Publius Acilius Attianus

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Publius Acilius Attianus
Allegiance Roman Empire
Years of service ??–119
Rank Praetorian prefect
Commands held Praetorian Guard

Publius Acilius Attianus (1st – 2nd century AD) was a powerful Roman official who played a significant, though obscured, role in the transfer of power from Trajan to Hadrian.

Life

He was born in Italica, Hispania Baetica, which was also the birthplace of Publius Aelius Hadrianus Afer, the emperor Hadrian’s father. When Afer died about 86, Attianus and the future Emperor Trajan (another native of Italica) became the ten-year-old Hadrian’s guardians.[1] Otherwise nothing is known of Attianus’s early career, but towards the end of Trajan’s reign he was joint Praetorian Prefect with Servius Sulpicius Similis. While Similis remained at Rome, Attianus accompanied the Emperor on campaign in the East.

Imperial succession

Shortly before his death, Trajan was said to have composed a letter naming Hadrian as his adopted son and successor. Suspicions were raised because the copy of the letter that reached Rome bore Plotina's signature. It was rumoured that Attianus and the Empress Plotina had been lovers, both very fond of Hadrian their ward, and both present at Trajan’s deathbed at Selinus in Cilicia in August 117, the two helped secure Hadrian's succession by forging Trajan’s will.[2]

Annelise Freisenbruch dismisses this accusation. "Plotina, the silent spouse of the second century, thus joined Livia, Agrippina Minor, and Domitia in the gallery of Roman imperial women accused of covering up or conspiring in their husband's deaths," Freisenbruch acidly writes, noting there are many plausible explanations why Plotina's signature might legitimately be on this declaration: Trajan may have simply been too weak to sign the letter himself. Freisenbruch also notes these kinds of accusations have dogged the spouses of rulers through the centuries, providing two modern examples of these kinds of accusations: in 1919 Edith Wilson was charged with forging the signature of US president Woodrow Wilson after he was incapacitated by a stroke; and four years later, when president Warren Harding died from a bout of food poisoning, his wife was then accused in a best-selling book of having poisoned him.[3]

Along with Plotina and Matidia, Attianus accompanied Trajan’s body to Seleucia and his ashes to Rome.

During Hadrian's reign

Early in Hadrian's reign, Attianus counselled the emperor on his accession against various possible opponents, and, according to Hadrian’s lost autobiography, was responsible for the murder of the ‘four consulars’ whose deaths were an early stain on his reign. However, the new emperor resented Attianus’s power, and, in 119, induced him to request to be relieved of the post of Praetorian Prefect.[4] Attianus was given senatorial rank and the ornamenta consularia on his retirement, but nothing more is heard of him past that point.

References

  1. ^ Historia Augusta, "Hadrian", 2; translated by Anthony Birley, Lives of the Later Caesars (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1976), p. 37
  2. ^ Simon Hornblower and Anthony Spawforth-E.A. (edd.), Oxford Classical Dictionary, Oxford University Press, 2003, p. 1214.
  3. ^ Freisenbruch, Caesars’ Wives: Sex, Power, and Politics in the Roman Empire (London and New York: Free Press, 2010), pp. 162f
  4. ^ Historia Augusta, "Hadrian", 8; translated by Birley, Lives, p. 66


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