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The Life and Death of Clodius Albinus

Committing suicide is not a new concept and in times of defeat and shame, ancient leaders were known to take their own life. In this article, you will learn about the life and fate of Clodius Albinus , a Roman usurper who lived from 150 to 197.

Clodius Albinus was born Decimus Clodius Septimius Albinus and was proclaimed the emperor by the legions in Britain and Hispania after the murder of Pertinax (the first emperor during the Year of the Five Emperors) took place in 193.

His Life

Albinus was born to an aristocratic family in Africa. His father named the child Albinus because his son’s body had a distinct whiteness to the body. At an early age, Albinus entered the army and seemed to feel right at home in the military. When he served, he impressed his superiors , especially during the rebellion of Avidius Cassius who fought emperor Marcus Aurelius in 175. None other than the emperor recognized his military qualities in writing. He called Albinus “an African, who resembled his countrymen but little, and who was praiseworthy for his military experience and the gravity of his character.” It was stated that Albinus was in line to be chosen consul.

Because of his accomplishments in the military, the emperor Commodus gave Albinus a command in Gallia Belgica, and afterwards in Britain. At one time, he offered him the title of Caesar, which Albinus declined.

Albinus found himself in an uncomfortable situation upon hearing a false rumor that Commodus had passed away. He was quick to denounce the leader before his soldier in Britain , calling Commodus a tyrant. Albinus went on to say that restoration of the Senate would be in the best interest of the Roman Empire to bring back “ancient dignity and power.” The Senate was pleased to hear these words, but the very-much-alive emperor was not too happy. As a result, Commodus sent Junius Severus to relieve Albinus of his command.

Albinus was able to hold onto his command until after Commodus and his successor Pertinax were murdered in 193. After the assassination of Pertinax, the imperial throne was actually ‘sold’ to a wealthy senator by the praetorian prefect Aemilius Laetus and his men. They were responsible for arranging the murder of the emperor. Didius Julianus was crowned emperor, but he faced mutinies from troops in the provinces. During this time, several different men were proclaimed emperor by various legions. Albinus was one of them. The armies in Britain and Gaul viewed him as their choice of leader.

A civil war followed and Albinus became allies with Septimius Severus, who had captured Rome, took the name Septimius for himself, and accepted the title of Caesar from Albinus. Together, they shared a consulship in 194. With the support of three British legions and one Spanish legion, Albinus was an effective ruler for most of the western part of the empire.

Achieving Emperor Status

In 196, Albinus proclaimed himself emperor as he crossed from Britain to Gaul. With him, he brought a large British garrison. He defeated his opponents and was successful in laying claim to the military forces in Gaul. However, he was unable to win the allegiance of the Rhine legions, even though he set up his headquarters in Lugdunum.

The Fate of Albinus

Albinus met Severus’ army at the Battle of Lugdunum in Feb of 197. The battle was intense with a supposed 150,000 troops on both sides. However, Albinus was defeated. It is said that he killed himself. Other accounts state that he was captured and executed on the orders of Severus. It is said that Severus laid out the naked body of Albinus so that he could ride his horse over it.