Publius Helvius Pertinax

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Born in Liguria ad 126, the son of a freedman; he abandoned a career as a schoolteacher and sought a commission as a centurion; rejected, he gained appointment as an equestrian officer in Syria c.160. The wars of the 160s brought further posts, in Britain and Moesia, followed by a procuratorship and (c.169) command of the classis Germanica (Rhine fleet). An inscription near Cologne (ae 1963. 52) records his career to that point and a further procuratorship in Dacia. He was soon assisting Claudius Pompeianus in clearing the Marcomannic invaders out of Italy (170–1); he was made a senator by Marcus Aurelius and after further success became consul (175); he then governed both Moesias, Dacia, and Syria. Dismissed in 182 by the praetorian prefect Tigidius Perennis, he was in retirement until 185, when he governed Britain, suppressing a major mutiny; he became prefect of the alimenta (foundations for feeding children) in Italy, proconsul of Africa, and, in 192, prefect of Rome and consul for the second time. Apprised in advance of the plot against Commodus, he was hailed emperor by an enraptured senate in the night of 31 December 192. In spite of his humble origin, his phenomenal career had won him unrivalled respect. His attempts to redress the financial crisis and restore discipline soon aroused hostility from the guard. Two coups, on 3 January and in early March, failed, but on 28 March he was killed by mutinous soldiers. Septimius Severus assumed the name Pertinax shortly afterwards and deified him.

Anthony R. Birley

Subjects: Classical Studies.

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