Seve'rus, L. Septi'mius
Roman emperor A. D. 193-211, was born on the 11th of April, A. D. 146, near Leptis in Africa, and it has been remarked, that he was the only Roman emperor who was a native of that continent. His family was of equestrian rank; the name of his father was Geta, of his mother Fulvia Pia, and from the correspondence of appellation and country we may fairly conjecture that he was a descendant of the Septimius Severus of Leptis to whom Statius addresses a graceful poem.
He devoted himself eagerly when a boy to the study of Greek and Latin literature, and became a proficient in these languages. Having removed to Rome he entered upon a public career, and at the age of thirty-two was made praetor elect by M. Aurelius, his ambitious views having been effectually promoted by the influence of his kinsman Septimius Severus, who had been raised to the consulship. From this time forward the progress of Severus was steady and rapid.
He successively commanded the fourth legion then stationed near Marseilles -- governed, with high reputation for impartiality and integrity, the province of Gallia Lugdunensis -- was legate of Pannonia, proconsul of Sicily, and consul suffectus in A. D. 185, along with Apuleius Rufinus, being one of the twenty-five who in that year purchased the office from Cleaner [CLEANDER].
He was subsequently commander-in-chief of the army in Pannonia and Illyria, and upon the death of Commodus tendered his allegiance to Pertinax, but after the murder of the latter, and the shameful elevation of Julianus, which excited universal indignation throughout the provinces, he was himself proclaimed emperor )by the troops at Carnutum. Although he consented with reluctance to receive this honour, yet, when his decision was once made he acted with the greatest promptitude and energy. While Pescennius Niger, who had been saluted as Augustus by the eastern legions, was loitering at Antioch, Severus marched straight upon Rome, and disregarding the threats, the assassins, and the peaceful overtures of Julianus, as well as the resolutions of the senate, in terms of which he had been declared a public enemy, he pressed onwards with great rapidity, announcing himself every where as the avenger of Pertinax, whose name he assumed, and from that time forward constantly retained among his titles. His arrival before the city on the 1st or 2d of June, A. D. 193, was the signal for the death of Julianus [JULIANUS], and the praetorians having submitted, his first exercise of power was to take vengeance on the actual murderers of Pertinax.
He then collected the rest of the guards, surrounded them with his legions, compelled them to lay down their arms, and banished them from Rome, forbidding them upon pain of death to approach within a hundred miles of the metropolis.
This act of justice and of policy being performed, he proceeded to enter the city, where all orders in the state now vied with each other in welcoming him with joyful homage.
He declared Clodius Albinus, whose rivalry he dreaded, Caesar, -- celebrated the obsequies of Pertinax with the utmost splendor,--distributed an enormous donative to his soldiers, amounting we are told to 30,000 sesterces for each man, and having arranged all matters connected with the internal government of the state, quitted Rome within thirty days after his triumphal entry, and hurried to the East in order to prosecute the war against Niger. While he marched direct towards Syria at the head of a portion of his forces, he despatched some legions into Africa, lest the enemy passing through Egypt, or along the coast, might gain possession of the great granary of the empire and starve the metropolis. So eagerly did he watch over this department of the public service in after life, that when he died the storehouses of Rome were found to contain a stock of corn sufficient for the consumption of seven years, and as much oil as would have supplied the wants of all Italy for five.
The progress of the campaign, which was terminated by the capture of Niger after the battle of Issus, A. D. 194, need not be recapitulated [NIGER, PESCENNIUS]. But Severus was not yet satisfied. Some of the border tribes still refusing to acknowledge his authority, he crossed the Euphrates in the following year (A. D. 195), wasted their lands, captured their cities, forced all whom he encountered to submit, and won for himself the titles of Adiabenicus, Arabicus, and Parthicus.
In A. D. 196 Byzantium, after an obstinate resistance, protracted for nearly three years, was taken, to the great joy of the emperor, who treated the vanquished with little moderation. Its famous walls were levelled with the earth, its soldiers and magistrates were put to death, the property of the citizens was confiscated, and the town itself, deprived of all its political privileges, made over to the Perinthians. Meanwhile Clodius Albinus, who, although created Caesar, found that after the destruction of Niger he was treated with little consideration, had accepted the imperial dignity proffered by the troops in Gaul. Severus being thus compelled to return to Europe, endeavoured, in the first instance, to remove his antagonist by treachery, but his schemes having been baffled, he procured a decree of the Senate, pronouncing him a public enemy, and then hastened on to Gaul to prosecute the war. On the nineteenth of February, A. D. 197, the contending hosts encountered near Lyons, the rivals commanding in person, each at the head of 150,000 men.
The battle was fiercely contested, and for a time fortune seemed to waver. Severus. when rallying his men, lost his horse and narrowly escaped being slain; but eventually his superior skill and experience prevailed.
The loss upon both sides was terrible.
The whole plain was covered with the dead and wounded, and streams of blood mingled with the waters of the Rhone. Albinus took refuge in a house near the river; but finding himself hotly pursued and his retreat cut off, perished by his own hand.
The conqueror, after feasting upon the spectacle of his enemy's corpse, ordered the head to be cut off and despatched to Rome, whither he quickly followed, and put to death many senators suspected of having been in correspondence with the foe. Games were exhibited, and largesses bestowed on the people; but as soon as the first excitement of success had passed away Severus, still thirsting for military renown, resolved to return to Asia, and again assail the Parthians, who, taking advantage of the civil strife in the West, had spread over Mesopotamia. Accordingly he set forth accompanied by his sons Caracalla and Geta, crossed the Euphrates early in the year A. D. 198, and commenced a series of operations which were attended with the most brilliant results. Seleucia and Babylon were evacuated by the enemy; and Ctesiphon, at that time their royal city, was taken and plundered after a short siege.
The campaign against the Arabs, who had espoused the cause of Niger, was less glorious.
The emperor twice assailed their chief town Atra, and twice was compelled to retire with great loss.
The next three years were spent in the East. Severus entered upon his third consulship in Syria (A. D. 202), Caracalla being his colleague; visited Arabia, Palestine, and Egypt; and having made all the necessary arrangements in these countries, returned to Rome in the same year, in order to offer the decennial vows, and to celebrate the marriage of his eldest son with Plautilla.
The shows in honour of the return of the prince, of the completion of the tenth year of his reign, of his victories, and of the royal nuptials, were unparalleled in magnificence; that is to say, the bloodshed and butchery of men and animals were greater than ever. On one occasion, four hundred wild beasts were let loose in the amphitheatre at one moment, and seven hundred, at the rate of a hundred for each day, were slaughtered during the course of the frames.
At this time, also. each citizen whose poverty entitled him to obtain corn from the public store, and each of the praetorians received ten aurei; a largess which consumed about sixteen millions and a half sterling, the greatest sum which had ever been bestowed in such a manner on any one occasion.
For seven years Septimius remained tranquilly at Rome; but in A. D. 207, either because a rebellion in northern Britain had assumed an aspect so serious that his presence was deemed requisite, or for the purpose of giving active employment to his sons, who were leading a life of profligacy, and to the legions, whose discipline had become relaxed, he determined again to take the field. Accordingly, passing through Gaul, he reached his destination, early in A. D. 208. Marching at once to the disturbed districts, he entered Caledonia, and penetrated, we are told, to the very extremity of the island, the inhabitants offering no steady or formidable opposition, but rather luring the invaders onward, in the expectation that they might be destroyed in detail, by want and misery. Nor do these anticipations appear to have been altogether disappointed : after having endured excessive toil in transporting supplies over barren pathless mountains, in raising causeways across swampy plains, and in throwing bridges over anfordable river, the troops retraced their steps, worn out with hardships of every description, without having accomplished any great object, or secured any permanent advantage.
In this expedition incalculable misery was inflicted; the prince lost fifty thousand men, and gained the title of Britannicus.
That no moral impression even was made is evident from the fact that, scarcely had the legions withdrawn towards the south, and commenced the famous wall which still bears the name of their commander, when a fresh insurrection broke out among the Meatae and the Caledonians. Enraged by this audacity, Severus declared his resolution to exterminate the whole race, and instantly began to make preparations for a new campaign.
But his designs were cut short by death.
He was attacked by a violent disease in the joints, and expired at York, on the 4th of February, A.D. 211, in the sixty-fifth year of his age, and the eighteenth of his reign. His ashes were conveyed to Rome, and deposited in the tomb of M. Aurelius.
As a matter of course, his apotheosis was decreed by the senate, and Herodian has preserved a detailed account of the ceremonies performed.
Although the character of Severus appears in a most favourable light when viewed in contrast with those rulers who immediately preceded and followed him, there is in it not much to admire, and nothing to love.
He was, it must be admitted, a stranger to their brutal vices; he was free from all capricious tyranny; under ordinary circumstances he governed the state with integrity, and did all that might best promote the interests of the community at large.
He devoted himself with great zeal to the administration of justice, and to the reform of public abuses : he was, moreover, an admirable general; and the strict discipline maintained by him among the troops, effectually repressed, for a season, military insolence and excess. Nor can we refuse to acknowledge that he possessed a large, keen, and vigorous intellect, such as might well befit the ruler of such an empire in such unhappy times.
But he was utterly devoid of all high moral principle, totally destitute of gentleness and generosity of temper. When he had once resolved to gain an object, he entertained no scruples with regard to the means by which his purpose was to be accomplished; and although not naturally cruel, was perfectly indifferent to human suffering and life. Nor did success soften this hardness of heart, or qualify the bitter resentment which he cherished against all who in any way opposed or thwarted his designs. Not content with victory, he ever sought to glut his vengeance on his fallen foes, and was always most odious in the hour of triumph.
In private life it is said that he was a warm friend, simple and domestic in his habits, and fond of literary pursuits.
Although undoubtedly possessed of a masculine tone of mind, we find one singular trait of weakness, so much at variance with his shrewdness, sagacity, and strong sense in other matters, that we must regard it as a most remarkable example of the paralysing influence of vanity.
He endeavoured to establish a connection between himself and his predecessors in the purple, and most preposterously announced that he was the adopted son of M. Aurelius, fifteen years after the death of that prince.
In this manner he set up a claim to a long line of imperial ancestors, which he formally and pompously enunciated in many inscriptions still extant, where he is styled son of M. Aurelius, brother of Commodus, and, mounting up through Pius, Hadrian, and Trajan, greatgreat-great-grandson of Nerva. (Dio Cass. lxxiv. lxxv. lxxvi. ; Herodian; Spartian. Sever. ; Eutrop. 8.10
; Aurel. Vict. Caes.
xx; Oros. 7.17