Severus Alexander

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Bust of Severus Alexander in the Louvre

Severus Alexander (born October 1, 208 in Arca Caesarea, Arqa in what is now Lebanon, † March 235 near Mogontiacum ) was Roman emperor from March 13, 222 until his death . His original name was Bassianus Alexianus . From June 221 he called himself Marcus Aurel (l) ius Alexander , as emperor he was called Marcus Aurel (l) ius Severus Alexander . The later common name form Alexander Severus is not authentic.

In June 221, Alexander, who was not yet thirteen , was promoted to Caesar by his cousin, Emperor Elagabal , who was only four years his senior , and was thus appointed his successor. In the following year he was able to take power without any problems after Elagabal's murder. Throughout his life he was under the dominant influence of his mother Julia Mamaea . She was the actual ruler and also arranged his marriage. But since she could neither gain authority with the capital city Praetorians nor in the army, her exercise of power was always precarious.

After a loss-making Persian war with an undecided outcome, the emperor had to rush to the Rhine to repel a German invasion. There his unpopularity in the army was his undoing. He and his mother fell victim to a soldier mutiny.

The Severan dynasty ended with Alexander's death . The era of the soldier emperors began and with it the " Imperial Crisis of the 3rd Century ", a critical exacerbation of the structural problems left by the Severans.

Origin, childhood and rise to power

Alexander was of Syriac origin from both his mother and father's side . His father, the procurator Gessius Marcianus, was a knight from Arca Caesarea, where Alexander was born on October 1, 208. His mother Julia Mamaea was a member of the senatorial class , so she was of more distinguished descent than his father. She was the daughter of Julia Maesa , the sister of the Empress Julia Domna , and her first marriage to a consular before she married Gessius Marcianus . Her family came from the Syrian city of Emesa (now Homs ) and was very respected there. Julia Domna, Alexander's great aunt, was the wife of Emperor Septimius Severus (193-211), who founded the Severan dynasty. So Alexander was not related to the founder of the dynasty, but was only a grandson of his sister-in-law. Nevertheless he is counted among the Severers.

Alexander's great-grandfather Julius Bassianus, the father of Julia Domna and Julia Maesa, had held the office of high priest of the sun god Elagabal in Emesa , which was hereditary in the family. After this great-grandfather, Alexander received his original name Bassianus. As a child he was introduced to the Elagabal cult and entrusted with a priestly function.

On April 8, 217, Emperor Caracalla , the son and successor of Septimius Severus, was murdered on a campaign in Mesopotamia . After initial hesitation, the army elevated the Praetorian prefect Macrinus , who had organized the assassination attempt on Caracalla, to the new emperor. This meant a change of dynasty; Macrinus immediately designated his minor son as his future successor. This removed the Syrian clan to which Alexander belonged from the levers of power. Julia Domna took her own life.

Since the male descendants of Septimius Severus and Julia Domna were now extinct, Alexander's grandmother Maesa wanted her own descendants to become emperor. Her fourteen year old grandson Elagabal, Alexander's cousin, was chosen for this. He was the son of Julia Soaemias , Julia Mamaea's older sister.

Septimius Severus
Severus Alexander

The new emperor Macrinus could only be ousted by a military uprising in favor of Elagabal. To make Elagabal popular with the soldiers, his supporters claimed he was an illegitimate son of Caracalla, who was very popular in the army. This approach proved successful. On May 16, 218, Elagabal was proclaimed emperor by a legion stationed near Emesa , and in June his forces defeated Macrinus' troops in Syria. That decided the civil war. Now Maesa was able to go to Rome with her two daughters Soaemias and Mamaea and her grandchildren Elagabal and Alexander to take over power there and lead the government for the young Elagabal. Alexander was raised by his mother and grandmother; his father seems to have died early.

Soon, however, the young emperor Elagabal proved to be headstrong and resistant to advice and made himself generally hated. This created a very dangerous crisis for the continued existence of the dynasty, which came to a head in 220/221. Therefore, Maesa and Mamaea Alexander began to build up as successors to Elagabal. The new hope for a long time, like Elagabal, was passed off as the illegitimate son of Caracalla. This was to win the sympathy of the soldiers, who continued to hold Caracalla in high regard. In June 221, Alexander, who was not yet thirteen, was declared of age and received the dignity of Caesar. Elagabal had to adopt him and thus determine his successor. The two of them held the consulate together .

A name change was associated with the adoption. The founder of the dynasty, Septimius Severus, had pretended to be the adopted son of the popular emperor Marcus Aurelius , who died in 180, in order to legitimize his rule . In doing so, he had placed himself in the tradition of the adoptive emperors , whose epoch was considered to be the heyday of Roman history. Caracalla and Elagabal stuck to this fictional association with the adoptive emperors of the 2nd century. With their official emperor names they indicated that they considered themselves to be members of the gens Aurelia , the family of Marcus Aurelius. Alexander also placed himself in this traditional context with his adoption by Elagabal. He took the new name Marcus Aurel (l) ius Alexander , with which he expressed his alleged belonging to the gens Aurelia . The change from Alexianus to Alexander is related to the worship of Alexander the Great , which was widespread at the time and was practiced primarily by Caracalla.

Emperor Elagabal recognized the danger that threatened him from his cousin Alexander and tried repeatedly to kill him. He tried in vain to withdraw the title of Caesar from him. A struggle for existence developed between the two rivals and their mothers, in which Maesa was on Mamaea's side. The key role was played by the soldiers stationed in Rome, especially the Praetorians , the capital's guards, for whose favor both mothers sought. Mamaea was more successful in this, but the two Praetorian prefects stayed with Elagabal until the end. Mutinous soldiers who were controlled by Mamaea murdered Elagabal on March 11, 222. Thirteen-year-old Alexander easily assumed the dignity of emperor. On March 13th he was proclaimed emperor by the army and the following day the Senate awarded him the title of Augustus . From then on, he no longer considered the adoption by Elagabal as the basis of his membership of the imperial family of the Aurelians, but his fictitious descent from Caracalla. On inscriptions he was referred to as the son of the "divine Antoninus" (Caracalla). He also took the name Severus, reminiscent of Septimius Severus, and called himself Marcus Aurel (l) ius Severus Alexander . The name form Alexander Severus used in older research literature is not authentic.


Relevant role of the mother

Denarius of Julia Mamaea

In contrast to Elagabal, Severus Alexander turned out to be steerable. Initially, Maesa and Mamaea ran the government together. They set up an advisory board of sixteen respected senators, to which they gave considerable influence.

Maesa, who was already old, died around 224. From then on, Mamaea was in fact sole ruler until the end of Alexander's reign. Inscriptions and coins document their extraordinary role. From 222 she carried the title Augusta . Other titles were "Mother of the Senate" and "Mother of the Fatherland"; Overzealous admirers in Hispania even described her on an honorary inscription as the "mother of the whole human race". She had the young emperor educated carefully, but left him no decision-making powers. A good relationship with the Senate was important to her. She demonstratively cultivated traditional Roman virtues and values. Idiosyncratic measures by Elagabal, which had offended the conservative ruling class, were reversed. The new, senate-friendly course meant a departure from the politics of the former Severers, whose relationship with the Senate had been strained. The fact that Mamaea's willingness to cooperate was well received in the Senate is shown by a fragment handed down by Johannes Zonaras from the history of Senator Cassius Dio . There it is said that Mamaea had found clever advisors for her son and selected the best advisors from among the senators. Dio himself was one of those men.

Domestic politics

Mutinies and riots

The main weakness of the government of the emperor directed by his mother was the lack of a power base of its own. Mamaea and Alexander depended on the goodwill of the Praetorians. The extent of the decline in authority resulting from this weakness became dramatically evident as early as 223 in the Praetorian crisis. Mamaea had entrusted the eminent lawyer Ulpian with the command of the Praetorians, but it was not possible to discipline the troops. For a minor reason, three days of street fighting developed between the Praetorians and the townspeople, which led to chaotic conditions in the town. It was only when the beleaguered Praetorians set fire to houses and a general conflagration threatened that their opponents gave in. Ulpian was able to win a power struggle with his subordinates, the Praetorian prefects Julius Flavianus and Geminius Chrestus ; the two prefects were executed. But when the Praetorians mutinied the following year, Ulpian had to flee to the imperial palace. Mamaea couldn't protect him there; in her and Alexander's presence, he was murdered by the Praetorians. The main responsible for the murder, Epagathus , could not be punished in Rome because of the danger of new unrest. He had to be removed from the capital on the pretext of being appointed governor of Egypt . From Egypt he was brought to Crete, where he was executed.

Numerous riots and revolts broke out in the empire, which were suppressed.


The main source for Alexander's legislative activity is the Codex Iustinianus , a collection of laws from the 6th century. It contains 427 ordinances (constitutiones) which, according to the current state of research, are to be assigned to Alexander. There was particularly strong legislative activity at the beginning of the reign, in 223 and 224. In describing his legislative goals, Alexander emphasized on the one hand moral principles and the need for particular severity in the event of violations that endangered the social order, but on the other hand also the ruler's mildness ( clementia ) , an important ruler's virtue according to old tradition. In doing so, he indicated that he had distanced himself from the government practices of his predecessors. One subject area that was of particular interest was the regulation of the appellatio , the appeal to the emperor after a judicial process. He wanted to prevent the lower authorities from suppressing the appeal to the emperor through intimidation. In doing so, he tried to improve his control over the judicial system. Furthermore, he presented himself as a conscientious administrator of the state finances and affirmed his desire to reduce the tax burden, which he began to put into practice.

Religious politics

The government of Alexander and his mother was tolerant of the Christians who had not been persecuted under Elagabal. Mamaea was in contact with the prominent church writer Origen , but the claims of late antique Christian sources that part of the emperor's surroundings or even his mother herself practiced the Christian faith are not credible. Apparently Mamaea and Alexander tended - following a tendency of their time - to syncretism , to the mixing of influences of different religions. The claim that only emerged in late antiquity that Alexander worshiped Christ, Abraham and Orpheus in a private place of worship in addition to the deified emperors and other exemplary personalities , is viewed with great skepticism by researchers.

Construction activity

Aqua Alexandrina

The Historia Augusta reports on extensive construction activity by Alexander. According to her, he built both new structures and renovated old ones. The details are only partially verifiable; in part - such as the alleged project of the Basilica Alexandrina - it is likely to be made up of claims by the unreliable historian. 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; a coin of 226 confirms the construction. The aqueduct was identified in the 17th century. The course of the aqueduct outside the city is only partially known; how it ran within the ancient city area is unknown. A theater - apparently the Marcellus Theater - , the Circus Maximus , the Colosseum and a stadium - probably Domitian's stadium - are said to have belonged to the buildings that were renovated or at least planned to be restored . He also allegedly had numerous baths built in Rome. He is also said to have repaired bridges built by Trajan and built new ones; as such a renovation is attested in writing in one case, the news is considered credible.


Denarius of the Orbiana

Mamaea chose the patrician Orbiana as a wife for Alexander . Orbiana came from a noble senatorial but politically insignificant family. The marriage entered into in 225 remained childless and did not last long because a power struggle broke out between the emperor's mother and father-in-law. Orbiana's father, Seius Sallustius, tried unsuccessfully to incite the Praetorians against Mamaea. Mamaea got her way, she forced her son's divorce. Seius Sallustius was executed, Orbiana banished to Africa. This time the Praetorians proved loyal, but after this experience Mamaea did not dare remarry her son. The lack of a descendant and a succession arrangement exacerbated the precarious situation.

The historian Herodian claims that Alexander actually stood on the side of his wife and father-in-law, but did not dare to contradict his mother. But Herodian can hardly be trusted to have such background knowledge; He presumably reproduces rumors that were circulating among Mamaea's opponents, to whom he himself is one.

In the Historia Augusta , a late antique source, it is stated, with reference to the Athenian historian Dexippus , that Alexander had appointed his father-in-law Caesar . The father-in-law is called Macrinus or Macrianus here. In older research literature, this alleged Caesar was identified either with Seius Sallustius or with the father of a hypothetical former wife of Alexander. According to current research, however, it can be assumed that Orbiana was Alexander's only wife and that Seius Sallustius was not elevated to Caesar . It is possible that Sallustius is identical with Quintus Sallustius Macrinianus, who was governor of the provinces of Mauretania Caesariensis and Mauretania Tingitana under Septimius Severus . This could explain the name given in the Historia Augusta .

Foreign policy and wars

Foreign policy conflicts that required military action were risky for Alexander because of his narrow power base and lack of military competence. Both an absence of the emperor from the capital and the commissioning of a commander with a campaign meant an existential threat, since any such constellation could provide an incentive for rebellion. This instability of rule came to light in the last few years of Alexander's reign when two major military conflicts broke out: the Persian War and the German War. Both required the presence of the emperor.

The Persian Challenge

In the east, Ardashir I , originally a Persian vassal of the Parthian Empire , broke the power of the Parthian royal family of the Arsacids and founded the Persian Sasanid Empire in the 1920s . In Armenia , however, the Persians encountered stubborn resistance, because there the Arsacids had strong support. With the Sasanian expansion, a military confrontation between the Roman and the New Persian empires began. In 230 or 231 a Persian army invaded the Roman province of Mesopotamia , devastated it and besieged Nisibis . The Romans also feared a threat to Syria and Cappadocia . On the Roman side the danger was taken very seriously; it was assumed that the Sasanids intended to reestablish the ancient Persian Achaemenid Empire , to which all later Roman areas of the Near East had belonged. In fact, Ardaschir seems to have continued the tradition of old Persian power development, even if his knowledge of history was probably modest. However, there is no solid evidence that he really made a claim on all of the former Achaemenid territories. Most researchers today rather assume that the Romans were merely to be expelled from northern Mesopotamia, which they occupied under Septimius Severus.

Alexander tried to negotiate. According to Herodian's account, he sent Ardaschir a letter through an embassy in which he recalled past Roman victories over the Parthians and urged the Sasanids to respect the existing border. However, his efforts to find a peaceful settlement of the conflict were unsuccessful. Ardaschir was not impressed, but continued his expansion course undeterred. Therefore, the emperor had to leave Rome with Mamaea in the spring of 231 to personally lead the counter-offensive. For this purpose, strong troops were moved from the western borders to the east. Apparently, a deterrent attack on the restless Germanic tribes on the Rhine was ordered beforehand because, according to an inscription, the Legio I Minervia Pia Fidelis Severiana Alexandriana under their Legatus Titius Rufinus won a victory on the right bank of the Rhine in 231 and erected an altar for them on the battlefield Iuppiter . However, it should soon become clear that the success was not permanent.

On the other hand, the troops stationed on the eastern border, who had killed their commander Flavius ​​Heracleo in a mutiny, could not be relied on. Their discipline and morale were apparently poor.

Alexander spent the winter of 231/232 in Antiocheia , where he prepared the campaign. Again he sent an embassy to Ardashir with a peace proposal. The Sasanid responded with an embassy, ​​which is said to have consisted of four hundred armed Persian horsemen. Herodian claims that the Persian ambassadors demanded the surrender of Syria and Asia Minor . Although it can hardly be assumed that Herodian correctly reproduces the utterances of the ambassadors, it can be assumed that his presentation has a historical core. This is probably because Ardaschir made demands that he knew were unacceptable and provocative for the Roman side. Alexander had the ambassadors arrested, which was a serious violation of diplomatic rules.

The campaign against the Persians

In the spring of 232 the Roman offensive began. The Roman army advanced in three separate columns. The attack was aimed at the center of the Persian Empire, the twin cities of Seleukeia - Ctesiphon . The northern part of the army advanced through Armenia. Arsakid forces continued to hold their ground there. Whether the Armenians supported the Romans or only tolerated the Roman march through is controversial in research. The emperor marched with the center of the Roman armed forces over Palmyra in the direction of the city of Hatra, which was then controlled by enemies of the Sasanids . The southern division moved along the Euphrates .

The course of the fighting is unclear. Apparently the Roman high command was overwhelmed by the task of implementing the demanding strategy with separate marching army units as planned. The southern of the three Roman army groups was provided by the Persian king and largely wiped out. But the Persians are also said to have been weakened considerably. The other two Roman army groups then withdrew. The Romans suffered heavy losses as many starved and exhausted soldiers perished along the way. The northern army group in particular suffered numerous deaths on their march back through the Armenian highlands. For the time being, both sides lost the ability to continue to act aggressively. The Roman soldiers blamed the emperor for the disappointing course of the campaign. Only with a generous gift of money could he calm her anger.

Although the Romans were far from achieving their war goal, the capture of the enemy capital, and despite their heavy losses, the result could be considered a Roman success, because the opposing side had lost its offensive power and the Romans did not suffer any loss of territory. A peace was not concluded, further fighting ceased due to exhaustion on both sides. Mamaea and Alexander spent the winter of 232/233 again in Antioch, then returned to Rome. There, on September 25, 233, Alexander celebrated the outcome of the campaign with a triumph .

Germanic campaign and fall

Because of the exposure of the Rhine and Danube borders caused by the Persian War, 233/234 Germanic tribes were able to undertake major raids and destroy fortifications. When this became known in Alexander's army after the loss-making campaign against Ardaschir, the displeasure of the soldiers from the north who had been relocated to the east for the Persian war and who now learned that their relatives who had remained unprotected were exposed to the attacks of the Teutons increased. Her anger was directed against the emperor. The soldiers were rooted in their usual stations, hated missions in distant regions, and Alexander, who came from the east, was suspected of giving preference to the protection of his home region.

The Germanic attackers were probably the tribal association of the Alemanni , a new enemy of the Romans. The situation was so threatening that Mamaea and Alexander had to go to the northern front, as they apparently could not entrust the high command to anyone. They moved to the Rhine in the second half of the year in 234 or early 235. The Roman headquarters were in Mogontiacum , today's Mainz.

The rule of the now twenty-six-year-old emperor, who was still under the overwhelming influence of his mother, was particularly endangered under these circumstances, as he was not respected by the soldiers and Mamaea, as a woman at the front, had no authority. Given the weakness of the commander-in-chief, the temptation for a coup d'état was great for a commander popular with the troops, especially since there was no heir to the throne. In the east, the opposing emperor Taurinus had apparently already been raised , but this had no consequences because the usurper drowned in the Euphrates . Another danger was that Caracalla had spoiled the military financially. The additional costs of such generosity put a heavy burden on the state budget. Mamaea saved consistently and was therefore hated as stingy. Reluctance to make the usual special donations to the soldiers had to lead to an explosive situation among the troops. The lack of quick combat success and the unsoldatic attitude of the emperor contributed to the bad mood. The combination of all these factors resulted in disaster.

In view of the precarious circumstances, Mamaea and Alexander shied away from the risk of fighting. As in the Persian War, they sought a negotiated solution. In doing so, they considered payments with which they wanted to buy peace and perhaps also want to win the support of Germanic associations in securing the border. Among the soldiers, who hoped for victory and booty and interpreted their willingness to negotiate as a sign of weakness, this approach triggered additional bitterness. They resented the emperor for wanting to show financial generosity towards the enemy rather than them. In addition, the soldiers could count on the usual generous donation of the new ruler in the event of a change of government. Therefore part of the army mutinied - mainly recruits from Pannonia - and elevated the knightly officer Maximinus Thrax , who was responsible for training recruits, to emperor. Maximinus promised a doubling of wages, a generous special allowance and an amnesty for all disciplinary punishments .

Alexander failed to motivate loyal units to resist. Nobody wanted to fight for him and his mother, his soldiers defected to the enemy. On the orders of Maximinus, Mamaea and Alexander were murdered in their tent in the field camp near Mogontiacum in March 235. The place of death vicus Britanniae is identified by some researchers with Mainz-Bretzenheim , but this location is very controversial. The new emperor had many friends and favorites of Alexander killed, but Herodian's claim that he killed them all is certainly an exaggeration.

The Severan dynasty ended with Alexander's death. His successor Maximinus opened the era of the soldier emperors .


Gold multiplum of Severus Alexander

Some of Alexander's coins still show him as a beardless boy or with a beard, later with a mustache and whiskers. He also makes a relatively young impression on the adult coin portraits. He usually wears a laurel wreath on the coins, rarely a halo. The round sculptures can be determined from the coin portraits; in some cases it is unclear whether it is actually Alexander.


Ancient and Middle Ages

It is unclear whether Maximinus had the damnatio memoriae imposed on Alexander and Mamaea after their deaths . A formal senate resolution on the erasure of the memory of the murdered emperor has not survived. Although some portraits of Alexander and his mother were mutilated and their names on some of the inscriptions erased, these may not have been measures ordered by the state, but rather spontaneous actions. Maximinus did not rule for long, he was murdered by mutinous soldiers in 238. This brought about a change, because now his senatorial opponents prevailed. Maximinus fell into the damnatio memoriae . In the course of this development, Alexander was elevated to divus ("divine"). From then on, he was worshiped as a deity as part of the imperial cult .

The main sources are the historical works of the contemporaries Herodian and Cassius Dio as well as the biography of Alexander in the Historia Augusta, which was written more than a century after the events . Cassius Dio was consul under Alexander . He represents the senatorial circles for which Mamaeas and Alexander's balance sheet was positive, and portrays the emperor benevolently. His representation breaks off before the start of the Germanic campaign. Herodian also shows sympathy for the last Severan. He describes him as gentle, good-willed, just and free from cruelty, but also disapprovingly emphasizes his dependence on his mother, whom he blames for the emperor's failure, and his lack of soldierly virtues. The discouragement of Alexander in the last days of his life is portrayed drastically by Herodian; it gives the impression that the emperor was completely overwhelmed in a dangerous situation. Herodian's credibility is marred by his propensity for dramatic effects and moralizing.

The positive assessment of contemporary historians increases in the Alexander biography of the late antique Historia Augusta to a glorification with distinctly legendary features. Here, Alexander embodies the unknown author's ideal of rulership; his biography is the longest of all emperor biographies in the Historia Augusta . The death of the last Severer appears as a turning point in Roman history, marking the transition to a period of instability and decline. The research estimates the value of this source to be low. Your statements about alleged reforms of Alexander are now considered to be fabricated. Also Aurelius Victor and Eutropius , two other Latin writing late ancient authors, Alexander put a clever emperor and winners represent the Persians. Also, Aurelius Victor noted that after Alexander's death the decline of the empire have used. These historians obtained their information from Enmann's imperial history , which is now lost and which apparently already conveyed such a picture.

The generally beneficial image of Alexander's character, which the narrative sources paint, contrasts sharply with their damning judgments about his predecessor and successor. The last Severer appears as a mild, virtuous, just and popular ruler.

In the 4th century the pagan emperor Julian depicted in his satire Caesares Alexander as a fool and a miserable figure, based on Herodian's statements. In the satire, Alexander is ridiculed because even as an adult he did not assert himself against his mother, but gave her control over the finances.

Severus Alexander as "Alexander roman emperor" in Hartmann Schedel's world chronicle from 1493

The alleged piety of Mamaea found particular attention among late antique Christian authors and in Byzantine historiography . Some writers made her a Christian. A relatively detailed account of Alexander's reign was given by Johannes Zonaras in the 12th century .

Early modern opera

In the 18th century, the power struggle between Mamaea and Orbiana was repeatedly set to music as an opera. The opera Alessandro Severo of Antonio Lotti was premiered in 1716 or 1717th The libretto is by Apostolo Zeno . The first opera that Giovanni Battista Pergolesi wrote, La Salustia , also brought the conflict between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law to the stage; the libretto is a revision of Zeno's text. The world premiere took place in Venice in 1732. Here the Empress Salustia is the heroically loving heroine, Alessandro is the weak husband who submits to his domineering mother Giulia.


In the 18th century, the traditional image drawn by the Historia Augusta of a clever, virtuous, humane and popular ruler, adopted by Edward Gibbon , still dominated. Even Jacob Burckhardt was it influenced; In 1853 he wrote that Alexander was “a true Sanct Ludwig of antiquity”, who “out of pure moral will” withstood the “endless temptations to despotism” and “steered into the path of justice and mildness”. This "in relation to his overall environment incomprehensible person" could not gain any respect "in a century that only knew about fear", but inevitably had to fail.

However, an unfavorable assessment has prevailed since the 19th century, highlighting Alexander's fateful lack of independence and lack of determination. Alfred von Domaszewski (1909) passed a damning verdict . He described Alexander as "the most woeful of all Caesars". During his reign "even the last semblance of order in the empire" had dissolved, and the consequence of a failed policy was a "complete collapse of the entire administrative order". Ernst Kornemann (1939) said that the "weak, never matured into a man" Alexander was wrongly turned from a corrupt tradition into a "figure of light with a strange halo". Critical research has shown this picture to be unhistorical. Wilhelm Enßlin (1939) stated that the young emperor could not fulfill his task because despite his name he was neither a (Septimius) Severus nor an Alexander (the great). Alfred Heuss (1960) characterized Alexander as an “insignificant, but at least harmless young person” who “did not become a man”. For Hermann Bengtson (1973), Alexander was "a weak, mediocre ruler who has achieved nothing remarkable in either the political or military field"; for his government "the women's regiment was characteristic". Even Karl Christian (1988) points out that Alexander was "never basically for complete independence" enters. He had lacked toughness and assertiveness, he could "only maneuver from one crisis to another". Bruno Bleckmann (2002), who describes Alexander as “mother's boy”, believes that Mamaea's development of power cannot be explained by oriental female rule, but simply by the fact that “the emperor was still half a child”. Although Alexander probably made his own decisions in his last years in government, his refusal to give the soldiers the money they expected was an expression of an unrealistic attitude and, given the circumstances, a fatal mistake.


  • Bruno Bleckmann : The Severan family and the soldier emperors . In: Hildegard Temporini-Countess Vitzthum (Hrsg.): Die Kaiserinnen Roms. From Livia to Theodora . Beck, Munich 2002, ISBN 3-406-49513-3 , pp. 265–339, here: 284–298.
  • Robert Lee Cleve: Severus Alexander and the Severan Women . Los Angeles 1982 (dissertation, University of California).
  • John S. McHugh: Emperor Alexander Severus: Rome's Age of Insurrection, AD 222-235 . Sword & Pen, Barnsley 2017, ISBN 978-1-47384-581-7 (popular science representation).
  • Fara Nasti: L'attività normativa di Severo Alessandro . Volume 1: Politica di governo, riforme amministrative e giudiziarie . Satura, Napoli 2006, ISBN 88-7607-021-4 .
  • 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 , pp. 39–44, 80–91, 125–129.

Web links

Commons : Severus Alexander  - album with pictures, videos and audio files


  1. The form of the name Aurellius instead of Aurelius is partly documented in the late Severan period, see Werner Eck : A new military diploma for the Misenische fleet and Severus Alexander's legal status in 221/222. In: Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 108, 1995, pp. 15–34, here: p. 18 note 7.
  2. On the descent of Severus Alexander see Cassius Dio 79 (78), 30.3. When specifying some of the books of Cassius Dio's work, different counts are used; the alternative book count is given in brackets. Cassius Dio expressly describes Gessius Marcianus as the father of the future emperor. Martijn Icks, however, denies the accuracy of this communication: The Crimes of Elagabalus , London 2011, p. 58. He believes that Mamaea's second marriage was concluded in 212 at the earliest and that the father of the future emperor was her first husband.
  3. Robert Lee Cleve: Severus Alexander and the Severan Women , Los Angeles 1982, pp. 34-48; Barbara Levick : Julia Domna. Syrian Empress , London 2007, pp. 6-18.
  4. Herodian 5: 3, 3–4.
  5. For the details of these developments, see Robert Lee Cleve: Severus Alexander and the Severan Women , Los Angeles 1982, pp. 96-106; Julia Sünskes Thompson: Uprisings and protest actions in the Imperium Romanum , Bonn 1990, pp. 66–73.
  6. Cassius Dio 80 (79), 19.4; Herodian 5,3,10 and 5,7,3.
  7. ^ Helga Gesche : The divinization of the Roman emperors in their function as legitimation of rule . In: Chiron 8, 1978, pp. 377-390, here: 387f .; Michael Louis Meckler: Caracalla and his late-antique biographer , Ann Arbor 1994, p. 9 and note 34; Anne Daguet-Gagey: Septime Sévère , Paris 2000, pp. 255f .; Drora Baharal: Victory of Propaganda , Oxford 1996, pp. 20-42.
  8. Herodian 5,7,3; see. Cassius Dio 80 (79), 17.3. See Auguste Jardé: Etudes critiques sur la vie et le règne de Sévère Alexandre , Paris 1925, pp. 2f .; Angela Kühnen: The imitatio Alexandri in Roman politics , Münster 2008, pp. 186–188; Alfons Rösger: Severus Alexander and Alexander the Great . In: Wolfgang Will (Ed.): To Alexander d. Size Festschrift G. Wirth for his 60th birthday on December 9 , 1986 , Volume 2, Amsterdam 1988, pp. 885–906, here: 885–892.
  9. ^ Robert Lee Cleve provides a detailed account: Severus Alexander and the Severan Women , Los Angeles 1982, pp. 128–159.
  10. ^ Evidence from Elizabeth Kosmetikatou: The Public Image of Julia Mamaea . In: Latomus 61, 2002, pp. 398–414, here: p. 407 and note 30.
  11. Herodian 6: 1, 2. See Karlheinz Dietz : Senatus contra principem , Munich 1980, pp. 300–305.
  12. For the dating see Erich Kettenhofen : On the date of death Julia Maesas . In: Historia 30, 1981, pp. 244-249; James Frank Gilliam : On Divi under the Severi. In: Jacqueline Bibauw (Ed.): Hommages à Marcel Renard , Vol. 2, Bruxelles 1969, pp. 284–289, here: 285; Robert Lee Cleve: Severus Alexander and the Severan Women , Los Angeles 1982, pp. 236-242.
  13. On the inscriptions see Erich Kettenhofen: Die syrischen Augustae in der historical Tradition , Bonn 1979, pp. 156–163, on the coins Robert Lee Cleve: Severus Alexander and the Severan Women , Los Angeles 1982, pp. 189–193.
  14. Herodian 6,1,3; Cassius Dio 80 (80), 2.2.
  15. Fara Nasti provides a detailed study: Note sulla politica filosenatoria di Alessandro Severo con particolare riferimento alla Historia Augusta . In: Annali dell'Istituto italiano per gli studi storici 13, 1995/1996, pp. 67-99.
  16. Zonaras 12:15.
  17. ^ Cassius Dio 80 (80), 2.3. See Julia Sünskes Thompson: Uprising and protest actions in the Imperium Romanum , Bonn 1990, pp. 41, 81, 128f.
  18. According to the prevailing view in research, the two prefects were subordinate to Ulpian. On a different hypothesis that Ulpian was the sole Praetorian prefect, see Lukas de Blois: Ulpian's Death . In: Pol Defosse (Ed.): Hommages à Carl Deroux , Vol. 3, Bruxelles 2003, pp. 135–145, here: 135–139.
  19. ^ Cassius Dio 80 (80), 2.4. See Julia Sünskes Thompson: Uprising and protest actions in the Imperium Romanum , Bonn 1990, pp. 41, 81–83. For the dating of the events, see Cécile Bertrand-Dagenbach: Alexandre Sévère et l'Histoire Auguste , Bruxelles 1990, p. 16, note 6.
  20. Cassius Dio 80 (80), 3.1. See Julia Sünskes Thompson: Uprising and protest actions in the Imperium Romanum , Bonn 1990, pp. 40–43, 84–87.
  21. Fara Nasti: L'attività di normativa Severo Alessandro . Volume 1: Politica di governo, riforme amministrative e giudiziarie , Napoli 2006, p. 19f.
  22. Fara Nasti: L'attività di normativa Severo Alessandro . Volume 1: Politica di governo, riforme amministrative e giudiziarie , Napoli 2006, pp. 21f., 109.
  23. Fara Nasti: L'attività di normativa Severo Alessandro . Volume 1: Politica di governo, riforme amministrative e giudiziarie , Napoli 2006, pp. 41–50.
  24. ^ Robert Lee Cleve: Severus Alexander and the Severan Women , Los Angeles 1982, pp. 242f.
  25. Eusebius of Caesarea , Church history 6,21,3f. See Enrico dal Covolo: La politica religiosa di Alessandro Severo . In: Salesianum 49, 1987, pp. 359-375, here: 365.
  26. ^ Enrico dal Covolo: La politica religiosa di Alessandro Severo . In: Salesianum 49, 1987, pp. 359-375, here: 360-362, 364f.
  27. Historia Augusta , Severus Alexander 29.
  28. ^ Enrico dal Covolo: La politica religiosa di Alessandro Severo . In: Salesianum 49, 1987, pp. 359-375, here: 370f.
  29. ^ Lawrence Richardson Jr .: A New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome , Baltimore 1992, p. 15; Herbert W. Benario: Severan Rome and the Historia Augusta . In: Latomus 20, 1961, pp. 281-290, here: 287.
  30. Historia Augusta , Severus Alexander 39.4.
  31. For the information in the Historia Augusta about buildings by Alexander and their credibility see Herbert W. Benario: Severan Rome and the Historia Augusta . In: Latomus 20, 1961, pp. 281-290.
  32. Matthäus Heil : Severus Alexander and Orbiana. An imperial marriage . In: Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 135, 2001, pp. 233–248, here: 246f.
  33. Herodian 6: 1, 9f. See also Matthäus Heil: Severus Alexander and Orbiana. An imperial marriage . In: Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 135, 2001, pp. 233–248, here: 234.
  34. Historia Augusta , Severus Alexander 49.3f.
  35. See Tadeusz Kotula: The Two Wives of Severus Alexander: Resonance of a Political Split ? In: Gerhard Wirth (ed.): Romanitas - Christianitas. Studies on the history and literature of the Roman Empire , Berlin 1982, pp. 293–307. Kotula took the hypothesis of an earlier marriage of the emperor. He said the first woman, not known by name, was African and was eliminated by Mamaea and banished to Africa. Then Mamaea chose her son Orbiana as her new wife.
  36. Matthäus Heil: Severus Alexander and Orbiana. An imperial marriage . In: Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 135, 2001, pp. 233–248, here: 234–244; Markus Handy: The Severers and the Army , Berlin 2009, p. 59.
  37. Markus Handy: Die Severer und das Heer , Berlin 2009, p. 59f.
  38. Engelbert Winter : The Sāsānid-Roman Peace Treaties of the 3rd Century AD - A Contribution to Understanding the Foreign Policy Relations between the Two Great Powers , Frankfurt am Main 1988, p. 48.
  39. For the course, see Karin Mosig-Walburg: Römer und Perser , Gutenberg 2009, pp. 26–28.
  40. ↑ With regard to the territorial claims of Ardashir, opinions differ widely in research. Erich Kettenhofen offers a research overview: The claim of the Achaemenid territories by the Sāsānids - a balance sheet . In: Susanne Kurz (Ed.): Yādnāme-ye Iradj Khalifeh-Soltani , Aachen 2002, pp. 49–75. Proponents of historicity include Josef Wiesehöfer : Ardašīr I. I: History . In: Encyclopædia Iranica , Vol. 2, London 1987, pp. 371–376, here: 373 and Engelbert Winter: The Sāsānid-Roman peace treaties of the 3rd century AD - a contribution to understanding the foreign policy relations between the two great powers , Frankfurt am Main 1988, pp. 31-43, 47f., 50f. Cf. Dieter Metzler : Aims and forms of royal domestic policy in pre-Islamic Iran , Münster 1977, pp. 138–142. The opposing position is represented by Karin Mosig-Walburg: Römer und Perser , Gutenberg 2009, p. 27 and note 66, David Potter: Alexander Severus and Ardashir . In: Mesopotamia 22, 1987, pp. 147–157 and Erich Kettenhofen: Some thoughts on the Sasanid policy towards Rome in the 3rd century AD. In: Edward Dąbrowa (ed.): The Roman and Byzantine Army in the East , Kraków 1994, pp. 99-108, here: 102-106.
  41. Herodian 6: 2, 3–5.
  42. CIL 13, 8017
  43. ^ Cassius Dio 80 (80), 4.
  44. Herodian 6: 4, 4–6. See Engelbert Winter: The Sāsānid-Roman Peace Treaties of the 3rd Century AD - A Contribution to Understanding Foreign Policy Relations between the Two Great Powers , Frankfurt am Main 1988, p. 51f.
  45. See Karin Mosig-Walburg: Römer und Perser , Gutenberg 2009, pp. 67–73; Engelbert Winter: The Sāsānid-Roman peace treaties of the 3rd century AD - a contribution to understanding the foreign policy relations between the two great powers , Frankfurt am Main 1988, p. 52f.
  46. Herodian 6,6,5-6.
  47. Engelbert Winter: The Sāsānidic-Roman peace treaties of the 3rd century AD - a contribution to understanding the foreign policy relations between the two great powers , Frankfurt am Main 1988, p. 63f.
  48. Herodian 6: 6,1-4. Compare Julia Sünskes Thompson: Uprising and protest actions in the Imperium Romanum , Bonn 1990, pp. 43, 87.
  49. Engelbert Winter: The Sāsānidic-Roman Peace Treaties of the 3rd Century AD - A Contribution to Understanding the Foreign Policy Relations between the Two Great Powers , Frankfurt am Main 1988, p. 67.
  50. Herodian 6,7,3.
  51. ^ Robert Lee Cleve: Severus Alexander and the Severan Women , Los Angeles 1982, pp. 301f.
  52. Herodian 6,8,3 and 6,9,5.
  53. Herodian 6,8,4; 6,9,4-5; 6.8.
  54. Herodian 6,7,9.
  55. Herodian 6,8,8. For information on the increase in pay, see Michael Alexander Speidel: Heer und Herrschaft im Römischen Reich der Roman Empire , Stuttgart 2009, pp. 350, 415.
  56. Herodian 6: 9, 1-5.
  57. Leonhard Schumacher gave detailed reasons for the identification with Bretzenheim ; see Leonhard Schumacher: The Sicilia in Mainz-Bretzenheim . In: Mainz magazine. Middle Rhine Yearbook for Archeology, Art and History 99, 2004, pp. 1–10 and Leonhard Schumacher: Römische Kaiser in Mainz , Bochum 1982, pp. 89–92 (with compilation and discussion of older literature). Cf. Auguste Jardé: Etudes critiques sur la vie et le règne de Sévère Alexandre , Paris 1925, p. 85 and note 4, p. 86. Note 1. Astrid Böhme-Schönberger argues with great emphasis against localization: Became Alexander Severus murdered in Bretzenheim? In: Mainz magazine. Middle Rhine Yearbook for Archeology, Art and History 99, 2004, pp. 11–16. She follows Ronald Knöchlein: Bretzenheim - Zahlbach - Dalheim. The archaeological evidence up to the Frankish times , Mainz 2009, p. 28 and note 21 and p. 45. On the question of dating, see Michael Peachin: P. Oxy. VI 912 and the Accession of Maximinus Thrax . In: Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 59, 1985, pp. 75-78.
  58. Herodian 6,9,8.
  59. ^ Karlheinz Dietz: Senatus contra principem , Munich 1980, p. 305.
  60. For details see Max Wegner : Severus Alexander . In: Max Wegner (Ed.): Das Roman Herrscherbild , Department 3 Volume 1, Berlin 1971, pp. 177–199 (with a compilation of the round sculptures). Cf. Klaus Fittschen , Paul Zanker : Catalog of the Roman portraits in the Capitoline Museums and the other municipal collections of the city of Rome . Volume 1, 2nd edition, Mainz 1994, text volume pp. 117–123.
  61. ↑ Suspect spontaneous acts of destruction without a damnatio memoriae by the Senate Eric R. Varner: Mutilation and Transformation. Damnatio Memoriae and Roman Imperial Portraiture , Leiden 2004, pp. 196–199 and Lee Ann Riccardi: The Mutilation of the Bronze Portrait of a Severan Empress from Sparta: 'Damnatio Memoriae' or Christian Iconoclasm? In: Communications of the German Archaeological Institute, Athenian Department 113, 1998, pp. 259–269, here: 261.
  62. For the background, see Karlheinz Dietz: Senatus contra principem , Munich 1980, p. 340.
  63. Herodian 6.9; see. 6.1.6-8. See Thomas Hidber: Herodian's presentation of the imperial history according to Marc Aurel , Basel 2006, pp. 220–225; Asko Timonen: Cruelty and Death. Roman Historians' Scenes of Imperial Violence from Commodus to Philippus Arabs , Turku 2000, pp. 151-155.
  64. Cécile Bertrand-Dagenbach offers a thorough investigation: Alexandre Sévère et l'Histoire Auguste , Bruxelles 1990.
  65. Aurelius Victor 24, Eutropius 8.23. Cf. Engelbert Winter: The Sāsānidisch-Roman peace treaties of the 3rd century AD - a contribution to understanding the foreign policy relations between the two great powers , Frankfurt am Main 1988, pp. 56-60.
  66. ^ Julian, Caesares 313.
  67. For the interpretation see Friedhelm L. Müller (Ed.): Die Zwei Satiren des Kaisers Julianus Apostata , Stuttgart 1998, p. 188.
  68. The Byzantine source texts have been compiled, translated and commented on by Stephanie Brecht: The Roman Empire Crisis from its outbreak to its climax in the account of Byzantine authors , Rahden 1999, pp. 67–92. See Enrico dal Covolo: La politica religiosa di Alessandro Severo . In: Salesianum 49, 1987, pp. 359-375, here: 366-368.
  69. ^ Edward Gibbon: The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire , Vol. 1, London 1776, pp. 154-161.
  70. ^ Jacob Burckhardt: The time of Constantine the Great , Munich 1982, p. 9f. (first published in 1853).
  71. ^ Alfred von Domaszewski: History of the Roman Emperors , Vol. 2, Leipzig 1909, pp. 279f.
  72. ^ Ernst Kornemann : Roman history. Volume 2: Die Kaiserzeit (= Kröner's pocket edition . Volume 133), Stuttgart 1939, p. 347.
  73. ^ Wilhelm Ensslin: The Senate and the Army . In: The Cambridge Ancient History , Vol. 12, Cambridge 1939, pp. 57–95, here: 72.
  74. ^ Alfred Heuss: Roman History , Braunschweig 1960, p. 352.
  75. ^ Hermann Bengtson: Roman History , Munich 1973, p. 329.
  76. ^ Karl Christ: History of the Roman Empire , Munich 1988 (6th edition Munich 2009), pp. 629–631.
  77. Bruno Bleckmann: The Severan family and the soldier emperors . In: Hildegard Temporini-Gräfin Vitzthum (ed.): Die Kaiserinnen Roms , Munich 2002, pp. 265–339, here: 291, 298.
predecessor Office successor
Elagabal Roman emperor
Maximinus Thrax
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