Roman Emporers: Severus Alexander

Born sometime around 207 AD, Severus succeeded his cousin Elagabalus, when the latter was assassinated. He was 15 years old at the time and this made Severus the youngest of all Roman Emporers at that time.

Severus Alexander (Liverpool Museum)

He was an able administrator and most of his reign was a prosperous time for the empire. He had an open opinion on religion and reformed the rights of soldiers.

In 231, the Sassanids invaded the eastern empire. The accounts of the campaign are contradictory. Herodian records a number of defeats for the Romans, but Historia Augusta and Severus own dispatches record great victories. However, Severus did recover the lost territory and prevent further incursion into the empire, at least for the present. In 234 the German tribes crossed the Rhine and Danube borders. Concerned that his army was not in a fit state to face the invaders, Severus sought a diplomatic solution and if this should fail, bribery.

This didn’t sit well with the legions, who felt such an approach dishonoured them and their abilities. There had been a growing discontent amongst the legions and this was the final straw. He was assassinated by a group of soldiers on 19th March 235 and the legion acclaimed Gaius Lulius Verus Maximus, a soldier from Thrace, as Emporer. Severus had reigned for 13 years and most of these had been prosperous for the empire.

Many historians see the assassination of Severus as the beginning of a crisis in the empire which would last for 50 years. It would be a time of invasion, civil war and economic failure. In the next 50 years, there would be 26 claimants to the throne of the Emporer. It would see the establishment, and subsequent fall, of a number of independent regions within the empire and would only end when Diocletian gained the throne in 284. It is interesting to note that although immediately after his death Severus was condemned by the Senate, within a few years of Maximus’ death in 238, they had deified Severus, recognising, in hindsight, the stability he had bought to the empire.

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