“These charges were brought against Julianus: that he had been a glutton and a gambler; that he had exercised with gladiatorial arms; and that he had done all these things, moreover when advanced in years, and after escaping the stain of these vices in his youth. The charge of pride was also brought against him, although he had really been very unassuming as emperor, He was moreover, very affable at banquets, very courteous in the matter of petitions, and very reasonable in the matter of granting liberty” (“The Life of Didius Julianus” in Historia Augusta, Loeb Classical Library, 1921, vol. 9.1-2). PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF THE LATE PATRICK A. DOHENY
Marcus Didius Severus Julianus (133-193 A.D.), a wealthy Roman senator, reigned as Emperor for a few short months in the year 193 A.D. His sudden rise to power on 28th March was no less dramatic than his demise on 1st June, just 2 months and five days later. His rule falls within the tumultuous period called “The Year of the Five Emperors” from 192-193 A.D., following the murder of Commodus. The other rulers include Pertinax, Pescennius Niger, Clodius Albinus and Septimius Severus, the latter ending the chaos with the founding of the Severan Dynasty.
Before becoming emperor late in life, Didius Julianus had a long and distinguished public career. Born to a father from a prominent family from Mediolanum (modern Milan) and a mother from a Roman colony in North Africa, Didius Julianus was raised by Domitia Lucilla, mother of Marcus Aurelius. With her assistance, Julianus was first elected to public office at a very early age. He went on to be appointed quaestor, aedile and praetor, all with the support of the Emperor Marcus. He commanded a legion at Mogontiacum (modern Mainz) circa 167 A.D., governing the provinces in parts of Gaul, Dalmatia, the lower Rhine, Bithynia and Africa, and was appointed consul in 175 (see “The Life of Didius Julianus” in Historia Augusta, Loeb Classical Library, 1921, vol. 1).
The opportunity for Didius Julianus to become emperor evolved from the back-to-back murders of Commodus on the eve of January 1st, 193 and his successor Pertinax in March of that year at the hands of the Praetorian guard. The soldiers took his replacement in their own hands, declaring that the imperial post would be auctioned to the highest bidder. Didius Julianus and Pertinax’s father-in-law, Titus Flavius Sulpicianus competed (Cassius Dio, Roman History, Epitome of Book LXXIV, vol. IX, Loeb Classical Library Edition, 1927, 11). Julianus was encouraged by senators with Mediolanum connections to seize the throne, and perhaps he also felt to be Pertinax’ rightful successor. Historia Augusta informs that Julianus had served with Pertinax, who “always spoke of him [Didius Julianus] as his colleague and successor; on that day, in particular, when Julianus, after betrothing his daughter to a kinsman of his own, came to Pertinax and informed him of the fact, Pertinax said: ‘…and due respect, for he is my colleague and successor.’” (Historia Augusta, the Life of Didius Julianus, vol. 2.3).
Julianus was victorious by bribing each solder with 30,000 sestertii (Historia Augusta, op. cit., 3.1-3). Declared Emperor by the armed guard, Julianus as carried to the Senate, which was strong-armed into accepting him as their new leader. However, his support was short-lived. The populous immediately didn’t like Julianus and spread false rumors about his extravagance and his lack of respect for his predecessors. The armies of Pescennius Niger in Syria and Septimius Severus in Illyricum revolted, the Senate passed a motion proclaiming Severus emperor, giving divine honors to Pertinax and sentencing Julianus to death; “In a short time, Julianus was deserted by all.” (Historia Augusta, op. cit., vol. 8.6). He was murdered on the street by a common soldier who supported his successor Severus (op. cit., 8.6-9) and Cassius Dio says Julianus’ last words were, “But what evil have I done? Whom have I killed?” (Cassius Dio, op. cit., 17.5).
Didius Julianus here is depicted over-lifesized and of mature age. His head is turned to his right with his gaze slightly upward. He has a full head of wavy hair with the individual locks articulated, slightly receding at his temples. It merges with his long bushy beard, with particularly well-defined curling tressels below his mouth. His protruding upper lip is covered with a full mustache and his lower flanked by a small patch of hair. His face with smooth fleshy cheeks and soft naso-labial folds descending from his nose, which has a bump along the bridge and an upturned tip. He has heavy-lidded almond-shaped eyes beneath softly-incised brows, with the irises articulated and the pupils deeply drilled. His rectangular forehead has slight horizontal creases, revealing his age. Depicted in military garb, he wears a tunic below an anatomical cuirass with protective straps, pteryges, at the shoulders, the right nipple articulated. The shoulder strap terminates in a simple knot with a heart-shaped pendant descending below. An opulently-fringed paludamentum with deeply-rendered folds, drapes over his left shoulder, pinned in place by a raised circular brooch on his right shoulder.
There is great confusion among scholars in terms of identifying the portraits ascribed to the “The year of the Five Emperors." When this marble bust was first published by E. Langlotz in 1952, it was identified as portraying Clodius Albinus. Several later scholars disagreed with the attribution in favor of Septimius Severus (see J. Balty, op. cit., 1964 and A. McCann, op. cit., 1968). However, K. Fittschen and P. Zanker (no. 81, op.cit.), argued convincingly for Didius Julianus. In addition to the bust presented here, the most complete and best preserved, there are two others known depicting the same individual, one at the Palazzo Braschi and the other in the Vatican (inv. 710), both wearing similar military garb. The identification of them as Julianus is possible by comparing their unique physiognomic traits with those found on his numismatic portraits, where there are identifying inscriptions (see below the aureus with a bust of Didius Julianus in the British Museum, R.12642). All share the protruding upper lip, the nose with a bump along the bridge, upturned at its tip, and the distinctive curls that recede slightly on the forehead. These specific physiognomic traits are noticeably absent on other portraits from “The year of the Five Emperors." It is unclear whether these portraits were made of Julianus while he was serving as a high official or as Emperor.
“These charges were brought against Julianus: that he had been a glutton and a gambler; that he had exercised with gladiatorial arms; and that he had done all these things, moreover when advanced in years, and after escaping the stain of these vices in his youth. The charge of pride was also brought against him, although he had really been very unassuming as emperor, He was moreover, very affable at banquets, very courteous in the matter of petitions, and very reasonable in the matter of granting liberty” (“The Life of Didius Julianus” in Historia Augusta, Loeb Classical Library, 1921, vol. 9.1-2).
PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF THE LATE PATRICK A. DOHENY
REIGN 193 A.D.
E. Langlotz, "Ein römisches Meisterportrait" Die Weltkunst 22, no. 11, June 1952, cover, p. 2.
J. Balty, "Les premiers portraits de Septime Sévère: Problèmes de méthode," Latomus 23, vol. 1, 1964, pp. 58-63, pl. 1, fig. 2, pl. 4, fig. 8.
J. Balty, "Essai d'iconographie de l'empereur Clodius Albinus," Latomus 85, 1966, cat. 85, p. 36, no. 2.
A.M. McCann, "The Portraits of Septimius Severus (A.D. 193-211)," in Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome, vol. 30, 1968, cat. 9, pp. 131-132, pl. XXVIII.
D. Soechting, Die Porträts des Septimius Severus, Bonn, 1972, p. 136, no. 10.
A. Mlasowsky, Herrscher und Mensch: Romische Marmorbildnisse in Hannover, Hannover, 1992, pp. 144-146.
K. Fittschen and P. Zanker, Katalog der römischen Porträts in den Capitolinischen Museen und den anderen kommunalen Summlungen der Stadt Rom, Band I, Mainz am Rhein, no. 81, p. 93. no. 1.
Arachne Online Database no. 55502.
with Mario Barsanti, Rome, 1952.
Patrick A. Doheny (1923-2014), Beverly Hills, acquired by 1954; thence by descent to the current owner.