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Severan Tondo depicting Septimius Severus, Julia Domna, Caracalla, and Geta (with his face removed in damnatio memoriae). Source: Public domain

The Severan Emperors and the Demise of the Roman Senate

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By 190 AD, the debauched life of emperor Commodus had reached a sinister summit. Never had the Roman Empire been led by such a disgraceful character. Probably mad, he identified himself with the god Hercules and tried to imitate him in every way imaginable, even in the arena. His attitude of suspicion and unhealthy anxiety concerning his personal security were responsible for attacks against the aristocracy and senate members. In 192, Commodus was strangled after a failed poisoning attempt. His death marked the end of the Antonine dynasty of Roman emperors. Following two ephemeral reigns, the Severan dynasty of emperors was established, and it would lead the Empire until 235.

During this period, the economic situation of the Empire was generally good although we witnessed the introduction of new taxes and the disappearance of important exemptions reserved for the aristocracy. The currency began to lose its value and its circulation decreased. The scarcity of precious metals and the decline in trade were undoubtedly among the causes. On the other side of the frontier ( limes), the growing population of the Germanic tribes, which in contact with the Romans had begun to organize and settle down, created an ever-increasing pressure on the Empire’s defence apparatus. This permanent threat of invasion already visible under the reigns of emperor Marcus Aurelius and Commodus became one of the major concerns of the Severan emperors. From that point on, this new reality inevitably affected the history of the Empire until its fall in the West two and a half centuries later.

Septimius Severus (193-211)

Following the assassinations of emperor Commodus and then of emperor Pertinax, Didius Julianus was appointed emperor in particular circumstances, the sacred role of emperor being adjudicated by the Pretorian Guard to the highest bidder. The Senate, recalcitrant, but faced with a fait accompli, confirmed him in his new functions. Three governors acclaimed as emperors by their own armies rejected the choice of Didius Julianus. Septimius Severus, who was closer to Rome than the other two contenders, immediately made his way to the capital with an army to face Didius Julianus. Once the latter was defeated and then assassinated, a new turbulent reign began.

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Mario Bartolini has a master’s degree in political history from the Université de Sherbrooke, Canada, and a second master’s degree in war studies, obtained at the Royal Military College of Canada. He is the author of Roman Emperors: A Guide to the Men Who Ruled the Empire 

Top Image: Severan Tondo depicting Septimius Severus, Julia Domna, Caracalla, and Geta (with his face removed in damnatio memoriae). Source: Public domain

By: Mario Bartolini

 

Mario

Mario J.A. Bartolini is a retired political analyst and officer in the Canadian army reserve, with a long-held interest in Roman military history. He has a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in political history from the Université de Sherbrooke, Canada,... Read More

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