Severus and the Fall of Rome
Historian Edward Gibbon
blames the 2nd to 3rd century Emperor Septimius Severus for the fall of the Roman Empire because Severus annexed northern Mesopotamia and paid substantial bonuses to his soldiers, thereby placing taxing military and financial burdens on Rome.
"Posterity, who experienced the fatal effects of his maxims and example, justly considered him as the principal author of the decline of the Roman Empire."
Book I Chap. 5 Gibbon's The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
Birth and Dates:
Septimius Severus was born in Africa, at Leptis Magna, on April 11, 145, and died in York, on February 4, 211, after reigning for 18 years as Emperor of Rome.
Septimius Severus' father's family was Phoenician with Roman citizenship; his mother's, Italians of the Fulvian gens. Severus' grandfather was a duumvir under Trajan.
Severus' reign was considered bloody, but he also restored stability to Rome, in the aftermath of the reign and murder of Commodus
(of "Gladiator" fame). Soldiers approved of Severus because he gave them bonuses and allowed them to live with their wives (an innovation).
Assumption of Power:
As a military man, Septimius Severus came to Rome with an armed force and assumed the position of emperor, which the Senate officially conferred upon him before he and his forces arrived at the capital on 9 June 193. Severus banished the praetorians who were responsible for the assassination of Severus' predecessor, Pertinax, but then restored the guard, increased their number to 50,000, and invested their commander with great power while diminishing the power of the Senate by many means, including awarding the senatorial stripe to some of his equestrian
-rank supporters. Severus adopted formal court practices imported from the East. No longer was it possible to pretend the Senate controlled the emperor rather than the other way around.
Severus successfully campaigned in the East after which he commemorated his victories with a triumphal arch built in 203. While in Rome he held Secular Games.
The governor of Roman Britain successfully appealed to the emperor for help against tribes around the Antonine Wall. Severus died in York while preparing to campaign against the Caledonians.
Septimius Severus was helped in his career by an introduction to Marcus Aurelius
, and entry into the Senate, arranged by one of his cousins. He was a quaestor
in Sardinia, went to Africa as legate, and to Rome as tribune
of the plebs
. Under Commodus
, Septimius Severus was praetor
, then served in Spain, Gaul (where he married Julia Domna
, daughter of the priest of the sun, Julius Bassianus), Syria (where he met the future Emperor Pertinax
), Sicily, and Upper Pannonia (where he served as governor). When Pertinax was assassinated on 28 March 193, Septimius Severus was declared emperor in Pannonia.
Severus' Successors and the Severan Dynasty:
Severus was succeeded by his sons Geta and the fratricidal Caracalla. The Severan Dynasty consisted of Septimius Severus and his sons; then an interlude when Macrinus ruled, and ending with the last two in the dynasty, Elagabalus and Alexander Severus.
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