Decimus Clodius Albinus

Decimus Clodius Albinus Governor of Britannia from 191/2AD Proclaimed Caesar by Severus 193AD

Of North-African origin like the emperor Septimius Severus, this man came from a wealthy senatorial family and held a succession of undistinguished military posts before being made consul in 187, governor of Lower Germany in 189, then governor of Britain c.191.

Following the murder of Pertinax on 28th March 193AD at the Palatine in Rome, and the subsequent auctioning-off of the empire by the praetorians to the highest bidder, Didius Julianus was proclaimed emperor by dint of having a larger purse than his rival bidder, Titus Flavius Sulpicianus, the father-in-law of Pertinax. Consequently, as news of the death of Pertinax spread across the empire, no less than three provincial governors were declared emperor by their respective armies;

  1. Lucius Septimius Severus, governor of Upper Pannonia, on 9th April 193, eventually gained the support of the entire Rhine/Danube army numbering sixteen legions.
  2. Gaius Pescennius Niger, governor of Syria, in mid-April, held four legions.
  3. Decimus Clodius Albinus, governor of Britain, also in April, held three legions and numerous auxiliary forces.

In order to avoid separate wars against Roman forces in the west and the east, Severus secured the loyalty of Albinus by proclaiming him Caesar sometime in April or May 193, as he was marching upon Rome. The bestowing of this title had long been the preferred means by which the Roman emperors had indicated their political heirs and successors, and for all intents and purposes, this meant that following Severus’ death (he was already an old man), the emperorship would fall to Albinus himself. Aparrently content with this pact Albinus stayed in Britain, formally approving Severus’ claim to the title Augustus, and thus allowing Severus to move on Rome unapposed. Didius Julianus was sentenced to death by the senate on 1st June, and Severus was named emperor the same day.

Following the consolidation of his power at Rome, Severus at once set out eastwards to deal with the other claimant to the purple, Pescennius Niger, who was finally defeated in battle on the plain outside Issus in March/April 194. The following summer Severus campaigned against the Parthians in northern Mesopotamia, in retribution for the support they had lent his rival Niger and his associates. As the victorious imperial party travelled back to Rome later that year, the emperor’s eldest son Caracalla was renamed Marcus Aurelius Antoninus after the distinguished Antonine dynasty, also his youngest son Geta was titled Caesar, although only seven years of age. Clearly, Severus did not intend honouring his bargain with Clodius Albinus.

Concerning the Lack of Epigraphic Evidence

It is not too surprising, considering that his nemesis Severus was later to visit Britain as emperor, that no inscriptions dedicated to Albinus have survived. It would have been unsafe for any private citizen, unit commander or local civic council, to retain any inscription which bore his name, as it could implicate them in the recent upheavals. It is very likely that numerous such dedicatory stones were purposefully defaced for this reason.

Literary Evidence for the Exploits of Albinus

“He [Commodus] also had some wars with the barbarians beyond Dacia, in which Albinus and Niger, who later fought against the emperor Severus, won fame; …”

Cassius Dio History of Rome LXXIII.viii.1 (184AD)

“… Three men at this time, each commanding three legions of citizens and many foreigners besides, attempted to secure the control of affairs – Severus, Niger and Albinus. The last-named was governor of Britain,¹ Severus of Pannonia, and Niger of Syria.”

Cassius Dio History of Rome LXXIV.xiv.3 (193AD)
  1. Dio, who wrote in Greek, gives Albinus’ title as ????? ?????????? or ‘Archon of Bretannia’.

“So he [Severus] sent a letter by one of his trusted friends to Albinus, appointing him Caesar; … Albinus, accordingly, in the belief that he was to share the rule with Severus, remained where he was; and Severus, after winning over everything in Europe except Byzantium, was hastening against Rome.”

Cassius Dio History of Rome LXXIV.xv.2 (193AD)

“Before Severus had recovered from his conflicts with the barbarians he was involved in civil war with Albinus, his Caesar. For Severus would no longer give him even the rank of Caesar, now that he had got Niger out of the way and had settled other matters in that part of the world to his satisfaction ; whereas Albinus aspired even to the pre-eminence of emperor.”

Cassius Dio History of Rome LXXVI.iv.1 (196AD)

“Albinus excelled in family and education, but his adversary was superior in warfare and was a skilfull commander. …”

Cassius Dio History of Rome (197AD)

“Albinus took refuge in a house that stood beside the Rodanus (Rhône), but when he saw the whole place surrounded, he slew himself. …”

Cassius Dio History of Rome LXXVI.vii.3 (197AD) (196) – Aemilianus, a relative of Albinus on the staff of Niger in Syria. LXXVI.v – Numerianus a schoolteacher, raised forces in Gaul and “killed a few of Albinus’ cavalry”, and in another exploit wrested from him the sum of seventy million sesterces, and sent the proceeds on to Rome, claimimng that the booty had been taken in the name of the legitimate emperor. For these outstanding deeds Severus granted Numerianus his wish to spend the rest of his days on a small imperial allowance somewhere in the countryside. (197) – tells of Albinus’ defeat near Lugdunum by the army of Severus. LXXVI.viii.4 (197) – Among the first victims of Severus upon his return to Rome as unrivalled emperor was Sulpicianus, the father-in-law of Pertinax, who had been the second bidder in the praetorian auction of the Roman state in March 193, but the emperor also showed leniency towards thirty-five senators suspected of siding with Albinus by having them released from prison. LXXXV.v.4? (197) – Possible that Severus was unable to assist governor Virius Lupus in Britain because he was busy in Gaul fighting against the ‘die-hard’ remnants of Albinus’ army. LXXVII.iii.4 (205) – The ghost of Albinus seems to have remained on earth to trouble the emperor Severus’ sleep at night, for a later passage in Dio states that “… he [Severus] had dreamed the night before that Albinus was alive and plotting against him.”