Roman Emperor Septimius Severus

Roman Emperor Septimius Severus

Severus came to power by disposing of rivals with a better claim to power than his own. His immediate predecessor was Didius Julianus. Septimius Severus died peacefully, leaving, as joint successors, his sons Caracalla and Geta.


April 11, A.D. 145-February 4, 211



Places of Birth and Death

Leptis Magna; Eboracum


Lucius Septimius Severus Augustus (Severus)


Ruler (Roman Emperor Septimius Severus was born in Africa, at the Phoenician city of Leptis Magna (in Libya), to a presumed equestrian (wealthy) family with consuls in it, on April 11, 145, and died in Britain, on February 4, 211, after reigning for 18 years as Emperor of Rome.


  • Parents: P. Septimius Geta, (equestrian) and Fulvia Pia
  • Wife: Julia Domna
  • Sons: Bassianus (Caracalla) (b. 188); Geta (b. 189)

Following the murder of Pertinax, Rome supported Didius Julianus as emperor, but as Severus entered Rome -- having been declared emperor by his troops in Pannonia on April 9, 193 DIR, the supporters of Julianus defected, he was executed, and soon the soldiers in Italy and the senators supported Severus, instead; meanwhile, troops in the East proclaimed Syria's governor, Pescennius Niger, emperor, and the British legions, their governor, Clodius Albinus. Severus had to deal with his rival claimants.

He defeated Pescennius Niger at the A.D. 194 Battle of Issus -- not to be confused with the battle in 333 B.C., in which Alexander the Great defeated the Persian Great King Darius. Severus then marched into Mesopotamia, where he set up a new legion and declared war on Roman emperor Clodius Albinus. Even with the legions of Britain, Gaul, Germany, and Spain, behind him, Albinus still lost to Severus in 197 near Lyon see Lyon Museum, and committed suicide.

The reputation of Septimius Severus changes with the times. Some consider him responsible for the Fall of Rome. According to //, 6/29/99 Jonathan C. Moran, Gibbon blamed Severus for the changes that led to turmoil and ultimate decay in Rome. The "De Imperatoribus Romanis" entry on Severus explains the charge: "by giving greater pay and benefits to soldiers and annexing the troublesome lands of northern Mesopotamia into the Roman empire, Septimius Severus brought increasing financial and military burdens to Rome's government." His reign was also considered bloody and according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, he may have been involved in the murder of his predecessor, Pertinax. The Catholic Encyclopedia also says he persecuted the Christians and forbade conversion to Judaism and to Christianity.

On the other side, Septimius Severus restored stability to the Roman Empire. He improved performance and increased morale by making (expensive) changes in the military and praetorian guard. He restored Hadrian's Wall and was involved in other construction projects. He also played the part of the traditional emperor:

  • He reformed the grain supply for the city of Rome… He put on games… for the people to keep them diverted and on his side. He freed his friends from debt and gave donatives to the soldiers and people. He also heard lawsuits… Severus also began appointing his own men to the senate, one the emperor's traditional prerogatives.
    -, 6/29/99 Severus and Traditional Auctoritas

Print SourceSeptimius Severus: The African Emperor, by Anthony Richard Birley

Also, see Historia Augusta - The Life of Septimius Severus

Septimius Severus and the Severan Emperors

Septimius Severus and his successors were known as Severan Emperors Septimius Severus
Emperors Pertinax and Didius Julianus
Roman Emperors Timeline 2nd Century
Roman Emperors Timeline 3rd Century

Ancient Sources on Septimius Severus

  • Herodian
  • Historia Augusta
  • Dio Cassius