Septimius Severus

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Emperor Septimius Severus; Marble

Lucius Septimius Severus (11 April 145 – 4 February 211), commonly known as Septimius Severus or "Severus", was Roman Emperor from 193 to 211.


  • While we were engaged in voting eulogies to Euodus, Severus restrained us by saying: "It is disgraceful that in one of your decrees there should be inscribed such a statement respecting a man that is a Caesarian." It was not the only instance of such an attitude, but he also refused to allow all the other imperial freedmen either to be insolent or to swagger; for this he was commended. The senate once, while chanting his praises, uttered without reserve no less a sentiment than this: "All do all things well since you rule well!"
    • Cassius Dio, Book 77, Part 6.
  • "Let none escape utter destruction At our hands. Yea, whatso is found in the womb of the mother, Child unborn though it be, let it not escape utter destruction!"
    • Cassius Dio, Book 77, Part 15.
  • "Be harmonious, enrich the soldiers, scorn everybody else."
    • Statement made on his deathbed to his sons.
    • Cassius Dio, Book 77, Part 16.
  • "You see by what has happened that we are superior to you in intelligence, in size of army, and in number of supporters. Surely you were easily trapped, captured without a struggle. It is in my power to do with you what I wish when I wish. Helpless and prostrate, you lie before us now, victims of our might. But if one looks for a punishment equal to the crimes you have committed, it is impossible to find a suitable one. You murdered your revered and benevolent old emperor, the man whom it was your sworn duty to protect. The empire of the Roman people, eternally respected, which our forefathers obtained by their valiant courage or inherited because of their noble birth, this empire you shamefully and disgracefully sold for silver as if it were your personal property. But you were unable to defend the man whom you yourselves had chosen as emperor. No, you betrayed him like the cowards you are. For these monstrous acts and crimes you deserve a thousand deaths, if one wished to do to you what you have earned. You see clearly what it is right you should suffer. But I will be merciful. I will not butcher you.My hands shall not do what your hands did. But I say that it is in no way fit or proper for you to continue to serve as the emperor's bodyguard, you who have violated your oath and stained your hands with the blood of your emperor and fellow Roman, betraying the trust placed in you and the security offered by your protection. Still, compassion leads me to spare your lives and your persons. But I order the soldiers who have you surrounded to cashier you, to strip off any military uniform or equipment you are wearing, and drive you off naked. 9. And I order you to get yourselves as far from the city of Rome as is humanly possible, and I promise you and I swear it on solemn oath and I proclaim it publicly that if any one of you is found within a hundred miles of Rome, he shall pay for it with his head."
    • Herodian, Book II.
  • "Let no one charge us with capricious inconsistency in our actions against Albinus, and let no one think that I am disloyal to this alleged friend or lacking in feeling toward him. 2. We gave this man everything, even a share of the established empire, a thing which a man would hardly do for his own brother. Indeed, I bestowed upon him that which you entrusted to me alone. Surely Albinus has shown little gratitude for the many benefits I have lavished upon him. 3. Now |87 he is collecting an army to take up arms against us, scornful of your valor and indifferent to his pledge of good faith to me, wishing in his insatiable greed to seize at the risk of disaster that which he has already received in part without war and without bloodshed, showing no respect for the gods by whom he has often sworn, and counting as worthless the labors you performed on our joint behalf with such courage and devotion to duty. 4. In what you accomplished, he also had a share, and he would have had an even greater share of the honor you gained for us both if he had only kept his word. For, just as it is unfair to initiate wrong actions, so also it is cowardly to make no defense against unjust treatment. Now when we took the field against Niger, we had reasons for our hostility, not entirely logical, perhaps, but inevitable. We did not hate him because he had seized the empire after it was already ours, but rather each one of us, motivated by an equal desire for glory, sought the empire for himself alone, when it was still in dispute and lay prostrate before all. 5. But Albinus has violated his pledges and broken his oaths, and although he received from me that which a man normally gives only to his son, he has chosen to be hostile rather than friendly and belligerent instead of peaceful. And just as we were generous to him previously and showered fame and honor upon him, so let us now punish him with our arms for his treachery and cowardice. 6. His army, small and island-bred, will not stand against your might. For you, who by your valor and readiness to act on your own behalf have been victorious in many battles and have gained control of the entire East, how can you fail to emerge victorious with the greatest of ease when you have so large a number of allies and when virtually the entire army is here. Whereas they, by contrast, are few in number and lack a brave and competent general to lead them. 7. Who does not know Albinus' effeminate nature? Who does not know that his way |88 of life has prepared him more for the chorus than for the battlefield? Let us therefore go forth against him with confidence, relying on our customary zeal and valor, with the gods as our allies, gods against whom he has acted impiously in breaking his oaths, and let us be mindful of the victories we have won, victories which that man ridicules."
    • Herodian, Book 3, Chapter 6.

Quotes about Septimius Severus[edit]

  • ..Auspex was the cleverest imaginable man for jokes and chit-chat, for despising all mankind, gratifying his friends, and making reprisals upon his enemy. Many bitter and witty epigrams of his spoken to various people are reported, and many to Severus himself. Here is one of the latter. When the emperor was enrolled in the family of Marcus, Auspex said: "I congratulate you, Caesar, upon having found a father." This implied that up to this time his obscure origin had made him as good as fatherless.
    • Cassius Dio, Book 77, Part 9
" other Emperor was ever so greedy for gold."
  • Severus has been acclaimed as 'the black emperor'. The fact that Severus was African has been cited as evidence that Rome was colourblind, free of racism a genuinely multicultural commonwealth. Septimius Severus was no more 'black' than Julius Caesar. Politically, culturally and racially, he was part of the broad Mediterranean elite that ruled the Roman Empire. Just as the blood of Etruscans and Samnites flowed in the veins of Italian nobles (like Augustus or Vespasian), and that of Celts and Iberians in those of Spanish ones (like Trajan, Hadrian and Marcus), so did the blood of Berbers and Carthaginians flow in the veins of an African noble like Severus.
    • Neil Faulkner, in Rome: empire of the eagles, Pearson Education, 2008, p. 244
The emperor himself set out on the march, scorning heat and cold alike, and gave the army no respite for holidays or rest. Often when he was journeying through very high and very cold mountains, the emperor strode along bareheaded through rain and snow, setting an example of courage and constancy for his soldiers, who endured hardships not only from fear and from training but also in imitation of their emperor.
  • The following is the style of life that Severus led in time of peace. He was sure to be doing something before dawn, while it was still night, and after this he would go to walk, telling and hearing of the interests of the empire. Then he held court, and separately (unless there were some great festival); and indeed, he did this very well. Those on trial were allowed plenty of water and he granted us, his coadjutors, full liberty to speak.--He continued to preside till noonday. After that he went riding as much as he could. Next he took some kind of exercise and a bath. He then consumed a not meagre lunch, either by himself or with his children. Next, as a rule, he enjoyed a nap. Later he rose, attended to his remaining duties of administration, and while walking about occupied himself with discussions of both Greek and Latin lore. Then, toward evening, he would bathe again and dine with his attendants. Very seldom did he have any outsider to dinner and only on days when it was quite unavoidable did he arrange expensive banquets.--He lived sixty-five years, nine months, and twenty-five days, for he was born on the eleventh of April. Of this he had ruled seventeen years, eight months and three days. In fine, he showed himself so active that even expiring he gasped: "Come, give it to us, if we have anything to do!"
    • Cassius Dio, Book 77, Part 17.
  • " other Emperor was ever so greedy for gold."
    • Herodian, Book 3, Chapter 8.
  • THEN Severus entered Rome with all the rest of his army under arms: his presence in the city brought fear and panic to the Romans because of his achievements, so daring and favored by fortune. The people and the senate, carrying laurel branches, received him, the foremost of men and emperors, who had accomplished great deeds without bloodshed or difficulty. 2. Everything about the man was extraordinary, but especially outstanding were his shrewd judgment, his endurance of toils, and his spirit of bold optimism in everything he did. Then, after the people had welcomed him with cheers and the senate had saluted him at the city gates, Severus went into the temple of Jupiter and offered sacrifices; after sacrificing in the rest of the shrines in accord with imperial practice, he entered the palace. 3. On the following day he went to the senate and addressed all the senators in a speech that was very mild in tone and full of promises of good things for the future. Greeting them collectively and individually, he told them that he had come to avenge the murder of Pertinax and assured them that his reign would mark the reintroduction of senatorial rule. No man would be put to death or have his property confiscated without a trial; he would not tolerate informers; he would bring unlimited prosperity to his subjects; he intended to imitate Marcus' reign in every way; and he would assume not only |74 the name but also the manner and approach of Pertinax. 4. By this speech he won a good opinion for himself among most of the senators, and they believed his promises. But some of the older senators knew the true character of the man, and said privately that he was indeed a man of great cunning, who knew how to manage things shrewdly; they further said that he was very skillful at deceit and at feigning anything and everything; and, moreover, he always did what was of benefit and profit to his own interests. The truth of these observations was later demonstrated by what the man actually did.\
    • Herodian, Book 2.
  • Of colonial heritage, Severus was undoubtedly a mixture of Punic, Berber and Roman blood.
    • Anna Marguerite McCann, in The portraits of Septimius Severus, A.D. 193-211, American Academy in Rome, 1968, p. 47.
  • The emperor Septimius himself set out on the march, scorning heat and cold alike, and gave the army no respite for holidays or rest. Often when he was journeying through very high and very cold mountains, the emperor strode along bareheaded through rain and snow, setting an example of courage and constancy for his soldiers, who endured hardships not only from fear and from training but also in imitation of their emperor.
    • Herodian, Book 3, Chapter 6.

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