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Gaius Pescennius Niger
Usurper of the Roman Empire
Reign 9 April 193 – May 194
Born c. 135/140
Died 194
Predecessor Didius Julianus
Successor Septimius Severus
Dynasty None
Father Annius Fuscus
Mother Lampridia

Pescennius Niger (Latin: Gaius Pescennius Niger Augustus;[1] c. 135/140 – 194) was Roman Emperor from 193 to 194 during the Year of the Five Emperors. He claimed the imperial throne in response to the murder of Pertinax and the elevation of Didius Julianus, but was defeated by a rival claimant, Septimius Severus, and killed while attempting to flee from Antioch.

Early career[edit]

Coin of Pescennius Niger, bearing the inscription (IMPERATOR CAESAR GAIVS PESCENNIVS NIGER IVSTVS AVGVSTVS CONSVL II)

Although Niger was born into an old Italian equestrian family, around the year 135,[2] he was the first member of his family to achieve the rank of Roman senator.[3] Not much is known of his early career; it is possible that he held an administrative position in Egypt, and that he served in a military campaign in Dacia early in Commodus’ reign.[4] During the late 180s, Niger was elected as a Suffect consul, after which Commodus made him imperial legate of Syria in 191.[5]

He was still serving in Syria when news came through firstly of the murder of Pertinax, followed by the auctioning off of the imperial title to Didius Julianus.[6] Niger was a well regarded public figure in Rome[4] and soon a popular demonstration against Didius Julianus broke out, during which the citizens called out for Niger to come to Rome and claim the imperial title for himself.[7] As a consequence, it is alleged that Julianus dispatched a centurion to the east with orders to assassinate Niger at Antioch.[8]

The result of the unrest in Rome saw Niger proclaimed Emperor by the eastern legions by the end of April 193.[9] On his accession, Niger took the additional cognomen Justus, or "the Just".[4] Although imperial propaganda issued on behalf of Septimius Severus later claimed that Niger was the first to rebel against Didius Julianus,[8] it was Severus who beat Niger to it, claiming the imperial title on April 9.[3] Although Niger sent envoys to Rome to announce his elevation to the imperial throne, his messengers were intercepted by Severus.[4] As Niger began bolstering his support in the eastern provinces, Severus marched on Rome which he entered in early June 193 after Julianus had been murdered.[10]

Septimius Severus and Niger[edit]

Severus wasted no time consolidating his hold on Rome, and ordered his newly appointed prefect of the watch, Gaius Fulvius Plautianus to capture Niger’s children and hold them as hostages.[11] Meanwhile, Niger was busy securing the support of all of the governors in the Asiatic provinces, including the esteemed proconsul of Asia, Asellius Aemilianus, who had occupied Byzantium in Niger’s name.[12] Niger then proceeded to secure direct control over Egypt, while Severus did as much as he could to protect the wheat supply, and ordered troops loyal to him to keep watch on the western border of Egypt and prevent the legion stationed there Legio II Traiana Fortis from sending military aid to Niger.[13]

Although these lands contained great wealth, his military resources were inferior to Severus’. While Severus had the sixteen Danubian legions at his disposal, Niger possessed only six: three in Syria, the two stationed in Arabia Petraea, and one located at Melitene.[11] Niger therefore decided to act aggressively, and sent a force into Thrace where it defeated a part of Severus’ army under Lucius Fabius Cilo at Perinthus.[14]

Severus now marched from Rome to the east, sending his general Tiberius Claudius Candidus ahead of him.[15] Niger, having made Byzantium his headquarters, gave Asellius Aemilianus the task of defending the southern shore of the Sea of Marmara.[15] As Severus approached, he offered Niger the opportunity to surrender and go into exile, but Niger refused, trusting in the outcome of a military encounter.[16] In the fall of 193, Candidus met Aemilianus in battle at Cyzicus, resulting in Niger’s forces being defeated as well as the capture and death of Aemilianus.[17] Byzantium was now placed under siege, forcing Niger to abandon the city and retreat back to Nicaea.[15] The city remained loyal to Niger, and it would take Severus until the end of 195 to finally capture Byzantium.[18]

Another battle took place outside of Nicea in later December 193, which also resulted in a defeat for Niger. Nevertheless, he was able to withdraw the bulk of his army intact to the Taurus Mountains, where he was able to hold the passes for a few months as Niger returned to Antioch.[19] However, the problem now for Niger was that his support in Asia was falling. Some cities previously loyal to him decided that it was time to change their allegiance, in particular Laodicea and Tyre.[18] By February 13, 194, Egypt had declared for Severus, as had the imperial legate of Arabia, further diminishing Niger’s chances.[20]

After Severus had replaced Candidus with another general, Cornelius Anullinus, Niger met Anullinus in battle at Issus in May 194, where after a long and hard fought struggle, Niger was decisively defeated.[21] Forced to retreat to Antioch, Niger was captured while attempting to flee to Parthia.[22] He was beheaded, and his severed head was taken to Byzantium, but the city refused to surrender. Eventually, Severus stormed and completely destroyed Byzantium before he had it rebuilt.[18] Niger’s head eventually found its way to Rome where it was displayed.[14]

After his victory in the east, Severus punished all of Niger’s supporters.[23] He also had Niger’s wife and children put to death, while his estates were confiscated.[24]

Name[edit]

The name "Niger" means "black", which incidentally, contrasts him with one of his rivals for the throne in 194, Clodius Albinus, whose name means "white".[25] According to the notoriously unreliable Historia Augusta, his cognomen of "Niger" was given due to the fact that his neck was black.[26]

Sources[edit]

Primary Sources[edit]

Secondary Sources[edit]

  • Southern, Pat. The Roman Empire from Severus to Constantine, Routledge, 2001
  • Potter, David Stone, The Roman Empire at Bay, AD 180-395, Routledge, 2004
  • Bowman, Alan K., The Cambridge Ancient History: The Crisis of Empire, A.D. 193-337, Cambridge University Press, 2005
  • Canduci, Alexander (2010), Triumph & Tragedy: The Rise and Fall of Rome's Immortal Emperors, Pier 9, ISBN 978-1-74196-598-8 
  • http://www.roman-emperors.org/pniger.htm Meckler, Michael L, "Pescennius Niger (193-194 A.D.)", De Imperatoribus Romanis] (1998)

References[edit]

  1. ^ In Classical Latin, Niger's name would be inscribed as GAIVS PESCENNIVS NIGER AVGVSTVS.
  2. ^ Potter, pg. 101; Meckler, Pescennius Niger, Cassius Dio, 75:6:1
  3. ^ a b Potter, pg. 101
  4. ^ a b c d Meckler, Pescennius Niger
  5. ^ Meckler, Pescennius Niger; Southern, pg. 28; Canduci, pg. 51
  6. ^ Bowman, pg. 2; Meckler, Pescennius Niger
  7. ^ Meckler, Pescennius Niger; Potter, pg. 101; Bowman, pg. 2
  8. ^ a b Potter, pg. 99
  9. ^ Southern, pg. 28; Bowman, pg. 2
  10. ^ Bowman, pg. 4; Meckler, Pescennius Niger
  11. ^ a b Potter, pg. 103
  12. ^ Southern, pg. 32; Meckler, Pescennius Niger
  13. ^ Southern, pg. 32
  14. ^ a b Potter, pg. 104
  15. ^ a b c Bowman, pg. 4
  16. ^ Meckler, Pescennius Niger; Canduci, pg. 51
  17. ^ Bowman, pg. 4; Potter, pg. 104; Southern, pg. 33
  18. ^ a b c Southern, pg. 33
  19. ^ Meckler, Pescennius Niger; Bowman, pg. 4; Potter, pg. 104
  20. ^ Bowman, pg. 4; Potter, pg. 104
  21. ^ Southern, pg. 33; Potter, pg. 104; Bowman, pg. 4
  22. ^ Meckler, Pescennius Niger; Southern, pg. 33; Canduci, pg. 51
  23. ^ Potter, pg. 106
  24. ^ Historia Augusta, Life of Pescennius Niger, 6:1
  25. ^ Southern, pg. 28
  26. ^ Historia Augusta, Life of Pescennius Niger, 6:6

External links[edit]

Regnal titles
Preceded by
Didius Julianus
Roman Emperor
193
in competition with
Septimius Severus and Clodius Albinus
Succeeded by
Septimius Severus


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