Septimius Severus was born in the Roman province of Africa in Leptis Magna. Today Leptis Magna is located in Libya and features some of the most impressive and well preserved Roman ruins anywhere. Some tours and holiday packages are available to visit this historic and unspoiled site on the Mediterranean.
THE LIFE AND REIGN OF THE EMPEROR
LUCIUS SEPTIMIUS SEVERUS
I. Early Life
II. The War of Accession
III. The War against Niger
IV. The War against Albinus
V. Severus in the East
VI. The Last Phase
VII. Philosophy and Religion
From the year of his birth to that of his accession Septimius may be said to have lived the ordinary life of the provincial Roman of the upper classes. His ancestors had belonged to the equestrian order, but two of his great-uncles (on his father's side) had been consulars. A maternal uncle, one Fulvius Pius, seems to have incurred the censure of Pertinax during the latter’s governorship of Africa. In this same province, on the 11th of April, 146, was born, of parents whose names Spartian gives as Geta and Fulvia Pia, the future Emperor Lucius Septimius Severus. His birthplace was Leptis Magna. Of his boyhood we know little save for such accretions of fable as tend to gather round the youth of the great. It seems curious to think of Septimius studying Latin; still more so to hear that, in spite of the proficiency in its literature for which Spartian vouches, he was cursed all his life long with an African accent. His prowess indeed as a scholar is more than doubtful, and Dio Cassius expressly tells us that in this department his aspirations were much in advance of his achievements. A far more congenial subject to the young statesman must have been the Law. In pursuit of this study he left the ‘nutricula causidicorum’ and came to Rome, abandoning the legal games of his childhood for the serious business of legal apprenticeship. The exact year of this journey we do not know, but we may safely take it to have been between 164 and 170. Once in Rome he set himself to study under the famous jurist Q. Cervidius Scaevola, and seems to have had as a fellow pupil the still more famous Papinian.
The amusements with which he enlivened this period of study were not of so innocent a character as those which had graced his childhood, and, if we may believe his biographer, his sedulous pursuit of the ‘broad way and the green led’ the young jurist into serious trouble. The story, however, of his accusation for adultery and of his acquittal therefrom by the proconsul Didius Iulianus contains such inaccuracies as to discredit the whole account; for when Julianus was proconsul of Africa Septimius was in Pannonia, while, supposing the scene to be in Rome, how could a proconsul be there at all? Whatever his excesses were they do not seem to have interfered with his rapid advancement. Through the influence of his uncle, a man of high standing, he received from the Emperor Marcus Aurelius the latus clavus, having previously held the equestrian post of advocatus fisci.
Our knowledge of his subsequent career is spoilt by the fact that the passage in Spartian dealing with the subject is hopelessly corrupt. Eutropius says to the effect that Septimius was a military tribune. It is, of course, not impossible that Eutropius is confusing the posts of military and plebeian tribune, but in the present state of our knowledge on the point any very definite statement is to be deprecated. Another difficulty is to be found in the question, what was the exact position of Septimius in Baetica. Apparently that of quaestor, as we read that he was transferred from Baetica to Sardinia, where he certainly held that post. We must suppose, then, that Septimius held an urban quaestorship, possibly in the year 171, and went out to Baetica in the year following as a proquaestor. During his period of office in Spain Septimius’ father died, and Septimius himself journeyed to Africa to set his house in order. In his absence the Moors overran Spain, and Baetica became an imperial province, the emperor taking it in exchange for Sardinia, to which province, accordingly, Septimius betook himself on his return from Africa. He seems to have acquitted himself with peculiar distinction during this period of his official career, and was given as a reward the post of legatus on the staff of the African proconsul, though of his precise duties in the province we are in ignorance, as we are of the exact year in which he fulfilled them. We may suppose him to have governed one of the three main ‘dioceses’. We are not told with what success the legate performed his functions, but from his treatment of an old friend whose respect for office was not all that Septimius desired, we should infer that if he erred at all it was not on the side of slackness. One of Spartian’s characteristic horoscope stories makes its appearance at this point; otherwise we know nothing of his doings.
On the 10th of December, 174 or 175, Septimius entered upon the office of plebeian tribune. The tribunate now was but a nomnis umbra, its former powers were vested in the emperor by virtue of his tribunicia potestas, and it is typical of its lack of any real importance that a man of twenty-five years of age could hold it, while neither it nor yet the aedileship formed any longer a necessary step between quaestorship and praetorship. But whatever were the duties of the office, they were fulfilled by the future emperor with characteristic vigor and severity.
It was in the course of this year that he married his first wife Marcia, a lady of whom we know very little. Septimius himself, indeed, seems to have been reticent upon the subject in his memoirs, though he had the grace to erect various statues to her after his assumption of the purple.
In 178, that is to say in his thirty-third year, Septimius became a praetor, elected, seemingly, to this office rather than nominated for it by Marcus.
His sphere of duties, however, was not Rome but the province of Spain, and he was obliged to give the games expected of a newly appointed praetor during his absence. In Spain his position was very similar to that held by him previously in Africa. He was certainly not the legatus propraetore of the province, for in this case his subsequent appointment to the command of the fourth legion would have been a step backwards in the cursus honorum. Spain, like Africa, was divided for administrative purposes into three districts, and over one of them, most probably the dioecesis Tarraconensis, Septimius was set. It was an important post, but its holder was, of course, answerable to, and under the orders of, the legatus propraetore Hispaniae Tarraconensis.
The next year, 179, saw Marcus Aurelius succeeded by his worthless son, and Septimius given command of the Syrian legion, IV Scythica; but his sojourn in the far East does not seem to have been of long duration, and we hear of his retirement to Athens. Only three years before had died the famous Herodes Atticus, and we may suppose his pupil and successor, Chrestus, had at least some share in directing the studies of an illustrious pupil.
Of Septimius’ life as an elderly undergraduate we know little except the fact that the Athenians succeeded somehow in offending his dignity: conduct for which, if we are to believe his biographer, the emperor made them atone subsequently by the withdrawal of certain privileges. Ceuleneer raises the interesting question whether the retirement of Septimius to Athens was or was not the result of strained relations between himself and the government. His Grecian visit certainly seems to correspond in time to the rule of Perennis in Rome, and his return to public life is probably to be attributed to the very year following that minister’s death. In this year, 186, Oleander succeeded Perennis, and Septimius was appointed legatus propraetore of Gallia Lugdunensis. His administration seems to have been just and beneficent; so much so that Spartian assures us that few governors were ever more popular. The ardor, however, with which Lugdunum subsequently embraced the cause of Albinus may justify our suspicions of the credibility of this passage, especially as there is no epigraphic evidence to back it up.
Two important events in the life of the future emperor occurred during his tenure of this Gallic office: the first was his second marriage, the second the revolt of Maternus. The causes and origins of this revolution are shrouded in mystery: even for any detailed account we are beholden only to Herodian, and yet both the boldness of its design and the extent of its influence should have ensured it a more thoroughgoing treatment. All we know is that somewhere during the years 186 to 188 (the very date is a matter of uncertainty) one Maternus collected a body of deserters and brigands, overran Gaul and Spain, and even penetrated into Italy. Not content with this Maternus planned a deliberate attempt on the life of Commodus, which was to take place during the license afforded by the spring festival of Cybele. Jealousy among his followers, however, betrayed him, and he was captured and executed. Meanwhile Commodus, alarmed at so wide a spread of disaffection, dispatched Pescennius Niger into Gaul to deal with revolt there. In Gaul, therefore, the future rivals met, and Severus seems to have been much struck by the capability and energy displayed by Niger in dealing with the crisis. Not content with writing home to Commodus to the effect that Niger was a man necessary to the state, he treasured the memory of Niger’s capacity in this and other spheres of office when he himself was emperor, and wrote to one Ragonius Celsus, himself governor of Gaul, lamenting an inability to imitate one whom he has defeated.
A similar uncertainty of date attaches to the celebration of his second marriage. Caracalla we know to have been born on April 4, 188. We should conclude therefore that the marriage took place sometime in the year 187. The lady whom he married was the famous Julia Domna, born at Emesa on the Orontes, and the daughter of one Julius Bassianus, priest of Baal in that city. An interesting and suggestive story is connected with this incident. Ever prone to superstition, in spite of his Athenian schooling, the widowed governor of Gaul found his second wife in one whose horoscope foretold that she should wed a king, and, though we may suppose a previous meeting in the East, this seems to have been the chief reason for his choice.
Of Julia herself we shall have occasion to speak more fully hereafter: for the present it is enough to say of her what Tacitus said of Poppaea, that she lacked nothing but virtue.
Septimius' next step in the cursus honorum was the proconsulate of Sicily, during the tenure of which he rendered himself liable to an impeachment for having consulted magicians, a step which any creature of Commodus would hasten to consider treasonable. Oleander, however, who was losing the favor of the emperor, resolutely acquitted the defendant and had the accuser crucified. The proconsulship belongs to the year 189, the impeachment doubtless to the early months of the following year.
On the 1st of April, 190, Septimius became consul suffectus, with Apuleius Rufinus as his colleague, but he seems to have made no greater mark on history in his first tenure of this office than the other twenty-four on whom Commodus thought good to bestow the doubtful honor. We cannot suppose Septimius’ consulship to have lasted for more than a month, and so from about the beginning of May until the end of the year he remained without office; he was, in fact, to quote his biographer, ‘anno ferme otiosus’.
The next post which he held was, thanks to the influence of the praetorian prefect Laetus, that of legatus of Pannonia, where, with three legions at his disposal and with Carnuntum for his headquarters, he had the duty of holding the line of the middle Danube. Here then, for two years and more, Septimius remained settling the province, which had been so shaken by the recent wars under Marcus Aurelius and his son, and doubtless winning-by his capable management of, and politic care for, his troops that popularity which was to stand him in such good stead in his bid for empire.
THE WAR OF ACCESSION
We have now reached the point at which the fortunes of Septimius are synonymous with those of the empire, but before we follow them farther we must turn back and review the state of affairs in Rome, to see in what manner preparation was being made (unconsciously) for the reception of a new dynasty.
If material prosperity is in any measure the criterion of a nation’s greatness we may not unnaturally see in the reign of Antoninus Pius the zenith of Roman power. Long before the end of his successor’s reign storm-clouds had begun to gather on the northern horizon, and neither the brave wars of a philosopher nor the shameful peace of a profligate could do more than postpone the coming danger. Trouble from the peoples from without the empire, seditions within it, a madman at its head—everything called for a new regime; but the daggers of Laetus, Narcissus, and their fellow conspirators offered no more than a very practical piece of destructive criticism.
On December 31, 192, Commodus was murdered. The praetorian prefect, Laetus, was the protagonist in the drama, but he had behind him the firm support of the Senate, whom the insults of the emperor had galvanized, for once, into something more than mere spitefulness. Whether or not Septimius was privy to the scheme seems to me a question which, in default of positive evidence on the point, it is more advisable to shelve than to answer. That Pertinax was not altogether without a shrewd suspicion of what was going to take place, nor entirely surprised by the deputation that offered him the crown on that New Year’s morning, is a supposition wanting neither evidence nor probability. The tyrant once dead, the Senate showed its spirit by an order that all his statues and inscriptions should be destroyed, and so thoroughly was this command carried out that even Hercules, with whom Commodus had identified himself, fell, in one instance, a victim to popular fury, real or simulated.
Of Publius Helvius Pertinax, the senatorial nominee in succession to Commodus, there is no need to speak at great length. His origin was humble, but lowly birth had long ceased to be a bar even to imperial honors, and a striking diversity of accomplishments compensated for any deficiency in this respect. Born on August 1, 126, his earliest occupation was his father’s, where his assiduity earned for him his cognomen: his next profession, that of a schoolmaster, he relinquished on his appointment to the praefecture of a cohort in Syria. Here he served in the Parthian war of Lucius Verus (162); with some distinction, it seems. On his return he was appointed curator or sub-curator of the Via Aemilia, was subsequently placed in command of the Rhine fleet, and finally made procurator of Dacia. The goodwill of the Emperor Marcus, to which he owed this last post, seems to have been suddenly withdrawn, and a short period of retirement or even disgrace supervened, from which he was rescued by the kind offices of Claudius Pompeianus, son-in-law of Marcus, and possibly a personal friend of his own. He served in the German war in some subsidiary position, was meanwhile given senatorial insignia, raised to praetorian rank, and then put in command of a legion. His sphere of action was Raetia and Noricum. In 175 he was appointed to the consulship, in which office he possibly had Didius Julianus for a colleague. After his consulship he seems to have fought (in what capacity we do not know) against the pretender, Avidius Cassius, in Syria, towards the end of the year 176. His next office was that of governor of the two Moesias, then of Dacia, and afterwards of Syria, where he was at the time of Marcus’ death (180). Ex-governor of four consular provinces, he returned to Rome in 181 a rich man and entered the Senate an unpopular one. Perennis typified and voiced this unpopularity, and Pertinax, bowing before the storm, retired to his native Liguria. On the death of the minister in 185 he was recalled and sent to Britain, where he quelled a rebellion of the legions. Presumably in 187 he became praefectus alimentornm; then proconsul of Africa; next praefectus urbi, and finally, in 192, consul for the second time with Commodus.
On January 1, 193, as we have seen, Pertinax exchanged the consular for the imperial robes; but he was not destined to wear them long. Nothing is stranger or more indicative of the precarious position of an emperor than the rapidity with which his fate overtook one whose accession was hailed with such universal joy. Like Galba, whom in his short imperial career he strikingly resembles, he had a senatorial majority at his back, while the coins and inscriptions of his three months’ reign attest a provincial loyalty not wholly time-serving. After a vain attempt to thrust the reins of government into the hands of his old general, Claudius Pompeianus, Pertinax set himself to remedy some at least of the abuses introduced by his predecessor. Like Galba, again, his reforming zeal carried him too far, and Capitolinus expressly notes that the law concerning praetors earned him much unpopularity. National bankruptcy, too (yet another echo of 69), stared him in the face; and though he sought to meet the emergency by such legitimate measures as the sale of Commodus’ instruments of luxury and vice (Capitolinus characteristically gives us a veritable sale catalogue), yet he is not free from the accusation of having had recourse to the less creditable method of raising the wind by means of the sale of offices and appointments. Laetus, we are told, repented bitterly of his choice, and one of the consuls of the year broke into open revolt; nor did the consequent execution of many soldiers on insufficient (i. e. servile) evidence serve to increase the loyalty of the army. To cut a long story short the well-meaning emperor took but two months completely to alienate the sympathies of most of his quondam supporters, whose hatred found expression in the spear of one Tausius, a Tungrian of the guard. The murder took place on March 28, 193.
If the murderers of Commodus had no other constructive scheme than the delegation of the supreme authority to an honest but tactless sexagenarian, how much more unprepared were the next imperial assassins? The empire lay without a master; and, as on the decease of Galba, three candidates, one put forward by the soldiery of Rome, the other two by provinces respectively of the east and the west, were found ready to bid for empire. Once more, as in the year 69, his position enabled the Roman pretender to forestall his provincial competitors, and on the same day as had seen the murder of Pertinax, the rich senator M. Didius Julianus assumed the purple, an honor for which he is said to have paid 25,000 sesterces to each man of the praetorians, and which he enjoyed for some sixty-four days. But though Julianus was the successful praetorian candidate he was not, if we may believe our authorities, the only one. Two claimants appeared, the other of whom was Flavius Sulpicianus, the city prefect and father-in-law of the dead Pertinax. He it was who was acclaimed, or at least on the point of being acclaimed, emperor within the walls of the praetorian camp, when Julianus, encouraged alike by his ambition and his family, approached the walls from the outside and started to outbid Sulpicianus. How far this extraordinary story of the auction of the empire is true or not is hard to say. Spartian, untrue to his character, treats the sensational incident very cursorily, though giving us a picture of Julianus ‘e muro ingentia pollicentem’; and adds that it was not until the latter had warned the praetorians that Sulpicianus would undoubtedly avenge his son-in-law’s death, whereas himself would restore the Commodan regime, that the gates were opened to the successful claimant. Herodian gives a much fuller account, including a picturesque description of Julianus in a state of intoxication, mounting on to the wall by means of a ladder; while even the staid Dio admits most distinctly the fact that some form of sale by auction did take place. Startling, therefore, though the story is, we are bound, in face of the evidence, to accept it.
But though money raised Julianus to the throne of the Caesars, it could not keep him there. The plebs hated him because they had recognized in Pertinax a possible restorer of constitutional government, and saw in Julianus the dashing of their hopes. They evinced, too, a pharisaic inconsistency in objecting alike to the parsimony of Pertinax and the suspected luxury of his successor; so unpopular indeed was he that the soldiers were obliged to escort him to the palace ‘holding their shields over his head, lest any should stone him from the houses’. The Senate both loathed and feared him, for had he not come, a second Commodus, to supersede the senatorial Pertinax? Dio gives a realistic picture of the nervousness of that august body when the new emperor entered the Senate-house to obtain the fathers’ ratification of his position, which ratification he showed himself not unwilling to extract by force of arms should it be refused. Even the soldiers, as we shall see later, were unwilling to fight for one who owed his election at their hands rather to his money than his merits.
Meanwhile, at least one more would-be emperor was not idle. Whether or not Severus foresaw and worked for his elevation during Commodus’ life, at least the death of Pertinax afforded him an opening and a pretext of which he was not slow to avail himself. To pose as the avenger of a constitutional emperor would win him the affections of both Senate and people, while with a superior force at his back he had little need to consult the wishes of the praetorians. Pertinax, as we have seen, fell on March 28. On April 13 Septimius addressed a meeting of his troops in Carnuntum, the chief city of Pannonia and his own head-quarters, told them of the murder, reminded them of the sterling character of the dead emperor as shown there among them in the Illyrian wars of Marcus, depicted the effeminacy of the praetorians, contrasting it with their own hardihood, and finally, if we can believe Herodian, who of course gives the speech in extenso, exhorted them to march on Rome before his rival Niger, of whose defection he must have heard, could cover the longer distance which separated him from the capital. His speech was enthusiastically received, himself acclaimed emperor, and preparations begun for the southern march. And, indeed, he started with fair promise of success. With the exception of Byzantium, which adhered to Niger, and of Britain, which might reasonably be expected to follow Albinus should he dissociate himself from Septimius, all Europe was on his side.
Niger had as yet made no move, and Albinus he had mollified by the offer of Caesarship and the promise of a consulship. Besides his own three legions (or four if we include II adiutrix, the legion of Lower Pannonia, stationed at Aquineum) he could count on the support of the four in Germany, the two in Raetia and Noricum, the two in Dacia, and four in Moesia. The African legion, moreover, was favorable to him, as the event proved.
Leaving some troops (perhaps only auxiliaries) to guard the frontier, Severus hastened to Rome by forced marches: no soldier took off his breastplate between Carnuntum and Rome, says Dio. His route seems to have been that followed by Vespasian’s general, Antonius Primus, and he entered Italy by the passes of the Julian Alps, outstripping, so at least says Herodian, the news of his approach. His first success was the defection of the Ravenna fleet and the voluntary surrender of the town. The praetorian prefect, Tullius Crispinus, sent by Julianus to guard against this mishap, arrived too late and was forced to retire.
At this point the emperor seems to have lost his head: first he declared Septimius a public enemy and sent an embassy to recall his troops to allegiance; many of the embassy seceded, and one, Vespronius Candidus, who remained faithful, barely escaped with his life. Then he endeavored to ensure the continued loyalty of the guards by enormous bribes, but, as he seems not to have paid up his 25,000 sesterces per man, the money was taken as a debt paid rather than an obligation incurred. He next suggested an appeal ad misericordiam by means of a deputation of vestal virgins, but was sharply reprimanded by the augur Plautius Quintillus, who reminded him that he could be no emperor who could not support his claims with the sword. Julianus was, however, averse to violent measures. He appointed a third praetorian prefect, one Veturius Macrinus, a nominee of Septimius; and, after a preliminary and abortive attempt on Septimius’ life, offered to share the empire with him. The one thing he does not seem to have done is to have fought, although certain authorities make mention of a battle at the Milvian bridge. Some martial preparations, however, were made, trenches were dug before the city, and circus elephants were requisitioned for war purposes with the intention of striking amazement into the unsophisticated Illyrian. In this they would probably have succeeded. A detachment from the fleet at Misenum was summoned, but, according to Dio, the sailors were as unused to military discipline as the elephants, and as useless. Laetus and Marcia, two of Commodus’ murderers, were next sacrificed, presumably to enlist still further the goodwill of the praetorians. Deserted of men the bewildered emperor had recourse to the gods, or at least to the art of magic, and sought to avert by child-sacrifice the doom prophesied by maniac children. As for Tullius Crispinus, entrusted with Julianus’ offer to Septimius of half the empire, he not only failed in his object but also lost his life. Meanwhile, the disgust at the incompetence and cowardice of the emperor, voiced by Quintillus, found still more definite expression in the desertions of his troops in Umbria and in the consequent throwing open of the Apennine passes to Septimius. Julian’s counterstroke was to entrust Lollianus Titianus with the arming of a school of gladiators, and to offer a share of empire to Marcus’ old general and son-in-law, Claudius Pompeianus. The latter refused the doubtful honor, pleading old age and defective sight; and, just when the emperor’s cup of sorrows seemed full, the praetorians, his last and only hope, went over to his rival. Hereupon the Senate took action. Notice of the praetorians’ defection had been duly given to the consul Silius Messala, who accordingly summoned the fathers to a meeting in the Athenaeum. Here the unhappy Julian was condemned to death and Septimius declared emperor in his stead.
So on the 1st of June perished the luckless emperor, an example ready to hand for all who would preach on the vanity of riches. His character is difficult to estimate, so quickly is he flashed upon the screen of history and so quickly withdrawn. His vacillation, to call it by no harsher name, cannot be denied, yet a firm and consistent policy in the face of so many difficulties might have been looked for in vain from many a man the world has called hero, had he been situated as was Julian. The morbid interest attaching to the last words of a man of note is one which the historiographers of the late empire ever found irresistible. Those of Julian were, so Dio informs us, a pitiful appeal to the assassin, not a convincing one to the historian: the cry of a negative spirit. Circumstanced as Otho had been, he lacked the resolution of that prince, and cannot like him be said to have atoned for the ineffectiveness of his life by his manner of leaving it.
The Senate had made away with an emperor, and their next care was to welcome his successor. Septimius’ pose as the avenger of their representative Pertinax clearly counted for something, but it is more than doubtful whether the governor of Pannonia would have exercised a higher claim than a member of their own body, or even than the popular candidate Niger, had it not been for his actual presence in the peninsula.
Conveniently forgetting, therefore, that some week or so ago they had declared Septimius a public enemy, an embassy of one hundred senators set out to meet him. Septimius was at Interamna. The reception accorded them was scarcely encouraging, as they were submitted to a preliminary search for concealed arms, a proceeding which the previous attempt on Septimius’ life fully justified and for which he could have found precedent, had he so wished, in the similar action of Vespasian and Claudius. The present of ninety aurei apiece and the offer of a place in his triumphal entry into Rome may have been considered by some as a compensation for the indignity. Three other events seem to have happened prior to Septimius’ arrival in Rome. One was the mission of L. Fulvius Plautianus to the capital, with orders to secure Niger’s sons as hostages for their father’s loyalty to the new emperor; another the appointment of Flavius Juvenalis to the praefecture of the praetorians; and the third, the punishment of that body for their murder of Pertinax. This last occurrence was of a somewhat dramatic character. The soldiers were summoned to the Campus Martins, unarmed and in civilian dress; arrived, they were at once surrounded by the Illyrians and harangued by the emperor. Herodian does not fail to give the speech. He would inaugurate his reign by no bloodshed, yet could not pardon so dastardly a crime: the praetorians might therefore consider themselves as exiles whose lives would be safe if, and only if, they advanced no nearer the city than the hundredth milestone. Thus the king-makers left Rome. Quite clearly, however, a new guard had to be formed. Of the formation of this guard we find the fullest information in the pages of Dio. According to this writer eligibility for admission into the guard had been previously restricted to Italians, Spaniards, Macedonians, and Noricans: this special privilege was now done away with, and. any soldier of the empire, no matter from what province he came, might be advanced to the position of a praetorian. This circumstance has been pointed to, together with certain others, as indicative of a clearly marked tendency towards the Barbarisierung of the Roman army of the third century, but with very little justification. The spread of Roman civilization from Rome itself as a centre to the outermost provinces was a mere matter of time, and by the close of the second century there is no reason to suppose even the Spaniard more Roman than the Syrian, the Macedonian than the Dacian. According, then, as this civilization spread, so spread the privileges it entailed. In the time of Tiberius the dignity of the praetorian guard was reserved for Italians alone, and indeed not for all of them: the ex-legate of Lower Germany, Vitellius, was the first emperor to admit soldiers from the distant legions into that elite body, and it is only a natural extension of this very obvious principle that led Septimius to take the step he did. If the Roman army was barbarized by this measure then the Roman Empire was barbarized by Caracalla’s gift of universal citizenship.
Septimius’ entry into Rome must have been an impressive spectacle. The emperor advanced on horseback attired as a general as far as the gates: here, as Vitellius had done before him, he dismounted, and entered the city on foot and in civilian dress. At the gates, too, the Senate met and welcomed him, while the people flocked round him wearing laurel-wreaths on their heads. The whole town indeed was decorated with laurel and with flowers, the streets were packed, one man climbing on another’s shoulders the better to see the new emperor and to hear his voice. Senators mingled freely with the mob. The procession went first to the Capitol, where sacrifice was offered: then to the palace, the soldiers carrying before Septimius the standards taken from the disgraced and dismissed guard. The wildest enthusiasm prevailed, nor were dissentient voices raised in opposition to the general rejoicing; only a few Christians refused resolutely to illuminate their houses. It was not until Severus had been in Rome some days that the populace began to view the presence of the Illyrian soldiery in the capital with perhaps not ungrounded suspicion.
On the next day Septimius entered the Senate-house attended by soldiers and friends. He was tactful enough to swear the oath sworn by all ‘good’ emperors, as Dio calls them, to the effect that he would put to death no senator, though he never considered himself in the least bound by it in theory or in practice. Indeed, he seems to have made a very specious oration, in which, as Herodian tells us, he vindicated his position as Pertinax’ avenger, held out the brightest hopes for the future, professed an energetic anti-delatores policy, and promised to take Marcus Aurelius as a pattern for all his actions.
One of the new emperor’s first acts was the funeral and deification of the murdered Pertinax. The first scene was enacted in the Forum. Upon a platform, ostensibly of stone, but in reality of wood, was placed a highly ornamented couch, covered with purple and gold brocade, on which lay a waxen image of the dead emperor, as though he were not dead but slept; the pretence being heightened by the presence of a beautiful slave, who, with a fan of peacock's feathers, kept the flies from off the sleeper’s face. When all were assembled, the senators seated in the open, their ladies in the basilicae hard by, there advanced a chorus of men and boys singing a dirge for Pertinax. A strange procession folio wed—lictors, knights, imagines of famous Romans, after which was carried an altar adorned with gold and ivory and precious stones. When all had filed past Septimius ascended the rostrum and delivered an encomium on the murdered emperor, frequently interrupted by the applause or the tears of the assembled senators. On the conclusion of the speech the multitude followed the bier to the Campus Martius, whither it was carried by the priests and the knights, the emperor himself bringing up the rear of the procession. Here a gorgeous pyre had been erected, made of gold and ivory, and decorated with statues; on it stood the gilded chariot Pertinax had been wont to drive. Into this chariot were thrown the funeral gifts, and on it was placed the couch containing the figure. After Septimius and the relatives of Pertinax had kissed this waxen image, and the senators had taken their seats on benches provided for them, the consuls applied torches to the pyre, released from which, as it burned, an eagle flew up to heaven, thereby typifying the addition of yet another deity to the elastic Roman pantheon. Other marks of honor were the erection of a temple, and of a golden statue which was set up in the circus, and the institution of a religious guild and priesthood dedicated to the service of the dead emperor. Of Septimius’ adoption of the name Pertinax we have already spoken.
The new emperor had entered his capital: it now remained for him to see that no rival claimed a like entrance, and to crush Eastern and Western sedition ere either gathered strength and overwhelmed him. But before he could turn his eyes abroad he felt it incumbent upon him to establish in Rome a position which he himself would have been the last to consider secure. The Senate, it is true, was on his side, but there had been too much sitting on the fence for very much sympathy or mutual trust to exist between the emperor and his advisory board. Those who, at the instigation of Julian, had declared Septimius a public enemy could scarcely be considered loyal adherents of dead or living prince. The city mob, too, were, as we have seen, pro-Nigerian in sentiment, nor was their confidence in Septimius increased when they saw Pannonian soldiers issuing from the barracks in place of the tame praetorians to whom they had grown accustomed. Accordingly, during the brief thirty days spent by the emperor in Rome before setting out' for the East, measures were taken by him more completely to secure his position. First of all he sought to win the favor of the populace by means of a congiarium and a series of costly games. Further, he bettered the city’s corn supply in some way, and showed himself an energetic and a stern administrator of justice. Besides these bids for popularity he endeavored to crush any sympathy that might still be felt for the cause of Julian by a systematic persecution of that luckless prince’s known or suspected adherents, together with an abortive attack on his measures. To secure partisans in high places he gave his two daughters by his first wife Marcia in marriage respectively to Aetius and Probus, whom he also appointed consuls, and the latter of whom he would have made city prefect had not that post been refused with the tactful remark that to accept it after becoming son-in-law of an emperor would be a degradation. The post refused by Probus was bestowed upon Domitius Dexter, who thus succeeded Bassus. All was now ready, and before the end of July Septimius set out against his first rival; but the causes and the manner of his going demand a separate chapter for their treatment.
THE WAR AGAINST NIGER
Of the early life of Gaius Pescennius Niger Justus we are singularly ill-informed. With unusual candor, though with characteristic vagueness, his biographer tells us that some represent him of a middle class, others of noble family, and gives us only the names of his father, Annius Fuscus, and his mother, Lampridia. From the same source we learn that one of his grandfathers was curator of Aquinum. Dio assures us that he was of equestrian birth, and an examination of his career bears out the statement. Niger was probably older than either of his rivals, and his birth may be set somewhere between the years 135 and 140. That his position in the official world in and before 193 should be only the same as that of the younger imperial aspirants, i.e. that his advancement was slower than theirs, may be taken as an indication of his comparatively lowly birth. He seems to have held the post of primus pilus, and certainly was afterwards three times military tribune. He next held some command in Egypt in or about the year 172, exactly what his position there was is a matter of some uncertainty, but the most probable supposition is that he was praefectus castrorum of the auxiliary troops stationed in that province.
The next step was probably a financial procuratorship in Palestine which Niger may have held sometime between 175 and 180, and possibly, too, one in Rome itself, where he is said to have raised the pay of the consiliarii.
Niger now left the ranks of the equestrians and entered the Senate by means of adlectio inter praetorios—a method of which Commodus is said to have made extensive use. The date of this advancement cannot be stated with any certainty. It was of course prior to his consulship, which occurred most probably in 190 and probably after his term of service in the Dacian war (circ. 183), in which he fought in some equestrian office. After his Dacian command Niger was sent to help crush the revolt of Maternus in Gaul (circ. 187), and here, if tradition speak true, he made the acquaintance and won the esteem of Septimius. In 190 the future rivals both held the consulship. The next year saw Niger appointed to the governorship of Syria, an honor which he owed, seemingly, to the good offices of Narcissus, the athlete who strangled Commodus. In this post he succeeded his own future adherent in the war, Asellius Aemilianus. It was as Syrian legate some eighteen months later that Niger heard of the death of Pertinax, and on the receipt of that news immediately raised the standard of revolt.
The character of Niger as transmitted to us by the pens of ancient historians forms a strange medley of conflicting statements, and at the risk of some tediousness the matter is worth looking into, if only as a striking example of the raw material on which the modern historian has to work. Dio paints him in neutral colors, finding in him cause neither for blame nor praise. Herodian gives him a good character, stating that he had the reputation of being a skilful and a kindly man, and mentioning his good rule and consequent popularity in Syria; nevertheless he informs us that Niger’s delay in Antioch was due entirely to his insatiable pursuit of the pleasures of that city, and to his over-mastering interest in the shows and festivals wherewith he amused the flighty populace. His conclusion is that Niger paid the penalty for his slackness and procrastination, two faults which marred a character otherwise irreproachable, were he judged as a general or as a private individual. So far we are not involved in any startling contradiction : for them we must look to Spartian. Herodian has found fault with his slackness: Spartian calls him ‘in re militari vehemens’, gives many anecdotes illustrative of his firm and energetic generalship, and assures us he was ‘moribus ferox’. Marcus Aurelius, we are told, gave him credit for gravity of life: if Herodian correctly pictures his life in Antioch we can only marvel at the unseasonableness of Niger’s departure from the paths of virtue. But it must not be supposed that Spartian differs in his judgment of Niger’s character only from his brother historians: that he is at liberty to do. He unfortunately differs from himself. In spite of the justice with which he credits him, he admits that he was at the same time ‘vita fictus’ and ‘moribus turpis’. He was ‘vini avidus’, yet two anecdotes are told which intimate that he had but little sympathy with his soldiers’ desire for liquor: true, these statements are not irreconcilable. Lastly, the account (by his biographer) of his attitude to the less reputable pleasures of life awakens suspicion in the most credulous reader. Spartian’s conclusion is that he would have made a good emperor; certainly a better one than Septimius.
Ad maiora redeamus. We have already noticed the fact that of the three competitors for empire Niger was the most popular at Rome. We have next to consider what material strength he possessed and what chances he stood in the struggle. Geographically he was at a disadvantage as compared either with Albinus or Severus: that is to say, given the fact that all three struck at one and the same moment, Severus would reach Rome considerably sooner than either of the other two. As regards spheres of influence and popularity we may say roughly that western Europe was for Albinus, central and eastern Europe for Septimius, and Asia pro-Nigerian to a man. This meant that Albinus could count on his three British legions, on what troops could be raised in Gaul, and possibly on the legion in Spain, that Septimius had sixteen or seventeen legions at his back, and that Niger commanded the allegiance of the nine legions of the East.
From non-Roman sources Niger got many promises and little help. A ‘king of Thebes’ befriended him, but his goodwill was expressed by nothing more useful than the gift of a statue. Vologeses V of Parthia was doubtless far too preoccupied with the troubles that were so soon to prove destructive of his own empire to do more than make a nominal peace with the revolted Roman governor. The king of Armenia answered Niger’s appeals for help by the statement that he would join neither side: and indeed the only assistance that actually arrived was a small force of archers sent by Barsemius of Hatra—a piece of generosity which, as we shall see, cost that monarch dear. The chief centre of Nigerianism was, as we might have expected, Antioch, and it was here that nearly all his coins were minted.
There seems to me absolutely no reason to doubt the truth of Herodian’s account of Niger’s dilatoriness in Antioch; indeed, we may see in this fact one of the most effective causes of his failure. Had that general begun his march on Rome when Septimius began his, he should have reached the borders of Italy some time during Septimius’ thirty days in Rome. With the help of his friend Asellius Aemilianus, proconsul of Asia, he might have won for himself the support of eastern Europe, whose adherence to Severus was one of compulsion rather than of goodwill, and a second Vespasian might have won a third battle of Betriacum with more than nine legions at his back.
This is mere conjecture: the actual first steps in the war were as follows. Convinced of the importance of securing some pied-à-terre in Europe, and perhaps with the intention of marching thence upon Italy by the Via Egnatia, Niger sent forward an army to secure Byzantium.
Three things helped him in this move. He held the Taurus passes, and indeed, perhaps with some premonition of what was to come, closed them behind him to guard against pursuit in case of a reverse. Secondly, as has been mentioned, he could count on the hearty co-operation of Asellius Aemilianus, the proconsul of Asia. Thirdly, we read of no attempt at resistance from Byzantium, and conclude that a voluntary surrender took place, doubtless thanks to the goodwill of Claudius Attalus, the governor of Thrace. Advantage of this fact was taken to secure Perinthus also and the northern coast of the Propontis, and so to prevent a landing of Septimius’ troop.
Meanwhile Septimius himself was not idle. His first care was to find some counter-move to his rival’s advance on Byzantium. In this he was helped by three men: his brother, Publius Septimius Geta, was left as governor of the three Daciae in charge of the middle and lower Danube frontier. Marius Maximus was set in command of the Moesian troops, and at their head marched straight on Byzantium from the west, while L. Fabius Cilo supported the latter with a body of soldiers possibly from Galatia. Cilo indeed it was who fought the first action in the war, for, coming into contact with Aemilianus’ troops somewhere west of Byzantium, he suffered a defeat at their hands. The advance of Marius with the main body seems to have checked any attempt on the part of Aemilianus towards further westerly aggression. In fact Niger’s general, leaving a strong force to hold Byzantium, soon afterwards left that city and crossed over into Asia. For the cause of this move we must look to Septimius and the main army.
Before he could leave Rome for the East it was obvious that the emperor must guard against any possible rear attack. Only two such were at all likely. Niger might put Vespasian’s plan into execution and use Egypt—a country of whose loyalty he was well assured—as a base whence to starve Rome into submission. To safeguard himself against such a contingency Septimius sent a force to hold that country. The other source of danger was D. Clodius Albinus, governor of Britain. Him Severus seems to have won over by the offer of the title ‘Caesar’; in other words, by making him heir-apparent. In spite of the existence of Caracalla and Geta, Albinus seems to have considered this in the light of a genuine offer: at least it kept him quiet for more than two years.
Sometime early in July, probably, Septimius left Rome at the head of those forces by whose help he had won his way into Italy. That he went by land, and not by sea, we know from the fact that nine miles north of Rome, along the Via Flaminia at Rubra Saxa, a mutiny occurred among the troops. Some of the emperor’s forces, however, seem to have gone by sea from Brundisium to Dyrrhachium, whence they would proceed towards Perinthus and Byzantium by the Via Egnatia. Whether these troops joined Marius Maximus outside Byzantium or waited for the main body under Septimius we do not know. The emperor himself knew better than to waste time in laying siege to so well-fortified a city as Byzantium; he accordingly left Marius to carry on the investment and himself crossed over to Cyzicus. Meanwhile Aemilianus had left Byzantium on the somewhat late arrival of Niger, and had crossed over once more into Asia, possibly also to Cyzicus, though he must have arrived there some little time before Septimius. We are not told whether any attempt was made by Aemilianus to prevent the landing of the Severan troops, though several skirmishes seem to have taken place, in one of which Aemilianus lost his life. The result of this defeat was instant flight on the part of the Nigerians, and a pied-à-terre in Asia for Severus: also the adhesion to his side of several Asiatic cities, among whom the old Greek spirit was by no means a dead letter. The most important instances of this were Nicaea, which joined Niger, and Nicomedia, which espoused the cause of Severus. Another and a still more important effect of the defeat of Aemilianus was the retirement of Niger from Byzantium into Asia. After his victory at Cyzicus, Severus moved eastwards through Mysia into Bithynia. The meagerness of our sources, and the rather cursory treatment of the war by the best of them, makes the strategy difficult, if not impossible, to understand. Niger presumably crossed to Chalcedon and marched south, his objective being Nicaea. To do this he must have passed Nicomedia, but the Severan party seem to have made no attempt to bar his progress. Meanwhile we may suppose Septimius’ army to have advanced through Miletopolis to Prusa. Thence it probably struck due north for Cios. The two armies thus lay at Nicaea and Cios respectively, and from those towns they advanced to meet one another, the route lying along the shores of Lake Ascanius. It is impossible to say with certainty whether the battle took place on the north or the south side of the lake. Dio's account is as follows: “the scene of the action was a plain”.
Severus’ troops were under the command of Tiberius Claudius Candidus, the emperor himself being presumably not present. They avoided the plain, taking up a position on the slopes of a hill. The Nigerians, forced to occupy the lower ground, sought to create a diversion by manning some boats, putting off from shore, and raining arrows upon the Severans as they advanced down the slope. The sudden appearance of Niger himself caused a reaction, and things would have gone ill with the Severan army had not Candidus succeeded in rallying his scattered forces and, eventually, in driving the Nigerians in rout from the field of battle. So ended the second important engagement of the war. The emperor had again been successful and took the title Imperator for the third time. The defeat must have been a crushing one for Niger, for it caused him to fall back upon his last line of defence, the Taurus passes. Leaving a body of troops to hold the Cilician Gates which lead from Cappadocia into Cilicia, the defeated general himself retired to Antioch, where he found himself obliged to deal with enemies in his own province. As in Asia, so here, out of hatred of the people of Antioch those of Laodicea had espoused the cause of the Illyrian, while in Phoenicia a similar motive had thrown the inhabitants of Tyre and Berytus into the arms respectively of Septimius and Niger. They were recalled by Niger to their allegiance in no lenient manner.
Meanwhile Septimius hastened after his fugitive rival. Passing through Dorylaeum, Pessinus, Abrostola, and Tyana the army arrived at the Cilician Gates, a pass difficult enough to negotiate even without the presence of a hostile force. The Nigerians were posted on the heights overlooking the pass, while others had constructed, and were now holding, some kind of earthwork fortification in the pass itself. The Severan army, under the command of Anullinus and Valerianus, advanced to the attack. The Nigerians rained down stones upon them from their superior position, and succeeded in holding them at bay for some considerable time. At last, however, Valerianus, taking the cavalry with him, made a detour through some high wooded ground on one side of the pass and soon appeared in the rear of the Nigerians, Anullinus the while holding his ground in the northern entrance of the pass. This decided the affair. Those of Niger’s army who could not cut their way through Valerianus’ cavalry, or fly over the mountains, were easily surrounded and overcome. The pass was forced, and Cilicia and the road to Antioch lay open to the victor.
The news of the forcing of the Cilician Gates roused Niger from his punitive measures against the rebellious Syrians to a more effective strategy. Leaving Antioch he marched north with all haste, and met the victorious Severan army at Issus. There, where, more than five hundred years before, the forces of the West had met and defeated those of the East, the Syrian general underwent his final reverse. We know no details of the battle save the fact that a violent rainstorm which beat in the faces of the Nigerians was no small cause of their defeat. The slaughter was enormous, and the streams ran with blood, while many were driven into the sea and perished in the waves. Those who escaped seem to have counted little on the possible lenience of the victor, and preferred to take refuge with the Adiabeni or the Parthians rather than to fall into his hands. Their presence in the East, if we can believe Herodian on the point, gave Septimius considerably more trouble than he would otherwise have had with his subsequent Eastern campaigns, owing to the fact that they were able not only to reinforce, but (a much more important matter) to train these peoples in the usages of Roman warfare.
Niger himself realized that the end had come. Mounting a swift horse, he rode full speed for Antioch, where he found the citizens in a state of utter consternation, and the city full of lamentation, the women weeping for sons, brothers, or lovers killed in the last battle. Feeling no doubt unsafe in Antioch he fled farther East and succeeded in reaching the Euphrates; but he was not destined to cross that river. Septimius had entered Antioch and sent a party in pursuit of the fugitive. On the banks of the Euphrates they found him, beheaded him, and dispatched the head to Septimius, who in turn sent it on to Byzantium, to be at once a proof of the success that had crowned his arms, and an example of the fate in store for those temerarious enough to defy his sovereignty.
We have now reached the late autumn or early winter of the year 194. One of the emperor’s rivals was dead, the other scarcely as yet considered dangerous, but the empire was not yet won, nor could there be any question of Septimius’ immediate return to Rome. Not only did Byzantium still offer a stubborn resistance: there remained also the Eastern supporters of Niger to punish, besides possible wars of aggression or frontier defense to be undertaken in the unsettled hinterland. The emperor’s vengeance fell upon two classes of people—those at home who showed ill will to his cause, and those who had actually opposed his arms in Asia. Those at home resolve themselves into the Senate, and to this body he seems to have shown an unusual leniency. No senator was killed, though many suffered banishment and the loss of all their property. By this method, as well as that of fining individuals and cities to the tune of three times the sums of money they had lent Niger, Septimius gained no small store of wealth. Dio preserves for us an anecdote of one Cassius Clemens who boldly pointed out to the emperor that for himself his one care had been to be rid of the usurper Julianus, and that his being found on Niger’s side was a mere matter of chance, inasmuch as he had no personal knowledge either of Niger or Septimius, nor yet of their qualifications for the governance of the empire. The emperor acknowledged and rewarded this temerity by the remission of one half of Clemens’ property: the other half was duly confiscated.
In his treatment of the pro-Nigerian cities Severus does not seem to have shown excessive rancor. The first to suffer was Antioch, a city against which he had long nursed a spite on account of the jokes leveled by its inhabitants at him during his previous sojourn in Syria. Not only was it taken and sacked: it was also deposed from its position as capital of Syria and made subservient to Laodicea, which now received the title of Metropolis. The Samaritan city of Neapolis—the biblical Sichem—was another sufferer for its adhesion to Niger; the hatred of the Samaritans for the Jews is reason enough for the former’s support of the Eastern pretender, whose hatred of the latter race was notorious and ineradicable. But besides punishing enemies Septimius was careful to reward friends. We have already seen how that Laodicea was honored by its elevation to the rank of capital of Syria, and may add that it now received the ius Ilalicum. A similar right was conferred on Tyre, and both cities assumed the title Septimia. The evidence of coins and the Digest goes to show that many towns became ‘Septimian’ colonies and received the ius Italicum or the right to style themselves metropolis about this time, while others attested their joy by the celebration of games in the emperor’s honor.
Meanwhile Severus wasted no time. Early in the spring of the year 195 he left Syria and marched at the head of his troops to the Euphrates. Crossing this river, perhaps at Serrhae, he struck boldly into the Mesopontine desert. The weather was intensely hot, and the troops suffered terribly alike from it as from the want of water, but at last his objective, Nisibis, was reached. During the war with Niger three Mesopotamian peoples had seized what they considered a favorable opportunity to enlarge their territories at the expense of Roman dependencies or vassals. These were the Adiabeni, the Osrhoeni, and the Scenite Arabs. The first two peoples had laid siege to Nisibis, and had been repulsed by a force dispatched by Septimius in the course of the Civil War. On the news of Niger’s death, they had sent an embassy, in which they explained that their action against Nisibis had been due entirely to a desire to punish a city which they knew to be favorably disposed towards Severus’ rival. As, however, they showed no inclination to relinquish their recent acquisitions, and raised objections to the presence of a Roman force in their countries, the emperor had realized the hollowness of their professions and had declared war on them. Much the same had happened with regard to the Scenite Arabs : they too had sent an embassy making demands so preposterous that Septimius refused to hear them. A second deputation had proffered more reasonable requests, but as the Arab chiefs had been above visiting the emperor in person, the latter had been offended and had seized upon that fact as sufficient excuse for the declaration of war. On his arrival in Nisibis, which city he rewarded for its faithfulness by raising it to the dignity of a colony and by putting it under the administrative care of a Roman knight, the war commenced. Severus himself took no part in it, remaining all the time in Nisibis itself, and entrusting the conduct of the campaign to Candidus, Lateranus, Laetus, Anullinus, and Probus. The war opened with the dispatch of Candidus, Lateranus, and Laetus in charge of troop, whose sole object seems to have been the laying waste of the country. They do not appear to have met with any great success, and the threat of the Scythians to join forces with the enemy—a threat which only atmospheric phenomena of the gravest import prevented that people from putting into execution—aroused the emperor to the realization of the necessity for a more systematic strategy. Some time, therefore, in the late summer of 195, Laetus, Anullinus, and Probus devastated the enemy’s country in three divisions, and finally captured the chief town Arche.
This settled the campaign, and by the winter of the year Septimius was ready to return to Europe. In spite of the three more imperial salutations we may doubt whether this war was really the success Septimius would have people believe. Dio is loud in his denunciations of the emperor as involving Rome in a series of Eastern wars as unnecessary in origin as they were inconclusive in effect, and does not hesitate to attribute this campaign to his inordinate ambition and love of glory. We must, I think, keep the two considerations separate. The return of Septimius to the East barely three years later certainly shows the unsatisfactory character of the conclusion arrived at by the war. At the same time Severus, as we shall see later, had a definite policy of Eastern expansion. He cannot fail to have known that the Parthian empire itself was tottering to its fall, and must have realized that now, if ever, was the time to establish a definite frontier such as the Tigris. Is it likely, too, that so level-headed a man would leave the most important city in Eastern Europe in revolt behind him, not to mention the clouds of rebellion visibly gathering on the Western horizon, had he been actuated merely by motives of personal aggrandizement. Whatever may have been the real result of the war we find the emperor quite early in 195 assuming the title of conqueror, and on his coins we now for the first time read Parthicus Arabicus, Parthicus Adiabenicus, a title familiar to all who have seen the Arch of Severus in the Forum at Rome.
Whether or not Septimius would have returned to Rome by way of Byzantium is impossible to say. Had this been his intention, however, it must have been dissipated by the news he received shortly after leaving Nisibis some time about June of the year 196. Byzantium had fallen. For nearly three years, that is to say from about autumn 193 until the summer of 196, it had undergone the closest investment. The beleaguered garrison had received no small help from fugitive Nigerians who had somehow forced an entrance, and the defense seems to have been earned on in a most spirited fashion. Especially noteworthy seems to have been the skill and energy of the engineer Priscus, to whom, indeed, the prolongation of the resistance was largely due. On the subsequent fall of the city he received the pardon, and entered into the service, of the victorious Septimius, and we shall meet him again doing as good service for that emperor at the siege of Hatra as ever he had done against him from the walls of Byzantium. Of those in command, and of their object in holding out now that they knew of Niger’s death, we are told nothing. Dio gives a long and detailed account of the siege. He dilates upon the strength of the city’s walls, the natural advantages of its site, the number and diverse character of its ships, and does not omit those sensational incidents without which any account of a siege would be incomplete. We have the divers who cut the anchor ropes of the enemy vessels; the patriotic females who sacrificed their hair for manufacture into the cords of engines; the statues, stone or bronze, fragmentary or entire, which, in lieu of more commonplace ammunition, those engines hurled, and finally the efforts of the starving citizens to obtain nourishment from the consumption of soaked leather, and even of each other. It was indeed owing to famine that the city fell. The punishment meted out by the emperor was severe in the extreme. The city lost all political rights, was made subject to tribute, and placed in an inferior position to its neighbor Perinthus, much as Antioch had been to Laodicea. Its fortifications were destroyed, its public buildings demolished, and its citizens deprived of all their property. Dio tells us that he saw the ruined city, and comments on the folly of an emperor who, to indulge a personal spite, opened the way for the ingress of barbarians into the empire. He omits to notice that not long afterwards either Septimius or Caracalla rebuilt the city.
THE WAR AGAINST ALBINUS
The reason for the hasty return of Septimius from the East, and for the consequent unsatisfactory condition of affairs he left behind him, is to be seen in Decimus Clodius Ceionius Septimius Albinus, propraetorian legate of the province of Britain. Born at Hadrumetum on the 25th of November in the year 143 or thereabouts, he received the literary education usually accorded to the upper-class Roman, though his military ambitions even at that age prevented his caring to be a scholar.
Freed from the restraints of the schoolroom he entered upon a military career, in which he received no small support from influential friends who introduced him to the notice of the Emperor Marcus. The latter seems to have been pleased with him, and to have entrusted him with the command of two auxiliary cohorts, dispatching him with a letter of recommendation to his superior officers: he was also at some time early in his career tribune of a cohors miliaria Dalmatarum. Excused the quaestorship he only held the aedileship for a period of ten days, when he was suddenly called away on active service.
This was, without much doubt, the Marcomannian war, which broke out in the year 167, and the post held by Albinus during this, or the early part of this, war, was that of commanding officer of the fourth legion (Flavia). From the command of the fourth legion he seems to have succeeded to that of the first, though whether of legio I adiutrix, stationed at Brigetio in Upper Pannonia, or of I Italica at Novae in Lower Moessia, we are not told.
Returning to Rome after the turning-point of the war in 172 he was appointed in 174 to the praetorship, and left the city in the year following to assume the duties of propraetorian legate of Bithynia. His holding of this office synchronized with the rebellion of Avidius Cassius in Syria, and his biographer notes the success with which he fortified the loyalty of the troops stationed in his province.
The date of his first consulship we do not know for certain. It was clearly during Commodus’ reign, and quite possibly at the beginning of it, if we may suppose that he held it before the series of military appointments which we go on to mention. The first of these was a command in the Dacian war of 182 or 183, where he had as one of his colleagues his future rival, Niger.
He was next appointed legate of one of the German provinces, where he seems to have done good service in repelling a transrhenane invasion. Meanwhile there had been trouble in the province of Britain. At least as early as 184 the governor, Ulpius Marcellus, had to face a Caledonian invasion, and the year following found a still more dangerous enemy in his own army, which seems to have shown symptoms of an inclination to bestow upon him an imperial title. In 186, as we have seen, this piece of insubordination was put down by Pertinax, who himself ran some risk of a similar elevation—such was the eagerness of the Western Island for an emperor of its own nomination. If we may believe his biographer, Capitolinus, Albinus was offered the title of Caesar by Commodus, and the vigorous speech in which he refused that dignity, and attempted to vindicate the position of the Senate as supreme arbiter of the Roman world, while winning him considerable popularity with that self-complacent body, nevertheless brought about his recall by the emperor, and the appointment of Junius Severus to take his office. The pro-senatorial Pertinax seems to have restored him to his position in Britain. It was then as legatus of this province that Albinus in the year 193 heard of the death of that emperor, of the elevation of Julian, and later of the attempts of Septimius and Niger to seize the empire for themselves.
Whether in Albinus or Septimius is to be seen the prime mover and first instigator of the war is a question which has received no unanimous answer from either the ancient or the modern historian. It is possible to lay the blame entirely on Albinus’ shoulders and to suppose that only on hearing of the assumption by the British legate of the imperial insignia was a generous emperor bound to vindicate his authority, and to make war upon one whom he would otherwise have continued in his honorable office, and later, perhaps, have raised to a still higher one. On the other hand, we may see in Albinus a harmless dupe who would have rested content with his province and his Caesarship had the emperor left him alone: one whose arrogation of the Augustan title was a last desperate step, motived only by a desire to be hung for a sheep rather than for a lamb. The truth, as so often, would seem to lie between these two extreme suppositions. We cannot believe that so sound a soldier as Septimius imagined for one moment that he had done more than shelve the Eastern question, or that he failed to realize the temporary nature of the peace of 196. Given no Albinus the Parthian war would probably have followed the Adiabenian without a break. At the same time the consciousness that he did not intend to continue regarding Albinus as Caesar, now that Niger was removed, together with vague reports indicative of the fact that Albinus now realized the insecurity of his position, was quite enough to justify his termination of the war by means of a safe, if inglorious, armistice.
Accordingly, some time towards the end of June Septimius left Nisibis for Europe. He was not yet clear of Mesopotamia when he received the welcome news of the fall of Byzantium, and hastened to impart it to his troops.
Returning, doubtless, the same way as he had come, the emperor should have reached the newly captured city by the beginning of September, and should have been in Viminacium sometime early in the following month. Here occurred an event tantamount to a declaration of war on Albinus, supposing that declaration not as yet formally made. Caracalla was raised to the position of Caesar and imperator designates. Thus Severus deprived his brother Geta of any hopes of succession he may have entertained, and at the same time stripped Albinus of what shreds of constitutional authority he might still claim.
Besides his new title Caracalla received also a new name, that of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus; for Septimius himself, probably out of spite against the Senate, had proposed the deification of Commodus, whom he was pleased to term ‘his brother’, and had thus adopted himself as a son of the Stoic emperor.
The movements of Severus and his army after their departure from Viminacium are not easy to follow. The emperor did not, as Herodian would have us believe, march straight into Gaul, but preferred to pay a flying visit to Rome on his way. The partiality felt by a large section of the Senate for Albinus may have had much to do with his decision: besides, as we shall see, he wanted to take some (or some more) of the praetorian guard with him. Yet, in spite of his apparent haste, he did not seemingly select the shortest route, which would have led him from Viminacium through Singidunum, Sirmium, Mursa, Aemona, and Aquileia to the capital. Instead of this he marched through Pannonia into Noricum, in all probability following the course of the Danube.
Why, we may ask, did Severus adopt so circuitous a route? Only one explanation seems possible. He must have intended marching straight into Gaul via Besançon and Chalon, and have been deterred from his purpose by some disquieting piece of news from Rome. The hostile attitude of many of the senators has already been noticed, and Porcius Optatus, who was sent by the loyalist party to meet the emperor, may have been the bearer of this warning message.
The arrival of the embassy must be put some time early in November, after which time the objectives of Severus and his army cease to be the same. The emperor hurried off over the Julian Alps or by the Brenner to Rome, which he reached in the latter part of the month, while the main army, perhaps under the command of Fabius Cilo, continued its march north of the Alps, reaching Vindonissa about a week after the arrival of Severus in Rome, i. e. about the beginning of December.
How long the emperor stayed in the capital we do not know: he probably left about the turn of the year, and it is not impossible that he was a witness of a curious scene described so graphically by Dio. The occurrence is worth at least a passing notice. On the day of the last horse-race before the Saturnalia (December 17) an unusually large crowd was gathered together, Dio himself being of the number, for one of his friends was consul. In spite of the fact that six chariots in place of the normal four were running, the attention of the people was not centered on the race, and, on its conclusion, there arose cries and shoutings. Such a disturbance cannot have had a purely fortuitous origin, and the organization necessary for the production of such unanimity testifies alike to the existence of a strong pro-Albinian party, as to the weariness and impatience of the people at the prospect of yet further war.
Whether or not the emperor was a spectator of this outburst of popular sentiment, he at least showed himself sublimely indifferent to it. After exacting from the Senate a motion declaring Albinus a public enemy (a step which must have tickled his sardonic humour), Septimius provided himself with a detachment of the new praetorian guard and set out for Gaul.
Meanwhile Albinus had not been idle. Sometime during the autumn, exactly when we do not know, he left Britain and crossed over to the mainland. The forces at his disposal cannot have been numerous. The Rhine armies seem, somewhat unexpectedly, to have remained true to Severus, and in some instances at least to have done him good service.
The kernel of his army consisted of the three British legions, the 2nd Augusta from Caerleon, the 6th Victrix from York, and the 20th Valeria Victrix from Chester, besides a good number of British auxiliaries. Spain and Noricum also appear to have favored his cause, though the Norican legion (II Italica) appears on Severan coins.
In order to lend some show of constitutional right to his actions, Albinus issued a set of coins stamped with the well-known senatorial marks SPQR and OB C.S. That these were Gallic-minted it seems impossible to doubt, though some have seen in them the work of a pro-Albinian senate in Rome. To suppose, as others have done, that these coins attest the existence of a Gallic Senate seems to me both unnecessary and unlikely : such a body could have been nothing more than a drag' on Albinus' movements, while the fictitious arrogation of senatorial support was the most obvious move for one whose ostensible policy was the restoration of the dyarchy.
It seems likely that Albinus, counting on support in Rome, had it in mind to march straight down into Italy. If such was ever his intention it was frustrated by Septimius, who, on his march, dispatched a force to hold the Alpine passes leading out of Gaul, as well as by the surprising action of one Numerianus. Numerianus was a Roman grammarian, who, relinquishing the profession of a schoolmaster for that of a soldier, left Rome for Gaul, where, assuming a senatorial title, he gathered together no inconsiderable force and prepared to support the Severan cause, though holding no commission from the emperor himself. Not content with routing some of Albinus’ cavalry in an engagement, he succeeded in amassing and sending to Septimius a sum of over seventeen million drachmae, and, stranger still, was content on the conclusion of the war to settle down on a farm, receiving but a moderate pension from the emperor he had served so loyally. The strange figure of the warrior pedagogue has its significance as well as its interest, for it is indicative of the existence of a strong party in Gaul for whom the institution of a Gallico-British empire offered no attractions, and from whom it could call forth no enthusiasm or support.
Notwithstanding the energies of Numerianus the fortune of war, as we have seen, was initially on Albinus’ side. Lupus seems to have suffered a crushing defeat at his hands, and the fact was advertised by a new issue of coins.
The arrival of Severus changed the face of affairs. His route out of Italy is uncertain, nor is the question an important one. Whether he marched via the Greater or the Little S. Bernard, or by the Simplon, he must have passed through Vienne and have advanced upon Lugdunum from the south.
The head-quarters of the main Severan army was in all probability at Trinurtium, the modern Trevoux, and the emperor must have made a detour round Lugdunum in order to join it. That Albinus made no attempt, as it appears, to stop this junction bears out Dio’s statement that though Albinus was the completer gentleman, Septimius was the better general.
The final battle, then, fought on February 19, 197, took place somewhere in the plain to the north of Lyon, between the Rhone and the Saone. The numbers of the opposing armies seem to have been about the same—Dio puts it at 150,000 each—nor was the bravery of Albinus’ British troops inferior to that of Septimius’ Illyrians. Of the tactics of the battle we are not well informed: the best and fullest account is that of Dio. The Albinians must have faced north or north-east, the Severans south or south-west: the left wing of the former was driven back by its opponents, while the right wing secured a temporary triumph by the device (practiced so frequently in after-times) of digging concealed trenches and pits into which the pursuing Severan left wing fell on the simulated flight of the Albinians. Severus, seeing his left wing in danger, dispatched the praetorians to its assistance, but with such spirit did its success inspire the enemy’s right, that he went near to losing these troops as well, and only a personal appeal succeeded in rallying his flying forces. The deciding blow was delivered by Laetus and his cavalry, and, whether or not his previous inactivity is to be attributed to the treacherous intention of throwing his weight into the scale of the prevailing side, to him certainly must be allowed the credit of securing the victory for Septimius and so of ending the war in his favor.
Though the battle of Lyon was the decisive engagement in the war against Albinus it is not to be supposed that all opposition to Septimius melted immediately away. Albinus himself was removed from the scene by suicide, but he left behind him some, at least, willing to avenge his defeat.
The thirteenth urban cohort, stationed at Lyon, seems to have continued to offer some resistance, but that resistance was short-lived. The town was taken and sacked, nor, as in the case of Byzantium, did a subsequent repentance on the part of the emperor avail to check the city’s consequent decline. Of the protracted resistance of Spain and Germany and of its extinction we shall speak later.
The next on whom the vengeance of the conqueror was to fall were the wife and children of the pretender. These, if we may believe the Augustan History, Severus had killed and cast into the Rhone together with the body of Albinus: his head the emperor dispatched to Rome as a foretaste to the Senate and people of what those might expect who had offended him. Septimius remained in Gaul some three or four months more, engaged in exterminating any hostile feeling still existent by a systematic persecution of prominent pro-Albinians and the confiscation of their property. To this period too is attributed by Herodian the division of the province of Britain into an upper and a lower section.
Of the extinguishing of the last flickers of war we know but little. Candidus was entrusted with the pacification of Spain, where the Albinians still held out under Novius Rufus; C. Vallius Maximianus performed a similar duty in Baetica and Tingitana, while Marius Maximus apparently assisted the emperor in the subjugation of Gaul. About this time also we hear of the revolt of the Arabian legion (III Cyrenaica), prepared to uphold the claims of an imperial candidate, news of whose fate had seemingly not yet reached it. The attempt had no practical consequences, and is only of interest as indicating the unpopularity of Severus; for we cannot believe that these Eastern troops felt any personal interest in Albinus, or were in any way in sympathy with the aims and objects of the legions of the West.
Some time towards the end of May Septimius left Gaul for Rome, which city he entered in triumph on June 2. He was met by the populace with every mark of honor, and awaited by the Senate with ill-concealed alarm. To the former the emperor showed his generosity by the bestowal of a congiarium and the celebration of magnificent games; against the latter he wreaked his vengeance in such a manner that we know not whether to wonder rather at the pettiness of his spite or the virulence of his cruelty. We have already noted his adoption of himself into the Antonine family, and this adoption was now further emphasized and confirmed by the formal deification of the dead Commodus.
The emperor’s motive for such an action is certainly difficult to see. The unpopularity of Commodus in his lifetime precludes the supposition that the apotheosis was, like that of Nero by Otho, a bid for popular favor; and, indeed, the only hypothesis which fits the case seems to be that Septimius was animated solely by the desire to annoy and abase the Senate, whose hatred of Commodus was still more intense than was that of the people.
But the emperor was by no means contented with annoying the Senate. On his entry into Rome his first action, after a sacrifice of thanksgiving to Jupiter, had been to address to that august body a speech bristling with invective, wherein he deprecated the clemency of Pompey and Caesar, extolling the cruelties of Marius and Sulla, offered an apologia for the deified Commodus, contrasting his morals favorably with those of some of the assembled fathers, and cast in their teeth the sympathy they had felt and expressed for Niger or Albinus. This speech he followed up by setting on foot a series of processes against those whom the private correspondence of the British legate, of which he had possessed himself, proved to have been traitorously disposed towards him. Of the sixty-four cases which came up for trial thirty-five ended in acquittal, a fact which shows that even if the principles of justice were not strictly observed in all cases, the emperor was not beyond the desire of seeming to act in accordance with them.
The extorting from the Senate
of a ratification of Caracalla’s Caesarship, together with the bestowal on that
prince of imperial insignia, was a final insult which the fathers must have
been too stunned properly to appreciate.
SEVERUS IN THE EAST
After a short stay in Rome Severus received once more the call to arms. Taking advantage of the emperor’s absence in Gaul, the Parthians had crossed the Tigris and invaded Mesopotamia. Nisibis, the importance of which as a Roman stronghold we noticed in the first Eastern war, felt the brunt of their attack, and would have fallen but for the sturdy defense offered by its garrison under Laetas.
Leaving Brundisium some time in the late summer or early autumn of 197 Septimius reached Antioch, accompanied by the generals Statilius Barbaras, Lollianus Gentianus, L. Fabius Cilo, and C. Fulvius Plautianus, his praetorian prefect, together with a detachment of praetorians. Here he was probably joined by the major portion of the African legion, III Augusta. It is very doubtful whether the Western legions were requisitioned for this war, or were likely to be, considering the still unsettled state of such provinces as Gaul and Spain, in the latter of which Candidus seems yet to have had the last remnants of the revolt of Albinus on his hands. On hearing of the arrival of Septimius in Syria the Parthian king (Vologeses V) hastily raised the siege of Nisibis and recrossed the Tigris. The emperor wasted no time. Leaving Antioch he marched probably to Edessa, where he received the submission of Abgarus, king of Osrhoene, whose wavering loyalty he secured by a recognition of that monarch’s autonomy, together with the bestowal on him of the title ‘king of kings’. This being the appellation arrogated to themselves by the Parthian emperors, its transference to the Osrhoenian king was indicative of the fact that in Roman eyes the hegemony of the East was taken from the Parthians and given to another. The grateful monarch adopted the name Septimius, and subsequently visited Rome on the invitation of his patron. In pursuance of this policy of securing the country in his rear by means of concessions to native princes, Severus bestowed the ius coloniae upon the state of Palmyra, then in the hands of the influential Odaenathi family. Among other advantages derived from this politic generosity were guides with a thorough knowledge of the country, and a sprinkling of native troops.
Leaving Edessa Septimius advanced to Nisibis, only to find that the enemy had flown. He accordingly marched south, probably following the course of the Mygdonius as far as its confluence with the Euphrates near the ancient (Biblical) Carchemish. Here, following the example of his predecessor Trajan, he caused a fleet to be constructed on the river and continued his advance southward, attended by the newly built vessels, and under the guidance of a certain Tiridates and a cynic philosopher Antiochus, the latter of whom was useful, not only by reason of his knowledge of the country, but also in that he offered an example of endurance to the dispirited troops by rolling himself about in the snow, for which service he received so much money at the emperor’s hands that he soon deserted with his gains to the Parthians.
On reaching the Euphrates end of the royal canal connecting that river with the Tigris it seems probable that Septimius divided his forces, sending or leading some farther south to capture Babylon, which city the enemy did not seek to defend, whilst the rest went by boat down the royal canal and disembarked at the Tigris end near to Seleucia, which city they proceeded to take, deserted as it also was by the Parthians. The next objective of the reunited army was the town of Ctesiphon, some few miles farther down stream. Here some slight resistance was met with and a feeble attempt made by the Parthians to defend the city, though the disintegration of the waning Arsacid empire, of which the presence of Vologeses’ brother in Septimius’ camp was typical, was too far advanced to allow of any effectively concerted action being taken against the invader. The fall of Ctesiphon occurred in or about November, 198, and the emperor advertised the fact by a new (eleventh) imperial salutation.
The city was given to the soldiery to sack, and we may judge of its size when we read in Dio that in spite of indiscriminate slaughter some 100,000 prisoners were taken.
No attempt was made on Severus’ part to pursue Vologeses, who had succeeded in making good his escape from his fallen capital. Why this was so we are not informed with much certitude. By supposing synchronous Dio’s two statements that no further advance was made, and that his guides forsook him some time during the war, we get a reason, but a more likely one is to be seen in the fact—known to us from other sources—that the army suffered severely from dysentery during this and other campaigns.
The strategy of the war up to the fall of Ctesiphon in the winter of 198 is easily comprehended; after that event both the motives and the actions of the emperor become wrapped in some obscurity. It seems to have been Severus’ intention to return, as he had come, along the Euphrates bank, but to such an extent had the army denuded the country through which it had marched that a different return route was rendered imperative. Accordingly fleet and army moved northwards along the Tigris, though whether the objective was Hatra, Armenia, or merely Syria it is impossible to say. Armenia, however, we know to have shown herself friendly to Rome, while an invasion of the Khazars must have checked any possible desire on her part to embroil herself with a Western en embroil herself with a western enemy.
The next occurrence of which we read is the siege of Hatra, which we may reasonably suppose to have taken place some time in the summer and autumn of 199. Once more we are at a loss to understand the emperor’s motives or his anxiety to capture the town, unless indeed it be on the supposition that his intention was to punish all who had in any way assisted his rival Niger.
Hatra, the modern el-Hadr, lies about midway between the Euphrates and the Tigris in the middle of the desert of Sendjah. It was a fairly populous city and one of some importance as an avenue for trade, besides being blessed with an excellent water-supply: the wealth it had accumulated was very considerable. Like Trajan before him, however, Septimius was unable to make any impression upon the sturdy city, whose double circuit of walls was probably an asset less valuable in its defense than the sun-scorched sand which surrounded it on all sides, making life in a beleaguering camp unhealthy if not impossible. The ingenuity of the besieged, too, seems to have been not inconsiderable: burning naphtha was thrown from the walls upon the Roman siege-engines, of which all but those of the famous engineer Priscus were destroyed; while, still more ingenious, venomous winged insects were collected in pots, and showered down upon the heads of the besiegers, whose eyes and the uncovered parts of whose bodies they so stung as to force them to retire. The siege was finally raised owing to dysentery attacking the Roman camp.
His ill success does not seem to have improved the emperor’s temper, for we read of two apparently reasonless executions during the siege. One was that of the general Laetus, the gallant defender of Nisibis, whose sole offence seems to have been his popularity with the soldiery. The other victim of the emperor’s rancor was one Julius Crispus, a tribune of the praetorian guard, whom a felicitous quotation brought to so unhappy an end. His accuser Valerius, who succeeded to his office, charged him with the words of Drances in the eleventh Aeneid:
Scilicet ut Turno contingat regia coniunx,
nos, animae viles, inhumata infletaque turba,
and in spite of the disloyalty implied in the parable, one cannot but recognize a considerable amount of justification for it.
The first attempt on Hatra had failed, but the emperor was not the man to acknowledge defeat. In the winter of 199 or the early spring of 200 he returned from Nisibis, whither he had presumably retired, and renewed his attack on the town. An investment was obviously impossible, thanks to the barren nature of the surrounding country, and accordingly for some twenty days the city was made to feel the full force of the Roman siege-engines. Once more, however, the strenuousness of the defense defied the attacks of the besiegers, the more distant being struck down by catapult shots, the nearer overwhelmed by the ignited naphtha. At one point, indeed, the Romans succeeded in effecting a breach in the outer wall, and things might have gone ill for the besiege but for the strange action of Severus himself. Knowing that a vast quantity of treasure lay stored up in the temple of Bel and elsewhere in the city, the emperor hoped for a capitulation whereby the money would fall into his hands and not into those of his soldiers. No sooner, therefore, did he see the breach made, than he gave orders for the signal of retreat to be sounded, expecting from the inhabitants an offer of surrender at discretion. Instead of this the besieged employed the ensuing night in repairing their shattered wall and prepared to face the Romans again the next day. Once more the order for advance was sounded, but the European troops of Severus’ army refused to attack. Determining that rebellion on the part of the troops should not frustrate his plans, the emperor hurled his Syrians at the wall, only to witness their ignominious repulse. “Whence shall I get so many soldiers?” was his sarcastic reply to the offer of a member of his staff who engaged to capture the town, should he be entrusted with but an odd 500 European troops.
This time Septimius admitted himself beaten, and withdrew to Nisibis, whence, after a short stay, he betook himself to Antioch. We may suppose him back in Syria by October, 200. From Antioch the emperor journeyed south with the intention of visiting Egypt. To do this it was necessary for him to cross Palestine, which country he found in a state of some unrest, though we are ignorant alike of the causes of this disquietude and of the means adopted by Severus for allaying it. The Jews had always been a seditious people, and a somewhat oppressive taxation of which they had complained before, or a feeling of sympathy with their co-religionists among the Parthians, was sufficient to rouse some small revolt which the presence of the tenth legion (Fretensis) at Elath was enough to check. Any outbreak of importance would not have been passed over by the ancient historians—at least not by Dio,—while the mere mention by Eusebius of a ‘bellum Iudaicum et Samariticum’ and of a ‘triumphus Iudaicus’ as celebrated by Caracalla need not lead us to suppose more than a slight commotion.
Some time probably about March, 201, Septimius left Palestine and entered Egypt. That, as Dio said of him, he could leave nothing uninvestigated, whether human or divine, may give us one reason for his visit, but it was probably not, as that historian suggests, the only, nor indeed the chief, one. Egypt undoubtedly required the presence of Septimius to secure its loyalty, for its previous partisanship of Niger had been unanimous and wholehearted. In the province of his earlier years of office the Syrian legate was definitely regarded as emperor, not usurper, and deeds are extant dated in the first and even the second year of his reign.
Naturally Alexandria was the first city he visited, and of his entry into it we possess a strange story, interesting as indicative of the complete acceptance of Niger’s brief principate there. Lord Niger’s City was the inscription which the emperor observed upon the gate. Justifiably angry, he asked for the explanation of so disloyal a welcome, nor were the witty Alexandrians unprepared with their answer. Septimius, we learn, accepted their explanation.
Of Severus’ actions in the Egyptian capital we hear of but two. One was the closing of the tomb of Alexander in the quarter of the city known as Neapolis. The superstitious emperor wished to be the last to view the embalmed body of the Macedonian conqueror and to pry into the sacred books kept in the precincts of the tomb. The other is of more importance. Unlike the other larger cities of the empire, Alexandria had never been granted a municipal autonomy; it had no town council, but obeyed implicitly the word of the imperially appointed iuridicus. To this state of things Septimius put an end by the bestowal of the ‘ius buleutarum’, the right, that is to say, of being governed by a local governor.
Leaving Alexandria Septimius sailed down the Nile in his tour of investigation. He visited Memphis and Thebes, at which latter place he displayed no small interest in the famous statue of Memnon which he heard ‘sing’ at dawn. Such was his enthusiasm that he caused the neck and head to be restored, after which, unfortunately, the statue ‘sang’ no more. Advancing still farther south, possibly with the intention of exploring the upper waters of the Nile, and of discovering its source, Severus was checked on the borders of Ethiopia by an attack of small-pox, on recovery from which he turned northward again. Either on his return or perhaps before he started south Septimius paid funeral honors to Pompey, who lay buried in a humble tomb near to Pelusium, where he had met his death.
Some time towards the end of the year 201 the emperor left Egypt for Rome. He reached Antioch, probably by sea, before the close of December, and it was in that city that he entered upon his third consulship on the first day of the new year. His colleague was his son Caracalla, who was now to hold the office for the first time. It may here be added that in the year 198, possibly in commemoration of the fall of Ctesiphon on the occasion of his own eleventh imperial acclamation, Septimius caused his troops to salute his elder son as imperator and Augustus. Geta also seems to have accompanied his father on this expedition, and it is probable that he received the title Caesar at the same time as his brother received that of Augustus.
From Antioch the Augusti journeyed to Thrace, though whether they adopted the land or sea route we do not really know. By the middle of March they had reached Sirmium, having passed through Moesia, in which province, as well as in that of Pannonia, Severus inspected the various camps. From Sirmium it seems probable that the emperor passed through Siscia and Aquileia, finally reaching Rome either by taking ship from Aquileia to Ancona and so on to the capital, or else by the more usual land route. He probably entered Rome about May.
The return of the victorious emperor was celebrated with the utmost magnificence. Sacrifices, shows, and games were held, and as much as fifty million drachmae distributed as largess, each praetorian receiving ten gold pieces in commemoration of Septimius’ ten years of reign. The celebration of the Decennalia (June 2-8) indeed may have taken the place of the more usual triumph, which, if we may believe his biographer, the emperor refused on account of a bad attack of gout which rendered him unable to stand up in the triumphal car. One witness to his triumph at least stands yet for all the world to see—the huge Arch of Severus erected in the following year in the north-east corner of the Roman forum. Here may still be seen reliefs depicting the defeat and submission of the Parthians, and the triumph of Septimius and his two sons.
In criticizing the Parthian war and its results we must of course bear in mind the fact that our knowledge of its details is, when all is said and done, very meager. Yet, so far as a judgment is possible, it is hard to pass a favorable one. In a sense, the main object of the war was effected before it was begun, if it be true (and we have no reason for doubting the fact) that the Parthians raised the siege of Nisibis and evacuated Mesopotamia on the mere news of Severus’ approach. Doubtless a punitive expedition was necessary, but why no effort was made to capture Vologeses, in spite of dysentery or lack of guides, is all the more surprising in that Septimius had before him the example of Alexander, who spared no pain and trouble in the pursuit of Darius. Farther, the siege of Hatra seems to have been pointless; even Septimius recognized that, given the fact that Vologeses was not to be pursued, the war was over by 199, for a good number of troops were sent home that year. No new territory was acquired, and the fact that the Parthians remained quiet during the remainder of Septimius’ reign seems due not so much to the campaigns of the emperor, nor yet to his possession of the young Chosroes as hostage, as to the fact that, what with sedition at home and Persian pressure abroad, the Arsacid empire was tottering to its fall.
THE LAST PHASE
OF the six years which elapsed between the completion of the Eastern and the outbreak of the British war we possess singularly meager records. The emperor himself, essentially a man of war, drops very much into the background, and his place is taken by the far less agreeable figures of his wife, his sons, and his praetorian prefect. Of Julia Domna and her study circle we shall have occasion to speak later at greater length: suffice it here to say that an empress who added the political caprice of a Catherine de' Medici to the intellectualism of a Christina of Sweden and the vices of a Messalina was not likely to conduce to the harmony of any government. At the same time it is as well to remember that history, ever chivalrous, has tended to exaggerate her importance in the political world even as surely as, with less delicacy of taste, it has over-colored the delinquencies of her private life. The statement that she was the cause of the wars against Niger and Albinus is as little likely to be true as the accusation of incest with a son whom she heartily detested.
As far as one can see, however, Julia Domna never deliberately set her will against that of her imperial husband, and Spartian’s statement that she conspired against him deserves even less attention than most of that historian’s remarks. It was not from his wife but from his sons that Septimius learnt the lesson that a man’s foes are only too often those of his household.
It has been the habit among ancient historians—and to a certain extent among the moderns also—to paint Caracalla black and Geta white, and there may be some truth in the distinction thus made. Be this as it may, one thing at least is certain, and that is that the dissension between the brothers waxed so hot that they could not endure the sight of each other, and that, as a consequence, the declining years of the emperor were made a burden to him, so that, if report speak true, he was driven to war as a solace to himself, and a possible means of healing that long-protracted fraternal strife.
But more surprising than the indiscretions of his wife or the quarrels of his sons was the career of Gaius Fulvius Plautianus, the prefect of the praetorian guard. Little or nothing is known of the antecedents or early career of this remarkable man. Like Severus himself, Plautian was of African birth, and was apparently exiled from his native country by Pertinax, the then proconsul, on a charge of sedition and rebellion. Where or when he first formed the acquaintance of the emperor is uncertain, as is also the exact relationship obtaining between the two. That ties of blood besides those of marriage united the pair seems to me an entirely unwarrantable assumption, while Herodian’s insinuation with regard to the cause and nature of their friendship may or may not be a piece of idle gossip. Whatever the reason, the fact is indisputable. Never, perhaps, since the days of Seianus did favorite exercise more complete control of a master, and contemporary historians never tire of descanting on his power, his cupidity, and his riches. There is Dio’s story of the "tiger-like horses" from the East, dedicated to the Sun, which the sacrilegious hands of centurions bore away at the orders of the greedy prefect. The story, too, of how, when Plautian lay sick at Tyana and the emperor came to visit him, the prefect’s bodyguard would not suffer Severus to enter with his suite; and of how, on another occasion, the official ‘a cognitionibus’ refused to call a case that the emperor wished to judge, “for”, said he, “I dare not do so without the orders of Plautianus”
Naturally enough this influence over Septimius was much resented by Julia Domna, between whom and the prefect there seems to have been constant bickering, breaking out at times into open enmity; as, for instance, when Plautian dared to bring certain specific charges against the empress, during the examination of which several Roman ladies suffered torture at the emperor’s orders. Still, Septimius’ indulgence had its limits. Buildings and statues erected in honor of Plautian in the provinces, and even in Rome, were outnumbering those inscribed to the emperor himself, but when the prefect caused his own image to be placed among those of the imperial family he found himself sharply reprimanded, and orders given for the demolition of his statues wheresoever set up. His disgrace, however, was short-lived, and an evil fate attended those who, in his hour of abasement, had presumed to scorn the favorite, for banishment was decreed to all such as had called him a public enemy. Among others so to suffer was Racius Constans, governor of Sardinia.
Reinstated in imperial favor, the power and arrogance of Plautian assumed still larger proportions. By the murder of his colleague Aemilius Saturninus he had succeeded in grasping all the power of both the praetorian prefects in his own hands, and such designations as vir clarissimus, nobilisimus, Augustorum necessarius attest the extent of his dignity, as does the existence after his downfall of a procurator ad bona Plautiani that of his opulence. The year 202 marks his zenith, when was solemnized the marriage between his daughter Fulvia Plautilla and the heir-apparent Caracalla; and in the year following he became consul for the second time with the emperor’s brother Geta. Great indignation was caused by this last assumption of office, partly because the sword of the praetorian prefect and the broad stripe of the senator were unconstitutionally vested in the same man, partly also because the prefect’s first consulship had been no more than the gift by Septimius of consular insignia, and the office of 203 should therefore have counted as the first and not the second.
But Plautian’s position contained the seeds of its own undoing. Whether or not we can credit the then current rumor that the prefect was destined by Severus as his successor, it is at least certain that he was not long in gaining the cordial hatred of Caracalla. The year 204 passed without mishap, but early in 205 the storm broke. Weary of the arrogance, or, as Spartian suggests, of the cruelties, of his father-in-law, Caracalla devised the following plot for his destruction. He suborned a certain centurion, by name Saturninus, to warn the emperor of a conspiracy against his life of which he, Saturninus, together with nine other centurions, were to be the instruments, the praetorian prefect being the moving spirit. Septimius, believing the fabrication, sent for Plautian, who, suspecting nothing, repaired to the palace with such haste that the mule he was riding fell under him in the courtyard—an evil omen of which Dio recognizes the full significance. The emperor received the supposed culprit leniently enough, merely reproaching him for his ingratitude and asking the reason for his wish to kill him, and Plautian might even have got off had it not been for the action of Caracalla. The latter, foreseeing the possibility of his prey’s escaping, rushed forward and struck him, and was with difficulty restrained by his father from delivering the coup de grâce with his own sword. The emperor’s hand had been forced, and a soldier was bidden kill the fallen favorite. So on the 22nd of January in the year 205 ended the career of Plautianus.
On the day which followed Plautianus death Septimius made a speech before the Senate, in which he abstained from all recrimination, lamenting merely the fact that mortals could not bear more than a certain measure of success, and blaming himself for his excessive affection for, and indulgence towards, the dead favorite. Plautilla and her brother Plautius, whom Caracalla in his rage would have had murdered, Severus banished to Lipari, nor were they the only ones involved in the prefect’s fall. Dio devotes some pages to the punishment by banishment or death of Caecilius Agricola, Coeranus, and others, besides that of many in no way connected with the conspiracy, such as Quintillus Plautianus, Pedo Apronianus, Baebius Marcellinus, and Pollenius Sebennus.
For the rest of the year and during the two following the emperor lived in retirement, chiefly, if we may believe Herodian, in the neighborhood of the capital and on the Campanian coast, endeavoring, so far as in him lay, to distract his pleasure-loving sons from the snares of Roman life. Political and judicial affairs occupied most of his time.
But events were happening in one of the outlying provinces which did not give the aged emperor much leisure for such pursuits of peace. For some time, in fact since the Albinian war, the state of Britain had been one of constant uneasiness. Albinus’ successor, the legate Virius Lupus, had been obliged to buy peace from the Maeatae, which northern tribe had taken advantage of the absence of the British legions in Gaul to push their way farther south. Eight years later we again get a glimpse of the unsettled state of affairs in that province, when the then legate, Alfenius Senecio, fought with success against the Britons. Add to these disturbances the fact, if it be one, that Septimius looked forward to a war as the best, perhaps the one, means of healing the strife between his two sons, and one sees cause enough for the expedition (destined to be his last) which the old emperor undertook in the spring of the year 208.
It is possible that Severus, who was attended by his family and relations as well as by the new praetorian prefect, Papinian, did not hurry on his way to Britain, though we have no records of his journey save for the vague remark of Herodian that he crossed the ocean, and for the still vaguer rumor that on his passing through Lyon he ordered a persecution of the Christians there.
The autumn and winter of the year seem to have been spent by the emperor in making preparations for the campaign, which preparations appear to have consisted chiefly in the filling up of marshes and the bridging of rivers. There is, in fact, a coin of 208 which pictures a bridge, and another of 209 bearing the legend TRAIECTVS. It may also have been during this first winter spent in Britain that the Caledonians (the other tribe besides the Maeatae concerned in the war) sent a deputation to Septimius seeking to obtain terms of truce. To this the emperor lent an apparently willing ear, but meanwhile continued his preparations for war. The first campaign was fought in 209. The natural difficulties of the country seem to have caused the Romans more trouble than did the enemy, whose methods of warfare, as barbarous as their existence in peace, of which both Dio and Herodian give so thrilling a picture, consisted mainly in night attacks on the Roman convoys or ambushes laid for them while on the march. It would be nothing more than waste labor to attempt to describe this campaign, or indeed the whole war, in any detail. We are entirely ignorant even of the route by which Severus marched north, or of the farthest point he reached. Dio mentions his arrival at the extreme north of Scotland, where he seems to have verified Ptolemy’s calculations as to the solar parallax, but it is doubtful whether he really ever crossed the Forth. The bridges mentioned by our two authorities may possibly refer to this estuary, or they may possibly have spanned the Solway Firth; while Herodian’s mention suggests at once the turf walls of Hadrian and Antoninus Pius.
Whether Septimius retired south for the winter of 209-10 or remained in Scotland is another point on which we must be content to remain in ignorance. He seems to have spent two summers in the field, carried about from place to place in a litter, for the gout, to which he eventually succumbed, had long claimed him as a victim. Geta he left in England to attend to the government of the province, while he himself, together with Caracalla, engaged in the actual fighting. On several occasions, according at least to Dio, Caracalla attempted his father’s murder, but was as often pardoned by the emperor.
In the autumn of 210 some sort of a peace seems to have been arranged, in which considerable concessions were made by the Roman to the Briton. Indeed, no marked success had crowned the Roman arms and, if we can believe Dio, no fewer than 50,000 had succumbed to the hardihood of the natives or the rigors of the climate. In consequence, however, of this peace Septimius assumed the title of Britannicus Maximus and Caracalla that of Britannicus. Geta seems to have been raised to the dignity of an Augustus some two years previously: he also now bears the title Britannicus. But this triumph was short-lived.
The Caledonians had probably little further object in making peace than the wish to gain time for more hostile preparations, and no sooner were the terms settled than they were broken. Once more the enemy poured south into Roman territory, and once more the old emperor roused himself from a bed of sickness to repel them. He was not, however, destined to fight a third campaign.
Broken in body by the weight of years and by illness, as in soul by the unfilial conduct of his eldest son, Septimius died at York on the 4th of February, 211.
His last words were addressed
to his sons, and nothing perhaps is more remarkable
than the soundness of the advice unless it be the thoroughness with which it
was disregarded. No attempt was made on the part of Caracalla or Geta to
continue the war. After celebrating their father’s obsequies in York they
returned with his ashes to Rome, where divine honors and a flamen were accorded
to him. Septimius was sixty-five years old at the time of his death.
PHILOSOPHY AND RELIGION
To the student of what, for want of a better term, may be called Sittengeschickte there is ever present the temptation to regard the period under consideration as a time of intellectual flux—of transition—between two periods of comparative intellectual stagnation; the truth being that it is only a more careful examination that discloses motion in the mental or psychic life of a people. Nevertheless there may be some truth in the view that the century and a half which elapsed between the death of Marcus Aurelius and the founding of Constantinople does form such a period of transition.
The years which saw the death of the republic and the birth of the empire saw also the superseding of religion, in the form of the Olympian gods, by philosophy, and the further introduction of those Eastern or mystic cults by means of which the less intellectual sought to express their higher aspirations.
“From the time of Cicero to that of Marcus Aurelius Roman society advanced from unbelief to belief” says Boissier.
Skepticism both in the region of morality and that of religion and metaphysics was steadily declining during the first century and a half of the Christian Era, nor is the superficial Voltairianism of Lucian typical of an age which realized with growing clearness the moral superiority of the barbarians who were knocking at the door not necessarily of a degenerate but certainly of an intellectually disintegrated empire. The Stoic emperor may be said to mark the zenith of that philosophic religion of which Cleanthes had sowed the first seeds in Rome, and not only was he the last Stoic—he was the last emperor before Constantine resolutely to accept a creed in its entirety, and with that intolerance of other creeds and fear of the contamination of his own without which a man or a nation so often passes through broad-mindedness into skepticism. After Marcus Aurelius we come upon a period of eclecticism and syncretism, moral, philosophic, and religious—a state of flux in fact out of which may be said to have crystallized but two religions, Mithraism and Christianity.
In matters purely religious syncretism was indeed inevitable. The actual number of deities worshipped in the Roman empire must have been something stupendous; and the growing frequency of feast-days shows that this tendency was on the increase. Not without reason did mortals legislate against the introduction of new divinities, or the gods themselves determine upon an Alien Act in Olympus.
It is only natural that this unwieldy concourse of gods should lead to that identification of the divinities of one nationality with those of another until there dawned upon the minds of men the conception of one God of whom all these objects of worship were but the forms. As a preliminary step, therefore, towards the unification of the conception of God we get this period of syncretism. There is no need to multiply instances. The identification of Cybele with Bona Dea and Ops, and her later connection with Bellona, with whom was identified the Carthaginian goddess Ma; the confusion of Mithras with Sabazios; the various forms and activities of Serapis, who appears now as the god of healing, and as such represents Aesculapius or Apollo Salutaris, now as the god of the underworld, the Egyptian Pluto, and now as the sun-god, in which capacity he melts on the one hand into Mithras, and on the other into Jupiter. The Emperor Tacitus marks a still more advanced stage, for with a most laudable economy of space and money he erected a templum deorum, nd even in Christian times an emperor would not disdain the office of pontifex maximus, nor would a pope hesitate to convert a pagan festival into a feast of the church.
The reign of Septimius, then, marks the beginning of this period of progressive religious syncretism: its typical philosophy is neo-pythagoreanism, and perhaps its most typical figure that of the Empress Julia Domna. Although history, as has been suggested above, has tended to over-emphasize the importance of Julia in the sphere of politics, it would be hard to make a similar mistake with regard to her in the domain of philosophy and religion; nor must we forget that the superposition of Western culture upon a character essentially Eastern won for the empress such a world-wide popularity as would ensure everywhere the publication and acceptance of her opinions. Greece worshipped her as Demeter or Hera, and under the former name was built to her a temple at Aphrodisias in Caria, while the town of Plotinopolis in Thrace seems at this period to have adopted the name Domnopolis. After her deification by Heliogabalus she possessed a priestess at Naples. In private life she must have been a woman of strong and imperious character, deeply imbued with that rather credulous mysticism so typical of the East, yet not without the ballast of calm reasoning which a philosophical training gave.
Not less interesting than the empress herself was the circle of savants which she gathered round her. Of its members may be mentioned her sister Julia Moesa, and her nieces Julia Soemias and Mammea: another woman associate was that Arria to whom Diogenes Laertius thought of dedicating his book on the lives of the philosophers, and who seems to have inspired such affection and admiration in the breast of the doctor Galen. Diogenes and Galen themselves belonged to the circle, as also did another doctor, Serenus Sammonicus, the naturalists Aelian and Oppian, the lawyers Papinian, Ulpian, and Paul, and Antipater of Hierapolis, to whom Julia entrusted the education of her sons and who compiled a history of Severus himself. Besides these it is at least possible that the learned author of the Deipno-sophistae was a member, and we may suppose that such famous rhetoricians as Apollonius of Athens, Heraclides, and Hermocrates would not be unwelcome guests on their visits to Rome; Alexander of Aphrodisias was also a contemporary. He seems indeed to have owed his position as head of the Aristotelian school at Athens to the patronage of Septimius and Caracalla. To them at least he dedicates one of his works in gratitude for his appointment. Last, and perhaps most important, must be mentioned Philostratus.
The characteristics of this assembly are clearly marked. To begin with we notice the excess of erudition over purely literary gifts. If we discount the medical verses of Serenus, Oppian is its only poet, nor can the prose style of any of its members be said to struggle above the level of mediocrity. In the second place its productions are essentially artificial and ‘precious’; and thirdly, the Latin element gives way very much to the Syrian. This last characteristic is of course particularly visible in the most important work to which the circle gave birth—the Life of Apollonius by Philostratus. In its nature the book is neither a novel nor yet a history: it is a gospel. Written at the instigation of the empress it sought to create a hero half human, half divine, who should not be too philosophically minded to alienate the sympathies of the many, nor yet too mythological to offend the susceptibilities of the learned. There is no need to see in the publication any direct attack upon Christianity, except in so far as any such attempt to give society a religious ideal is of necessity a form of attack on all current religions and philosophies. Apollonius himself is an historical figure. He was a Pythagorean thaumaturge who lived at Tyana in the second half of the first century of the Christian era, and Philostratus’ life contains references to all the emperors from Nero to Nerva inclusive. The account given is founded on the diary of Apollonius’ disciple Damis, which purports to have got into Julia Domna’s hands and to have been handed on by her to Philostratus for re-edition. It bears striking resemblances to the New Testament, except that the style is more pretentious, and indeed better, the general tone infinitely more erudite, and the matter still more miraculous. Everywhere one comes upon echoes of classical authors, and not infrequently are to be found sentences of which Plato need not have been ashamed and aphorisms which would not disgrace a Rochefoucauld. Most striking, however, are the constant likenesses, verbal or material, to the New Testament story. Of such may be mentioned the theory of a virgin birth; the story of an ‘annunciation’; the parable of the sower; the healing of a demoniac child; the preaching of forbearance and broad-mindedness on the occasion of a woman taken in adultery; the metaphor of a ‘light under a bushel’, and that of the dogs and the ‘food which falleth from the master's table’; the appearance of Apollonius, as of Christ, before a judgment seat; the refusal of the disciple Damis, like that of Peter, to desert his master; and, most striking of all, a story like to that of Jairus’ daughter in almost all its details.
Taking the book as a whole one cannot wonder that the religion of Apollonius of Tyana fell upon the ears of a heedless world. Failing by reason of its obvious artificiality in that simple directness which has won for the Gospel of Christ so many adherents, it yet lacks the logical cohesion of a philosophic system, and in fact, while aiming at giving birth at once to a religion and a philosophy, it succeeded in producing both stillborn. Literature has preserved for us the mention only of three imperial devotees: Caracalla, who built for Apollonius a heroon; Alexander Severus who, with a vagueness of sentiment typical of the man and of the age, found for the thaumaturge’s image a place with those of Orpheus, Abraham, and Christ; and Aurelian, who, warned by Apollonius’ ghost, abstained from packing the town of Tyana.
In a city such as Rome, where, as Athenaeus said, one might see whole peoples dwelling together, Cappadocians, Scythians, and men from Pontus, it is not surprising to find adherents of every form of creed, nor can we be much astonished to discover that that with perhaps the fewest followers was the State, or Olympian, religion. And yet this was by no means defunct even at the turn of the second and third centuries. Especially do we notice a sort of old-fashioned revival of the specific Italian deities such as Silvanus and Minerva, to the latter of whom Septimius himself appears to have built a temple. The semi-private worship of the Lares, Manes, and Penates seems also to have flourished with almost undiminished vigor, while the religious guilds, such as the Salii, the Arval brothers (of which the emperor became a member in 195), and the Fetiales, continued at least until the fourth century.
In connection with these may also be mentioned the genii and daemons, who, attendant upon every man in his lifetime, were credited with some sort of nebulous existence after his death, and, after the manner of the old chthonic deities, required at times some mollifying or apotropaeic treatment. The belief in the existence and power of these supernatural beings was very widespread, and that not only among the unenlightened. Even so excellent a philosopher as Plotinus imagined the space midway between heaven and earth as peopled by demons; while the Christians, who were not above such intellectual weaknesses, repudiated genii and preferred to believe in evil spirits.
But of the State religion, properly so called, Caesar worship still continued the most vital element. Not only was the reigning emperor adored, but all, right back to Augustus, received some meed of honor: the worshipper was free to exercise some discretion in his choice, and Capitolinus (whoever he was and whenever he wrote) testifies to the evergreen popularity of the image of Marcus Aurelius even in his day. The binding nature of an oath taken on the genius of an emperor is made the subject of scornful comment by Tertullian.
Of far more widely spread popularity, however, than either the national or the established religion were those Eastern cults, of which undoubtedly that of the Persian sun-god Mithras was the chief. This religion, as is well known, had been established in Rome since the earlier years of the first century of the Christian Era, but it was not until the closing decades of the second that the cult can be said to have shown any marked predominance over other Eastern creeds. In the reign of Severus Mithraic inscriptions are of no uncommon occurrence, and a sacrarium of the god seems to have been built in Rome to commemorate that emperor’s Eastern victories. In some features Mithraism seems closely to have resembled Christianity. It recognized a baptism, a sacrament, a mediation, and a regeneration wrought by the cleansing blood of the god; its chief feast-day was December 25, when the new birth of the sun was celebrated. Like Christianity it preached the doctrine of immortality, and again like that religion claimed sole validity for its doctrines. The initiated took upon themselves strange names, being known as lions, hyenas, Persians, warriors, and the like, and all devotees were divided into seven classes in a way which reminds one of the Freemasons, and which has also been not inaptly compared to the practices of the Salvation Army.
Persia, however, was not the only country to supply Rome and its empire with a creed. The gods of Egypt seem to have enjoyed, during the reign of Septimius, a popularity as great as, or greater than, they had ever done. Most important among them at this time was the goddess Isis, whose worship dates back well into the time of the republic. Commodus had shown her especial honor, and had seemingly forced the unwilling Niger to do the same, while Caracalla had built her a temple and founded a festival in her honor. In Severus’ reign we find epigraphic evidence of prayer offered to Isis for the well-being of: the royal family. No deity offers a much better instance of syncretism, for she combines in herself the personalities and characteristics of Juno, Ceres, Proserpine, and Venus, added to which she seems to have been the especial patron of traders and sailors. Closely connected, too, with her were Anubis and Harpocrates. Of the Egyptian pantheon, however, Serapis seems to have been the special favorite of Septimius, who showed considerable interest in his worship on his Egyptian tour, nor was this cult deserted by his successors Caracalla and Alexander. Gradually, in fact, his popularity seems to have eclipsed that of Isis, and by Macrobius’ time he too had merged into a sun-god and become but one more aspect of the universal divinity.
Another sun-god who appears to have had no small vogue at this time was the Syrian Jupiter Dolichenus, inscriptions attesting whose worship come to us in considerable numbers from provinces so wide apart as Britain, Dacia, and Numidia. It is, however, to be noted that the worship of this god was almost entirely confined to military circles, and that the seeming popularity of his cult is due to the troops stationed in a province rather than to the provincial civilians. His temple also stood on the Esquiline, and to him was attached a regular priesthood by or through whom prayer and offerings were constantly made for the health and prosperity of Severus and his family. So advanced by this time was the process of syncretism that it is difficult clearly to distinguish one Syrian or Syro-phoenician god from another. Septimius’ temple to Jupiter of Damascus or Heliopolis, erected in the latter city, has already been mentioned. Half Roman Jove, half Phoenician Bal, he is not improbably to be identified with the Malakbelus, of whose worship we now begin to find traces in Rome. The Syrian goddess on whom Lucian wrote his brochure, and to whom alone the atheistic Nero bowed the knee, possessed under the Severi a temple in Rome, and was worshipped at Ostia as the goddess of prostitutes, where she was identified indifferently as the Cyprian Venus or Majuma of Antioch. Along with her may be mentioned the similar Carthaginian (i.e. also Phoenician) goddess, Juno Caelestis, a moon and star deity with whom Julia Domna was perhaps identified.
Of the Phrygian deities it is scarcely necessary to do more than mention the Great Mother, to the worship of whom Herodian and Lampridius assure us that both Commodus and Alexander Severus were much addicted. Attis is another instance of a budding sun, or universal, god; and it is a point perhaps worthy of passing notice that his priests, even the archigalli, were by this time not invariably Phrygians; they were sometimes Romans.
Of the position and importance of Christianity at this time, as of the actual numbers that religion could claim as its own, we are neither fully nor trustworthily informed. It is certain that by the year 200 a considerable number of churches were in existence. There were the seven churches of Asia mentioned by St. John—Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea, and Antioch; besides these the even then famous church of Alexandria, those of Jerusalem, Nisibis, Seleucia, Beroea, Apamea, Hierapolis, and Samosata. Of all the provinces, however, that apparently most thickly peopled with Christians was Africa, in which, if we may believe Tertullian, every city could boast a numerical superiority of Christians to pagan inhabitants. Carthage was possessed of a bishop as early as 197, and some eighteen years later was the seat of a synod.
Persecutions, too, and martyrdoms were of no uncommon occurrence in this province. Among the proconsuls unfavorably disposed towards Christianity may be mentioned Vigellius Saturninus (198-200 or 201), the first, according to Tertullian, to shed Christian blood in Africa, Apuleius Rufinus (203-204), and that Scapula to or against whom Tertullian wrote his treatise. The protomartyr of Africa was one Namphamo, who suffered death under the proconsulship of Saturninus on the 4th of July, 198. Some five years later Carthage was the scene of one of the most famous of the early martyrdoms, that of Perpetua.
In general, however, persecutions seem to have been neither widespread nor systematic. The legal status of a Christian was a somewhat uncertain one. Up to the year 201 no edict or law upon the subject existed save for the famous rescript of Traian, which ordered the Christians not to be sought out or hunted down but merely punished if discovered. This, of course, left the provincial governor full power to exercise his discretion and to deal with Christians leniently or severely as he chose. A change came with the end of the year 201, when, not improbably influenced by what he had seen in Palestine in the course of his visit there, Septimius issued an edict forbidding conversion either to Judaism or Christianity.
As far as the Jews were concerned the edict seems to have been but little put into force. Judaism had always, as Tertullian observed, been a religion ‘certe licita’, and Eusebius comments on the fact that the conversion of one Domnius from Christianity to Judaism was provocative of no trouble whatsoever. Naturally enough this partiality roused a still bitterer hatred for the Jews in the hearts of the Christians, who complained that the corpses of their friends were not infrequently destroyed by the former sect as a pragmatic disproof of the doctrine of the resurrection of the body. Tertullian went so far as to speak of synagogues as “fontes persecutionum”. Of active persecution of the Christians before the edict of Severus we hear little. There seems to have been some in Byzantium before the time of its capture, though Caecilius Capella, the official who was responsible for it, is represented by Tertullian as realizing like others elsewhere that it was bound to fail in the end, and that the Christians were in reality better off than their persecutors. We hear also of a fairly vigorous persecution in Alexandria at the time of the emperor’s visit in 201, which he did nothing to check. Yet, at least in his earlier years, Severus seems to have looked upon the Christians with no unfavorable eye. He gave his son Caracalla a Christian nurse and allowed him a Jewish playmate, while he himself is said to have been cured of some disease by one Eutychius Proculus, a Christian, by whom he was anointed with holy oil, and whom, in gratitude, he retained in his service until his death. There is some likelihood, too, that the procurator Euodus, the same who was connected with the plot for the overthrow of Plautian, was no other than the Christian tutor of Caracalla to whom Tertullian refers as Torpaeion. But whatever his early views there can be no doubt that the emperor was opposed to Christianity as a religion and to Christians as a class, nor can we be much surprised at the fact. Three causes of complaint were always brought forward against them. First, the well-worn charge of flagrant immorality supposed to take place at their agapai, a charge not much more absurd than similar ones brought by orthodox Christians against the Gnostics; secondly, the flat and stubborn refusal to acquiesce or participate in any form of Caesar worship; and thirdly, that constant spirit of unrest—common to Christian and Jew alike—such as found expression in the Barchochebas’ rising some sixty years before this, and was still more agitating the hearts of the faithful about the year 202-3, at which exact time the end of the world was expected with some trepidation in accordance with the prophecy of Daniel.
Of the various sects and heresies which troubled the peace of the Church at this time this is not the occasion to speak at length. The very freedom of Christendom from outside persecution only served to foster internal strife, as Tertullian suggested. Mention has already been made of the Gnostics, with their fatalistic doctrine of morals, and their virtual denial of the doctrine of the Incarnation by the sharp division they sought to establish between the Logos or Christ and Jesus the man.
Two more sects worth a passing notice are those founded respectively by Artemon and Theodotes, the Byzantine. The latter was excommunicated in 189 by Pope Victor and the heresy soon died out. Both Artemonism and Theodotism were Unitarian in character, and denied the divinity of Christ. Another heresy to win the practically expressed disfavor of the papal see was that of Montanus, against which Pope Zephyrnius launched an edict in the year 205.
To sum up. The reign of Septimius marks almost the beginning of a period of considerable moral, intellectual, and spiritual ferment. Skepticism was rare, and the generality of mankind more inclined to believe in anything than in nothing. Though in the majority of men religion can scarcely be said to have risen above the level of credulity and superstition, yet, such as it was, it was genuine and, as a wealth of epigraphic evidence attests, publicly expressed with as little reticence as niggardliness. The renewed popularity of the oracles of Delphi and other places is typical of the age. In the domain of morals there was growing up a distinct tendency towards the ideals of purity and holiness, and though the age of asceticism had not as yet descended upon the world, the few instances where it occurred commanded instant and widespread respect. Besides this we begin to see during this period traces of that connection between morals and religion so rare in the ancient, so common in the modern, world.
In conclusion, we cannot do better than cite the words of Réville: “The religious syncretism of the early third century is the religion of a cosmopolitan society without interest in patriotism or politics, under a military despotism, without literary or artistic inspiration, without fixed philosophical opinions, yet educated, over-refined, and thirsting after a moral ideal better than that which had been handed down to it”.