Septimius Severus was the first Roman Emperor to emerge from the African provinces, and founded the last dynasty before the start of the disasterous third century crisis. He first rose to some promenance during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, which was later seen by Roman historians as the last reign of the Empire’s golden age. He managed to survive the reign of Commodus, and emerged as the victor in the civil wars that followed his death.
This biography starts with a brief history of Rome’s involvement in Africa, setting the scene for Severus’s own rise to power. There is also a good examination of the sources available for his reign before we move onto his rise to power. After that most of the text is taken up with his various military campaigns.
Severus was a good example of how cosmopolitan the Roman Empire had become by his time. His mother came from an Italian equestrian family, but his father was of Punic origin, and the young Septimus spoke the Punic language as well as learning Latin and Greek.
As this biography makes clear, Severus was very much a military Emperor, gaining and maintaining his power through a series of civil wars, then engaging in successful wars in the East, before dying while on campaign in Britain. He also reformed the Preatorian Guard, created three new legions and posted one of his new legions close to Rome (after realising how vulnerable the Emperor was if a provincial army marched on Rome, just as he had done!).
The Severan dynasty lasted until 235, but it can’t be said to have been terribly successful after it’s founder. Septimius was succeded by his sons Caracalla and Geta, but Geta was murdered by his brother
and Caracalla by one of his own Praetorian Guards. After a brief gap power passed to descendents of Septimius’s wife, but both Elagabalus and Severus Alexander were murdered by the army (although in the later case after a generally successful reign).
Overall this is a good overview of the life and reign of Septimius Severus, portraying him as a successful ruler during his own lifetime, but one whose legacy may have included over-extending the Empire in the east, exposing his successors to a series of clashes with the Persians, and leaving the Empire to his clearly unsuitable sons.
1 – Sources
2 – Prelude
3 – Things Fall Apart
4 – The Civil Wars: Act 1
5 – The Civil Wars: Act 2
6 – Encore: War in the East and Sightseeing in Egypt
7 – Rome and Africa
8 – The Return to Rome
9 – The Last Act
Author: Michael Sage
Publisher: Pen & Sword