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(1 August 126 - 28 March 193 CE)

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)


Publius Helvius Pertinax

Ruled as

Imperator Caesar Publius Helvius Pertinax Augustus


1 January 193 – 28 March 193 CE


1 August 126 CE


28 March 193 CE

Coin of Pertinax

Pertinax was born on August 1, 126 CE as Publius Helvius Pertinax. His father was Helvius Successus, a freedman from Liguria, and a timber trader. The mother, in turn, was Flavia Titiana. Pertinax ruled as a Roman emperor for three months in 193 CE, after the power was handed over to him by the conspirators who murdered Commodus.

Military and political career

Initially, Pertinax worked as a grammar teacher, but over time he decided to pursue a career in the military. He was a military commander. As a centurion, and later a cohort commander, he distinguished himself in the battles with the Parthians in Syria, then he fought in Britain and on the Danube, where he was a cavalry commander during the Marcomannic wars. He commanded forces directed to the East to put down the rebellion of Avidius Cassius, who proclaimed himself emperor in 175 CE. This year he was given the command of a legion, and later the governorship of Moesia, Dacia, and then Syria.

He returned to Rome during the reign of Commodus. In 185 CE he took over the governorship of Britain, then Africa, and later became the prefect of Rome. His merits were appreciated by Emperor Marcus Aurelius, giving him the dignity of consul. He was successively governor of Moses, Dacia, Syria, Britain and Africa, and was also entered on the list of senators and was the first of the family to sit in the Curia. At the time of the assassination attempt on Emperor Commodus, he was the prefect of the city of Rome. The lack of a large fortune allowed him to survive the hard times of the reign of Commodus, who did not see him as an “attractive” victim.

Pertinax was an example of an ambitious person who was reaching the next levels of his political career. Though he came from low social strata, he was given empire for his hard work and dedication and had a good reputation.


On January 1, 193 CE, on the second day after the murder of Commodus, enjoying the support of the Roman people and provincial armies, Pertinax became proclaimed emperor. After the assassination of Commodus, rebels came to him and proclaimed him emperor. Pertinax did not want to accept the title of emperor, but at the urging of members of the Senate, he resigned. His election was coldly received by representatives of the senate (the new emperor was homo novus – the first person of the family to sit in the senate) and the praetorians (accustomed to freedom and impunity); however, with the promise of receiving the appropriate money, his choice was agreed. Pertinax reigned under the name of Caesar Publius Helvius Pertinax Augustus.

The first step after recognizing the new ruler was to recognize Commodus as a public enemy (hostis publicus), who was considered a tyrant. According to Cassius Dio, the Roman people wanted the body of the last representative of the Antonine dynasty to mutilate him; However, Pertinax did not agree to this. The crowds massively destroyed the statues of Commodus and cursed his name, which proves what hatred they looked at the last ruler.

Pertinax tried to refer to the policies of Hadrian and even Octavian, trying to revive the middle class of the empire through a series of social and economic reforms and fill the imperial treasury (e.g. by auctioning imperial property). The first decisions of the new emperor rehabilitated people sentenced during the reign of Commodus and sentenced the informers to banishment. Pertinax restored lex Hadrian de rudibus agris – this law allowed anyone to cultivate the land in Italy, which was lying fallow.

To begin with, Pertinax assigned all the land in Italy and the rest of the provinces not under cultivation to anyone willing to care for it and farm it, to be his own private property; he gave to each man as much land as he wished and was able to manage, even if the land were imperial property.

Herodian, History of the Roman Empire, II.4

In addition, Pertinax abolished customs duties and port fees introduced by Commodus, tried to revive trade and care for the interests of consumers. He led a modest and economical lifestyle, limited his expenses for the court, dismissed some of the service, and put up for sale the gladiatorial gear of his predecessor. Herodian wrote:

He refused to allow his name to be stamped on imperial property, stating that these effects were not the emperor’s personal property but the common and public possessions of the Roman empire.

Herodian, History of the Roman Empire, II.4

Therefore, he introduced a distinction between the personal property of the emperor and his family, and state goods that were to be disposed of by each emperor as inheritance from former emperors. Senators accused him of stinginess for this reason, their dissatisfaction was also intensified by the introduction of fees for the return of property plundered by Commodus.

Finally, he removed the tolls previously levied during the tyranny as an easy method of raising revenue, the fees collected at the banks of rivers, the harbors of cities, and the crossroads, restoring to all these their ancient freedom.

Herodian, History of the Roman Empire, II.4

In addition, the praetorians were increasingly reluctant to the new ruler, who resented the emperor for trying to restore discipline in the troops. Finally, even the promise of gifts to the guards of 12,000 sesterce per head did not help. Herodian also mentions the behavior of the soldiers before his assumption of power:

He ordered the praetorians to curb their arrogant treatment of the people; he forbade them to carry axes or strike anyone they chanced to meet.

Herodian, History of the Roman Empire, II.4


Finally, on March 28, 193 CE, after less than three months of rule, the praetorians (probably in agreement with part of the senate) murdered Pertinax and organized a tender for the emperor’s office. He was awarded the imperial title by Didius Julianus by paying the guards 25,000 sestertii each.

Pertinax was one of the five almost simultaneously ruling pretender emperors in 193 CE. They were, in turn: Pertynax; Didius Julianus (chosen by the Praetorians after Pertinax’s death); Septimius Severus, advanced by the Danube legions; Pescennius Niger in the Eastern provinces; and Clodius Albinus in Britain. This period is referred to as the “Year of the Five Emperors”.

Septimius Severus acted as the official avenger of Pertinax, who at the head of the Danubian legions set off against Rome. Didius was killed and the praetorians were disarmed by Septimius’ soldiers and dissolved. The new emperor organized the solemn funeral of Pertinax and announced his deification (Pertinax was counted among the gods as Divus Pertinax), wanting to emphasize his intention to continue the reform program.

  • Iwaszkiewicz Piotr, Łoś Wiesław, Stępień Marek, Władcy i wodzowie starożytności. Słownik, Warszawa 1998
  • Janiszewska Daria, Wojna domowa w Rzymie w latach 193-197, Kocewia Mała 2021
  • Krawczuk Aleksander, Poczet cesarzowych Rzymu, Warszawa 2001
  • Krawczuk Aleksander, Poczet cesarzy rzymskich, Warszawa 2004
  • Photo of coin: Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.

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