- Lucius Septimius Severus was the first Black Roman Emperor who ruled from 193 to 211
- He was a great warrior and Emperor who enjoyed an excellent reign in power
- Severus’ two sons – Caracalla and Geta, also served as Roman Emperors
- Severus is acknowledged for enlarging the Roman Empire into Africa and Britain
- Critics argue that his unpopularity among modern history students is related to his traces to Africa
The Roman Empire is one of the most publicized empires in the world today. There are numerous publications that tell tales of the empire’s power, dominance and influence.
Apart from countless books about the empire, many movie producers have adopted stories of past Roman emperors in films and series. It is common to see books and movies about Gaius Julius Caesar, Caesar Augustus, and Constantine the Great, to mention a few. But despite falling in the same class as other great Roman Emperors by every standard, Severus is accorded a different level of publicity.
Many critics believe an orchestrated conspiracy exists to bury the legacy of the first Black Roman Emperor, Lucius Septimius Severus, and his sons, who were also Emperors. They argue that despite his legacy, Severus remains an unknown figure even among modern-day Romans and global historians.
Who was Lucius Septimius Severus?
Lucius Septimius Severus was Roman Emperor from 193 to 211. However, unlike many of the great Roman emperors in history, he was born to Fulvia Pia and Publius Septimius Geta in Leptis Magna of modern-day Libya – then a Roman province of Africa.
According to records, he was born around 11 April 145 AD in Leptis Magna, Libya, and died on 4 February 211 AD in Eboracum. He was married to two wives, Julia Domna (m. 187 AD–211 AD) and Paccia Marciana (m. 175 AD–186 AD) and had children.
Severus was born into a wealthy and prominent Roman family who lived in the Libyan city of Leptis Magna. As a result of his family’s wealth and prominence, he travelled to Rome in AD 162. He was granted entry into the senatorial ranks after his cousin Gaius Septimius Severus had recommended him to Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
As a young man, he advanced through the customary succession of offices under the reigns of Marcus Aurelius and Commodus.
In AD 193, Lucius Septimius Severus was named ruler of the Roman Empire and, in doing so, became Rome’s first African Emperor. After emerging victorious from a period of civil war, Severus expanded the border of the empire to new heights, ushered in a period of imperial transformation and founded a dynasty.
Marriage, Fame, and Family
Two years after gaining prominence, he married Paccia Marciana, a woman from his home city of Leptis Magna. The marriage would last a little over ten years before Marciana died in AD 186 of natural causes.
A year after the death of his wife, Severus married Julia Domna from Syria in the city of Lugdunum (located in modern-day Lyon, France), of which Severus was the governor at that time. The couple was blessed with two sons – Lucius Septimius Bassianus, later nicknamed Caracalla after the Gallic hooded tunic he always wore, and Publius Septimius Geta.
According to history, Severus significantly cherished his wife, Julia, due to her strong political opinions. It is said that Julia built “the most splendid reputation” by applying herself to letters and philosophy.
Severus built a dynasty and was popular amongst the Roman people, having brought stability after the vices and corruption of Commodus’s reign. He also left behind an empire spanning some 5 million square kilometres, the largest it had ever been.
Caracalla and Geta – The Sons of the Emperor Lucius Septimius Severus
His two sons, Caracalla and Geta, jointly inherited the throne and sued for peace with the Caledonians a short while later, and the Roman frontier was brought back behind Hadrian’s Wall. Rome would never campaign so far into Caledonia again.
Ignoring their father’s advice to be civil with one another, the relationship between the two brothers descended to the point that members of the Praetorian Guard loyal to Caracalla assassinated Geta, most likely at the command of Caracalla himself. After a wide-scale purge of all those loyal to Geta, said to be around 20,000 people killed, Caracalla assumed total control of the emperorship in AD 212.
He did, however, heed his father’s words regarding the treatment of soldiers, raising annual wages further and often portraying himself as one of them whilst out on campaign.
His campaign against the Alemanni had some success, whilst his Parthian campaign in the East achieved little. His most notable act was the introduction of the Constitutio Antoniniana (Antonine Constitution), which granted citizenship to all free inhabitants across the Roman Empire.
In the end, Caracalla died at 29 years, falling victim to assassination by a Praetorian Guard. The ancient sources portray him as one of the evilest men to have ascended to the imperial throne, ruling savagely and conducting himself like a tyrant.
The Dynasty of a Great Roman Emperor
Although Severus started as a proconsul of the Province of Africa upon recommendation by his cousin, he rose through the ranks fast. He held the position of cursus honorum as an aspiring Roman politician and gained entry into the Roman Senate in AD 170. In AD 173, he was appointed legatus, a senior position in the Roman Army.
In June 193, Severus marched on Rome, declaring himself the avenger of Pertinax, and before he’d even entered the city, was declared Emperor by the Senate. Julianus was executed in the palace after ruling for a mere 66 days.
He contributed significantly to the advancement of the Roman Empire in Britain, Africa and other parts of the globe.
Severus quickly secured his power within Rome by dissolving the current Praetorian Guard and filling its ranks with soldiers loyal to him, as well as raising three new legions. In AD 194, Severus looked to quell any threat from Niger in Syria and defeated him at the Battle of Issus. While in the East, Severus turned his forces against those Parthian vassals who had backed Niger.
His next move saw him come into conflict with his short-time ally Albinus. Hoping to secure a family dynasty, Severus declared his eldest son Caracalla as Caesar, effectively severing ties with Albinus and quashing any successional hopes the governor of Britain might have had.
Albinus subsequently marched into Gaul, and the forces of the two men clashed in AD 197 at the hard-fought battle of Lugdunum – a fight said to be the largest and bloodiest of all clashes between Roman forces. Severus emerged victorious and secured full control over the Roman Empire.
Severus enlarged the Roman Empire further with campaigns in Africa and Britain. He made significant gains in Caledonia (modern-day Scotland) and strengthened Hadrian’s Wall but fell short of his ultimate goal of bringing the whole British island under his rule.
Be Good to One Another, Enrich the Soldiers, and Damn the Rest: Final Days of Severus
It was in Roman Britain that Severus would see his final days. Ill health, most likely caused by gout, took a toll on the Emperor, who passed away in AD 211 at the age of 65. On his deathbed, he was said to give his sons the following advice: ‘ Be good to one another, enrich the soldiers, and damn the rest.’
His treatment of the soldiers did indeed secure Severus’s reign. His military reforms saw wage increases for soldiers and the removal of the marriage ban, allowing military men to have wives.
His treatment of the army would become a model that future emperors would emulate.
Conclusion: Conspiracy or No Conspiracy?
Apart from a few YouTube videos – the earliest being ‘The campaigns of Septimius Severus in the Far North‘ published on 18 Jul 2020 by the Council for British Archaeology, not much can be traced to the first Black Roman emperor in terms of visualisation.
Due to hundreds of contributions, the Wikipedia page dedicated to the Black Emperor seems to have some good information about his life and conquest. But critics continue to argue that more is needed. They say an organised conspiracy exists to bury Lucius Septimius Severus’s history.
On the other hand, however, some concerned observers and social commentators have employed African writers and filmmakers to take the initiative to tell the story of Septimius Severus rather than wait on foreigners to do it. They advised that the time has come when Africans must tell their own stories because no one else would do it!
Do you agree that there is an organised conspiracy to bury the history of Lucius Septimius Severus: The Black Roman Emperor?