Biography of Septimius Severus

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Septimius Severus Presentation

Slide #1

The Life of Septimius Severus

Slide #2 Who

Lucius  Septimius Severus Pertinax was a Roman Emperor from 193 AD to 211 AD, beginning his reign during the year of the 5 emperors. He was born April 11, 145/146 in Leptis Magna, Tripolitania which is currently known as Libya.

Slide #3 Family

 Severus was the son of an equestrian from the Roman colony of Leptis Magna. He descended from a locally prominent Carthaginian family that had a history of producing several senatorial members and consular status. Around 175 he married Paccia Marciana, who was of Punic origins as well. They were married for 10 years before she died of natural causes, and little else is known of her. It’s been disputed that they had 2 daughters together, but no evidence or records of this are known other than its mention in Historia Augusta, a collection of Roman biographies of Roman Emperors between 117-284. After Paccia’s death Severus married Julia Domna in 187. She was descended from a family of great priests of Elagabalus, who was a Syro-Roman sun god. Together they had 2 sons, Caracalla the eldest and Get the younger of the two.

Slide #4 Accomplishments

 Severus had many accomplishments, including becoming Emperor, having converted the Government into a military monarchy, had many military victories and made some major changes to the structure of government. He also funded a personal dynasty and his reign marks a critical stage in the development of absolute despotism, meaning tyrannical ruling of Rome. The picture on this slide is showing The Arch of Septimius Severus, which was dedicated to him in 203 AD to him and his sons for all of their triumphs. It had a quadriga on the top to show that they were victorious and highly respected. The arch is found within the Roman Forum, near the Basilica Emilia.

Slide #5 Accomplishments

 Septimius entered the senate in about 173 and became consul in 190, which was either of the two highest of the ordinary magistrates in the ancient Roman Republic. By 192 he was the governor of Upper Pannonia, which is shown on the map here, and commander of the largest army on the Danube River. During this time Rome was under the rule of the insane emperor Commodus, who was known for being absolutely crazy, a number of executions and for being extremely cruel. He also gave Rome a new name, Colonia Commodiana and he imagined himself as the god Hercules entering the arena to fight as a gladiator or kill lions with a bow and arrow. After Commodus’s attempted assassination by his sister Lucilla and a group of senators in 182 he executed a number of leading senators for their participation, had his chief minister executed to appease his army in 186 and in 189 he allowed for the minister’s successor to be killed in a rioting crowd. After this he lost some political influence and was eventually murdered by his advisers, who had him strangled by a champion wrestler following his announcement that he would be assuming consulship while dressed as a gladiator. This ended his reign on the 31st of December 192, having ruled for 15 years.

Side #6 Accomplishments

After his death Publius Helvius Pertinax became emperor, but this didn’t last long as the empire fell into a state of civil war shortly after. While all of this was taking place Septimius remained quiet but after the murder of Pertinax in 193 by the Praetorian Guards, the household troops of the Roman emperors, Severus was proclaimed emperor by his troops on April 13th.

Slide #7 Accomplishments

 In 194, after already having been emperor for a year, he defeated the governor of Syria at the time Gaius Pescennius Niger.

Slide #8 Accomplishments

Severus also defeated Albinus who committed suicide shortly after near Lugdunum, now Lyon, France. After Albinus’s suicide Severus proceeded to execute around 30 of Albinus’s senatorial supporters and then declared himself the adoptive son of emperor Marcus Aurelius, who ruled from 161 to 180. He also claimed descent from emperor Nerva who ruled from 96-98. Nerva was also the first ever Senate elected Roman Emperor.

Slide #9

In 202 Severus returned to Rome and spent the next 6 years making major changes to the empire and structure of the imperial government. He realized that his power rested on military might rather than constitutional sanctions, so he decided to give his army a dominant role in his state by winning support from his soldiers by increasing their pay around 500 denarii per year from about 200-300 denarii per year and allowing them to marry. However he also wanted to prevent an uprise from his powerful military, so he reduced the number of legions under each general’s control. He also eliminated some of the power held by the Senate, ignored their advice and recruited his own officials from the equestrian rather than the senatorial order.

Slide #11

 Other interesting facts about what Severus accomplished during his rule include him replacing the Praetorian Guard with new 15,000-man guard from the Danubian legions he commanded. He also was very effective economically for Rome as he succeeded in maintaining a full treasury at all times, even after supporting the urban poor, peasants and provincials. Also interesting to note that he was one of the only black emperors in history.

Slide #12

Caracalla had murdered his brother Gets in her private apartments even as the younger son sought protection in Julia’s arms. After Macrinus had murdered Caracalla and seized the throne, he sent her away from Antioch after it was reported that Julia was inciting troops to rebel against him. At this time, she was believed to be about fifty years old and was suffering from a painful illness, probably cancer of the breast. Rather than face exile and the humiliation of being reduced to the status of a private citizen, she elected to commit suicide by starving herself.

Slide #13 Laws

 Severus was highly concerned with legislation and administration of justice. He made many reforms based on the advice of the respected jurist Ulpian in making extensive reforms of the laws including removing the influence of Italian Courts from senatorial jurisdiction, instead putting them under the control of the praetorian prefect in the hopes that it would reduce corruption in the administration of justice and in the senate. He also removed the senator’s right to sit in courts and act as judges as part of his campaign against senatorial privilege and in an effort to improve the quality of justice. He executed the praetorian perfect and replaced him with jurist Papinian in 205 AD, and then proceeded to codify and reform laws in order to update and rationalize them based on suggestions from Ulpian. These reforms were said to have been the most extensive since Augustus who had transformed the Constitution of theRoman Republic into the Constitution of the Roman Empire.

Slide #14 Death

 Septimius died on February 4, 211 in Eboracum, Britain which is now York, England. Accompanied by Caracalla and Geta, Severus led an army to Britain in order to subdue parts of the island that were not under Roman rule in 208. While there Severus became ill and died from disease, however his dynasty continued with most of his descendants remaining in power until 235, with the exception of Marcus Opellius Macrinus who only reigned for a year. He also named Caracalla co emperor while he was alive, and successor after his death. In conclusion he was not as crazy as other emperors, and he was very successful during his reign. His reign however marks the beginning of the decline of the Roman Empire, and possibly partially responsible for the “Crisis of the Third Century” in which Rome nearly collapsed.

A Brief History of Septimius Severus

Background

The life of ancient emperor Septimius Severus began in Leptis Magna, Tripolitania in 145 AD, although some researchers dispute that it was actually in 146 AD. His full name was Lucius Septimius Severus Pertinax and he reigned from 193 AD to 211 AD. Severus is most notably known for ruling during the ‘Year of Five Emperors’ and having his reign mark the beginning of the decline of the Roman Empire. He is also believed to be partially responsible for the “Crisis of the Third Century” in which Rome nearly collapsed, although it is acknowledged that he did accomplish a lot of good during the time he ruled for.

Family

According to Historia Augusta Severus was the middle child of Publius Septimius Geta, brother to Publius Septimius Geta and Septimia Octavilla. He descended from a locally prominent Carthaginian family with a history of producing several senatorial members and consular status. Around 175 AD at the age of 25 he married his first wife Paccia Marciana, who was also of Punic origins. They remained married for 10 years before she died of natural causes, though little else is known of her. Severus married his second wife Julia Domna in 187, and together they had 2 sons; Caracalla, also known as Lucius Septimius Bassianus, and Publius Septimius Geta. A topic of debate between researchers questions if Severus had 2 additional daughters from the previous marriage to Pacciana, however it is hard to determine how many children he had in total as different sources cite varying information.

Severus’s wife Julia Domna was an extremely powerful woman who supported him during his reign and remained married to him until his death in 211 AD. She was born around 170 in Emesa to a priest of the sun god Elagabal. At the time of their marriage she would have been 17, and Severus would have been about 42. Though she was frequently accused of adultery there is no evidence this ever occured. She was very passionate about philosophy and literature and was frequently found in the company of writers and philosophers, in particular the philosopher Plautianus, even having influenced him to write The Life of Apollonius of Tyana. After losing her husband and the murder of both her sons she ended up committing suicide by starvation. Julia was highly respected during her time and was even deified after her death, with her remains placed in the Hadrian’s Mausoleum.

Severus’s sons Caracalla and Geta had an interesting relationship to say the least. By the time they were in their twenties they had both become co-emperors with their father, but despised each other. While on his deathbed Severus told his son’s to ”Be good to one another, enrich the soldiers, and damn the rest.”, however this was clearly not taken to heart by them. After their father’s death they co-ruled for a short period of time that ended with Caracalla murdering Geta in their mother’s private apartment as Geta crouched to seek protection from Julia. Caracalla ruled for a total of 5 years before he too was murdered, likely due to Marcus Opellius Macrinus though this was never proved.

Accomplishments

 Severus had many accomplishments including; becoming Emperor, having converted the Government into a military monarchy, having had many military victories, marking a critical stage in the development of absolute despotism and lastly having won against his rival opponents to become emperor in the first place. He entered the senate in about 173, became a member of the consul in 190 and by 192 he was the governor of Upper Pannonia and commander of the largest army on the Danube River. During this time Rome was under the rule of the insane emperor Commodus who was known for a number of executions, being extremely cruel and for just being legitimately crazy. Commodus gave Rome a new name, Colonia Commodiana, and imagined himself as Hercules entering the arena as a gladiator to kill lions with a bow and arrows. After his attempted assassination by his sister Lucilla and a group of senators in 182 he executed a number of leading senators for their participation, then had his chief minister executed to appease his army in 186 and in 189 he allowed for the minister’s successor to be killed in a rioting crowd. Due to these actions and his deteriorating mental state he lost some political influence and was eventually murdered by his advisers, who had him strangled by a champion wrestler following his announcement that he would be assuming consulship while dressed as a gladiator. This ended his reign on the 31st of December 192, having ruled for 15 years. After his death Publius Helvius Pertinax became emperor, but this didn’t last long as the empire fell into a state of civil war shortly after. While all of this was taking place Septimius remained neutral until just after the murder of Pertinax in 193 by the Praetorian Guards. Severus was proclaimed emperor by his troops on April 9th, 193 shortly after entering Rome just as Pertinax successor Didius Julianus was declared a public enemy and executed.

Rivals

 Severus becoming emperor however did not come easily as he was not accepted by everyone, and he had to engage in several battles with rivals in order to gain control over certain areas and have his authority recognized across the entire Roman Empire. As news spread of Pertinax death and the riots against Didius the governors of Syria and Britannia both proclaimed themselves emperors at the same time that Severus was proclaimed emperor by his legions. Gaius Pescennius Niger of Syria proclaimed himself emperor while in Antioch, but his messengers sent to announce his acclimation were intercepted by Severus’s army and his children were captured and taken hostage. Severus then sent a legion to confront Niger’s army. This lead to their armies battling during 193 and 194, however Niger eventually lost and was offered safe exile by Severus that he refused. By the end of 194 upon his return to Antioch he was captured and killed by his own people, leaving Severus to rule as Emperor.

Severus also defeated Albinus, who committed suicide shortly after near Lugdunum, now Lyon, France. At first Albinus offered Severus his support under the condition that he be granted title of Caesar and be his successor, however after Caracalla was named co-emperor he realized Severus had no intention of acting upon the agreement. They engaged in military battle that ended with a victorious Severus and left Albinus humiliated. Severus proceeded to execute around 30 of Albinus’s senatorial supporters after his victory, setting a precedent for other Senate members about where to put their loyalty.

Political Decisions

In order to solidify his claim to Emperor Severus declared himself the adoptive son of emperor Marcus Aurelius, who ruled from 161 to 180. He also claimed descent from emperor Nerva who ruled from 96-98. Nerva was also the first ever Senate elected Roman Emperor, and was highly regarded as one of the great emperors. Because the Roman Empire mostly depended on dynasties and descent to name their successors by doing this he was he was showing that his claims to the empire were legitimate and to be respected.

Major Changes to Empire

In 202 Severus returned to Rome and spent the next 6 years making major changes to the empire and structure of the imperial government. He made major changes to the military after realizing that his power rested on them rather than constitutional sanctions, so he decided to give his army a dominant role in his state by winning support from his soldiers. He did so by increasing their pay to around 500 denarii per year, which was about double the 200-300 denarii per year they were previously getting while under Commodus, and allowing them to marry. However he wanted to prevent an uprise from his powerful military, so he reduced the number of legions under each general’s control. Severus also eliminated some of the power held by the Senate, ignored their advice and recruited his own officials from the equestrian rather than the senatorial order. He made major reforms to legislation, laws and judicial system as well as conducting a massive amount of building (eg. monument building, colonnaded streets, new forum, basilica, etc.).

Laws and Legislations

Severus was highly concerned with legislation and administration of justice during his reign. He made many reforms based on the advice of the respected jurist Ulpian in making extensive reforms of the laws including removing the influence of Italian Courts from senatorial jurisdiction, instead putting them under the control of the praetorian prefect in the hopes that it would reduce corruption in the administration of justice and in the senate. He also removed the senator’s right to sit in courts and act as judges as part of his campaign against senatorial privilege and in an effort to improve the quality of justice. He executed the praetorian perfect and replaced him with jurist Papinian in 205 AD, and then proceeded to codify and reform laws in order to update and rationalize them based on suggestions from Ulpian. These reforms were said to have been the most extensive since Augustus who had transformed the Constitution of theRoman Republic into the Constitution of the Roman Empire.

Septimius and the Provincials

 During his reign Severus also made amendments to the provinces under Roman control, in particular to Britannia and his home province, Africa. He split Britannia into two separate provinces; Britannia Superior and Britannia Inferior in order to make administration of the province easier and prevent them from gaining enough military control to rebel against him. He also rebuilt the Antonine Wall, effectively protecting Britannia against attacks from the Pict for several years. The province of Africa had been disregarded and ignored by previous emperors, but because it was Severus’s home he significantly helped them by implementing and paying for a building program there that greatly benefited them, as well as building a series of defensive lines to protect the province. Severus also added Mesopotamia to the Empire after winning several military victories that resulted in him gaining control over them.

Death

Severus died on February 4, 211 in Eboracum, now York, England. Accompanied by Caracalla and Geta they led an army to Britain in order to gain control over areas of the island not under Roman rule in 208. While there Severus became ill and died from disease, however his dynasty continued with most of his descendants remaining in power until 235, with the exception of Marcus Opellius Macrinus who only reigned for a year. It was documented that while on his deathbed he told Aurelius Victor, roman historian and politician, that he had been all things but profitted nothing from it. His final words were “Come, give it to me, if we have anything to do!”, showing that he was not prepared to die and felt he still had much to accomplish. His reign lasted 18 years, which was 10 more years than the average roman emperor.

Conclusion

 Though there were a number of cruel emperors during the Roman Empire Severus was not one. He was however very influential to the future of Rome due to the many reforms he made concerning the military and government, as well as helping provincials and paying for a building program that benefitted them. His reign marks the beginning of the decline of the Roman Empire, and he is also possibly partially responsible for the “Crisis of the Third Century” in which Rome nearly collapsed. Severus was successful in life, having had a long list of accomplishments that ranged from battle victories against rivals to improving the Roman justice system. After his death Severus was deified and although there remains some controversy over whether he benefited or harmed the Empire itself, both from researchers and historic writings, he did accomplish a lot over the course of his 18 year reign. An arch was even dedicated to commemorate him and his sons, which was placed in the Roman Forum.

References

  • Briley, Anthony. “Septimius Severus, Lucius, Roman Emperor, 193-211 CE”. Oxford Classical Dictionary, Mar. 2016, www.oxfordre.com/classics/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780199381135.001.0001/acrefore-9780199381135-e-5836#acrefore-9780199381135-e-5836.
  • “Commodus”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 27 Dec. 2018, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Commodus.
  • Hurley, Patrick. “Septimius Severus”. Ancient History Encyclopedia, 11 Apr. 2011, www.ancient.eu/Septimius_Severus/.
  • “Lucius Septimius Severus Facts”. Your Dictionary, 2010, biography.yourdictionary.com/lucius-septimius-severus.
  • Meckler, Micheal, L. “Septimius Severus”. Roman Emperors, 19 Aug. 1998, www.roman-emperors.org/sepsev.htm.
  • “Praetorian Guard”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 29 Mar. 2018, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Praetorian-Guard. Sandvick, Clinton., Whelan, Edward. “How Did Emperor Septimius Severus Change the Roman Empire”. Daily History, www.dailyhistory.org/How_did_Emperor_Septimius_Severus_change_the_Roman_Empire%3F.
  • “Septimius Severus”. United Nations of Roma Victrix, www.unrv.com/decline-of-empire/septimius-severus.php.
  • “Septimius Severus – Roman Emperor”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 27 Aug. 2014, www.britannica.com/biography/Septimius-Severus.
  • Waters, Tommi. “Septimius Severus: Quotes and Accomplishments”. Study.com, www.study.com/academy/lesson/septimius-severus-quotes-accomplishments.html.

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