Severan dynasty - Ancient Rome
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Later Severans

Severus family
Julia Domna, Septimius Severus, Geta and Caracalla

August 2016 - But from the beginning Caracalla and Geta did not get along. By February 212 AD, Caracalla killed Geta, and then even had his name and picture erased from monuments all over the Empire.


Spinning Caracalla! Click the buttons to make him move!
(Metropolitan Museum, New York, Sebastian Heath)

Caracalla fought wars througout his reign. He fought the Germans in the north, successfully. Then he attacked the Parthians. But he was stabbed to death by his own guards in 217 AD in the middle of the Parthian war. The leader of the guards, Macrinus, proclaimed himself emperor.

Julia Domna
Julia Domna
The Severan women, however, wanted to keep their own family in power. Septimius Severus had married a woman named Julia Domna, who was from an old and powerful West Asian family (from modern Syria). When Caracalla was killed, Julia Domna starved herself to death, apparently as a protest against Macrinus.
Julia Maesa
Julia Maesa

But her older sister, Julia Maesa, did more. Julia Maesa had two grandsons. She made one of them, who was known as Elagabalus, emperor, and his armies, with her money, beat Macrinus in battle. Elagabalus had the name of emperor, but really his grandma, Julia Maesa, ran the empire. She made Elagabalus adopt his cousin, Alexander Severus (her other grandchild) as his successor, as Hadrian had adopted Antoninus Pius for example.

Elagabalus Alexander Severus
Elagabalus and Alexander Severus
Julia Mammaea
Julia Mamaea

But a plot by Alexander's mother, Julia Mamaea, got Elagabalus and HIS mother killed in 222 AD. Now Julia Maesa and Julia Mamaea ran the empire together. But they had one big problem: as women, they could not lead the army themselves, and Alexander was just a boy. When the new Sassanid power in West Asia attacked, they could not defend the Empire well. Soon the Germans, seeing this weakness, attacked in the north. Again Julia Mamaea could not respond strongly enough. The army, also seeing the problem, killed both Alexander and his mother (his grandma had already died).

Learn by doing: making Roman weapons
More about the Crisis of the Third Century

Bibliography and further reading about the Severans:

The Ancient Roman World, by Ronald Mellor (2004). Straight political history, for teens.

Classical Rome, by John Clare (1993). Easy reading: the whole political history from beginning to end.

The Romans: From Village to Empire, by Mary Boatwright, Daniel Gargola, and Richard Talbert (2004). Okay, it's a little dry, but it is up to date and has all the facts you could want.

The Roman Empire, by Colin Wells (1984). More readable. Alternates chapters on political and social history. Unfortunately, he stops at the third century crisis.

The Severans: The Changed Roman Empire, by Michael Grant (1996).

Septimius Severus, by Anthony Birley (1971). Emphasizes the emperor's African origins.

The Third Century Crisis
Roman History
Ancient Rome home

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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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  • Carr, K.E. . Study Guides, . Web. 24 April, 2017