Clodius Albinus

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For others with this cognomen, see Albinus (cognomen).
Clodius Albinus
Usurper of the Roman Empire
Cast in the Pushkin Museum
of a marble bust in the Louvre
Born ca. 150
Died 19 February 197(197-02-19) (aged 46–47)
Full name
Decimus Clodius Septimius Albinus
Dynasty None

Clodius Albinus (Latin: Decimus Clodius Septimius Albinus Augustus;[1] ca. 150 – 19 February 197) was a Roman usurper who was proclaimed emperor by the legions in Britain and Hispania (the Iberian Peninsula, comprising modern Spain and Portugal) after the murder of Pertinax in 193 (known as "Year of the Five Emperors"), and who proclaimed himself emperor again in 196, before his final defeat the following year.[2]


Albinus was born in Hadrumetum, Africa Province (Sousse, Tunisia) to an aristocratic Roman family of Ceionia (gens) origin. His father, Ceionius, said his son received the name of Albinus because of the extraordinary whiteness of his complexion.[3][4] Showing a disposition for military life, he entered the army when very young and served with distinction, especially in 175 during the rebellion of Avidius Cassius against Emperor Marcus Aurelius. His merit was acknowledged by the Emperor in two letters in which he calls Albinus an African, who resembled his countrymen but little, and who was praiseworthy for his military experience and the gravity of his character.[4] The Emperor likewise declared that without Albinus the legions (in Bithynia) would have gone over to Avidius Cassius, and that he intended to have him chosen consul.[5]

The Emperor Commodus gave Albinus a command in Gallia Belgica and afterwards in Britain. A false rumor having been spread that Commodus had died, Albinus denounced the man before his soldiers in Britain, calling Commodus a tyrant, and maintaining that it would be useful to the Roman Empire to restore to the senate its ancient dignity and power. The Senate was very pleased with these sentiments, but not so the Emperor, who sent Junius Severus to relieve Albinus of his command. Despite this, Albinus kept his command until after the murders of Commodus and his successor Pertinax in 193.

Septimius Severus and Albinus

Coin of Clodius Albinus[6]

After Pertinax was assassinated, the praetorian prefect Aemilius Laetus and his men, who had arranged the murder, "sold" the imperial throne to wealthy senator Didius Julianus, effectively crowning him emperor, but a string of mutinies by the troops in the provinces meant the next Emperor was far from decided. Immediately afterwards, Pescennius Niger was proclaimed Emperor by the legions in Syria; Septimius Severus by the troops in Illyricum and Pannonia; and Albinus by the armies in Britain and Gaul.

In the civil war that followed, Albinus was initially allied with Septimius Severus, who had captured Rome. Albinus added the name Septimius to his own, and accepted the title of Caesar from him; the two shared a consulship in 194. Albinus remained effective ruler of much of the western part of the Empire, with support from three British legions and one Spanish.[7] When Didius Julianus was put to death by order of the Senate, who dreaded the power of Septimius Severus, the latter turned his arms against Pescennius Niger. After the defeat and death of Niger in 194, and the complete discomfiture of his adherents, especially after the fall of Byzantium in 196, Severus resolved to make himself the absolute master of the Roman Empire. Albinus seeing the danger of his position, prepared for resistance. He narrowly escaped being assassinated by a messenger of Severus, after which he put himself at the head of his army, which is said to have consisted of 150,000 men.[4]

Albinus declares himself emperor

In autumn 196, Albinus proclaimed himself Emperor (Imperator Caesar Decimus Clodius Septimius Albinus Augustus), crossed from Britain to Gaul, bringing a large part of the British garrison with him.[8] He defeated Severus' legate Virius Lupus, and was able to lay claim to the military resources of Gaul, but although he made Lugdunum the headquarters of his forces, he was unable to win the allegiance of the Rhine legions.[2]

On 19 February 197 Albinus met Severus' army at the Battle of Lugdunum.[9] After a hard-fought battle, with 150,000 troops on each side according to Dio Cassius, Albinus was defeated and killed himself, or was captured and executed on the orders of Severus.[10] Severus had his naked body laid out on the ground before him, so that he could ride his horse over it, in a final act of humiliation. If Albinus' wife and sons were initially pardoned by Severus, he appeared to almost immediately afterwards change his mind, for as the dead Albinus was beheaded, so were they. Albinus' headless body was thrown into the Rhône, together with the corpses of his murdered family. Severus sent his head to Rome as a warning to his supporters; with it he sent an insolent letter, in which he mocked the senate for their loyalty to Albinus. The town of Lugdunum was plundered, and the adherents of Albinus were cruelly persecuted by Severus.

Albinus was a severe and often cruel commander, and he has been called the Catiline of his time. He had one son, or perhaps two, who were executed with their mother by order of Severus. It is said that he wrote a treatise on agriculture and a collection of Milesian tales.[11][12]


  1. In Classical Latin, Albinus' name would be inscribed as DECIMVS CLODIVS SEPTIMIVS ALBINVS AVGVSTVS.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Birley, Anthony R. (1996), "Clodius Septimius Albinus, Decimus", in Hornblower, Simon (ed.), Oxford Classical Dictionary, Oxford: Oxford University Press<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. An universal history, from the earliest accounts to the present time
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Capitolinus, Clodius Albinus 4-10
  5. Plate, William (1867), "Albinus, Clodius", in Smith, William (ed.), Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, 1, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, pp. 93–94<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. This coin celebrates Saeculum Frugiferum, the embodiment of a "fruitful era", probably Baal Hammon, a Phoenician divinity worshipped in North Africa, where Clodius came from.
  7. The British legions were II Augusta, VI Victrix, and XX Valeria Victrix, the Spanish legion was the VII Gemina.
  8. Indeed, he stripped Britain of every available soldier, which meant that Severus' new administration had to deal with several rebellions, including those of the Maeatae.
  9. Spartianus, Severus 11
  10. Collingwood, Robin George; Myres, John Nowell Linton (1998), "Severeus and Albinus", Roman Britain and English Settlements, Biblo & Tannen Publishers, p. 155, ISBN 978-0-8196-1160-4, retrieved January 27, 2009<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Cassius Dio, lxx. 4—7
  12. Herodian, ii. 15, iii. 5—7

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Publius Helvius Pertinax
Roman governors of Britain
Succeeded by
Virius Lupus
Preceded by
Lucius Fabius Cilo ,
Marcus Silius Messala
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Septimius Severus
Succeeded by
Publius Julius Scapula Tertullus Priscus,
Gaius Cassius Regallianus
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Didius Julianus
Roman Emperor
in competition with
Pescennius Niger
and Septimius Severus
Succeeded by
Septimius Severus