ca. A.D. 145-211

Roman emperor

Born in northern Africa to a noble family, Lucius Septimius Severus founded the Severan dynasty* of emperors that ruled Rome from A.D. 193 to A.D. 235. The reigns of Septimius and the other Severan emperors were notable for the growth in the importance of the provinces*, the emphasis on the military nature of the government, and the decline in the power of the Roman Senate.

Septimius became a senator during the reign of the emperor Marcus Aurelius. He became consul* in A.D. 190 and governor of the Roman province of Pannonia (present-day Hungary) the following year. After the murder of the emperor Commodus on the last day of A.D. 192, the Roman Empire entered a period of strife and civil war that had several men competing for the imperial* throne. Supported by the Roman legions* of the Rhine and Danube rivers, Septimius marched on Rome, and the Roman Senate recognized him as emperor in June of A.D. 193.

Septimius’s first act as emperor was to disband the existing Praetorian Guard* and to form a new, larger one from the legions loyal to him. He increased the number of soldiers in the city of Rome, and he raised the salaries of the soldiers and granted them new privileges, such as the right to marry. After he successfully restored order to Rome, Septimius turned his attention to the rest of the empire. He defeated Syria and divided that region into two provinces. In A.D. 198 he annexed* northern Mesopotamia, land that formerly had been held by the Parthians, a people of western Asia. Septimius later moved into Egypt and reorganized that province as well. In A.D. 208 Septimius traveled to Britain to subdue the restless inhabitants of southern Scotland. Septimius had such faith and reliance on the army that before he died in A.D. 211 in York, the Roman capital of Britain, he told his sons and successors to enrich the army and forget about everyone else. His sons Caracalla and Geta ruled jointly after his death, but within a year Caracalla had Geta murdered and claimed the throne for himself. (See also Armies, Roman; Provinces, Roman.)

* dynasty succession of rulers from the same family or group

* province overseas area controlled by Rome

* consul one of two chief governmental officials of Rome, chosen annually and serving for a year

* imperial pertaining to an emperor or empire

* legion main unit of the Roman army, consisting of about 6,000 soldiers

* Praetorian Guard elite and politically influential corps that served as the emperor’s bodyguard

* annex to add a territory to an existing state

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