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Gaius Fulvius Plautianus

(c. 150-205 CE)

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Plautianus
Author: Giovanni Dall'Orto

Gaius Fulvius Plautianus (Gaius Fulvius Plautianus) was the prefect of praetorians during the reign of Emperor Septimius Severus and one of the most powerful officials in the history of ancient Rome.

Early Years

We do not know the year of birth of Plautianus, but based on his preserved bust, located in the Vatican museum, which dates back to the first years of the 3rd century CE, we can estimate his date of birth. The sculpture shows a mature, fifty or sixty-year-old man; therefore, researchers assume that he was born in the years 140-150 CE and was the same age as Septimius Severus.

Little is known about the early life of Plautianus. He was certainly born in Leptis Magna, in North Africa (modern Libya), as a member of one of the leading Roman families – gens Fulvii. It is also likely that as a young boy, Plautianus met Septimius Severus. We do not know the approximate date, but it seems that both men liked each other very much, which resulted in their close cooperation in later years. The historian Herodian claims that they even had a family connection, and it is no coincidence that Septimius’s mother’s name was Fulvia.

Herodian also mentions that Plautianus was banished for treason and other crimes. Scientists believe this is confirmed by Cassius Dio, who in his work “Roman History” mentions a “man” who was condemned by the then governor of the province of Africa and later emperor – Pertinaxa.

Thanks to the preserved inscription, we know that Plautianus held the following offices: procurator XX hereditatium and praefectus vehiculorum. In the first case, he was to collect a 5% inheritance tax, and in the second, he managed roads and the postal service (cursus publicus). So it was a typical equity career.

We do not know the name of Plautianus’ wife, but researchers believe her name was Hortensia. They concluded this after his son was named Gaius Fulvius Plautianus Hortensianus (circa 170-212 CE). Plautianus also had a daughter named Fulvia Plautilla, who was born around 187 CE.

Career

When, after the death of Emperor Commodus on December 31, 192 CE Chaos reigned in the Empire, and Plautianus held the office of praefectusa vigilum. In other words, he commanded a specialized unit that put out fires and kept Rome in order. It is not entirely clear who appointed him to this position. Scientists say either Pertinax or Septimius Severus.

Plautianus, during the competition for power in Rome after the death of Commodus, clearly supported Severus. On his orders, he kidnapped the children of Pescennius Niger, who made himself emperor in Syria, and the children of his ally Asellius Aemilianus.

In the second half of 193 CE, Severus attacked Niger and defeated him in 194. Plautianus participated in this and the subsequent expedition to the Party. Then in 196 CE Severus and Plautianus found themselves in Rome preparing for the confrontation with Clodius Albinus. Plautianus on January 1, 197 CE he led the praetorians and took command of the 2nd legion of Parthica. It was a precedent in history. Then he took part in the battle on February 19, 197 CE, at Lyon. At that time, he already held the title of clarissimus vir, which was only given to senators. This proves that the emperor greatly appreciated the services of Plautianus, who was in fact the second Roman in the Empire at that time.

In the winter of 198 CE, Severus and Plautianus set off for the Party and successfully conducted hostilities. During this time, Caracalla, son of Septimius Severus, was declared co-ruler and received the title of Augustus. In fact, however, the second person in the country was still Plautianus, because the young son of Severus was only 10 years old.

During this time, Plautianus received further titles, confirming his position: augur and pontifex. In fact, Plautianus was already Severus’ right-hand man. On his orders, he stopped the political careers of inconvenient people or seized the estates of political opponents. He also dealt with the administration of the state. Gradually, Severus saw the strong and dangerous position of Plautianus. To this end, he decided to give the title of the prefect of Egypt – Emmilius Saturninus, in order to limit the power of Plautianus. However, the unexpected death of the nominee thwarted his plans.

Plautianus was in constant close contact with the Emperor’s family, who, to put it simply, did not like him. Pluatianus, in turn, hated Empress Julia Domna, whom, according to Cassius Dio, he wanted to discredit in the eyes of the ruler.

Most likely in 201 CE, the daughter of Pluatinus – Plautilla was engaged to the 14-year-old Caracalla. The wedding was scheduled for April 203 CE, the celebration of the tenth anniversary of Severus’ rule (decennalia). As Caracalla could not marry a lower-ranking woman (she and her father were still of Equestrian ancestry), Plautianus received a consulate along with Caracalla’s brother – Geta.

At that time, Plautianus also embarked on an armed operation against the Garamantes – the North African Berber people – who were invading Roman lands. Grateful inhabitants of Leptis Magna erected statues and busts in his honour for his success. However, this was met with great reluctance by Severus, who ordered their removal.

During his strong position and influence at the imperial court, Plautianus made a great fortune. Not only at the expense of political opponents, but also engaging in trade, for example in olive oil at Limes Tripolitanus (now in the south of Tunisia). The money allowed him to organize several religious games for the Roman people.

Time to fall

The marriage of Caracalla and Plautilla was completely unsuccessful. The poor relationship of the spouses led Plautianus to quarrel with Caracalla. The young son of the emperor decided to get rid of the inconvenient “friend” of the family. According to Cassius Dio, through his teacher Eodius, he persuaded the three centurions to testify to Septimius Severus that Plautianus had ordered them to kill him. As confirmation of these words, they showed the emperor a letter.

On January 22, 205 CE Severus summoned Plautianus to his presence. Cassius Dio did not believe Caracalla and believes the writing was fabricated. Plautianus was reportedly surprised by the entire accusation, he began to excuse himself and exclude his participation in any conspiracy. According to Cassius Dio, Caracalla, furious with Plautianus, threw himself at him and punched him with his fists. Eventually, he ordered a slave to stab him.

Septimius Severus agreed to Plautianus’ funeral and refused to posthumously accuse him of treason by the senate, which proves that he did not believe in any evil intentions. Ultimately, however, the name of Plautianus was erased from public life.

It is worth emphasizing that Caracalla, by accusing Plautianus and eliminating him from the political game, strongly strengthened his position and secured the position of heir to the throne.

Sources
  • Gaius Fulvius Plautianus, "Livius.org"
  • Herodian, History of the Empire from the Death of Marcus
  • Cassius Dio, Roman history
  • Krawczuk Aleksander, Poczet cesarzy rzymskich, Warszawa 2004

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