Seve'rus, M. Aure'lius Alexander or Alexander Severus or Severus Alexander
usually called ALEXANDER SEVERUS, Roman emperor, A. D. 222-235, the son of Gessius Marcianus and Julia Mamaea, and first cousin of Elagabalus [see genealogy under CARACALLA], was born at Arce, in Phoenicia, in the temple of Alexander the Great, to which his parents had repaired for the celebration of a festival.
There is some doubt as to the year and day of his birth ; but the 1st of October, A. D. 205, is probably the correct date, although Herodian places the event so low as A. D. 208. His original name appears to have been Alexianus Bassianus,
the latter appellation having been derived from his maternal grandfather. Upon the elevation of Elagabalus, he accompanied his mother and the court to Rome, a report having been spread abroad, and having gained credit, that he also, as well as the emperor, was the son of Caracalla.
This connection was afterwards recognised by himself, for he publicly spoke of the divine Antoninus as his sire; and the same fact is asserted by the genealogy recorded on ancient monuments. In A. D. 221 he was adopted by Elagabalus and created Caesar, pontiff, consul elect, and princeps juventutis, at the instigation of the acute and politic Julia Maesa, who, foreseeing the inevitable destruction of one grandson, resolved to provide beforehand for the quiet succession of the other.
The names Alexianus
were now laid aside, and those of M. Aurelius Alexander
substituted; M. Aurelius
in virtue of his adoption; Alexander
in consequence, as was asserted, of a direct revelation on the part of the Syrian god. Elagabalus speedily repented of his choice, and made many efforts to remove one upon whom he now looked with jealousy as a dangerous rival; but his repeated efforts, open as well as secret, being frustrated by the vigilance of Mamaea and the affection of the soldiers, eventually led to his own death, as has been related elsewhere. [ELAGABALUS ; MAESA; MAMAEA.]
Alexander was forthwith acknowledged emperor by the praetorians, and their choice was upon the same day confirmed by the senate, who voted all the customary distinctions; and thus he ascended the throne, on the 11th of March, A. D. 222, in his seventeenth year, adding Severus
to his other designations, in order to mark more explicitly the descent which he claimed from the father of Caracalla.
For the space of nine years the sway of the new monarch was unmarked by any great event; but a gradual reformation was effected in the various abuses which had so long preyed upon the state ; men of learning and virtue were promoted to the chief dignities, while the city and the empire at large began to recover a healthier tone in religion, morals, and politics.
But during the period of tranquillity in Italy, a great revolution had taken place in the East, whose effects were soon felt in the Roman provinces, and gave rise to a series of convulsions which shook the world for centuries. The Persians, after having submitted to the sway of Alexander the Great, of the Seleucidae, and of the Parthians in turn, had made a desperate effort to regain their independence : after a protracted and sanguinary struggle, their chief, Artaxerxes, overcame the warlike Artabanus, and the sovereignty of Central Asia passed for ever from the hands of the Arsacidae.
The conquerors, flushed with victory, now began to form more ample schemes, and fondly hoped that the time had now arrived when they might thrust forth the Western tyrants from the regions they had so long usurped, and, recovering the vast dominion once swayed by their ancestors, again rule supreme over all Asia, from the Indus to the Aegaean. Accordingly, as early as A. D. 229, Mesopotamia and Syria were threatened by the victorious hordes; and Alexander
, finding that peace could no longer be maintained, set forth from Rome in A. D. 231 to assume in person the command of the Roman legions.
The opposing hosts met in the level plain beyond the Euphrates, in A. D. 232. Artaxerxes was overthrown in a great battle, and driven across the Tigris; but the emperor did not prosecute his advantage, for intelligence having reached him of a great movement among the German tribes, he hurried back to the city. where he celebrated a triumph in the autumn of A. D. 233.
Such is the account given of the result of this campaign by all ancient writers, with the exception of Herodian, who draws a frightful picture of the losses sustained by the sword and by disease, and represents Severus as having been obliged to retreat ingloriously into Syria, with the mere skeleton of an army.
But the well known hostility of this historian to Severus would, in itself, throw discredit upon these statements, unless corroborated by more impartial testimony; and the character of this prince forbids us to suppose that he would have deliberately planned and executed a fraud which could have imposed upon no one, and would have commemorated by speeches to the senate and people, by medals, by inscriptions, and finally by a gorgeous triumph, that which in reality was a shameful and most disastrous defeat. Although little doubt, therefore, call be entertained with regard to the main facts of the expedition, the determination of the dates is a matter of considerable difficulty, and has given rise to much controversy among chronologers; for the evidence is both complicated and uncertain. On the whole, the opinion of Eckhel (vol. vii. p. 274) sees the most probable. he concludes that Severus left the city for the Persian war, at the end of A. D. 230, or the beginning of A. D. 23; that the battle with Artaxerxes was fought in A. D. 232; and that the triumph was celebrated towards the end of A. D. 233.
Meanwhile, the Germans having crossed the Rhine, were now devastating Gaul. Severus quitted the metropolis with an army, in the course of A. D. 234; but before he had made any progress in the campaign, he was waylaid by a small band of mutinous soldiers, instigated, it is said, by Maximinus, and slain, along with his mother, in the early part of A. D. 235, in the 30th year of his age, and the 14th of his reign.
All ranks were plunged in the deepest grief by the intelligence of his death, and their sorrow was rendered more poignant by the well-known coarseness and brutality of his successor [MAXIMINUS]. Never did a sovereign better merit the regrets of his people. His noble and graceful presence, the gentleness and courtesy of his manners, and the ready access granted to persons of every grade, produced, at an early period, an impression in his favour, which became deeply engraven on the hearts of all by the justice, wisdom, and clemency which he uniformly displayed in all public transactions, and by the simplicity and purity which distinguished his private life.
The formation of his character must, in a great measure, be ascribed to the high principles instilled by his mother, who not only guarded his life with watchful care against the treachery of Elagabalus, but was not less vigilant in preserving his morals from the contamination of the double-dyed profligacy with which he was surrounded.
The son deeply felt the obligations which he owed to such a parent, and repaid them by the most respectful tenderness and dutiful submission to her will.
The implicit reliance which he reposed on her judgment, is said to have led to his untimely end; for Mamaea inculcated excessive and ill-timed parsimony, which conjoined with the strict discipline enforced, at length alienated the affections of the troops, who were at one time deeply attached to his person. So sensible was he of this fatal error, that he is said to have reproached his mother, with his dying breath, as the cause of the catastrophe. (Herodian. 5.5, 17-23, vi. 1-18; Dio Cass. lxxx. frag.; Lamprid. Alex. Sever.,
comp. Antonin. Elagab.,
Victor, de Caes.
xxiv.; Eurrop. 8.14; Zosim. 1.11-13.)