Pescennius Niger

Pescennius Niger

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Pescennius Niger was a Roman usurper
Roman usurper
Usurpers are individuals or groups of individuals who obtain and maintain the power or rights of another by force and without legal authority. Usurpation was endemic during roman imperial era, especially from the crisis of the third century onwards, when political instability became the rule.The...

 from 193 to 194 during the Year of the Five Emperors
Year of the Five Emperors
The Year of the Five Emperors refers to the year 193 AD, in which there were five claimants for the title of Roman Emperor. The five were Pertinax, Didius Julianus, Pescennius Niger, Clodius Albinus and Septimius Severus....

. He claimed the imperial throne in response to the murder of Pertinax
Pertinax
Pertinax , was Roman Emperor for three months in 193. He is known as the first emperor of the tumultuous Year of the Five Emperors. A high ranking military and Senatorial figure, he tried to restore discipline in the Praetorian Guards, whereupon they rebelled and killed him...

 and the elevation of Didius Julianus
Didius Julianus
Didius Julianus , was Roman Emperor for three months during the year 193. He ascended the throne after buying it from the Praetorian Guard, who had assassinated his predecessor Pertinax. This led to the Roman Civil War of 193–197...

, but was defeated by a rival claimant, Septimius Severus
Septimius Severus
Septimius Severus , also known as Severus, was Roman Emperor from 193 to 211. Severus was born in Leptis Magna in the province of Africa. As a young man he advanced through the customary succession of offices under the reigns of Marcus Aurelius and Commodus. Severus seized power after the death of...

 and killed while attempting to flee from Antioch
Antioch
Antioch on the Orontes was an ancient city on the eastern side of the Orontes River. It is near the modern city of Antakya, Turkey.Founded near the end of the 4th century BC by Seleucus I Nicator, one of Alexander the Great's generals, Antioch eventually rivaled Alexandria as the chief city of the...

.

Early career



Although Niger was born into an old Italian equestrian family, around the year 135, he was the first member of his family to achieve the rank of Roman senator. Not much is known of his early career; it is possible that he held an administrative position in Egypt
Aegyptus (Roman province)
The Roman province of Egypt was established in 30 BC after Octavian defeated his rival Mark Antony, deposed his lover Queen Cleopatra VII and annexed the Ptolemaic kingdom of Egypt to the Roman Empire. The province encompassed most of modern-day Egypt except for the Sinai Peninsula...

, and that he served in a military campaign in Dacia
Dacia
In ancient geography, especially in Roman sources, Dacia was the land inhabited by the Dacians or Getae as they were known by the Greeks—the branch of the Thracians north of the Haemus range...

 early in Commodus
Commodus
Commodus , was Roman Emperor from 180 to 192. He also ruled as co-emperor with his father Marcus Aurelius from 177 until his father's death in 180. His name changed throughout his reign; see changes of name for earlier and later forms. His accession as emperor was the first time a son had succeeded...

’ reign. During the late 180s, Niger was elected as a Suffect consul, after which Commodus made him imperial legate
Legatus Augusti pro praetore
A legatus Augusti pro praetore was the official title of the governor of some imperial provinces of the Roman Empire during the Principate era, normally the larger ones or those where legions were based...

 of Syria
Syria (Roman province)
Syria was a Roman province, annexed in 64 BC by Pompey, as a consequence of his military presence after pursuing victory in the Third Mithridatic War. It remained under Roman, and subsequently Byzantine, rule for seven centuries, until 637 when it fell to the Islamic conquests.- Principate :The...

 in 191.

He was still serving in Syria when news came through firstly of the murder of Pertinax
Pertinax
Pertinax , was Roman Emperor for three months in 193. He is known as the first emperor of the tumultuous Year of the Five Emperors. A high ranking military and Senatorial figure, he tried to restore discipline in the Praetorian Guards, whereupon they rebelled and killed him...

, followed by the auctioning off of the imperial title to Didius Julianus
Didius Julianus
Didius Julianus , was Roman Emperor for three months during the year 193. He ascended the throne after buying it from the Praetorian Guard, who had assassinated his predecessor Pertinax. This led to the Roman Civil War of 193–197...

. Niger was a well regarded public figure in Rome
Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

 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. As a consequence, it is alleged that Julianus dispatched a centurion
Centurion
A centurion was a professional officer of the Roman army .Centurion may also refer to:-Military:* Centurion tank, British battle tank* HMS Centurion, name of several ships and a shore base of the British Royal Navy...

 to the east with orders to assassinate Niger at Antioch
Antioch
Antioch on the Orontes was an ancient city on the eastern side of the Orontes River. It is near the modern city of Antakya, Turkey.Founded near the end of the 4th century BC by Seleucus I Nicator, one of Alexander the Great's generals, Antioch eventually rivaled Alexandria as the chief city of the...

.

The result of the unrest in Rome saw Niger proclaimed Emperor by the eastern legions by the end of April 193. On his accession, Niger took the additional cognomen
Cognomen
The cognomen nōmen "name") was the third name of a citizen of Ancient Rome, under Roman naming conventions. The cognomen started as a nickname, but lost that purpose when it became hereditary. Hereditary cognomina were used to augment the second name in order to identify a particular branch within...

 Justus, or "the Just". Although imperial propaganda issued on behalf of Septimius Severus later claimed that Niger was the first to rebel against Didius Julianus, it was Severus who beat Niger to it, claiming the imperial title on April 9. Although Niger sent envoys to Rome to announce his elevation to the imperial throne, his messengers were intercepted by Severus. 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.

Clash with Septimius Severus



Severus wasted no time consolidating his hold on Rome, and ordered his newly appointed prefect of the watch, Gaius Fulvius Plautianus
Gaius Fulvius Plautianus
Gaius or Lucius Fulvius Plautianus was a member of the Roman gens Fulvius, a family of the patrician status which had been active in politics since the Roman Republic....

 to capture Niger’s children and hold them as hostages. Meanwhile, Niger was busy securing the support of all of the governors in the Asiatic provinces, including the esteemed proconsul
Proconsul
A proconsul was a governor of a province in the Roman Republic appointed for one year by the senate. In modern usage, the title has been used for a person from one country ruling another country or bluntly interfering in another country's internal affairs.-Ancient Rome:In the Roman Republic, a...

 of Asia, Asellius Aemilianus, who had occupied Byzantium
Byzantium
Byzantium was an ancient Greek city, founded by Greek colonists from Megara in 667 BC and named after their king Byzas . The name Byzantium is a Latinization of the original name Byzantion...

 in Niger’s name. Niger then proceeded to secure direct control over Egypt
Aegyptus (Roman province)
The Roman province of Egypt was established in 30 BC after Octavian defeated his rival Mark Antony, deposed his lover Queen Cleopatra VII and annexed the Ptolemaic kingdom of Egypt to the Roman Empire. The province encompassed most of modern-day Egypt except for the Sinai Peninsula...

, 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
Legio II Traiana Fortis
Legio secunda Traiana Fortis, , was a Roman legion levied by emperor Trajan in 105, along with XXX Ulpia Victrix, for the campaigns in Dacia. There are still records of the II Traiana Fortis in Egypt in the middle of the 5th century...

 from sending military aid to Niger.

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
Syria (Roman province)
Syria was a Roman province, annexed in 64 BC by Pompey, as a consequence of his military presence after pursuing victory in the Third Mithridatic War. It remained under Roman, and subsequently Byzantine, rule for seven centuries, until 637 when it fell to the Islamic conquests.- Principate :The...

, the two stationed in Arabia Petraea
Arabia Petraea
Arabia Petraea, also called Provincia Arabia or simply Arabia, was a frontier province of the Roman Empire beginning in the 2nd century; it consisted of the former Nabataean kingdom in modern Jordan, southern modern Syria, the Sinai Peninsula and northwestern Saudi Arabia. Its capital was Petra...

, and one located at Melitene
Malatya
Malatya ) is a city in southeastern Turkey and the capital of its eponymous province.-Overview:The city site has been occupied for thousands of years. The Assyrians called the city Meliddu. Following Roman expansion into the east, the city was renamed in Latin as Melitene...

. Niger therefore decided to act aggressively, and sent a force into Thrace
Thrace
Thrace is a historical and geographic area in southeast Europe. As a geographical concept, Thrace designates a region bounded by the Balkan Mountains on the north, Rhodope Mountains and the Aegean Sea on the south, and by the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara on the east...

 where it defeated a part of Severus’ army under Lucius Fabius Cilo
Lucius Fabius Cilo
Lucius Fabius Cilo, full name Lucius Fabius Cilo Septiminus Catinius Acilianus Lepidus Fulcinianus, was a Roman senator of the 2nd century. He was born in Hispania, around 150 AD....

 at Perinthus.

Severus now marched from Rome to the east, sending his general Tiberius Claudius Candidus ahead of him. Niger, having made Byzantium his headquarters, gave Asellius Aemilianus the task of defending the southern shore of the Sea of Marmara
Sea of Marmara
The Sea of Marmara , also known as the Sea of Marmora or the Marmara Sea, and in the context of classical antiquity as the Propontis , is the inland sea that connects the Black Sea to the Aegean Sea, thus separating Turkey's Asian and European parts. The Bosphorus strait connects it to the Black...

. 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. In the fall of 193, Candidus met Aemilianus in battle at Cyzicus
Battle of Cyzicus (193)
The Battle of Cyzicus was fought in 193 between the forces of Septimus Severus and his rival for the empire, Pescennius Niger.The battle took place in the context of the Year of the Five Emperors, a tumultuous period in the Roman Empire when Emperor Pertinax was assassinated by the Praetorian Guards...

, resulting in Niger’s forces being defeated as well as the capture and death of Aemilianus. Byzantium was now placed under siege, forcing Niger to abandon the city and retreat back to Nicaea
Nicaea
Nicaea or Nikaia may be:*The ancient name of several places, including:** İznik, Turkey - formerly Nicaea capital of the Empire of Nicaea**Nice, France**Nicaea, Locris, a fortress city of the Locri Epicnemidii...

. The city remained loyal to Niger, and it would take Severus till the end of 195 to finally capture Byzantium.

Another battle took place outside of Nicea
Battle of Nicaea
The Battle of Nicaea was fought in 193 between the forces of Septimus Severus and his eastern rival, Pescennius Niger. It took place at Nicaea in Asia Minor...

 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
Taurus Mountains
Taurus Mountains are a mountain complex in southern Turkey, dividing the Mediterranean coastal region of southern Turkey from the central Anatolian Plateau. The system extends along a curve from Lake Eğirdir in the west to the upper reaches of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers in the east...

, where he was able to hold the passes for a few months as Niger returned to Antioch. 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
Latakia
Latakia, or Latakiyah , is the principal port city of Syria, as well as the capital of the Latakia Governorate. In addition to serving as a port, the city is a manufacturing center for surrounding agricultural towns and villages...

 and Tyre. By February 13, 194, Egypt had declared for Severus, as had the imperial legate of Arabia, further diminishing Niger’s chances.

After Severus had replaced Candidus with another general, Cornelius Anullinus, Niger met Anullinus in battle at Issus
Battle of Issus (194)
The Battle of Issus was the third major battle, following the Battle of Nicaea, in 194 between the forces of Emperor Septimus Severus and his rival, Pescennius Niger, part of the Year of the Five Emperors. Pescennius Niger was the Roman governor of Syria who had been acclaimed Emperor by his...

 in May 194, where after a long and hard fought struggle, Niger was decisively defeated. Forced to retreat to Antioch
Antioch
Antioch on the Orontes was an ancient city on the eastern side of the Orontes River. It is near the modern city of Antakya, Turkey.Founded near the end of the 4th century BC by Seleucus I Nicator, one of Alexander the Great's generals, Antioch eventually rivaled Alexandria as the chief city of the...

, Niger was captured while attempting to flee to Parthia
Parthia
Parthia is a region of north-eastern Iran, best known for having been the political and cultural base of the Arsacid dynasty, rulers of the Parthian Empire....

. 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. Niger’s head eventually found its way to Rome where it was displayed.

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

The name "Niger" means "black", which incidentally, contrasts him with one of his rivals for the throne in 194 AD, Clodius Albinus
Clodius Albinus
Clodius Albinus was a Roman usurper proclaimed emperor by the legions in Britain and Hispania upon the murder of Pertinax in 193.-Life:...

, whose name means "white". According to the notoriously unreliable Historia Augusta, his cognomen
Cognomen
The cognomen nōmen "name") was the third name of a citizen of Ancient Rome, under Roman naming conventions. The cognomen started as a nickname, but lost that purpose when it became hereditary. Hereditary cognomina were used to augment the second name in order to identify a particular branch within...

 of "Niger" was given due to the fact that his neck was black.

Primary Sources


Secondary Sources

  • 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
  • http://www.roman-emperors.org/pniger.htm Meckler, Michael L, "Pescennius Niger (193-194 A.D.)", De Imperatoribus Romanis] (1998)

External links