was born, according to Dio Cassius, at Alba Pompeia, a Roman colony in Liguria on the west bank of the Tanaro, according to Capitolinus at a place called Villa Martis among the Apennines, on the first of August. A. D. 126. His father Helvius Successus was a libertinus of humble fortune, who followed the trade of a wood merchant and charcoal burner, and brought up his son to the same calling.
The youth, however, appears to have soon abandoned this career; and the various steps by which he gradually ascended to the highest offices of state, until at last he mounted the throne itself, "deserve well," as Gibbon has observed, "to be set down as expressive of the form of government and manners of the age." 1. Having received a good elementary education he became a teacher of grammar, but finding this occupation little profitable, 2. he sought and obtained the post of a centurion through the interest of his father's patron, Lollius Avitus. 3.
He was next a praefectus cohortis, served in this capacity in Syria, gained great renown in the Parthian war, and was then transferred to Britain. 4.
He commanded an ala of cavalry in Moesia. 5.
He was at the head of the commissariat on the line of the Aemilian Way. 6.
He was admiral of the German fleet. 7.
He was collector of the imperial revenues in Dacia, but was dismissed from this employment in consequence of incurring the suspicions of M. Aurelius, who had listened to the misrepresentations of his enemies. 8. Having found a protector in Claudius Pompeianus, the husband of Lucilla, he became commander of a vexillum attached to a legion. 9. Having discharged this duty with credit he was admitted into the senate. 10. M. Aurelius now discovered the falseness of the charges which had been preferred against him, and in order to make amends for the injury inflicted, raised him to the rank of praetor, and gave him the command of the first legion, at the head of which he drove out of Rhaetia and Noricum the barbarians who were threatening to overrun Italy.
This inroad, which is called by Dion (71.3) the invasion of the Kelts from beyond the Rhine, took place some time after A. D. 172.
The imperial legates were Pompeianus and Pertinax. 11.
As a reward for his achievements he was declared consul elect, and is marked in the Fasti as having held that office, although absent from Rome, along with M. Didius Julianus in A. D. 179.
The accuracy of this date has, however, been called in question. (See notes on D. C. 71.19
.) 12. Being now held in high esteem by the emperor, who on many occasions commended him publicly in the presence of the soldiers and in the senate, after the revolt of Cassius had been suppressed, he proceeded from Syria to guard the frontiers of the Danube, and was appointed to the command of both the Moesias and of Dacia in succession. 13.
He was made governor of Syria where he remained, performing the functions of his office with great uprightness until the death of Aurelius. 14.
He took his seat in the senate for the first time soon after the accession of Commodus, being one of the guardians or counsellors to whose care the new prince had been consigned by his father, and is one of those enumerated by Dion (72.4; comp. Hdt. 2.1
) as having escaped the destruction entailed by this dangerous distinction; but in consequence of exciting the jealousy of Perennis [PERENNIS] was ordered to retire to his native province. 15.
After the death of Perennis, Commodus earnestly requested him by letter to assume the command in Britain, where he suppressed a mutiny among the legionaries at the peril of his life. 16. Recalled from Britain at his own desire in consequence of the bad feeling entertained towards him by the soldiers, by whom he had been wounded and left for dead in the tumult; he was appointed chief of the commissariat at Rome. 17.
He was proconsul of Africa. 18. Lastly, he was praefectus urbi and was consul for the second time in A. D. 192, on the last day of which Commodus was slain; Pertinax, according to Capitolinus and Julian who upon this point are contradicted by Herodian, being privy to the plot.
As soon as the tyrant was dead, before the news had been spread abroad, Laetus the praefect of the praetorium, and Eclectus the imperial chamberlain, hastened to offer the throne to Pertinax, and having with difficulty (Aurel. Vict. Epit.
18.1) succeeded in vanquishing his scruples, immediately hurried him in secret to the camp.
An announcement was made to the soldiers that Commodus had died of apoplexy, upon which Pertinax delivered an oration, declaring that the supreme power had been forced upon his acceptance, and concluded by promising a liberal donative. Upon this he was slowly and reluctantly hailed as imperator by a few, the rest maintaining a sullen silence. While it was yet night he appeared before the senate, who greeted him with hearty good will; the following morning, being the 1st of January, A. D. 193, he was received with equal cordiality by the magistrates and the populace, took up his abode in the Palatium, and was invested with all the honours and titles appertaining to his station, in addition to which, in order to conciliate the citizens, he assumed the ancient constitutional designation of princeps senatus. From the very commencement of his reign he manifested a determination to introduce extensive reforms, not only in the expenditue and internal arrangements of the palace, but in all departments of the government, more especially in all matters connected with the army, and to restore, if possible, that strictness of discipline by which the glory and dominion of Rome had been won.
But with rash enthusiasm he resolved to do that at once which could only be accomplished effectually by slow degrees, and raised up a host of enemies by openly announcing his designs before his power was firmly consolidated, thus exciting the bitter hatred of the retainers of the court and of the praetorians. So early as the 5th of January, the troops looking back with regret on the ease and licence they had enjoyed under Commodus, and looking forward with disgust and apprehension to the threatened rigour of their new ruler, endeavoured, with the connivance, says Dion (73.8), of Laetus to force the supreme power upon a senator of high birth, Triarius Maternus Lascivius by name. Escaping with difficulty from their hands, he hastened to apprise Pertinax of his danger, who, influenced by fear, promised to conlirm all the promises made to the army by his predecessor, and thus for a time appeased their wrath. Soon after, during his temporary absence from Rome, another conspiracy was organised in favour of Falco [FALCO], perhaps without the consent of the latter, but this also was suppressed, and many soldiers were put to death upon the testimony of a slave.
At length Laetus, by whose instrumentality Pertinax had been chosen emperor, resenting some rebuke, openly joined the ranks of the disaffected.
By his contrivance two hundred of the praetorians marched in a body to the palace and forced their way into the interior. Pertinax, instead of endeavouring to resist or to escape, which would have been easy, thought to overawe the rebels by appearing in person, and imagined that he could persuade them by argument to forego their purpose.
He therefore came forth and commenced menced a solemn address in justification of his policy.
At first the men shrunk back with shame, cast down their eyes and sheathed their swords, but one ferocious barbarian, a Tungrian, rushing forwards transfixed the royal orator with his weapon, upon which the rest, animated with like fury, despatched him with many wounds, and cutting off his head stuck it in triumph upon a spear. Eclectus the chamberlain alone stood manfully by his master to the last, wounded many of the assailants, and was himself murdered upon the spot.
The rest of the attendants took to flight at the beginning of the affray and escaped in all directions.
Such was the end of Pertinax on the 28th of March, A. D. 193, in the 67th year of his age, after a reign of two months and twenty-seven days.
He was a man of venerable aspect, with long beard and curling locks, of commanding figure, although somewhat corpulent and troubled with lameness.
He expressed himself without difficulty, and was mild and winning in his address, but was believed to be deficient in sincerity and genuine warmth of heart. (Dio Cass. Ixxi. 3-19, 72.4-9, Ixxiii. 1-10; Herodian. 2.1.6-12, 2.2.17, 9.12; Aur. Vict. Epil
.xviii. Dio Cassius says nothing of the attempt to place Maternus upon the throne.
He speaks of the conspiracy of Falco as the first; states that upon this occasion Pertinax. made his apologetic harangue, that Laetus took advantage of this commotion to put to death a great multitude of the soldiers as if by the orders of Pertinax; that this circumstance filled the praetorians with rage and terror, and led to the catastrophe.)