The Portraiture of Didius Julianus


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Didius Julianus was

Husband of Manlia Scantilla

Preceded by Pertinax

Succeeded by Septimius Severus

  Laura Maish and William Storage
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Marcus Didius Severus Julianus was Emperor of Rome from 28 March 193 to 1 June 193. He is alleged to have ascended the throne by buying it from the Praetorian Guard in an auction after the murder of Pertinax. While this account shows signs of being an ancient exaggeration, it appears likely that Julianus was essentially a usurper, despite his being from a prominent family.

The portrait in darker marble (photos 1- 4) from the Capitoline, is identified by Fittschen and Zanker also to be Julianus. Stuart Jones concluded that it portrays Clodius Albinus. Bernoulli found it to be Albinus or Septimius Severus. McCann and Baltry both found it to be Septimius Severus. Saflund concluded it was a modern imitation of an early Septimius Severus style. Fittschen and Zanker, in their analysis, argued that it is in fact ancient, and was meant to portray Didius Julianus, but was later heavily restored and polished, and that the three curls above his forehead are an erroneous restoration.

The white marble portrait (photos 5 -7) from the Vatican, has also been identified as Didius Julianus by several scholars. There is a reasonable likeness with images on coins, and the dating may be roughly correct, but the evidence for this one is not overwhelming either. The head was found in Ostia in 1804 (Vatican Museum Sala dei Busti, Inv. 707).

Identifying marble portrait busts from the early Severan period is probematic; it relies almost exclusively on coin portraits. The coin portraits of Pertinax (photo 8), Clodious Albinus (9), Septimius Severus (10) and Didius Julianus (11) minted in 192 - 194 are strikingly similar. These men may have had by coincidence similar facial features - they certainly had similar hair and beard styles - or lack of a portrait model for coins may have resulted in re-use of a previous emperor's image. They also may have intentionally used similar images for propaganda purposes.

Pertinax chose to emphasize physical similarities to Marcus Aurelius in his early portraits, thereby establishing a visual connection with the revered leader. Upon the assassination of Pertinax, Julianus and Albinus, claiming the throne, may have found it advantageous to create a connection with Pertinax or to continue Pertinax's association with Marcus Aurelius, or both. Severus sought a strong connection with both Marcus Aurelius and Pertinax, ultimately declaring himself to be adopted son of Marcus, and appending the name Pertinax to his own, and thus would have encouraged viewers to see the connection. Albinus initially allied with Severus in combat against Pescennius Niger, and so the allies would both benefit from expressing solidarity through their (Severus and Albinus) imagery, as did the members of the tetrarchy a century later.

Around thirty marble portrait heads have been tentatively identified as Pertinax, Julianus, Albinus or early Severus. Later Severus portraits are clearly identifiable and can be confirmed by inscriptions and other evidence. The collection of image types includes some solidly identifiable as Severus with obvious connections to his later types, several persons clearly not Severus, and then a large number that share characteristics with Severus and each other.

If Fittschen and Zanker are right about the Capitoline head, it seems unlikely that the Vatican head could also be Julianus. Perhaps it, and its Leiden partner (not shown here), are then yet another style of early (non-posthumous) Pertinax.

            Larger portrait images    

Didius Julianus1Didius Julianus2
Didius Julianus3 Didius Julianus4
Didius Julianus5 Didius Julianus6
Didius Julianus (?)7 8
 Aureus of Pertinax
RIC 13a, Cohen 55, BMC 22
IMP CAES P HELV PERTIN AVG, laureate head right /
VOT DECEN TR P COS II, emperor sacrificing left (not shown)
Palazzo Massimo coin collection, Rome
 Denarius of Clodius Albinus as Caesar
RIC 11a, RSC 61, BMC 43
D CL SEPT ALBIN CAES, bare head right
ROMAE AETERNAE, Roma seated left, holding palladium and spear
Photo courtesy of Den of Antiquity

Silver Denarius of Septimius Severus
RIC-IV-I-261-C, struck 202-210 at Rome, 3.6 grams, 19.4 mm. Near EF
SEVERUS PIVS AVG - Laureate head of Septimius Severus facing right /
FELICITAS AVGG - Felicitas standing left, holding caduceus and cornucopia
personal collection

Aureus of Didius Julianus
RIC 2, Cohen 8, BMC 4
IMP CAES M DID IVLIAN AVG, laureate head right /
P M TR P COS, Fortuna standing left, holding rudder on globe and cornucopia
Photo courtesy of
Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. (CNG)


Copyright 2008 by Bill Storage and Laura Maish. Updated Sep 11, 2008.