§ 1 The Life of Clodius Albinus
After the death of Pertinax, who was slain at Albinus's advice, various men were hailed emperor at about one and the same time — by the senate Julianus at Rome, and by the armies, Septimius Severus in Illyricum, Pescennius Niger in the East, and Clodius Albinus in Gaul. 2 According to Herodian, Clodius had been named Caesar by Severus. But as time went on, each chafed at the other's rule, and the armies of Gaul and Germany demanded an emperor of their own naming, and so all parts of the empire were thrown into an uproar.
3 Now Clodius Albinus came of a noble family, but he was a native of Hadrumetum in Africa. 4 Because of this, he applied to himself the oracle in praise of Severus, which we quoted in the Life of Pescennius, for he did not wish it to be interpreted as "the worst is the White One," which is contained in the same line in which Severus is praised and Pescennius Niger commended. 5 But before I discourse on his life and his death I should relate the manner in which he became ennobled. SOL
§ 2 There is a certain letter which Commodus sent Albinus once, on naming his successor in office, in which he bade him assume the name of Caesar; of this letter I append a copy:
2 "The Emperor Commodus to Clodius Albinus greeting. I wrote you once officially about the succession to the throne and your own elevation to honour, but I am now sending you this private and confidential message, all written with my own hand, as you will see, in which I empower you, should emergency arise, to present yourself to the soldiers and assume the name of Caesar. 3 For I hear that both Septimius Severus and Nonius Murcus are speaking ill of me to their troops, hoping thereby to get the appointment to the post of Augustus. 4 You shall have full power besides, when you thus present yourself, to give the soldiers a largess of three aurei apiece. You will get a letter which I am sending to my procurators to this effect, sealed with my signet of an Amazon, which you will deliver to my stewards when the need arises, that they may not refuse your demands on the treasury. 5 And that you may received some definite symbol of an emperor's majesty, I authorize you to wear both at the present time and at my court the scarlet cloak. Later, when you are with me, you shall have the imperial purple, though without the embroidery in gold. For my great-grandfather Verus, who died in boyhood, received this from Hadrian, who adopted him."
§ 3 Albinus received this letter, but he utterly refused to do what the Emperor bade. For he saw that Commodus was hated because of his evil ways, which were bringing destruction upon the state and dishonour upon himself, and that he would sometime or other be slain, and he feared that he might perish with him.
2 There is still in existence the speech he made when he accepted the imperial power — some say, indeed, by Severus' wish and authorization — in which he makes allusion to this refusal. 3 Of this speech I append a copy: "It is against my will, my comrades, that I am exalted to empire, and a proof of it is this, that when Commodus once gave me the name of Caesar, I scorned it. Now, however, I must yield to your desire and to that of Severus Augustus, for I believe that under an upright man and a brave one the state can be well ruled."
4 It is an undeniable fact, moreover, and Marius Maximus also relates it, that Severus at first intended to name Pescennius Niger and Clodius Albinus as his successors, in case aught befell him. 5 Later, as it happened, in the interest of his growing sons, and through envy of the affection in which Albinus was held, and most of all because of his wife's entreaties, he changed his purpose and crushed both of them in war. 6 But he did name Albinus consul, and this he never would have done had not Albinus been a worthy man, since he was ever most careful in his choice of magistrates.
§ 4 To return to Albinus, however, he was a native of Hadrumetum, as I have said before, but he was both of noble rank there and traced his descent from noble families at Rome, namely the Postumii, the Albini, and the Ceionii. 2 The last of these families is among the noblest to-day, for you, most puissant Constantine, have exalted it and shall exalt it further, though it gained its greatest prestige by the favour of Gallienus and the Gordians. 3 He was born at Hadrumetum in a modest home, in slender circumstances, and of righteous parents, Ceionius Postumus and Aurelia Messalina, and he was their first-born son. 4 When taken from his mother's womb, unlike the common run of infants, who are red at birth, he was very white in hue, and for this reason he was named Albinus. 5 The truth of this is proved by a letter which his father wrote to Aelius Bassianus, then proconsul of Africa, and, as it seems, a kinsman of the family. 6 The letter of Ceionius Postumus to Aelius Bassianus: "A son was born to me on the seventh day before the Kalends of December, and so white was his body at birth that it was whiter than the linen clothes in which we wrapped him. 7 I acknowledged him, therefore, as one of the family of the Albini, who are common kin to you and me, and bestowed upon him the name Albinus. And now remember, I pray you, our country, yourself, and me."
§ 5 All his boyhood, then, Albinus spent in Africa, where he got a fair education in Greek and Latin letters. And even at that time he showed signs of a haughty and warlike spirit, 2 for at school, it is said, he used often to recite to the children:
"Madly I seized my arms, though in arms there lay little reason."
3 And he repeated again and again the words, "Madly I seized my arms".
4 It is said that his rule was predicted by a number of omens that occurred at the time of his birth. For instance, a snow-white bull was born, whose horns were of a deep purple hue. And he is said to have placed these, when tribune of the soldiers, in the temple of Apollo at Cumae, and when he made inquiry of the oracle there concerning his fate, he received a response, it is said, in the following lines:
"He shall establish the power of Rome though tumult beset her,
Riding his horse he shall smite both Poeni and Galli rebellious."
5 And, indeed, it is well known that he conquered many tribes in Gaul. He himself always believed, moreover, that the prediction "he shall smite the Poeni" referred to him and Severus, because Severus was a native of Africa. 6 There was another indication of his future rule besides these. A peculiar custom was observed in the family of the Caesars, namely, that the infants of this house should be bathed in tubs of tortoise-shell. Now when Albinus was a newly born infant, a fisherman brought as a gift to his father a tortoise of enormous size, 7 and he, being well versed in letters, regarded the gift as an omen and accepted the tortoise gladly. He then gave an order that they should prepare the shell and set it apart for the child for use in the hot baths that are given to infants, hoping that this gift portended noble rank for his son. 8 And again, although eagles appear but rarely in the region in which Albinus was born, on the seventh day after his birth, at the very hour of a banquet in honour of the bestowal of his name, seven young eagles were brought in from a nest and placed as though in jest about the cradle of the child. Nor did his father scorn this omen either, but commanded that the eagles be fed and guarded with care. 9 Still another omen occurred. It was customary in his family that the bandages in which the children are wrapped should be of a reddish colour. In his case, however, it chanced that the bandages which had been prepared by his mother during her pregnancy had been washed and were not yet dry, and he was therefore wrapped in a bandage of his mother's, and this, as it happened, was of a purple hue. For this reason his nurse, jestingly, gave him the name Porphyrius. 10 These were the omens that betokened his future rule. There were others besides these, but he who desires to learn what they are may read them in Aelius Cordus, for he relates all trivial details concerning omens of this sort.
§ 6 As soon as he came of age he entered military service, and by the aid of Lollius Serenus, Baebius Maecianus and Ceionius Postumianus, all his kinsmen, he gained the notice of the Antonines. 2 In the capacity of a tribune he commanded a troop of Dalmatian horse; he also commanded soldiers of the First and the Fourth legions. At the time of Avidius' revolt he loyally held the Bithynian army to its allegiance. 3 Next, Commodus transferred him to Gaul; and here he routed the tribes from over the Rhine and made his name illustrious among both Romans and barbarians. 4 This aroused Commodus' interest, and he offered Albinus the name of Caesar and the privilege, too, of giving the soldiers a present and wearing the scarlet cloak. 5 But all these offers Albinus wisely refused, for Commodus, he said, was only looking for a man who would perish with him, or whom he could reasonably put to death. 6 The duty of holding the quaestorship was in his case remitted. This requirement waived, he became aedile, but after a term of only ten days he was despatched in haste to the army. 7 Next, he served his praetorship under Commodus, and a very famous one it was. For at his games Commodus, it is said, gave gladiatorial combats in both the Forum and the theatre. 8 And finally Severus made him consul at the time when he purposed to make him and Pescennius his successors.
§ 7 When he at last attained to the empire he was well advanced in years, for he was older, as Severus himself relates in his autobiography, than Pescennius Niger. 2 But Severus, after his victory over Pescennius, desiring to keep the throne for his sons, and observing that Clodius Albinus, inasmuch as he came of an ancient family, was greatly beloved by the senate, sent him certain men with a letter couched in terms of the greatest love and affection, in which he urged that, now that Pescennius Niger was slain, they should loyally rule the state together. 3 The following, so Cordus declares, is a copy of the letter: "The Emperor Severus Augustus to Clodius Albinus Caesar, our most loving and loyal brother, greeting. 4 After defeating Pescennius we despatched a letter road Rome, which the senate, ever devoted to you, received with rejoicing. Now I entreat you that in the same spirit in which you were chosen as the brother of my heart you will rule the empire as my brother on the throne. 5 Bassianus and Geta send you greetings, and our Julia, too, greets both you and your sister. To your little son Pescennius Princus we will send a present, worthy both of his station and your own. 6 I would like you to hold the troops in their allegiance to the empire and to ourselves, my most loyal, most dear, and loving friend."
§ 8 This was the letter that he gave to the trusted attendants that were sent to Albinus. He told them to deliver the letter in public; but, later, they were to say that they wished to confer with him privately on many matters pertaining to the war, the secrets of the camp, and the trustworthiness of the court, and when they had come to the secret meeting for this purpose of telling their errand, five sturdy fellows were to slay him with daggers hidden in their garments. 2 And they showed no lack of fidelity. For they came to Albinus and delivered Severus' letter, and then, when he read it, they said that they had some matters to tell him more privately, and asked for a place far removed from all who could overhear. But when they refused to suffer anyone to go with Albinus to this distant portico, on the ground that their secret mission must not be made known, Albinus scented a plot 3 and eventually yielded to his suspicions and delivered them over to torture. And though at first they stoutly denied their guilt, in the end they yielded to extreme measures and disclosed the commands that Severus had laid upon them.
4 Thus all was revealed and the plot laid bare, and Albinus, now seeing that what he had merely suspected before was true, assembled a mighty force and advanced to meet Severus and his generals.
§ 9 In the first engagement, indeed, which was fought with Severus' leaders, he proved superior. Later Severus himself, after causing the senate to declare Albinus a public enemy, set out against him and fought in Gaul, bitterly and courageously but not without vicissitudes of fortune. 2 At last, being somewhat perturbed, Severus consulted an augur, and received from him the response, according to Marius Maximus, that Albinus would in truth fall into his power, but neither alive nor dead. And so it happened. 3 For after a decisive engagement, where countless of his soldiers fell, and very many fled, and many, too, surrendered, Albinus also fled away and, according to some, stabbed himself, according to others, was stabbed by a slave. At any rate, he was brought to Severus only half alive. 4 So the prophecy made before the battle was fulfilled. Many, moreover, declare that he was slain by soldiers who asked Severus for a bounty for his death.
5 According to certain writers, he had one son, but according to Maximus, two. At first Severus granted these pardon, but later he killed them, together with their mother, and had them cast into running water. 6 Albinus' head was cut off and paraded on a pike, and finally sent to Rome. With it Severus sent a letter to the senate, in which he reviled it bitterly for its great love for Albinus, inasmuch as his kinsmen, and notably his brother, had been heaped with illustrious honours. 7 Albinus' body lay for days, it is said, before Severus' headquarters, until it stank and was mangled by dogs, and then it was thrown into running water.
§ 10 With regard to his character there is great divergence of statement. Severus, for his part, charged him with being depraved and perfidious, unprincipled and dishonourable, covetous and extravagant. 2 But all this he wrote either during the war or after it, at a time when he merits less credence, since he was speaking of a foe. 3 Yet Severus himself sent him many letters, as though to an intimate friend. Many persons, moreover, thought well of Albinus, and even Severus wished to give him the name of Caesar, and when he made plans for a successor, he had Albinus foremost in mind.
4 There are extant, besides, some letters of Marcus concerning Albinus, which bear witness to his virtues and character. 5 One of these, addressed to his prefects and dealing with Albinus, it were not out of place to include: 6 "Marcus Aurelius Antoninus to his prefects, greeting. Albinus, one of the family of the Ceionii, son-in-law of Plautillus, and a native of Africa, but with little of the African about him, I have placed in command of two squadrons of horse. 7 He is a man of experience, strict in his mode of life, respected for his character. He will prove of value, I think, in the service of the camp, and I am certain he will prove no detriment. 8 I have ordered him double ration-money, a plain uniform but one befitting his station, and fourfold pay. Do you urge him to make himself known to the state, for he will get the reward that he merits."
9 There is also another letter, which Marcus wrote about Albinus in the time of Avidius Cassius, a copy of which reads as follows: 10 "Albinus is to be commended for his loyalty. For he held the soldiers in check when they were wavering in their allegiance and were making ready to join Avidius Cassius, and had it not been for him, they would have done this. 11 We have in him, therefore, a man who deserves the consulship, and I shall name him to succeed Cassius Papirius, who, I am told, is now at the point of death. 12 But this, meanwhile, I would not have you publish, lest somehow it come to Papirius or to his kin, and we seem to appoint a successor to a consul who is still alive."
§ 11 These letters, then, prove the loyalty of Albinus, as does this fact besides, that he sent a sum of money wherewith to restore the cities that Niger had ravaged. He did this, also, to win their inhabitants more easily to his cause.
2 Now Cordus, who recounts such details at length in his books, declares that Albinus was a glutton — so much so, in fact, that he would devour more fruit than the mind of man can believe. 3 For Cordus says that when hungry he devoured five hundred dried figs (called by the Greeks callistruthiae), one hundred Campanian peaches, ten Ostian melons, twenty pounds' weight of Labican grapes, one hundred figpeckers, and four hundred oysters. 4 In his use of wine, however, Cordus says he was sparing, but Severus denies this, claiming that even in time of war he was drunken. 5 As a rule, he was on bad terms with his household, either because of his drunkenness, as Severus says, or because of his quarrelsome disposition. 6 Toward his wife he was unbearable, toward his servants unjust, and in dealings with his soldiers brutal. For he would often crucify legionary centurions, even when the character of the offence did not demand it, and he certainly used to beat them with rods and never spared. 7 His clothing was elegant, but his banquets tasteless, for he had an eye only to quantity. As a lover of women he was noted even among the foremost philanderers, but of unnatural lusts he was innocent, and he always punished these vices. In the cultivation of land he was thoroughly versed, and he even composed Georgics. 8 Some say, too, that he wrote Milesian tales, which are not unknown to fame though written in but a mediocre style.
§ 12 He was beloved by the senators as no one of the emperors before him. This was chiefly due, however, to their hatred of Severus, who was greatly detested by the senate because of his cruelty. 2 For after he defeated Albinus, Severus put a great number of senators to death, both those who were really of Albinus' party and those who were thought to be. 3 Indeed, when Albinus was slain near Lugdunum, Severus gave orders to search though his letters to find out to whom he had written and who had written to him; and everyone whose letters he found, by his orders the senate denounced as a public enemy. 4 And of these he pardoned none, but killed them all, placing their goods on sale and depositing the proceeds in the public treasury.
5 There is still in existence a letter from Severus, addressed to the senate, which shows very clearly his state of mind; whereof this is a copy: 6 "Nothing that can happen, O Conscript Fathers, could give me greater sorrow than that you should endorse Albinus in preference to Severus. 7 It was I who gave the city grain, I who waged many wars for the state, I who gave oil to the people of Rome, so much that the world could hardly contain it, and I who slew Pescennius Niger and freed you from the ills of a tyrant. 8 A fine requital, truly, you have made me, a fine expression of thanks! A man from Africa, a native of Hadrumetum, who pretends to derive descent from the blood of the Ceionii, you have raised to a lofty place; you have even wished to make him your ruler, though I am your ruler and my children are still alive. 9 Was there no other man in all this senate whom you might love, who might love you? You raised even his brother to honours; and you expect to receive at his hands, one a consulship, another a praetorship, and another the insignia of any office whatever. 10 You have failed, moreover, to show me the spirit of gratitude which your forefathers showed in the face of Piso's plot, which they showed Trajan, and showed but lately in opposing Avidius Cassius. This fellow, false and ready for lies of every kind, who has even fabricated a noble lineage, you have now preferred to me. 11 Why, even in the senate we must hear Statilius Corfulenus proposing to vote honours to Albinus and his brother, and all that was lacking was that the noble fellow should also vote him a triumph over me. 12 It is even a greater source of chagrin, that some of you thought he should be praised for his knowledge of letters, when in fact he is busied with old wives' songs, and grows senile amid the Milesian stories from Carthage that his friend Apuleius wrote and such other learned nonsense." 13 From all this it is clear how severely he attacked the followers of Pescennius and Albinus. 14 Indeed, all these things are set down in his autobiography, and those who desire to know them in detail should read Marius Maximus among the Latin writers, and Herodian among the Greek, for they have related many things and with an eye to truth.
§ 13 He was tall of stature, with unkempt curly hair and a broad expanse of brow. His skin was wonderfully white; many indeed think it was from this that he got his name. He had a womanish voice, almost as shrill as a eunuch's. He was easily roused, his anger was terrible, his rage relentless. In his pleasures he was changeable, for he sometimes craved wine and sometimes abstained. 2 He had a thorough knowledge of arms and was not ineptly called the Catiline of his age.
3 We do not believe it wholly irrelevant to recount the causes which won Clodius Albinus the love of the senate. 4 After Commodus had bestowed upon him the name of Caesar, and while by the Emperor's orders he was in command of the troops in Britain, false tidings were brought that Commodus had been slain. Then he came forth before the soldiers and delivered the following speech: 5 "If the senate of the Roman people but had its ancient power, and if this vast empire were not under the sway of a single man, it would never have come to pass that the destiny of the state should fall into the hands of a Vitellius, a Nero, or a Domitian. Under the rule of consuls there were those mighty families of ours, the Ceionii, the Albini, and the Postumii, of whom your fathers heard from their grandsires and from whom they learned many things. 6 It was surely the senate, moreover, that added Africa to the dominions of Rome, the senate that conquered Gaul and the Spains, the senate that gave laws to the tribes of the East, and the senate that dared to attack the Parthians — and would have conquered them, too, had not the fortune of Rome just then assigned our army so covetous a leader. 7 Britain, to be sure, was conquered by Caesar, but he was still a senator and not yet dictator. Now as for Commodus himself, how much better an emperor would he had been had he stood in awe of the senate! 8 Even as late as the time of Nero, the power of the senate prevailed, and the senators did not fear to deliver speeches against a base and filthy prince and condemn him, even though he still retained both power of life and death and the empire too. 9 Wherefore, my comrades, the name of Caesar, which Commodus now confers on me, I do not wish to accept. May the gods grant that no one else may wish it! 10 Let the senate have rule, let the senate distribute the provinces and appoint us consuls. But why do I say the senate? It is you, I mean, and your fathers; you yourselves shall be the senators."
§ 14 This harangue was reported at Rome while Commodus was still alive and roused him greatly against Albinus. He forthwith despatched one of his aides, Junius Severus, to replace him. 2 The senate, however, was so much pleased that it honoured Albinus, though absent, with marvellous acclamations, both while Commodus still lived and, later, after his murder. Some even counselled Pertinax to ally himself with Albinus, and as for Julianus, Albinus' influence had the greatest weight in his plan for murdering Pertinax. 3 In proof, moreover, that my statements are true, I will quote a letter written by Commodus to the prefects of the guard, in which he makes clear his intention of killing Albinus; 4 "Aurelius Commodus to his prefects, greeting. You have heard, I believe, in the first place, the false statement that I had been slain by a conspiracy of my household; in the second, that Clodius Albinus has delivered an harangue to the senate at great length — and not for nothing, it seems to me. 5 For whoever asserts that the state ought not to be under the sway of one man, and that the senate should rule the empire, he is merely seeking to get the empire himself through the senate. Keep a diligent watch then; for now you know the man whom you and the troops and the people must avoid."
6 When Pertinax found this letter he desired to make it public in order to stir up hatred against Albinus; and for this reason Albinus advised Julianus to bring about Pertinax's death.