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E&D 14: The Later Severans

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James Corke-Webster

on 8 February 2016

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Transcript of E&D 14: The Later Severans

Imperator Caesar M. Aurelius Antoninus Augustus
born 203 as Varius Avitus Bassianus, renamed after Caracalla
in 217 [under Macrinus] held ancestral priesthood of 'lh 'gbl [Elagabal]
God Mountain... became sun god from Greek influence
v. popular in Emesa, Syria
13 years old at time
Julia Mamaea's plot
stresses similarity Caracalla
renamed Marcus Aurelius Antoninus

took his priesthood very seriously
image of god with him, rites god trad. & in trad. garb
god not properly "domesticated"
'lh'gbl - Elagabalus - Heliogabalus
cf. Magna Mater, Isis etc
wanted to continue at Rome...
start 220 - made Elagabalus chief god Roman pantheon
pontifex maximus
marries a Vestal
an oriental priest in Rome
accusations of sexual deviancy
circumcision rumours
aided by imagery?
selection criteria for advisers...?

too much even for Maesa
June 26 221 - compelled to adopt younger cousin as Caesar
Bassianus Alexianus... changed to Marcus Aurelius Alexander
house arrest... killed by guard [aged 18]

Imperator Caesar M. Aurelius Severus Alexander Augustus
born 209 as Gessius Alexianus Bassianus

became emperor age 13
added Severus to name - Marcus Aurelius Alexander Severus
Julia Mamaea - power behind the throne
attempt to reverse centralisation
senate revitalised? cf. Dio
6th senator who held consulship under Severus to hold another
more traditional routes to power
unsurprisingly not popular with army
Persian threat on eastern front
a reluctant soldier
attack in 230; Alexander only leave Rome 231
ambiguous result - loss of face
threat in Germany - angers troops
revolt - a distinguished general C. Julius Verus Maximinus
late Feb/early March 235 - Alexander & mother killed

positive legacy
little info?
Cassius Dio's golden age
calm before the storm...

Imperator Caesar P. Septimius Geta Augustus
Imperator Caesar M. Aurelius Antoninus Augustus
[born 188 as Septimius Bassianus]
Severus left emperor for joint rule
because of Caracalla's behaviour?
for stability?
brothers not get on
public unity
private emnity
Dec. 25th 211 - Caracalla murders Geta
to praetorians [thank assassins & bonus]
then to Alba - Legion II Parthica
like reversed
senate next day
massacre Geta's supporters etc - 20,000?
murder other claimants
Helinus Pertinax
Cornificia & son
damnatio memoriae

constitutio Antoniniana
personal recognition - name?
financial necessity?
national identity - "victory of the Roman people"?
increasing importance of emperor for the empire...
follows Severus linking welfare soldiers to own welfare
coordination administration & dynastic politics

Caracalla in the east - cf. Trajan & Septimius Severus
Alexander complex?
a red wedding?
separate imperial government from capital - inclusivity?
strongly centralising view of government; emperor > trad. institutions

assassination by Martialis

Imperator Caesar M. Opellius Macrinus Augustus
Imperator Caesar M. Opellius Antoninus Diadumenianus Augustus

North African equestrian
career as advocate & legal consultant
praetorian prefect
after death Caracalla, responds cautiously
4 days after death (Severus' birthday) assembles troops
writes to senators
troops unhappy by assassination
distances himself
deification Caracalla

reinforce centralising tendencies
court bureaucracy
promotion of equestrians
trouble with Parthia
Artabanus uses instability as excuse to advance
217 battle at Nisibis - Romans defeated
crippling peace settlement - 200 million sesterces
1/8th annual budget empire

plotted against by Severan women - Julia Maesa
grandson Varius Avitus
55 year old lawyer vs. teenager?
really = equestrian bureaucracy vs. court
army unsettled [Macrinus unpopular + finances...]
resemblance Avitus & Caracalla [dynastic loyalty]
rumour Avitus son of Caracalla...
May 16 218 declared emperor at camp
Macribus sends Legion II Parthica... changed sides
paid to declare Diadumenianus co-emperor
June 8th battle
Macrinus had only Praetorians & some auxiliary units
flees when affairs in the balance, army surrenders
killed by escort

The Later Severans
(209-211 & 198-217)



(217-218 & 218)



Cassius Dio,
Roman History
Historia Augusta
Roman History

"Since, however,
he wished the Senate and the Roman people to grow accustomed to seeing him in this costume and wished to test their reaction to this exotic sight
, before he returned to Rome he had a full-length portrait painted, showing him performing his priestly duties in public.
His native god also appeared in the painting; the emperor was depicted sacrificing to him under favorable auspices. Heliogabalus sent this picture to Rome to be hung in the center of the Senate, high above the statue of Victory
before which each senator burns frankincense and pours a libation of wine upon entering the chamber. He directed all Roman officials who perform public sacrifices to call upon the new god Heliogabalus before all the other gods whom they invoke in their rites. By the time the emperor came to Rome presenting the appearance described above, the Romans saw nothing unusual in it, for the painting had prepared them for what to expect."
Herodian 5.5.6-7:
He wore the most expensive types of clothes
, woven of purple and gold, and adorned himself with necklaces and bangles. On his head he wore a coin in the shape of a tiara glittering ith gold and precious stones.
The effect was something between the sacred garb of the Phoenicians and the luxurious apparel of the Medes. Any Roman or Greek dress he loathed
because, he claimed, it was made out of wool, which is a cheap material. Only Chinese silk was good enough for him.
He appeared in public accompanied by flutes and drums, no doubt because he was honouring the god with special rites

Herodian 5.5.3-4
"Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Augustus Antoninus Pius says: [---] rather [---] the causes and considerations [---] that I give thanks to the immortal gods, because [when that conspiracy occurred] they preserved me, thus I think that I should be able [magnificently and piously] to make a suitable response to their majesty,
if I were able to lead [all who are presently my people] and others who should join my people [to the sanctuaries] of the gods. I give to all of those [who are under my rule throughout] the whole world, Roman citizenship
, [with the provision that the just claims of communities] should remain, with the exception of those who had surrendered to Rome in war. The whole population ought [---] already to have been
included in the victory
. [---] my edict will expand the majesty of the Roman [people --- ---]
P.Giss. 40, col.1.1-12
The so-called ‘Berlin Tondo’ (found in Egypt): portrait on wood of Septimius Severus, Julia Domna, and their children Caracalla and [Geta]
Damnatio memoriae on the Arch of the Argentarii (Rome, Forum Boarium): Septimius Severus and Julia Domna without Geta, and Caracalla without his wife Plautilla (whose father Plautianus was suspected of a conspiracy against Severus). References to the erased figures in the accompanying inscriptions are removed.
"Now this great admirer of Alexander, Antoninus, was fond of spending money upon the soldiers, great numbers of whom he kept in attendance upon him, alleging one excuse after another and one war after another; but he made it his business to strip, despoil, and grind down all the rest of mankind, and the Senators by no means least. [--- --- ---]. There were also taxes, e.g. new ones which he promulgated and the ten per cent tax that he instituted in place of the five per cent tax applying to the emancipation of slaves, to bequests, and to all legacies; for he abolished the right of succession and exemption from taxes which had been granted in such cases to those who were closely related to the deceased.
This was the reason why he made all the people in his empire Roman citizens; nominally he was honouring them, but his real purpose was to increase his revenues by this means, inasmuch as aliens did not have to pay most of these taxes.
Cassius Dio,
Roman History
"The procession escorted the urn to the mausoleum where the remains of Marcus and his imperial predecessors are to be seen. After performing the rites prescribed for new emperors, the youths entered the imperial palace.
Each brother now took up residence in his half of the palace. Barricading the inner doors, they used in common only the public outer doors.
Caracalla and Geta stationed their own private guards and were never seen together except briefly during their infrequent public appearances."
Roman History
RIC 79, BMC 71: aureus of Macrinus (AD 218). Obverse: bust of Macrinus (IMP C M OPEL SEV MACRINVS AVG). Reverse: Macrinus + Diadumenianus seated on curule chairs, extending right hands to figure climbing stairs, with Liberalitas holding coin counter & cornucopia, and lictor holding fasces (LIBERALITAS AVG)
RIC 536, BMC 47: aureus of Julia Domna (AD 193-6). Obverse: bust of Julia Domna (IVLIA DO-MNA AVG). Reverse: Venus holding apple & palm (VENERI VICTR)
Julia Domna
• daughter of Julius Bassianus
high priest of Syrian god Elagabalus at Emesa
• second wife of Septimius Severus (187)
• mother of Caracalla (188) and Geta (189)
• ‘Augusta’ (193) + ‘Mother of the Camp’ (195)
• ‘Mother of the Senate and of the Fatherland’ under Caracalla
Julia Maesa
• sister of Julia Domna
• mother of Julia Soaemias Bassiana & Julia Avita Mamaea
• grandmother of Elagabal and of Severus Alexander
• ‘Augusta’ (218)
RIC 255: aureus of Julia Maesa, from eastern mint (AD 218-9). Obverse: bust of Julia Maesa (IVLIA MAESA AVG). Reverse: Juno with patera, scepter and peacock (IVNO)
Julia Soaemias Bassiana

daughter of Julia Maesa, mother of Elagabalus
• murdered with Elagabal in 222
• ‘Augusta’ as emperor’s mother (218)
RIC 237, BMC 41: denarius of Julia Soaemias (AD 220). Obverse: bust of Julia Soaemias (IVLIA SOAEMIAS AVGVSTA). Reverse: Juno with scepter & palladium (IVNO REGINA)
RIC 636, BMC 844,849: dupondius of Severus Alexander (AD 231-5). Obverse: bust of Severus Alexander (IMP ALEXANDER PIVS AVG). Reverse: Mars the Avenger in full armour (MARS VLTOR S C)
RIC 628, BMC 794: sestertius of Severus Alexander (AD 231). Obverse: bust of Severus Alexander (IMP ALEXANDER PIVS AVG). Reverse: Jupiter brandishing thunderbolt (IOVI PROPVGNATORI S C)
RIC 343, BMC 43: denarius of Julia Mamaea (AD 222). Obverse: bust of Julia Mamaea (IVLIA MAMAEA AVG). Reverse: Juno with patera, scepter and peacock (IVNO CONSERVATRIX)
Julia (Avita) Mamaea
younger daughter of Julia Maesa
mother of Severus Alexander
Augusta’ (222)
murdered with Severus Alexander in 235
"[The new Persian king] became a source of fear to us; [--- --- ---] The danger lies not in the fact that he seems to be of any particular consequence in himself, but rather in the fact that
our armies are in such a state that some of the troops are actually joining him and others are refusing to defend themselves
. They indulge in such wantonness, licence, and lack of discipline, that those in Mesopotamia even dared to kill their commander, Flavius Heracleo, and the Pretorians complained of me to Ulpianus, because I ruled the soldiers in Pannonia with a strong hand; and they demanded my surrender, through fear that someone might compel them to submit to a régime similar to that of the Pannonian troops.
lexander, however, paid no heed to them, but, on the contrary, honoured me in various ways, especially by appointing me to be consul for the second time, as his colleague, and taking upon himself personally the responsibility of meeting the expenditures of my office
. But as the malcontents evinced displeasure at this, he became afraid that they might kill me if they saw me in the insignia of my office, and so he bade me spend the period of my consulship in Italy, somewhere outside of Rome."
Dio 80.4-5.1 [end
Roman History
"But the lads (for they were already young men) were corrupted by the luxury and vice in Rome and
by their boundless enthusiasm for shows, dancing, and chariot-driving.

The two brothers were contentious from the beginning
; as children they had been rivals over quail fights and cockfights, and had had the usual childish quarrels.
Now their passion for shows and concerts made them constant competitors. Their followers and companions kept them at odds by fawning upon them and urging them to compete in enjoying youthful pleasures.
When he was informed of this, Severus tried to reconcile his sons and keep them in hand
Herodian 3.10.3-4
"But I grasped the situation with great shrewdness and presence of mind and defended myself against an enemy who no longer displayed the attitude or feelings of a brother. Now to defend oneself against plots is not merely proper; it is a standard practice.
Indeed, Romulus, the founder of this city, refused to allow his brother to ridicule what he had done
I pass over without comment Germanicus, brother of Tiberius; Britannicus, Nero's brother; and Titus, brother of Domitian. Even Marcus himself, who professed to love philosophy and excellence, would not tolerate the arrogance of Lucius, his brother-in-law, and by a plot removed him from the scene
. So I too, when poisons were prepared for me and a sword hung over me, defended myself against my enemy, for this is the name which describes his actions."
Roman History
"Caracalla, after attending to matters in the garrison camps along the Danube River, went down into Thrace at the Macedonian border, and
immediately he became Alexander the Great
. To revive the memory of the Macedonian in every possible way, he ordered statues and paintings of his hero to be put on public display in all cities. He filled the Capitol, the rest of the temples, indeed, all Rome, with statues and paintings designed to suggest that he was a second Alexander."
Roman History
"All the Parthians, crowned with the traditional flowers and wearing robes embroidered in gold and various colors, celebrated the occasion, dancing wildly to the music of flutes and the throbbing of drums. They take delight in such orgiastic dancing, especially when they are drunk.
Abandoning their horses and laying aside their quivers and bows, the whole populace came together to drink and pour libations.
A huge mob of barbarians gathered and stood about casually, wherever they happened to be, eager to see the bridegroom and expecting nothing out of the ordinary
Then the signal was given, and Caracalla ordered his army to attack and massacre the spectators. Astounded by this onslaught, the barbarians turned and fled, wounded and bleeding.
Artabanus himself, snatched up and placed on a horse by some of his personal bodyguards, barely escaped with a few companions"
Roman Historian
"This is what he did.
In Caracalla's bodyguard was a centurion named Martialis, who was always in the emperor's escort
. A few days earlier, Caracalla had executed the centurion's brother on an unproved charge. Moreover, the emperor continually insulted the man, calling him cowardly, effeminate, and Macrinus' darling.
Learning that Martialis was exceedingly grieved by his brother's death and could no longer endure the emperor's insults, Macrinus summoned the centurion (in whom he had confidence because the man had served him before, and had received many favors from him)...
[8 April 217] Not long after they made this agreement, it happened that Caracalla, who was spending the time at Carrhae in Mesopotamia,
conceived a desire to leave the imperial quarters and visit the Temple of the Moon, for Selene is the goddess whom the natives particularly adore...
At the halfway point he stopped to relieve himself; ordering his escort to ride off, he went apart with a single attendant. All the horsemen turned aside and withdrew for some distance, respecting the emperor's modesty.
But when Martialis, who was looking for just such an opportunity, saw Caracalla alone, he ran toward him as if the emperor had summoned him by a gesture to question him or receive some information.
Roman History
Macrinus thus received the office of emperor not so much because of the soldiers' affection and loyalty as from necessity and the urgency of the impending crisis
While these events were taking place, Artabanus was marching toward the Romans with a huge army, including a strong cavalry contingent and a powerful unit of archers and those mail-clad soldiers who hurl spears from dromedaries."
Roman History
"He told Artabanus that he did not approve of Caracalla's actions and
promised to restore all the money he had lost. Macrinus offered friendship to Artabanus instead of hostility and assured him that he would confirm peace between them by oaths and treaties.
When he learned this and was informed by envoys of Caracalla's death, Artabanus believed that the treaty breaker had suffered a suitable punishment; as his own army was riddled with wounds, the king signed a treaty of peace with Macrinus, content to recover the captives and stolen money without further bloodshed."
Roman History
let no one think me unworthy of my post, and let no one believe that Fortune blundered in raising me to this position, even though I am of the equestrian order
. For what advantage is there in nobility of birth unless it be combined with a beneficent and kindly nature? The gifts of Fortune fall upon the undeserving also, but it is the excellence of his own soul which brings every man his measure of personal glory. Nobility of birth, wealth, and the like are presumed to bring happiness, but, since they are bestowed by someone else, they deserve no praise.
Virtue and kindness, on the other hand, besides commanding admiration, win a full measure of praise for anyone who succeeds by his own efforts.
What, may I ask, did the noble birth of Commodus profit you ? Or the fact that Caracalla inherited the throne from his father?
Roman History
"Alexander was then appointed caesar and served as consul with Heliogabalus himself. Appearing before the Senate, Heliogabalus confirmed this appointment, and
all the senators voted approval of the fantastic and ridiculous situation they were ordered to endorse - that the emperor, who was about sixteen, assume the role of father to Alexander, who was twelve.

Roman History
"The fate which Heliogabalus suffered I have described in the preceding pages. When Alexander received the empire, the appearance and the title of emperor were allowed him,
but the management and control of imperial affairs were in the hands of his women
, and they undertook a more moderate and more equitable administration.."
Roman History
"On entering the camp he exclaimed: “Rejoice, fellow-soldiers, for
now I am in a position to do you favours.
” And
before they heard the whole story [of Geta’s murder] he had stopped their mouths with so many and so great promises that they could neither think of nor say anything to show proper respect for the dead
“I am one of you”
he said, “and it is because of you alone that I care to live, in order that I may confer upon you many favours; for all the treasuries are yours.” And he further said “I pray to live with you, if possible, but if not, at any rate to die with you. For I do not fear death in any form, and it is my desire to end my days in warfare. There should a man die, or nowhere.”"
Dio 78.3.2
RIC 211, BMC 149: sestertius of Diadumenianus (as Caesar). Obverse: bust of Diadumenianus (M OPEL ANTONINVS DIADVMENIANVS CAES). Reverse: Diadumenianus as ‘leader of the youth’ holding standards (PRINC IVVENTVTIS S C)
"Some were deserters and compatriots of Maesa; while they stood admiring the youth,
Maesa, either inventing the story or telling the truth, informed them that Bassianus was really the son of Caracalla, although it might appear that he had another father.
She claimed that when she was living in the palace with her sister, Caracalla slept with both of her daughters, who were young and beautiful. The men repeated her story to their fellow soldiers, and it soon became common knowledge throughout the army."
Roman History
"He married one of the noblest of the Roman ladies [Cornelia Paula] and proclaimed her Augusta; [January 220] but he soon divorced her and, after depriving her of the imperial honors, ordered her to return to private life.
So that he might seem to be doing something manly, he made love to one of the Vestal Virgins of Rome
[Julia Aquilia Severa], priestesses who are bound by sacred vows to be chaste and remain virgin to the end of their lives; taking the maiden away from Vesta and the holy virgins' quarters, he made her his wife. He sent a letter to the Senate asking to be forgiven his impious and adolescent transgression, telling them that
he was afflicted with a masculine failing - an overwhelming passion for the maiden.
He also informed them that the marriage of a priest and a priestess was both proper and sanctioned. [July 221] But a short time later he divorced this girl and took yet a third wife [Annia Aurelia Faustina], a girl who belonged to the family of Commodus."

Roman History
"I will not describe the barbaric chants which Sardanapalus, together with his mother and grandmother, chanted to Elagabalus, or the secret sacrifices that he offered to him, slaying boys and using charms, in fact actually shutting up alive in the god's temple a lion, a monkey, and a snake, and throwing in among them human genitals, and practising other unholy rites, while he invariably wore innumerable amulets.
Closely related to these irregularities was his conduct in the matter of Elagabalus.
The offence consisted, not in his introducing a foreign god into Rome or in his exalting him in very strange ways, but in his placing him even before Jupiter
himself and causing himself to be voted his priest, also
in his circumcising himself
and abstaining from swine's flesh, on the ground that his devotion would thereby be purer.
He had planned, indeed, to cut off his genitals altogether, but that desire was prompted solely by his effeminacy; the circumcision which he actually carried out was a part of the priestly requirements of Elagabalus, and he accordingly mutilated many of his companions in like manner.
Dio 80.11 (two variants in the epitomes):
"When the bold actions of this Eastern barbarian were disclosed to Alexander while he was passing the time in Rome, he found these affronts unendurable.
Though the undertaking distressed him and was contrary to his inclinations, since his governors there were calling for him, he made preparations for departure
. He assembled for army service picked men from Italy and from all the Roman provinces, enrolling those whose age and physical condition qualified them for military service."

Roman History
RIC 88, BMC 212: denarius of Elagabal. Obverse: bust of Elagabal (IMP ANTONINVS PIVS AVG). Reverse: Elagabalus in act of sacrifice (INVICTVS SACERDOS AVG)
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