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Septimius Severus with his wife and his still child sons on a contemporary tondo , Antikensammlung Berlin . Geta's face was obliterated after he was murdered.
Augustae of the Severan period on denarii : Fulvia Plautilla , Julia Soaemias , Julia Mamaea and Julia Maesa

As Severer is called by Septimius Severus founded, named after him dynasty of Roman emperors . There were five emperors. The Severan dynasty ruled from 193 to 235 , with a one-year hiatus between April 217 and June 218. It died out in 235 when the last Severan was murdered. Although Septimius Severus came to power through military force, the Severi presented themselves as the legitimate successors of the adoptive emperors of the 2nd century and emphasized continuity. The political influence of the army grew considerably under the Severians, which laid the groundwork for the subsequent period of theSoldier Emperor prepared.

Strictly speaking, only the three emperors who ruled until 217 - Septimius Severus (193-211) and his two sons Caracalla (211-217) and Geta (211) - Severer. After Caracalla's death in 217, there were no more male descendants of the founder of the dynasty. The last two representatives of the dynasty, Elagabal (218-222) and Severus Alexander (222-235), who continued the Severan rule after an interruption by the non- dynasty Macrinus (217-218), were not related by blood to Septimius Severus, but were grandsons his Syrian sister-in-law Julia Maesa . Therefore they are also known as the "Syrian Emperors". However, they pretended to be the grandson of the dynasty's founder and based their fictitious descent on their claim to power. Since they were both raised to imperial dignity at a young age and their fathers were no longer alive, their mothers and grandmother Julia Maesa played a key role. The position of power of the Severan women, which was also evident to the outside, and who are supposed to have ruled the empire in the late Severan period, was unprecedented by Roman standards and met with rejection from historians such as Cassius Dio or Herodian .

Family tree

Septimius Severus
Severus Alexander

History of the dynasty

The early Severers

Bust of Septimius Severus, Glyptothek , Munich
Geta bust, Pushkin Museum , Moscow

The founder of the dynasty, Septimius Severus, was a Roman of North African descent. His father Publius Septimius Geta belonged to a knightly family from the city of Leptis Magna in Libya , which had already risen to the ranks of the imperial elite. Septimius Severus was raised to the rank of senator by Emperor Mark Aurel , whereupon he went through a senatorial career and also took on military command functions in various provinces, although without being able to demonstrate war successes. Through his marriage to the noble Syrian Julia Domna , her family of origin later acquired great political importance.

With the assassination of Emperor Commodus on December 31, 192, a serious state crisis began because there was no succession plan. The new emperor Pertinax was slain by mutinous soldiers of the Praetorian Guard after just three months . The Praetorians now saw themselves in possession of power and granted the imperial dignity as they saw fit. But they did not have the authority to ensure that their decision was respected. In view of the resulting power vacuum, the border armies asserted their claim to appoint the emperor. So it came to the turmoil of the second year of the four emperors . The army group on the Danube elevated Septimius Severus, who was governor of the province of Upper Pannonia at the time, to emperor. In Syria, the governor Pescennius Niger proclaimed himself emperor. In the province of Britain , its governor Clodius Albinus was the candidate of the legions stationed there. At first Albinus did not reach for the emperor's dignity, but decided in favor of Severus when he was ready to accept him as future successor and Caesar .

Niger was defeated by Severus in a costly civil war, he was captured and killed in the spring of 194. After his victory, Severus made it clear that his son Caracalla was to be his successor. The agreement with Clodius Albinus was thus invalid. The booted Albinus took up arms, whereupon another loss-making civil war began, which Severus was able to win again in February 197. From then on Severus reigned unchallenged.

Severus was aware of the fact that his rule was based only on the loyalty of his legions, whose pay he increased massively. The resulting financing requirements increased the tax burden. For this reason, too, the emperor lacked support in the Senate and in the population of the capital, while there was great sympathy for his opponents. To secure his rule, he proceeded with great severity against the supporters of the inferior rivals. He confiscated their property and severely punished a number of cities - including the city of Antiocheia - for being on the losing side. After defeating Albinus, he had numerous senators executed.

Unlike his predecessors, Severus made obedience in Rome from the start. He appeared as the avenger of the murdered Emperor Pertinax and ended the chaotic conditions to which Pertinax had fallen victim by dissolving the previous, indisciplinary Praetorian Guard and replacing it with a new, loyal force. Since then, not only Italians but Romans from all parts of the empire could serve in the guard. In addition, Severus stationed a legion in Italy for the first time. However, he failed because of the difficult task of finding a meaningful succession; he was the second emperor to leave two sons capable of reigning, and the principate was not set up for this case .

Caracalla bust, Pushkin Museum, Moscow

After the death of Septimius Severus in February 211, his sons Caracalla and Geta assumed power together as planned, without their respective competencies being regulated. Because of the rivalry and bitter enmity between them, the empire was drifting towards civil war. This was only prevented by the fact that, after eleven months, Caracalla succeeded in luring his brother into a trap and murdering him. Subsequently, Caracalla, whose reputation had suffered massive damage as a result of the act, set up a regime that relied more than ever on the military and alienated him from the upper class. The climate of fear created by terror and the informers and informers organized by the emperor led to social disruption. In the end, the fear that terror had stoked everywhere became the doom of the ruler himself. When the Praetorian prefect Macrinus had reason to fear that the emperor mistrusted him, he anticipated his impending execution by murdering Caracalla on April 8, 217.

Interruption of the rule of Severer

Since Caracalla was childless, a dynastic inheritance was missing after his death. Therefore, after some hesitation, the army elevated Macrinus, whose involvement in the assassination initially remained hidden, as his victim's successor. The thrifty Macrinus, however, was not popular with the soldiers spoiled by Caracalla, and his weak leadership seriously damaged his authority. In the army, loyalty to the Severan dynasty was unbroken. Julia Maesa , the sister of the late wife of Septimius Severus, used these circumstances to secure the emperor's dignity for her own descendants. She began to agitate against Macrinus. Her grandson, fourteen-year-old Elagabal , was passed off as the illegitimate son of Caracalla. This enabled the military loyal to the dynasty to be persuaded to revolt against Macrinus. In June 218, Macrinus was decisively defeated. With that the dynastic idea of ​​the Severers had prevailed. This is how the Syrian clan who were related to Severus and who pretended to be Severus came to power.

The late Severers

Bust of Elagabal, Capitoline Museums , Rome

Because of Elagabal's youth and because he was more interested in religion than politics and administration, government affairs fell primarily to his grandmother Maesa. Maesa could not prevent the very headstrong Elagabal from offending with his oriental customs and making himself hated with his religious policy. Elagabal was the priest of the sun god Elagabal , who was worshiped in Emesa and after whom he was later named. As an emperor, too, he appeared primarily as a priest. He tried to introduce the cult of his deity in Rome as the new state religion and wanted to assign a subordinate role to the previous Roman religion . This led to a serious rift with the senatorial ruling class. In vain did Maesa advise her grandson to consider the expectations of the Romans and, above all, of the soldiers: Since the ruling Syrian clan in Rome did not have its own power base, they were completely dependent on the benevolence of the troops stationed there. When their loyalty became questionable because of Elagabal's behavior, Maesa had to sacrifice her grandson. In view of the looming disaster, she and her younger daughter Julia Mamaea began to rebuild their teenage son Severus Alexander as the successor to his cousin Elagabal. Alexander was also passed off as the illegitimate son of Caracalla. Culturally, he was presented as Roman and thus presented as the antithesis of the emperor appearing in an oriental style. Elagabal had to adopt him and make him Caesar . A struggle for existence developed from the rivalry between the two cousins. Maesa and Mamaea secured the support of the soldiers. On March 11, 222, Elagabal was murdered by mutinous soldiers, and Alexander was able to take over the imperial dignity unchallenged.

It testifies to Maesa's tactical skill that this delicate change of power went smoothly, even though the new emperor was only thirteen, the Syrians were discredited and the soldiers could easily have proclaimed an adult of their own choice as emperor. Once again, the deeply rooted loyalty to the Severan dynasty and especially to the alleged descendants of Caracalla had proven to be a decisive factor.

Bust of Severus Alexander, Louvre , Paris

When Alexander took office, the continued existence of the dynasty was secured for the time being. When his grandmother Julia Maesa died soon afterwards - probably around 224/225 - all power fell to his mother Julia Mamaea. From then on she ruled for her son. Even when he was long grown up, she did not give up the reins and made no secret of her decisive role from the outside world. But this kind of government could only function in peacetime. During the war, the army did not respect the dependent emperor, and his mother, as a woman at the front, had no authority. Since Alexander had no descendants and the succession was not arranged, the temptation for able and popular commanders to revolt or coup d'état was great.

On a large, loss-making campaign against the Persians in 232, resentment arose in the army. For this campaign, which did not bring the hoped-for success, the northern borders were partially exposed, which led to attacks by Teutons . This embittered the soldiers who had been relocated to the east for the campaign, and their relatives in the north had been left without adequate protection. The Syrian Julia Mamaea and her son were suspected of preferring their home region. In addition, Mamaea was considered stingy. When the emperor and his mother went to the Rhine to secure the northern border, but then hesitated to attack the Teutons, a mutiny broke out in 235. The rebellious soldiers proclaimed the officer Maximinus Thrax emperor. Julia Mamaea and Alexander were killed. With the extermination of the imperial family by the mutineers, the Severan dynasty ended. This was followed by the era of the " soldier emperors ", whose first representative was Maximinus Thrax. In it, the decisive importance of military concerns for the state leadership, which was characteristic of the Severan period, continued, while the dynastic consciousness, which was still strongly pronounced under the Severan rule, waned.

The legitimation of rule

Septimius Severus owed the rule to his troops, who made him emperor. It was only thanks to his military successes that he was able to assert himself and secure the succession to his sons. But since he did not want to be considered a usurper , he justified his claim to power by claiming that he was the adopted son of the very respected Emperor Mark Aurel , who ruled from 161 to 180. Marcus Aurelius belonged to the adoptive emperors, whose epoch appeared in retrospect as a heyday. Consequently, the damnatio memoriae of Severus' "brother" Commodus was repealed. Septimius Severus did not appear as the founder of a new dynasty, but tried to legitimize his rule by fictitious adoption. The Severians attached great importance to the connection to the adoptive emperorship. Therefore, Caracalla and Elagabal officially bore the name of Mark Aurel, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus . Severus Alexander also called himself Marcus Aurelius ; He renounced the name Antoninus , as this had meanwhile been discredited by his generally hated predecessor.

The self-portrayal of the dynasty reveals an intense need for stability and pronounced continuity thinking. The continued rule of the imperial family was not only intended to guarantee unity and peace in the empire, but was also religiously exaggerated and thus legitimized by increased sacralization. The ruling family was called domus divina ("the divine house").

Foreign policy

Conflicts on the eastern border

The conflict with the Parthians and later the Sassanids was the main challenge of Roman foreign policy in the Severan period. From 166 onwards Rome exercised indirect rule over parts of northern Mesopotamia, which was a thorn in the side of the Parthians. The Parthian Arsacids had therefore first sided with Niger and then apparently used the weakening of the empire by the Roman civil wars that raged in the period 193–197 for attacks. The response of Septimius Severus was a large-scale offensive which he launched in 197 following his victory over Albinus. The Parthians offered little resistance, they withdrew so that the Romans could pillage Ctesiphon , the capital of the Arsacid Empire. However, Severus' attempt to take the strategically important city of Hatra , whose ruler as well as the Parthian King Niger, had supported, remained unsuccessful . All in all, the campaign was a great success. His result was the securing of Roman rule in northern Mesopotamia and a great gain in prestige for the emperor. The province of Mesopotamia , which Severus established anew, remained an integral part of the Roman Empire in the long term. Contemporaries like Cassius Dio (75,3,2f.) Criticized that the annexation of northern Mesopotamia cost the empire dearly in the long term. In fact, the last Arsacids and the early Sassanids did everything they could to drive the Romans out of the area.

Caracalla put an end to the temporary pacification his father had achieved in the east when he began a war of aggression against the Arsacids in 216. He placed himself emphatically in the tradition of Alexander the Great , with which he signaled the intention of annihilating the Parthian Empire. However, it remained a small advance, because the following year Caracalla was murdered while preparing for a major offensive. His militarily inexperienced successor, Macrinus, was given the task of fending off the Parthian counter-offensive. He suffered a heavy defeat and then had to buy the peace agreement dearly. At least he was able to avoid losing territory because the Parthian king was distracted by turmoil in his empire.

During the reign of Severus Alexander, the fall of the Arsacid Empire fell, in its place the New Persian Empire of the Sas (s) anids , founded by King Ardaschir I. The new dynasty also tried to make the Euphrates the imperial border again. After the consolidation of his rule, Ardashir therefore undertook an attack on Roman territory in northern Mesopotamia at the beginning of the thirties of the 3rd century. He rejected a Roman peace proposal, which he perhaps interpreted as times of weakness, so that Alexander was forced to embark on a Persian campaign. The aim of the Roman offensive in 233 was again to capture the capital, Ctesiphon, but one of the three columns of the Roman army marching separately suffered such heavy losses during the advance that the emperor broke off the operation, which led to further high losses when retreating. Since the Persians were also considerably weakened by the fighting, the fighting was stopped. A peace did not come about, but there was a brief calm on the eastern border of the empire. The situation there remained stable until the end of the Severan period; The Romans and Persians initially turned to other fronts. Among other things, the Sassanids for their part now besieged Hatra for years, which now apparently had allied itself with Rome and was only conquered in 240.

The northern borders

The situation in the Rhine and Danube region was less critical than in the east. There was largely calm there under Septimius Severus. Only under Caracalla did a situation arise that required the presence of the emperor. In 213, Caracalla's brief campaign against Germanic tribes in the Main region was at least partially successful. It ended with a peace agreement, which the Romans had to buy with payments, but which brought about stable conditions for two decades. The situation only deteriorated significantly when Alexander had to withdraw larger units of troops from the Rhine and Danube borders for his Persian war. Germanic peoples 233/234 used this weakening of the border security for larger forays, whereby they also destroyed fortifications. The emperor opposed them in 235 but sought a negotiated solution that would probably have led to a bought peace again. Before there was any result, Alexander was overthrown and murdered.

In Britain, when Clodius Albinus went to war with Severus, he had exposed the northern frontier. He thus offered the tribes living there the opportunity to penetrate deep into the Roman province and cause severe damage. After the end of the civil war, the Romans took care of the border security again. In the year 208, Septimius Severus himself went to Britain to lead a great campaign, the original aim of which was probably an expansion of Roman rule to areas north of Hadrian's Wall in what is now Scotland. The fighting dragged on until the death of the emperor. Caracalla and Geta, who succeeded him, renounced territorial expansion and made peace. In the period that followed, the situation remained calm.

Military administration, finance and economics

A major feature of the Severer era was the increasing importance of security issues and military requirements. The priority of these aspects resulted in practical constraints that had serious effects on the state finances and thus on all government activities and the economy. The priority of security needs in financial policy, in which the drastically rising military personnel costs severely restricted the scope, was particularly impressive. The soldiers were privileged with massive pay increases and generous special allowances at the expense of the rest of the population. This policy, which Septimius Severus initiated and Caracalla intensified, seemed inevitable for the continued existence of the dynasty, but in the longer term it turned out to be fatal. In terms of power politics, it was hardly possible to contain or reverse this economically and fiscally damaging development. The resulting dilemma ultimately contributed significantly to the overthrow of Severus Alexander and thus to the fall of the dynasty. The principle and the problem of preferring the military is summarized like a slogan in the advice that Severus allegedly gave his sons on the deathbed: "Remain in harmony, enrich the soldiers, do not worry about everyone else." In addition, Severus increased the overall size of the army considerably ; he raised three new legions. One of them was stationed near Rome. This meant a break with the principle of keeping Italy free from legions, which had been in force since the beginning of the imperial era. The annual tributes with which the empire bought peace from its external enemies caused further high costs .

During the Severan period, the imperial personnel policy promoted social mobility. As early as the 2nd century it had become apparent that it made no sense to entrust high positions in the army leadership to senators who lacked the necessary professionalism. Therefore, even in the late adoptive imperial period, the careers of experienced troop leaders of relatively low origin were favored. This trend intensified among the Severians. They ensured that reliable NCOs were accepted into the knighthood or put them on an honorary level with knights, thereby giving them access to higher military ranks and civil offices. Capable knightly officers were raised to the rank of senator so that they could take on the leadership positions traditionally reserved for senators. In addition, knights now penetrated administrative offices that were previously only held by senators. In general, the importance of class decreased, the army and especially the officer corps became more professional. The improved opportunities for advancement, together with the financial incentives, formed a bundle of measures designed to make the soldier profession more attractive. The social composition of the knighthood changed; the economically active and successful section of the population, which used to dominate the knights, withdrew from the socially advanced professional soldiers.

Septimius Severus granted the soldiers the previously denied right to marry. This gave her children, who had previously been out of wedlock, legal inheritance rights. As a result, soldier families were formed, and the soldier profession became in fact hereditary. The soldiers' ties to their locations, from whose region they often came, intensified. The land grants they received also contributed to this. However, this impaired the mobility of the associations. Long deployments in distant parts of the empire were very unpopular with the soldiers, who were now increasingly rooted in their usual stationing locations.

Large provinces were split up, reducing the power of the provincial governors. This reduced the risk of riots. The provinces of Britain and Syria, where Clodius Albinus and Pescennius Niger had reached for the imperial dignity, were divided into two parts each. Septimius Severus established Numidia , which had previously nominally belonged to Africa proconsularis , as an independent province. Caracalla split the large Hispanic province of Tarraconensis in two. He also downsized the province of Upper Pannonia, which had been the basis of his father's seizure of power. From then on there was no longer a province in which more than two legions were stationed.

The consequences of the sharp rise in military personnel costs were a deterioration in coins and a rise in taxes. Caracalla doubled the levy on the release of slaves and the inheritance tax from 5 to 10 percent. Severus Alexander assured his desire to reduce the tax burden, but this was only possible to a limited extent in view of the difficult financial situation. The decurions (city council members) of the provincial cities were responsible for collecting the taxes and were personally liable for them. An important source of income was the confiscation of the property of supporters of political opponents, which was carried out on a large scale under Septimius Severus.

One consequence of the coin evaluation was that the state was less inclined to collect taxes in the form of cash. The importance of taxes in kind increased.

Legislation and the judiciary

A characteristic of the administration and the legal system of the Severerzeit was that the provinces gained weight in relation to Rome and Italy. In legislation, the trend towards the unification of the empire and the dismantling of traditional prerogatives of traditional elites found its strongest expression in Caracalla's Constitutio Antoniniana , a decree that granted almost all free residents of the empire Roman citizenship . This brought about the final and complete political equality of the free inhabitants. Significantly, this step also had a fiscal policy background, as citizenship was linked to certain tax burdens that could now be imposed on the new citizens. However, the drastic legal measure met with little response from contemporaries.

Septimius Severus was very interested in the judiciary and spent a lot of time as emperor settling legal cases. Caracalla also devoted himself to the imperial task of administering justice.

Severus Alexander developed an intense legislative activity, especially at the beginning of his reign, in the years 223 and 224. The Codex Iustinianus , a collection of laws from the 6th century, contains 427 ordinances ( constitutiones ) which, according to the current state of research, are to be assigned to Alexander. His focus was particularly on the regulation of the appellatio , the appeal to the emperor after a judicial process. He wanted to prevent lower authorities from suppressing the appeal to the emperor by intimidation. In doing so, he tried to improve his control over the judicial system.

The Severan epoch was a heyday of Roman legal literature. The three most important lawyers of the Severer era were Papinian , Ulpian and Iulius Paulus . All three were Praetorian prefects , that is to say, particularly outstanding imperial confidants. Their works were decisive for the late antique codification of Roman law; a large part of the digest is taken from the writings of the three Severan jurists. Ulpian's formulation of the emperor's dispensation from legal regulations achieved fame: "The emperor is released from the law" ( Princeps legibus solutus est ). This principle, which in the early days of the Principate had freed the emperor from individual civil law provisions, was regarded as a general principle in the Severan period and gained increasing importance under public law. Septimius Severus and Caracalla used to refer to him, but also emphasized that although they were exempt from the laws, they still lived by them.

Construction activity

The Arch of Septimius Severus

The Severan emperors caused brisk building activity in Rome. After a major fire under Emperor Commodus in 192, extensive renovation work was required on the Roman Forum . A triumphal arch was built on the forum to glorify the victories of Septimius Severus in the east . The Argentarian Arch , which was created on a private initiative, also served to honor this emperor . On the Palatine Hill , Septimius Severus had the Septizodium (or Septizonium) built, a magnificent building whose function is controversial. A huge building project in Caracalla was the Caracalla Baths , at 337 by 328 meters the largest of its kind in Rome. Emperor Elagabal had a large, magnificent Elagabal temple built on the Palatine Hill on a site measuring 160 by 110 meters. Other important buildings from the Severan period were the Sessorium , a palace complex on the Esquiline , to which the amphitheater Castrense and the Circus Varianus , east of the palace buildings, belonged. Imperial building activity is said to have been brisk under Severus Alexander, but there is a lack of reliable evidence for some information. Alexander's extension of the Nerotherms , the thermae Alexandrinae, is well documented . An aqueduct that he had built, the aqua Alexandrina , was named after him.


Important insights can be gained from the valuable epigraphic and numismatic sources, from papyri and the equally informative self-portrayal of the Severians in the visual arts - above all reliefs and round sculptures. In addition, three narrative sources in particular provide information about the Severan period: the works of the contemporary historians Cassius Dio and Herodian as well as the biographies of the individual emperors in the Late Antique Historia Augusta . Cassius Dios Roman history is written from the perspective of conservative senatorial circles. It is characterized by passionate partisanship, but is generally considered to be the best source and relatively reliable, especially since the author, as a senator, had good sources of information and also witnessed some events himself. The work is only partially preserved in medieval excerpts and breaks off before the last phase of the reign of Severus Alexander. Herodian's account, the value of which is controversial, is the only contemporary narrative source for the period no longer dealt with by Cassius Dio. Its quality is severely impaired by the historian's tendency to insert freely invented things for the purpose of literary design and effective decoration of his narrative. The biographies in the Historia Augusta vary in value, and for the most part are of very little value. They are heavily enriched with inventions, some of which are related to the political conditions at the time of the unknown late antique author. However, the author has also used useful material, the origin and original form of which is difficult to determine.

Reception in research

Compared with the subsequent era of the soldier emperors, which is traditionally associated with decline, the Severan period makes an overall more favorable impression on historians. The will of the Severians for dynastic continuity, which found a strong response in the army, and their partly successful stabilization efforts make their time appear as a phase of relative calm and security. The current periodization allows the " Imperial Crisis of the 3rd Century " to begin with the fall of the last Severan. However, this linguistic regulation cannot hide the fact that violent turbulence and dangerous crises had already occurred in the Severan times, which were largely caused by the emperors themselves or made worse by their behavior.

Ethnic and cultural aspects

The assessments of the Severer time in research have undergone a considerable change, which is instructive in terms of the history of science. In the 19th century and well into the 20th century, a doctrine prevailed that the rule of the Severi represented a triumph of non-Roman sentiments over Romanism. Great emphasis was placed on the African and Oriental descent of the Severan emperors and their female relatives. Just like the politics of the Severians, their character and private life were also explained from the point of view of their ethnic origin or even from a racial point of view. Measures taken by Septimius Severus, judged to be cruel or barbaric, were attributed to his African nature. The catchphrase of Carthage's late revenge on Rome, which existed in the reign of Septimius Severus, was popular. With his takeover of power, the Punic empire seized the Roman Empire, thus making up for the defeats of Carthage in the Punic Wars . The non-Roman aspects were also in the foreground when assessing the empire of the late Severan period. The traits classified as Syrian or generally oriental were emphatically emphasized. In addition to the eccentric religious policy and the traditional sexual excesses of Elagabal, this included the unprecedented influence of women at court. All of this, along with Caracalla's terror, created a picture of decadence, political, moral, and social decline. In doing so, clichéd ideas about typical oriental characteristics became noticeable. A corrosive role has been attributed to the oriental influence. Karl Bihlmeyer said in 1916 that from Caracalla's reign on, “Orientalism” broke through all barriers and dams and that with Elagabal's takeover, “the triumph of the Syrian Orient over the West was complete”. In 1973, Hermann Bengtson judged that Elagabal was “a typical oriental”. Since both the North African Punians and the Syrians were Semites , the Severi were also classified as typical representatives of the Semitic race.

More recent research has emancipated itself from these previously common general judgments and speculations. She also strives for an impartial appreciation of the role and achievements of the female members of the imperial family. Karl Christ wrote in 1988 that the dynasty did not perish as a result of the inadequate commitment of women, but because of the unsuitability of their male relatives. The catchphrase of orientalization is granted only a very limited justification. In this sense, Erich Kettenhofen , for example, expressed himself in a study published in 1979. He emphasized the continuity of the development of the imperial concept of rulers and stated that a "break in oriental concepts of rule and cult forms" under the influence of Syrian women was "difficult to detect". Bruno Bleckmann pointed out in 2002 that “in the Romanized Syrian elite, the gender relations were hardly more matriarchal than in the rest of the empire”. Brian Campbell stated in 2005 that there was no reason to believe that the actions of Septimius Severus were an expression of un-Roman sentiments or a prejudice in favor of his African homeland. A number of researchers had previously come to the conclusion that there was no unusual preference for Africans and that the entrustment of many Africans with important tasks reflected the economic and political weight of the African provinces.

The assessment of the military policy

The Severan army policy, which was already subject to severe criticism in contemporary historiography, is rated differently. Herodian's accusation that the soldiers were pampered and that discipline was undermined by softening the traditional hard way of life and promoting greed has met with approval from some modern historians. For example, Alfred von Domaszewski wrote in his standard work on army organization, first published in 1908, that Septimius Severus was still able to maintain discipline, but that his system had completely failed under his successors. The "once so proud army from which all discipline had escaped" had become "the horror of their own country and the mockery of the enemy". Von Domaszewski, whose judgment had a strong impact, assumed a barbarization of the army and the destruction of military traditions. Ernst Kornemann said in 1939 that “excessive militarization” meant “the barbarization of the state”; Septimius Severus had "put the ax to the roots of the Augustan principate". In 1960 Alfred Heuss stated that as a result of the Severan army policy, the old level of performance could no longer be maintained. The lifting of the marriage ban for soldiers has blurred the sharp distinction between soldierly and bourgeois way of life. The "classical Roman discipline on which the successes of the Roman military were based" was increasingly lost from the time of Septimius Severus.

In the more recent research, on the other hand, the expediency of the Severan army reforms and the professionalization they promoted is pointed out. The Severan reorganization of the army is seen as the logical continuation of a path taken earlier to increase efficiency and adapt to the requirements of the time. The marriage license granted to the soldiers appears to be a sensible and long overdue step. The fiscally problematic pay increase is also seen from the point of view of a possibly necessary adjustment of inflation and the urgent need to recruit new recruits. The command of the army could not have remained a privilege of partly amateurish senators, but had to be entrusted to experienced professional officers. The historians judging from a senatorial perspective lacked an understanding of such military requirements. The hypothesis of a systematic preference for provincial Romans over the Italians when filling officer positions has been proven to be incorrect.

The personal role of the emperor

Especially in older research, the opinion is widespread that the founder of the dynasty laid a solid foundation and that the fall of the Severi was due to the lack of competence of his successors. Septimius Severus is judged far more favorably than the rest of the Severus. Theodor Mommsen was already a firm advocate of this point of view ruled that Septimius Severus was "a great ruler who could rely on the prestige of his personality"; he had methodically expanded the dynastic principle and had success with it. This is proven by the government of his successors, "which, with their personal complaint, was based solely on this". Ultimately, the inability of the successors "led the principle to which the Severi family had invoked ad absurdum". Karl Christ wrote in 1988 that the dynasty "was ultimately not eliminated from the outside, but perished in itself".


Overview and overall representations

Individual subject areas

  • Jean-Pierre Coriat: Le Prince Législateur. La Technique Législative des Sévères et les Méthodes de Création du Droit Impérial a la Fin du Principat (= Bibliothèque des Écoles Françaises d'Athènes et de Rome. Volume 294). École Française de Rome / Palais Farnèse, Rome 1997, ISBN 2-7283-0374-6 .
  • Markus Handy: The Severers and the Army . Verlag Antike, Berlin 2009, ISBN 978-3-938032-25-1 .
  • Detlev Kreikenbom : Urbanism and urban culture in West Asia and North Africa under the Severians. Contributions to the Table Ronde in Mainz on December 3rd and 4th, 2004 . Werner, Worms 2005. ISBN 978-3-88462-220-9
  • Achim Lichtenberger : Severus Pius Augustus. Studies on the sacred representation and reception of the reign of Septimius Severus and his family (193–211 AD) . Brill, Leiden 2011, ISBN 978-90-04-20192-7 .
  • Sonja Nadolny: The Severan imperial women . Franz Steiner, Stuttgart 2016, ISBN 978-3-515-11311-3 .
  • Danuta Okoń: Septimius Severus et senatores. Septimius Severus' Personnel Policy Towards Senators in the Light of Prosopographic Research (193-211 AD). Uniwersytet Szczeciński, Szczecin 2013, ISBN 978-83-7241-875-3 .
  • Danuta Okoń: Imperatores Severi et senatores. The History of the Imperial Personnel Policy. Uniwersytet Szczeciński, Szczecin 2013, ISBN 978-83-7241-918-7 .
  • Björn Schöpe: The Roman imperial court in Severan times (193–235 AD) (= Historia individual writings. Volume 231). Franz Steiner, Stuttgart 2014, ISBN 978-3-515-10695-5 .
  • Julia Sünskes Thompson: Uprisings and protests in the Roman Empire. The Severan emperors in the field of tension of domestic political conflicts . Habelt, Bonn 1990, ISBN 3-7749-2466-X .
  • Simon Swain, Stephen Harrison, Jaś Elsner (Eds.): Severan culture . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2007, ISBN 978-0-521-85982-0 .


  1. ^ Julia Sünskes Thompson: uprisings and protest actions in the Imperium Romanum , Bonn 1990, pp. 137–145, 153; Gerold Walser : The Severers in Research 1960–1972 . In: Rise and Decline of the Roman World , Vol. II.2, Berlin 1975, pp. 614–656, here: 623, 625.
  2. Markus Handy: Die Severer und das Heer , Berlin 2009, pp. 123f., 174–177.
  3. Markus Handy: Die Severer und das Heer , Berlin 2009, pp. 40, 68f.
  4. ^ Robert Lee Cleve provides a detailed account: Severus Alexander and the Severan Women , Los Angeles 1982, pp. 105–159. Cf. Martin Frey: Studies on Religion and Religious Policy of the Emperor Elagabal , Stuttgart 1989, pp. 94-100.
  5. Robert Lee Cleve describes the course of these events: Severus Alexander and the Severan Women , Los Angeles 1982, pp. 301–309.
  6. Matthäus Heil : Clodius Albinus and the civil war of 197 . In: Hans-Ulrich Wiemer (Ed.): Statehood and Political Action in the Roman Empire , Berlin 2006, pp. 55–85, here: 73 states from this point of view: "Septimius Severus has thus become the first of the soldier emperors."
  7. See also Alison Cooley: Septimius Severus: the Augustan emperor . In: Simon Swain et al. (Ed.): Severan culture , Cambridge 2007, pp. 385–397, here: 385–388.
  8. Drora Baharal: Victory of Propaganda offers a comprehensive investigation of the connection to the Aurelians' dynasty among the Severi . The dynastic aspect of the Imperial propaganda of the Severi: the literary and archaeological evidence AD ​​193-235 , Oxford 1996, pp. 18-68.
  9. See also Achim Lichtenberger: Severus Pius Augustus , Leiden 2011, pp. 319–378.
  10. Michael Alexander Speidel: Army and Rule in the Roman Empire of the High Imperial Era , Stuttgart 2009, pp. 181–209; Markus Handy: Die Severer und das Heer , Berlin 2009, pp. 73–78.
  11. Henning Börm : The limits of the great king. Reflections on the Arsakid-Sasanid policy towards Rome. In: Frank Schleicher, Udo Hartmann , Timo Stickler (eds.): Iberia between Rome and Iran , Stuttgart 2019, pp. 99–122; here p. 105ff.
  12. For the course of the campaign, see Erich Kettenhofen : Caracalla . In: Encyclopædia Iranica , Vol. 4, London 1990, pp. 790-792, here: 791 ( online ).
  13. Markus Handy: Die Severer und das Heer , Berlin 2009, pp. 92–94.
  14. A clear Roman success counts among other things. Peter Kneißl : The victory title of the Roman emperors , Göttingen 1969, p. 160f. Gerhard Wirth has a similar judgment : Caracalla in Franconia. To realize a political ideology . In: Yearbook for Fränkische Landesforschung 34/35, 1975, pp. 37-74, here: 66, 68f. Cf. Markus Handy: Die Severer und das Heer , Berlin 2009, pp. 82–87.
  15. Markus Handy: Die Severer und das Heer , Berlin 2009, pp. 78–82; Karl Christ: History of the Roman Empire , 6th edition, Munich 2009, p. 610f.
  16. See Thomas Pekáry : Studies on Roman Monetary and Financial History from 161 to 235 AD. In: Historia 8, 1959, pp. 443–489, here: 479–485; Robert Develin: The Army Pay Rises under Severus and Caracalla and the Question of Annona militaris . In: Latomus 30, 1971, pp. 687-695, here: 687-692; Michael Alexander Speidel: Army and Rule in the Roman Empire of the High Imperial Era , Stuttgart 2009, pp. 350, 415; Markus Handy: Die Severer und das Heer , Berlin 2009, pp. 221–223.
  17. Cassius Dio 77 (according to a different count 76), 15.2.
  18. Markus Handy: Die Severer und das Heer , Berlin 2009, p. 173f.
  19. Thomas Pekáry: Studies on Roman monetary and financial history from 161 to 235 AD. In: Historia 8, 1959, pp. 443-489, here: 482.
  20. Kostas Buraselis: ΘΕΙΑ ΔΩΡΕΑ , Vienna 2007, pp. 50, 55–57.
  21. For the background, see Markus Handy: Die Severer und das Heer , Berlin 2009, pp. 192–217; Alfred Heuss: Roman History , 10th edition, Paderborn 2007, p. 355.
  22. ^ Karl Christ: History of the Roman Empire , 6th edition, Munich 2009, p. 612.
  23. See Kostas Buraselis: ΘΕΙΑ ΔΩΡΕΑ , Vienna 2007, pp. 50–52.
  24. ^ Robert Lee Cleve: Severus Alexander and the Severan Women , Los Angeles 1982, pp. 301f .; Karl Christ: History of the Roman Empire , 6th edition, Munich 2009, p. 611f.
  25. See on these measures Markus Handy: Die Severer und das Heer , Berlin 2009, p. 121f.
  26. Gerold Walser: The Severers in Research 1960–1972 . In: Rise and Decline of the Roman World , Vol. II.2, Berlin 1975, pp. 614–656, here: 639f .; Richard Duncan-Jones: Money and government in the Roman Empire , Cambridge 1994, pp. 101f., 216, 218, 222f., 227f .; Thomas Pekáry: Studies on Roman monetary and financial history from 161 to 235 AD. In: Historia 8, 1959, pp. 443–489, here: 456–458; David S. Potter: The Roman Empire at Bay, AD 180-395 , London 2004, pp. 137f.
  27. ^ Robert Lee Cleve: Severus Alexander and the Severan Women , Los Angeles 1982, pp. 242f .; Thomas Pekáry: Studies on Roman monetary and financial history from 161 to 235 AD. In: Historia 8, 1959, pp. 443–489, here: 484f.
  28. Julia Sünskes Thompson: Uprisings and protest actions in the Imperium Romanum , Bonn 1990, p. 4f .; Thomas Pekáry: Studies on Roman monetary and financial history from 161 to 235 AD. In: Historia 8, 1959, pp. 443–489, here: 464–466.
  29. ^ Richard Duncan-Jones: Money and government in the Roman Empire , Cambridge 1994, p. 15; Thomas Pekáry: Studies on Roman monetary and financial history from 161 to 235 AD. In: Historia 8, 1959, pp. 443–489, here: 474, 477f.
  30. Kostas Buraselis: ΘΕΙΑ ΔΩΡΕΑ , Vienna 2007, pp. 150–153.
  31. For details see Kostas Buraselis: ΘΕΙΑ ΔΩΡΕΑ , Vienna 2007, pp. 52–55.
  32. Thomas Pekáry: Studies on Roman monetary and financial history from 161 to 235 AD. In: Historia 8, 1959, pp. 443-489, here: 482f.
  33. Kostas Buraselis: ΘΕΙΑ ΔΩΡΕΑ , Vienna 2007, p. 14.
  34. ^ Anthony R. Birley : The African Emperor. Septimius Severus , 2nd, expanded edition, London 1988, pp. 164-168.
  35. Flavius ​​Philostratos , Vitae sophistarum 2,32,626; Cassius Dio 78 (77), 8.3.
  36. Fara Nasti: L'attività di normativa Severo Alessandro . Volume 1: Politica di governo, riforme amministrative e giudiziarie , Napoli 2006, p. 19f.
  37. Fara Nasti: L'attività di normativa Severo Alessandro . Volume 1: Politica di governo, riforme amministrative e giudiziarie , Napoli 2006, pp. 41–50.
  38. Okko Behrends: Princeps legibus solutus . In: Rainer Grote et al. (Ed.): The Order of Freedom , Tübingen 2007, pp. 3–20, here: 3f., 8f .; Dieter Wyduckel: Princeps Legibus Solutus , Berlin 1979, pp. 48-51.
  39. On this fire and its date, see Anne Daguet-Gagey: Les opera publica à Rome (180–305 ap. J.-C.) , Paris 1997, pp. 43–63.
  40. See on this building and its name Achim Lichtenberger: Severus Pius Augustus. Studies on the sacred representation and reception of the reign of Septimius Severus and his family (193–211 AD) , Leiden 2011, pp. 250–266.
  41. See for this building Nele Schröder : A major Severan project: The equipment of the Caracalla baths in Rome . In: Stephan Faust, Florian Leitmeir (eds.): Forms of Representation in Severan Time , Berlin 2011, pp. 179–192.
  42. Comprehensive information on the building activities of Anne Daguet-Gagey from Sever: Les opera publica à Rome (180–305 ap. J.-C.) , Paris 1997 (overview pp. 86–94). See also Achim Lichtenberger: Severus Pius Augustus. Studies on the sacred representation and reception of the rule of Septimius Severus and his family (193–211 AD) , Leiden 2011, pp. 281–317, 390f.
  43. See also the collection of essays published by Stephan Faust and Florian Leitmeir, Forms of Representation in Severan Times , Berlin 2011 and Achim Lichtenberger: Severus Pius Augustus. Studies on the sacred representation and reception of the reign of Septimius Severus and his family (193–211 AD) , Leiden 2011.
  44. On the problem of the traditionally assumed turning point in 235, see Karlheinz Dietz : Senatus contra principem , Munich 1980, pp. 1–5.
  45. Alfred von Domaszewski: History of the Roman Emperors , Vol. 2, Leipzig 1909, p. 247 claimed that in Septimius Severus "the demonic hatred of the Punians to whom he belonged by blood" had awakened and that he had "the annihilation of Roman rule in the realm ”wanted. Ernst Kornemann: Römische Geschichte , Vol. 2, Stuttgart 1939, p. 333 wrote that Septimius Severus had raged against his opponents with “African ferocity” and judged: “In the guise of the first African ruler, Hannibal's homeland exercised a late revenge on Rome. “ Johannes Hasebroek : Investigations into the history of the emperor Septimius Severus , Heidelberg 1921, p. 99 said that the goal of Septimius Severus was“ the fanatical extermination of the last remnant of Greco-Roman nature ”; in its place came "the barbarism of the provinces". Franz Altheim : Niedergang der alten Welt , Vol. 2, Frankfurt am Main 1952 saw in Septimius Severus, who was devious and violent, unforgiving and greedy for money, “a real plant of his African earth” (p. 256); he proceeded “with an African thirst for revenge” (p. 258).
  46. See also Barbara Levick : Julia Domna , London 2007, pp. 2, 163; Erich Kettenhofen: The Syrian Augustae in the historical tradition , Bonn 1979, p. 1f. and note 2 (supporting documents).
  47. ^ Karl Bihlmeyer: The "Syrian" Emperors in Rome (211-35) and Christianity , Rottenburg 1916, pp. 15, 50.
  48. ^ Hermann Bengtson: Römische Geschichte , 3rd edition, Munich 1979, p. 328 (1st edition 1973).
  49. Alfred von Domaszewski: History of the Roman Emperors , Vol. 2, Leipzig 1909 remarked about Septimius Severus: "The hatred of the Semite, who knows no mildness, no sparing, lay in him abysmally" (p. 262) and about Elagabal, in him let "the kind of the Aramaeer emerge undisguised" (p. 272). Franz Altheim vividly described the traits of the Severians, which he assessed as specifically Semitic, in his study Niedergang der alten Welt , Vol. 2, Frankfurt am Main 1952, pp. 255–270.
  50. ^ Karl Christ: History of the Roman Empire , 6th edition, Munich 2009, p. 633 (1st edition 1988).
  51. Erich Kettenhofen: The Syrian Augustae in the historical tradition , Bonn 1979, p. 176. Cf. Barbara Levick: Julia Domna , London 2007, p. 162f.
  52. Bruno Bleckmann: The Severan family and the soldier emperors . In: Hildegard Temporini-Gräfin Vitzthum (ed.): Die Kaiserinnen Roms , Munich 2002, pp. 265–339, here: 277.
  53. ^ Brian Campbell: The Severan Dynasty . In: The Cambridge Ancient History , 2nd edition, Volume 12, Cambridge 2005, pp. 1–27, here: 3.
  54. See the overview in Gerold Walser: Die Severer in der Forschung 1960–1972 . In: Rise and Decline of the Roman World , Vol. II.2, Berlin 1975, pp. 614–656, here: 622f.
  55. Herodian 3, 8, 5.
  56. ^ Alfred von Domaszewski: The ranking of the Roman army , 2nd, reviewed edition, Cologne 1967, p. 196.
  57. Ernst Kornemann: Römische Geschichte , Vol. 2, Stuttgart 1939, p. 334.
  58. ^ Alfred Heuss: Römische Geschichte , 10th edition, Paderborn 2007, p. 412 (1st edition 1960).
  59. ^ Richard Edwin Smith: The Army Reforms of Septimius Severus . In: Historia 21, 1972, pp. 481-499; Markus Handy: Die Severer und das Heer , Berlin 2009, pp. 177–230.
  60. Gerold Walser: The Severers in Research 1960–1972 . In: Rise and Decline of the Roman World , Vol. II.2, Berlin 1975, pp. 614–656, here: 635f.
  61. ^ Theodor Mommsen: Römische Kaisergeschichte , Munich 1992, pp. 301, 396 (lecture transcript from 1883).
  62. ^ Alfred Heuss: Römische Geschichte , 10th edition, Paderborn 2007, p. 419 (1st edition 1960).
  63. ^ Karl Christ: History of the Roman Imperial Era , 6th edition, Munich 2009, p. 621 (1st edition 1988).
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