Septimius Severus | Rome's African Emperor

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2m Jul 15, 2021

Lucius Septimius Severus was Roman emperor from April 193 to February 211 CE. He was of Libyan descent from Lepcis Magna and came from a locally prominent Punic family who had a history of rising to senatorial as well as consular status.

Septimius' rise to emperor began with the murder of the dissolute ruler Commodus on the last day of 192 CE. Commodus' immediate successor, the well-respected if elderly Pertinax, was quickly made emperor afterwards. Pertinax's actions as emperor, however, enraged members of the Praetorian Guard who disliked his efforts to enforce stricter discipline. Moreover, the inability of Pertinax to meet the Guard's demands for back pay led to their revolt which ended in the emperor's assassination. The Praetorian Guard then cynically proceeded to auction off the imperial throne to the highest bidder with the person willing to pay the most being promised the support of the Praetorian Guard and therefore the imperial throne.

Severus could be ruthless towards his enemies. When he defeated Niger in the East, not only did he attack many of the cities in that region which supported his rival, he is noted for taking metropolitan status away from the city of Antioch (Niger's base of operations), and giving it to its chief rival, the city of Laodicaea. After defeating Albinus at the battle of Lugdunum, Severus released his wrath on the Roman Senate, many of its members having given either muted or open support to Albinus. Severus, after declaring his intentions to purge the Senate in a speech to that body in 197 CE, proceeded to execute 29 senators of that body for having supported his rival (many other non-senatorial supporters of Albinus met the same fate).

Despite emerging victorious from a period of civil war and bringing stability to the empire, Severus' sense of accomplishment may have been mixed. His last words, according to various historians, seem to imply that he felt he may have left his work unfinished. Aurelius Victor reported that Severus, on his deathbed, despairingly declared 'I have been all things, and it has profited nothing.' Dio, who knew Severus personally, wrote that, as the emperor expired, he gasped 'Come, give it to me, if we have anything to do!'

Description above is from the World History Encyclopedia by Patrick Hurley.

Emperor Severus has a controversial legacy. He ensured order, crushed rebellion, centralized power and in some cases carried out what today we define as genocide in the further reaches of Roman Britain.

He was ruthless, cunning and his legacy is complicated. He was Rome's African Emperor.

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