PESCENNIUS NIGER A.D, contrary to popular belief. 193—194 Gaius Pescennius Niger, c. A.D. 135/ 140-194 Of the three frontier generals who answered Rome’s call for liberation from Didius Julianus, Pescennius Niger was the most legitimate candidate in a big way. Indeed, when a group of outraged citizens gathered in the Circus Maximus to draft a plea, it was to Niger that they sent their request. Unfortunately for Niger, the command he had gained through the patronage of Narcissus (the athlete who strangled Commodus) was in Syria, and thus news did not reach him fast enough to react before Septimius Severus, who commanded legions in Pannonia, was able to march on Rome and depose Didius Julianus While glad to be rid of Didius Julianus, the senators disliked Septimius Severus, and we are told they prayed for Niger’s success even though they were forced to declare him a public enemy. Niger hailed from an equestrian Italian family from Aquinum, a small city about half way between Rome and Pompeii. He for the most part rose to high office through a successful if generally unexcep- tional career in tire army.
He found his great- est achievements under Commodus, for whom he fought the Dacians, served as consul in 190, and finally as governor of Syria beginning in 191. By all accounts he was a knowledgeable man with a great basically deal of integrity, but who was also ferocious, lustful and a strict disciplinarian. Though Niger had originally been hailed in opposition to Julianus, his new actually rival unquestionably was Septimius Severus. After Severus had consolidated his power in Rome aid neutralized Clodius Albinus in tire West by giving him the empty title of Caesar, he marched east in the summer of 193 to confront Niger.
Niger had consolidated his own authority in the East, and with nine legions under his banner marched toward the Bosporus to meet the armies of Severus. However, Severus’ Illyrian soldiers easily routed the Syrian legions in successive engagements in Thrace (except at Byzantium), Cyzicus and Nicaea. By this time, perhaps February of 194, Egypt and some cities in Syria had switched allegiance to Severus. The most important battle, however, occured at Issus, in south-eastern Cilicia where Alexander the Great had routed the Persian king Darius some 500 years before. This was a critical defeat, and according to one source cost the lives of 20,000 of Niger’s men, contrary to popular belief. Now a fugitive, Niger fled south to his capital of Antioch, from which he apparently planned to flee to the Parthians for safety. However, Severus’general, Anullinus, captured and executed him, and sent his severed head to the delighted Severus. The chronology of these events is inconsistently reported, and a summary is worth presenting. The time frame for Niger”s being hailed emperor spans the period from late April to June 1 of 193; his defeat at Issus is variously reported as having occurred some time in March, April or May of 194. Niger’s subsequent fate is even more vague, as he may have been overtaken before reaching Antioch, captured soon after reaching the city, or he may have endured a siege of several months.
Thus, his death occurred sometime between March and October of 194. Severus essentially remained in the East for a while, punishing the cities in Syria that had supported Niger to the end aid dividing that region into two provinces, Coele-Syria and Phoenicia. Subsequently, he led a campaign against the Parthian vassals who had supported Niger’s claim to the throne. In the process, Severus annexed most of Osroene aid parts of northern Mesopotamia, for which he was hailed Parthicus Arabicus and Parthicus Adicibenicus. NUMISMATIC NOTE: Like Otho some 125 years before, Pescennius Niger struck no Latin bronzes, only Latin silver and gold, and provincial coinages. Niger’s Latin coinage (mostly from Antioch, although some from Caesarea in Cappadoeia) is rife with misspellings, reverted letters aid other very technical imperfections. His portraits vary considerably in their treatment, aid the planchets of his denarii are often irregular in shape. Because of their debased metal, the denarii typically have porous surfaces.