Septimius Severus: Quotes & Accomplishments

Instructor: Tommi Waters

TK Waters has been an adjunct professor of religion at Western Kentucky University for six years. They have a master's degree in religious studies from Western Kentucky University and a bachelor's degree in English literature and religious studies from Western Kentucky University.

After rising to power amidst tumultuous political circumstances, Septimius Severus expanded the Roman empire immensely and developed the military. Learn more about Septimius' accomplishments by reading this lesson.

Septimius Severus' Early Life

Septimius Severus was born to rule - or, at least, he was set up for this quite well. He was born in Lepcis Magna, a city in Libya in Africa, around the year 145 BCE. His family was an important Punic family from Libya, with people often rising to ruling and senatorial positions. His cousin Gaius Septimius Severus became a consul, similar to a mayor, and chose Septimius as his legatus, or chief military leader. This began Septimius' political career and set him up for ruling the empire amidst the political turmoil in Rome.

Bust of Septimius Severus
Bust of Septimius Severus

Rise to Power

While Septimius was the governor of Pannonia Superior, a province on the Danube River, the emperor of Rome was murdered. The elderly Pertinax, whom Septimius had served under, became emperor. Though he was an adequate emperor, he was strict and did not raise the wages of the army, so he was overthrown and assassinated, leading to Julianus actually buying the position, as it was auctioned off.

This was, of course, problematic to the Romans, so they looked to choose a legitimate ruler. Septimius ended up becoming emperor because he had loyalty and support from sixteen legions. He also had more support from the Romans because of his connection with Pertinax, even giving him the title ''avenger of Pertinax.'' There were two other possible candidates for the position, so Septimius had to be careful and ''when he arrived at Rome, he ordered the guard to meet him clad only in their undergarments and without arms.''

Conflicts, Conquests, and Accomplishments

Expansion of the Roman empire under Septimius Severus
Expansion of Roman empire under Septimius Severus

Other Candidates

While trying to earn the position of emperor, Septimius tried to get support from one of the other candidates: Clodius Albinus, the governor of the province of Britain. In exchange for the support, he promised Albinus the title of Caesar, meaning he would inherit the throne after Septimius died. The other candidate, however, was not so lucky. Pescennius Niger was the governor of Syria, and one of Septimius' first mission was to conquer the East. After a few battles, Septimius captured Syria and killed Niger, beginning his expansions to the Roman empire.

Military Reform

One of Septimius' major accomplishments during his reign was reforming the Roman military. Up to this point, they had the Praetorian Guard, a group of high-ranking military men, who were in charge of defending and protecting Rome. Septimius decided to dissolve this group, instead, creating his own even larger army and increasing the security of Rome. To do so, however, he had to devalue silver so he could pay more military men higher wages, which some ancient historians found fault with. He also allowed the military to marry, which was not allowed before his reign and was generally met with favor. Septimius' reforms of the military were one of his most notable accomplishments and, even on his deathbed, he noted the importance of a good military, telling his sons, ''Be good to one another, enrich the soldiers, and damn the rest.''


Septimius proclaimed himself as the son of Marcus Aurelius, a former emperor who had been given the status of a god - meaning that Septimius was divine. After having children, Septimius decided to give the title of Caesar, the inheritance of his role as emperor, to his son Antoninus, who was later called Caracalla. If you recall, Septimius promised this to Albinus earlier, so this caused conflict between the two and led to Albinus being killed in battle.


With a powerful army and fewer enemies, Septimius focused on expanding the empire. He sacked many Mesopotamian cities, like Babylon, Seleucia, and even the Parthian capital Ctespihon. While in the East, he was almost defeated by the Hatra fortress in modern-day Iraq. To keep from losing, he made a peace treaty with the fortress and proclaimed dominance over the East. Back in Africa, he also defeated some smaller desert tribes who were starting to impose a problem on Septimius' control of Rome.

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