Decimus Clodius Albinus Ceionius Septimius
Emperor of Roman Britain (195-197)

Clodius Albinus was born at Hadrumetum in Africa into a senatorial family probably around the year 150. According to Dio Cassius he found fame in the "wars with the barbarians beyond Dacia" , being made consul in 187, governor of Lower Germany in 189, then governor of Britannia around the year 191.

The death of Commodus

On the last day of the year 192, the emperor Commodus was strangled in his bath; his successor Pertinax lasted three months before being murdered as well. Didius Julianus a former governor of Britain, became emperor by virtue of making the highest bid at an auction conducted by the praetorian guard. In the provinces the frontier legions reacted by proclaiming their own candidates for emperor; Gaius Pescennius Niger, governor of Syria, Clodius Albinus, governor of Britannia and Lucius Septimius Severus, governor of Upper Pannonia were all thrust forward as candidates for the purple.

Of these three Severus was in the strongest position as he had the support of the entire Rhine and Danube armies numbering some sixteen legions in total, whilst Niger only had four legions and Albinus, three legions and numerous some auxiliary forces. Albinus, perhaps unwisely, accepted Severus appointment as Caesar and refrained from pursuing his claim, and remained in Britain. Severus therefore had a free hand to move on Rome and despatched Didius Julianus before moving against Niger who was finally defeated in battle on the plain outside Issus in the spring of the year 194. Niger was beheaded and Severus had secured himself the imperial throne of Rome.

The bid for empire

The bestowing of the title of Caesar was traditionally the means by which the Roman emperors indicated their political heirs and successors. This naturally led to the expectation by Clodius Albinus that he was Severus' successor and become emperor himself in due course. However on his return to Rome Severus' renamed his eldest son Caracalla, as Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (a clear nod to the distinguished Antonine dynasty) and proclaimed his youngest son Geta as Caesar. Whether news of these events convinced Clodius Albinus that Severus did not intend honouring his bargain we do not know, but late in the year 195, he proclaimed himself emperor and crossed over to the continent with the three legions under his command.

After two years of inconclusive fighting in Gaul, Severus gathered together his forces and moved decisively against Albinus and the two armies met in a closely fought battle near Lugdunum (modern Lyons in France). Albinus was defeated and committed suicide, his corpse was trampled beneath the hooves of Severus' horse and the head removed and despatched to Rome, before being thrown, together with those of his wife and sons, into the river.

The Aftermath

Severus ruthlessly persecuted the supporters of Albinus, executing them where he could and confiscating their estates, desperate to root out any opposition to his rule.

In Britain the removal of the island's three legions had resulted in a lack of military discipline and an increase in border raids. Severus was forced to restore the military presence in Britain and rebuild the frontier defences. The decision was made to divide the island into two separate provinces with Londinium and Eboracum as their respective capitals. This was in the hope that such a division would prevent one man from commanding the loyalty of all the legions of Britannia and forestall further rebellion. A forlorn hope as it turned out, as the island of Britain became the breeding ground for a long series of rebel emperors right up until it detached itself from the empire in the year 410.

However according to Dio Cassius Severus never quite rid himself of Albinus, and continued to dream "that Albinus was alive and plotting against him".

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