Lucius Septimius Severus

(146—211) Roman emperor

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Emperor ad 193–211. The Septimii were of Punic origin, his mother's family of Italian descent. His equestrian grandfather was the leading figure at Lepcis Magna under Trajan; his father held no office, but two Septimii were already senators when Severus was born (145). One of them secured senatorial rank for him from Marcus Aurelius; he and his brother had normal careers under Marcus and Commodus. Consul in 190, by now with a second wife, Iulia Domna, and two young sons, he became governor of Upper Pannonia in 191. Twelve days after Pertinax's murder (March 193) he was proclaimed emperor at Carnuntum as avenger of Pertinax. Backed by all sixteen Rhine and Danube legions he marched on Rome, securing the support of Clodius Septimius Albinus, governor of Britain, by granting him the title ‘Caesar’. By 1 June, 60 miles north of Rome, Severus was recognized by the senate; Pertinax's successor was murdered, and Severus entered Rome without opposition on 9 June. The praetorians were dismissed and a new guard, twice as large, was formed from the Danubian legions; three new legions (I–III Parthicae) were raised, one of which (II Parthica) was to be based at Alba Longa. This, together with increases in the vigiles, urban cohorts (see cohortes urbanae), and other units, radically enlarged the capital's garrison. Army pay was raised (for the first time since ad 84) and the men gained new privileges, e.g. the right to marry (see contubernium). Then Severus moved against Pescennius Niger, proclaimed emperor in Syria in April. In spring 194 Niger was decisively defeated near Issus, and then captured and killed. Severus now launched a successful campaign against the Parthian vassals who had backed Niger. In 195 he proclaimed himself son of the deified Marcus and brother of the newly deified Commodus, renamed his elder son (Caracalla) Marcus Aurelius Antoninus and made him Caesar, and gave his wife Iulia Domna the title ‘mother of the camp’. This clearly dynastic move led his ally Albinus Caesar to rebel and cross to Gaul with the British army. Severus hurried back west for this final civil war, won at Lugdunum (197).

In a purge of Albinus' supporters 29 senators, and numerous others in Gaul, Spain, and Africa were executed. Severus left in summer 197 for his Second Parthian War, invading in winter and capturing Ctesiphon, on 28 January 198. On this day, the centenary of Trajan's accession, he became Parthicus Maximus, raised Caracalla to the rank of Augustus, and made his younger son, Septimius Geta, Caesar. The new province of Mesopotamia was garrisoned by two of the new legions (I and III Parthicae), with an equestrian prefect as governor. After a lengthy stay in Syria, the imperial party entered Egypt before the end of 199, remaining for about a year. The province was reorganized, notably by the grant of a city council to Alexandria and the other major cities. At the end of 200 Severus returned to Syria for another year; he was consul for the 3rd time at Antioch, with Caracalla as colleague, on 1 January 202.


Subjects: Classical Studies.

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