, Pertinax truly deserved great praise, and was the last of that series of good princes, which, beginning with Vespasian, was interrupted only by Domitian and Commodus. We shall find no other worthy of that name until we come to Alexander Severus.
I ought not to conclude this account of Pertinax, without mentioning, to his honour, the behavior of Pompeianus son-in-law to Marcus Aurelius, the honour of the senate, and the Cato of his age. That illustrious senator, unable to bear the sight of the horrid excesses of his brother-in- law Commodus, had retired from Rome under pretence of illness. The moment he knew that Pertinax was to be made emperor, he came back, and stayed there all his reign; too short for the happiness of the empire. As soon as Pertinax was dead, Pompeianus’s illness returned, and he was never more seen within the city.
Praise of History takes very little farther notice of Pompeianus ,though he was certainly one of the most shining characters of his age. Marcus Aurelius chose him for his son-in-law on account of his virtue. He was great in arms, inflexibly just, and the best of counsellors so long as Commodus thought proper to consult him; neither partaking in the crimes of that emperor, nor in the plots formed against him; and so sensible of the ties of affinity, that he could not help shedding tears for the death of a prince, under whom his life had never been safe a moment.