In a Display of Raw Power, the Praetorian Guard Auctioned Off the Imperial Throne
Otho was defeated by yet another contender, Vitellius. He cashiered the Praetorians, and executed their centurions. So the ex-Praetorians joined Vespasian, another contender, who defeated Vitellius, and established the Flavian Dynasty. The cashiered Praetorians got their jobs back. Over the next century, aside from involvement in a plot that murdered Emperor Domitian in 96 AD, the Praetorians behaved themselves. They relapsed in 192, and assassinated the emperor Commodus. His successor, Pertinax, gave the Praetorians a bonus of 3000 denarii, each. That did not stop them from murdering him three months later. The Praetorians then committed their most brazen act: they auctioned off the imperial throne to the highest bidder. That was just too much: the army of the Danube proclaimed Septimius Severus emperor. He marched on Rome, seized the city, fired all the Praetorians, and replaced them with men from his own legions.
The new Praetorians were just as bad as the old, however: in 217, they assassinated Septimius Severus’ son and successor, Caracalla. Then 222, the murdered the emperor Heliogabalus and his mother, and tossed their bodies into the Tiber River. In Heliogabalus’s placed, the Praetorians appointed his cousin, Severus Alexander. Little is known about the Praetorians during a chaotic period that came to be known as The Crisis of The Third Century (235 – 284). That stretch saw the death – often violent – of at least 26 emperors and imperial claimants in a fifty year stretch. The Praetorians murdered at least one emperor in that period: Phillippus II. The Praetorians were finally disbanded in 312 by Emperor Constantine, after they backed his opponent Maxentius and lost.