Septimius Severus
193 - 211 CE
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In the year of the "Empire for Sale", Septimius Severus was the first of three who answered the call to rescue Rome from the shame of having an emperor who had bought his title at public auction. But with the execution of Didius Julianus, the other two didn't just go away. This is where Septimius Severus proved that he wasn't above plain old treachery and deceit to tie up the loose ends.

Septimius Severus Denarius
About this coin:

In the year of the "Empire for sale", three provincial governors came forth to set matters straight. Septimius Severus got to Rome first. The Senate quickly declared Severus the new emperor, and sentenced Didius Julianus to death. Faced with real soldiers, the Praetorian Guard quickly abandoned Julianus, perhaps in hopes that the new emperor would look more favorably upon them

But Severus was no fool. When he arrived, he tricked the Praetorians into coming out of their stronghold without weapons. He executed the ones that had participated in the murder of Pertinax, then fired the rest en masse and replaced them with soldiers loyal to him.

But the other two claimants, Pescennius Niger and Clodius Albinus, didn't just pack up their tents and go home. Realizing that it would be difficult to fight both at once, he made friends with Albinus, promoting him to "Caesar", and promising him that he would be Severus's chosen successor. This left Severus free to fight and defeat Niger.

Severus then provoked a fight with Albinus by promoting his seven year old son (the future emperor Caracalla) to Caesar and declaring him to be Severus's chosen heir over Albinus. The timing of this was clearly designed to provoke Albinus to war, and it succeeded quite admirably -- nearly too well. The final battle was too close to call, and Severus was thrown from his horse and nearly killed. Only a fortuitus arrival of the cavalry saved him. But Albinus's forces were finally defeated. Albinus committed suicide, and Severus had his naked body laid out so he could trample it with his horse. He then sent Albinus's head back to Rome as a souvenir.

Upon returning home, Severus had 29 Senators executed for supporting Niger or Albinus. After this, he was never particularly popular with the Senate, but this didn't prove too big an obstacle, since he was well loved by the fellows who carried swords for a living.

Julia Domna Denarius
About this coin:

No one speaks of Severus's great love for his wife, Julia Domna, as they do of the love of Antoninus Pius for Faustina. But his respect for her political savvy was well known, and she was reputed to be his most valued advisor. She had given him two sons, Caracalla and Geta, who would become co-Emperors upon his death. As it would turn out, she would outlive him and both of their sons, and would use her own death to undermine support for their successor.

Militarily, Severus led one of the most successful campaigns against Parthia that Rome would know. He first captured Mesopotamia, territory that had been under Roman control in the last years of Trajan, but relinquished by Hadrian. He then drove deep into Parthian territory, capturing and sacking the capital, Ctesiphon. But he didn't try to hold it; instead, he attempted (without success) to take and hold Hatra, an important city for the caravan trade.

Severus had already made it clear that his favorite son and chosen successor was Caracalla. He married Caracalla off to Plautilla, the daughter of of Severus's friend and Praetorian Prefect, Plautianus. But Caracalla wasn't at all happy with these arrangements, and made public threats to have both wife and father-in-law killed when he came to power. But he didn't have to wait that long.

Three years later, three low-ranking military officers informed Severus that Plautianus had recruited them to murder him and Caracalla. Two versions of the story exist. In one, the plot was an invention of Caracalla, who put them up to it to convince his father to execute Plautianus. In the other, the plot was real, driven by Plautianus's fear for himself and his daughter should Caracalla come to power. In either case, Severus believed it. He executed Plautianus and sent Plautilla into exile. Caracalla was quite pleased.

However, Caracalla didn't find it quite so easy to get rid of his hated brother Geta. The boys' mother seemed to prefer her younger son, and she wheedled Severus into promoting Geta to co-Augustus with him and Caracalla.

Shortly thereafter, trouble broke out in Britain, and Severus and sons headed across the English Channel to stomp some barbarians. But Severus's health was failing, and the boys weren't really into it -- they had their hearts set on stomping each other. One story of dubious authenticity has Caracalla attempting to assassinate his father. According to this, they were riding ahead of the army when Caracalla tried to stab his father in the back. Shouts from the nearby troops supposedly alerted Severus, and Caracalla gave up the attempt.

In any case, after eighteen years of a highly successful reign, Severus died in England, and his plan to finally conquer Scotland was never realized.


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