The Full Wiki

More info on Septimius Severus

Septimius Severus: Map


Wikipedia article:

Map showing all locations mentioned on Wikipedia article:

Lucius Septimius Severus (or rarely Severus I) (11 April 145 – 4 February 211) was a Roman Emperor who reigned from 14 April 193 until his death in 211. Severus was the first emperor of the troubled Severan dynasty, the last imperial dynasty of the Roman principate before the Crisis of the Third Century. The Severan house included the emperors Septimius Severus, his sons Geta and Caracalla (r. 211–217), and their cousins once removed Elagabalus and Alexander Severus (r. 218–235), successively.

Septimius Severus was born at Leptis Magnamarker in what is now the Libyanmarker part of Rome's historic Africa Province, and thus was the first emperor in Roman history to hail from outside the European continent. As a young man, Severus advanced through the customary succession of offices under the emperors Marcus Aurelius and Commodus.

Severus seized power upon the death of emperor Pertinax in 193 during the so-called Year of the Five Emperors. After deposing the incumbent emperor Didius Julianus in a bloodless coup, Severus waged war with his rival claimants, the generals Pescennius Niger and Clodius Albinus, who were finally defeated in 194 and 197, respectively.

Early life

Family and education

Septimius Severus was born on 11 April 145 at Leptis Magnamarker (in modern Libya), son of Publius Septimius Geta and Fulvia Pia. Severus came from a wealthy, distinguished family of equestrian rank. He was of Italian Roman ancestry on his mother's side and of Punic or Libyan-Punic ancestry on his father's.Birley (2000), pp. 216–217 Severus' father was an obscure provincial who held no major political status, but he had two cousins, Publius Septimius Aper and Gaius Septimius Severus, who served as consuls under emperor Antoninus Pius. His mother's family had moved from Italymarker to North Africa and was of the Fulvius gens, an ancient and politically influential clan which was originally of plebeian status. Severus' siblings were an older brother, Publius Septimius Geta, and a younger sister, Septimia Octavilla. Severus’s maternal cousin was Praetorian prefect and consul Gaius Fulvius Plautianus.

Septimius Severus was brought up at his home town of Leptis Magna. He spoke the local Punic language fluently but he was also educated in Latin and Greek, which he spoke with a slight accent. Little else is known of the young Severus' education but according to Cassius Dio, the boy had been eager for more education than he had actually got. Presumably, Severus received lessons in oratory, and at age 17, he gave his first public speech.

Public service

Sometime around 162, Septimius Severus set out for Rome seeking a public career. By recommendation of his 'uncle', Gaius Septimius Severus, he was granted entry into the senatorial ranks by emperor Marcus Aurelius. Membership of the senatorial order was a prerequisite to attain the standard succession of offices known as the cursus honorum, and to gain entry into the Roman Senate. Nevertheless, it appears that Severus' career during the 160s was beset with some difficulties. It is likely that he served as a vigintivir in Rome, overseeing road maintenance in or near the city, and he may have appeared in court as an advocate.Birley (2000), p. 40 However, he omitted the military tribunate from the cursus honorum and was forced to delay his quaestorship until he had reached the required minimum age of 25. To make matters worse, the Antonine Plague swept through the capital in 166. With his career at a halt, Severus decided to temporarily return to Leptis, where the climate was healthier. According to the Historia Augusta, he was prosecuted for adultery during this time but the case was ultimately dismissed. At the end of 169, Severus was of the required age to become a quaestor and journeyed back to Rome. On 5 December, he took office and was officially enrolled in the Roman Senate.

Between 170 and 180 the activities of Septimius Severus went largely unrecorded, in spite of the fact that he occupied an impressive number of posts in quick succession. The Antonine Plague had severely thinned the senatorial ranks and with capable men now in short supply, Severus' career advanced more steadily than it otherwise might have. After his first term as quaestor, he was ordered to serve a second term at Baetica (southern Spain), but circumstances prevented Severus from taking up the appointment. The sudden death of his father necessitated a return to Leptis Magna to settle family affairs. Before he was able to leave Africa, Moorish tribesmen invaded southern Spain. Control of the province was handed over to the emperor, while the Senate gained temporary control of Sardinia as compensation. Thus, Septimius Severus spent the remainder of his second term as quaestor on the island. In 173, Severus' kinsman Gaius Septimius Severus was appointed proconsul of the Africa Province. The elder Severus chose his cousin as one of his two legati pro praetore. Following the end of this term, Septimius Severus travelled back to Rome, taking up office as tribune of the plebs, with the distinction of being candidatus of the emperor.Birley (2000), p. 52


Septimius Severus was already in his early thirties at the time of his first marriage. In 175, he married a local woman from Leptis Magna named Paccia Marciana. It is likely that he met her during his tenure as legate under his uncle. Marciana's name reveals that she was of Punic or Libyan origin but virtually nothing else is known of her. Septimius Severus does not mention her in his autobiography, though he later commemorated her with statues when he became emperor. The Historia Augusta claims that Marciana and Severus had two daughters but their existence is nowhere else attested. It appears that the marriage produced no children, despite lasting for more than ten years.

Marciana died of natural causes around 186.Birley (2000), p. 75 Septimius Severus was now in his forties and still childless. Eager to remarry, he began enquiring into the horoscopes of prospective brides. The Historia Augusta relates that he heard of a woman in Syria who had been foretold that she would marry a king, and therefore Severus sought her as his wife.Birley (2000), p. 71 This woman was an Emesanmarker noblewoman named Julia Domna. Her father, Julius Bassianus, descended from the royal house of Samsigeramus and Sohaemus, and served as a high priest to the local cult of the sun god Elagabal.Birley (2000), p. 72 Domna's younger sister was Julia Maesa, later grandmother to the future emperors Elagabalus and Alexander Severus. Despite Bassianus' wealth and high status at Emesa, Cassius Dio records that his family was but of "plebeian rank".

Bassianus accepted Severus' marriage proposal in early 187, and the following summer he and Julia were married.Birley (2000), p. 76–77 The marriage proved to be a happy one and Severus cherished his wife and her political opinions, since she was very well-read and keen on philosophy. Together, they had two sons, Lucius Septimius Bassianus (later nicknamed Caracalla, b. 4 April 188) and Publius Septimius Geta (b. 7 March 189).

Rise to power

Assassination of Commodus

In 191 Severus received from the emperor Commodus the command of the legions in Pannonia.

The Year of the Five Emperors

On the murder of Pertinax by the Praetorian Guard in 193, Severus' troops proclaimed him Emperor at Carnuntummarker, whereupon he hurried to Italy. The former emperor, Didius Julianus, was condemned to death by the Senate and killed, and Severus took possession of Rome without opposition. He executed Pertinax's murderers and dismissed the rest of the Praetorian Guard, populating its ranks with loyal troops from his own legions.

The legions of Syria, however, had proclaimed Pescennius Niger emperor. At the same time, Severus felt it was reasonable to offer Clodius Albinus, the powerful governor of Britannia who had probably supported Didius against him, the rank of Caesar, which implied some claim to succession. With his rearguard safe, he moved to the East and crushed Niger's forces at the Battle of Issusmarker. The following year was devoted to suppressing Mesopotamia and other Parthian vassals who had backed Niger. When afterwards Severus declared openly his son Caracalla as successor, Albinus was hailed emperor by his troops and moved to Gallia. Severus, after a short stay in Rome, moved northwards to meet him. On February 19 197, in the Battle of Lugdunum, with an army of 100,000 men, mostly composed of Illyrian, Moesian and Dacian legions, Severus defeated and killed Clodius Albinus, securing his full control over the Empire.


Severus was at heart a soldier, and sought glory through military exploits. In 197 he waged a brief and successful war against the Parthian Empire in retaliation for the support given to Pescennius Niger. The Parthian capital Ctesiphonmarker was sacked by the legions, and the northern half of Mesopotamia was restored to Rome.

His relations with the Roman Senate were never good. He was unpopular with them from the outset, having seized power with the help of the military, and he returned the sentiment. Severus ordered the execution of dozens of Senators on charges of corruption and conspiracy against him, replacing them with his own favorites.

Upon his arrival at Rome in 193, he discharged the Praetorian Guard which had murdered Pertinax and auctioned the Roman Empire to Didius Julianus. Its members were stripped of their ceremonial armour and ordered to remove themselves within 100 miles of the city on pain of death. Severus then raised a new Guard composed of 50,000 loyal soldiers mainly camped at Albanummarker, near Rome (also probably to grant the emperor a kind of centralized reserve). During his reign the number of legions was also increased from 25/30 to 33. He also increased the number of auxiliary corps (numerii), many of these troops coming from the Eastern borders. Additionally the annual wage for a soldier was raised from 300 to 500 denarii.

Although his actions turned Rome into a military dictatorship, he was popular with the citizens of Rome, having stamped out the rampant corruption of Commodus's reign. When he returned from his victory over the Parthians, he erected the Arch of Septimius Severusmarker in Rome.
According to Cassius Dio, however, after 197 Severus fell heavily under the influence of his Praetorian Prefect, Gaius Fulvius Plautianus, who came to have almost total control of most branches of the imperial administration. Plautianus's daughter, Fulvia Plautilla, was married to Severus's son, Caracalla. Plautianus’s excessive power came to an end in 205, when he was denounced by the Emperor's dying brother and killed. The two following praefecti, including the jurist Aemilius Papinianus, received however even larger powers.

Religious persecution

Christians were persecuted during the reign of Septimius Severus. Severus allowed the enforcement of policies already long-established, which meant that Roman authorities did not intentionally seek out Christians, but when people were accused of being Christians they could either curse Jesus and make an offering to Roman gods, or be executed. Furthermore, wishing to strengthen the peace by encouraging religious harmony through syncretism, Severus tried to limit the spread of the two quarrelsome groups who refused to yield to syncretism by outlawing conversion to Christianity or Judaism. Individual officials availed themselves of the laws to proceed with rigor against the Christians. Naturally the emperor, with his strict conception of law, did not hinder such partial persecution, which took place in Egyptmarker and the Thebaid, as well as in Africa proconsularis and the East. Christian martyrs were numerous in Alexandriamarker . No less severe were the persecutions in Africa, which seem to have begun in 197 or 198 , and included the Christians known in the Roman martyrology as the martyrs of Madaura. Probably in 202 or 203 Felicitas and Perpetua suffered for their faith. Persecution again raged for a short time under the proconsul Scapula in 211, especially in Numidia and Mauritaniamarker. Later accounts of a Gallic persecution, especially at Lyonmarker, are legendary. In general it may thus be said that the position of the Christians under Septimius Severus was the same as under the Antonines; but the law of this Emperor at least shows clearly that the rescript of Trajan had failed to execute its purpose.

Military activity

Starting from 208 Severus undertook a number of military actions in Roman Britain, reconstructing Hadrian's Wallmarker and campaigning in Scotlandmarker.

He reached the area of the Moray Firth in his last campaign in Caledonia, as Scotland was called by the Romans. In 210 he obtained a peace with the Picts that lasted practically until the final withdrawal of the Roman legions from Britain, before falling severely ill in Eboracummarker (Yorkmarker).


He is famously said to have given the advice to his sons: "Be harmonious, enrich the soldiers, and scorn all other men" before he died at Eboracum on February 4 211.

Upon his death in 211, Severus was deified by the Senate and succeeded by his sons, Caracalla and Geta, who were advised by his wife Julia Domna. The cameo glass Portland Vase is said to have been excavated in the 16th century from his tomb.

The stability Severus provided the Empire was soon gone under their reign.

Assessment and legacy


Though his military expenditure was costly to the empire, Severus was the strong, able ruler that Rome needed at the time. He began a tradition of effective emperors elevated solely by the military. His policy of an expanded and better-rewarded army was criticized by his contemporary Dio Cassius and Herodianus: in particular, they pointed out the increasing burden (in the form of taxes and services) the civilian population had to bear to maintain the new army.

Severus was also distinguished for his buildings. Apart from the triumphal arch in the Roman Forum carrying his full name, he also built the Septizodiummarker in Rome and enriched greatly his native city of Leptis Magnamarker (including another triumphal arch on the occasion of his visit of 203).



External links

Embed code:

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address