Emperors of the Severan Dynasty

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  • 0:05 Intro & Septimius
  • 2:20 Geta & Caracalla
  • 3:27 Macrinus & Elagabalus
  • 4:51 Severus & His Mom
  • 5:44 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson focuses on the Severan Dynasty, which ruled Rome from 193 CE to 235 CE. Although the lesson explains the military and social reforms of this dynasty, it also highlights the outlandish personalities of the individual rulers.

Septimius the Soldier Begins the Severan Dynasty

Once upon a time, around the year 200 CE, in a land far, far away (the Roman Empire to be exact), there lived the Severan Emperors, a family who ruled Rome and its vast lands. Although history tells us they were a very violent people, and probably a bit off their rockers, they brought military and social reform to Rome.

Let's start with the first Severan emperor who gave the dynasty its name, Septimius Severus. To make it easier to remember what he did, we'll call him 'Septimius the Soldier.' Septimius, our soldier Severan, came to power in the year 193 CE, also known as the Year of Five Emperors, in which five different rich guys fought for the title of emperor.

Being rather brutal, and more than willing to kill for power, Septimius the Soldier was the last guy standing in this fight. Upon becoming emperor, he reformed the military. Hence our name, Septimius the Soldier.

To stabilize his lands, Septimius the Soldier disbanded the very large and very corrupt Praetorian Guard, or the emperor's elite bodyguards. He was also the first emperor to create a standing, or permanent, army within Italy. Not only did this keep the homeland safe, it also made Septimius very formidable. Anytime there was a threat to his power, he had an army ready and waiting! In order to keep the soldiers on his side, he increased their pay and benefits. Working to keep the citizenry content, he put on games, supplied grain, and even forgave the debts of his powerful friends.

Although all these actions kept him safe from assassination, it added a huge financial burden to the empire. This burden was so large, many historians actually blame his policies for the eventual fall of Rome. Yes, his fiscal policies may have been a bit reckless, but he did establish and maintain a strong Roman military.

Geta & Caracalla

After the peaceful death of Septimius the Soldier, his sons, Caracalla and Geta, were co-emperors of Rome. Not really keen on the idea of sharing power, Caracalla arranged for the murder of his brother and took outright control of the empire. Since Caracalla is most remembered for his Antonine Constitution, in which he granted citizenship to every free person in the Roman Empire, we'll call him 'Caracalla the Citizen.' Although granting citizenship like this improved the lives of many, he was also cruel and punishing. As we already learned, he had no problem killing family members. However, he was also known for burying his victims alive and massacring at will. For example, during a visit to Egypt, he was mocked while in Alexandria. He retaliated by ordering a massacre of the city's youth.

All in all, Caracalla the Citizen wasn't really a guy you'd like to see in control of things, but in his defense, he did grant citizenship to every free person within the empire.

Macrinus & Elagabalus

Having had enough of Caracalla the Citizen, one of his relatives, Macrinus, murdered him and claimed the title of emperor. For this deed, we'll call him 'Macrinus the Murderer.' History really doesn't record a lot about Macrinus the Murderer. For the most part, he stayed out of Rome and was assassinated within a year by another power hungry Severan known to history as Elagabalus.

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