The Historia Augusta was probably composed in the late 4th century AD by a single historian (manufacturing the names of 6 earlier historians to seem more reliable). The lives from Trajan to Elagabulus are considered far more trustworthy than the later lives, though all fall short of the standard of Suetonius' Lives of the Caesars upon which they are apparently modelled. Nevertheless this life represents the only full narrative of the career of Septimius upon which modern historians must rely heavily.
AFTER the murder of Didius Julianus, Severus, a native of Africa, gained the empire. His home town was Lepcis Magna, his father was Geta and his ancestors had been Roman knights before citizenship had been given to all. His mother was Fulvia Pia, his uncles were Aper and Severus, ex-consuls, his paternal grandfather was Macer and his maternal grandfather was Fulvius Pius. He himself was born on the third day before the Ides of April, when Erucius Clarus, for the second time, and Severus were the consuls [11 April A.D.146] In his earliest boyhood, before he became steeped in Latin and Greek litera ture, in which he was highly educated, the only game he played with other boys was 'Judges'. In this game the fasces and axes would be carried before him and, with a council of boys stand ing around him, he would sit and give judgement. In his eight eenth year he gave a formal speech in public, after which he came to Rome to pursue his studies, and applied for and received the broad stripe from the deified Marcus, with the backing of his kinsman Septimius Severus, who had already been consul twice.
On his arrival at Rome he chanced upon an innkeeper who was reading the Life of the emperor Hadrian at that very time. This he seized upon as an omen of future good fortune. He also had another omen that he was to be emperor. When invited to an imperial banquet he had come wearing a Greek mantle instead of the toga he should have worn, and he was given the emperor's own official toga to put on. The same night he dreamed he was sucking the teats of a she-wolf, like Remus or Romulus. Further, he sat in the imperial chair, which had been put in the wrong place by an attendant, being unaware that it was not permitted. Another time, when he was sleeping in a tavern, a snake wound itself round his head, and when his friends were alarmed and shouted out, the creature went away without harming him.
He did a lot of wild things in his youth, not all of them innocent. He was sued for adultery and spoke in his own defence, being acquitted by the proconsul Julianus. (He succeeded Julianus in the proconsulship, was his colleague in the consulship and also succeeded him as emperor.) His quaestorship he held with diligence, having omitted the military tribunate. After his quaestorship he received Baetica by lot and then set out for Africa to settle affairs at home, as his father had died. But while he was in Africa he was assigned to Sardinia instead of Baetica, because the Moors were ravaging Baetica. After completing his Sardinian quaestorship, then, he took the post of legate to the proconsul of Africa. During this legate ship, when he was walking along preceded by the fasces, one of his fellow-townsmen, a man of Lepcis and a plebeian, embraced him as an old comrade. Severus gave the man a beating with cudgels, while his herald proclaimed: 'Let no plebeian embrace a legate of the Roman people with impunity.' The result of this incident was that legates too rode in a carriage, whereas previously they used to go on foot.
At that time, in a certain African town, he had anxiously consulted an astrologer. When his horoscope had been cast, he saw a tremendous future ahead of him, and the astrologer said to him: 'Give me your own horoscope not another man's.' Severus swore that it was his, and the man foretold everything that afterwards came to pass. He gained the tribunate of the plebs on the recommendation of the emperor Marcus, and carried it out with great strictness and energy. At that time he married Marciana,about whom he was silent in his own account of his life as a private citizen. Subsequendy, during his reign, he set up statues to her. He was designated praetor by Marcus, not as a candidate ofthe emperor but as one of a crowd of competitors, in his thirty-second year. Then, after he had been sent to Spain, he dreamed first that he was told to restore the temple of Augustus at Tarraco, which was by then in a state of decay. After this he dreamed that from the peak of a very high mountain he was looking down on dhe whole world, and on Rome, and the provinces were singing together to the accompaniment of the lyre or flute. After his departure for Spain he put on public games in absentia. Then he was placed in command of the legion IV Scythica, near Massias. After this post he made for Athens, both to pursue his studies and for religious reasons, and in order to see the public buildings and antiquities. While there, he was offended in various ways by the Athenians, as a result of which he became hostile to them and took his revenge, after becoming emperor, by reducing their privileges. Next he was appointed legate of Lugdunensis. When he wished to marry a second time, after losing his wife, he investigated the horoscopes of potential brides, being very skilled in astrology himself, and since he had heard that there was a certain woman in Syria whose horoscope forecast that she would marry a king, he sought her hand. It was of courseJulia, and he gained her as his bride through the mediation offriends. She at once made him a father.! 3 He was loved as no other by the Gauls for his strictness, honourable conduct and restraint. Next he ruled the Pannonias with proconsular power. After this he gained the proconsular province of Sicily in the lot; and he was given another son, at Rome.
In Sicily he was placed on trial on a charge of consulting soothsayers or astrologers about the imperial position. The prefects of the guard who were assigned to hear his case acquitted him - Commodus was already becoming hated - and the false accuser was crucified. He held his first consulship with Apuleius Rufinus, as one of a very large number that Commodus designated. After this consulship he was without official duties for about a year and then, on the recommendation of Laetus, he was put in command of the German army.On his departure to the German armies he purchased spacious pleasuregrounds, whereas previously he had owned only a very small house at Rome and one farm in the territory of Veii. He was eating a modest dinner Iying on the ground in these gardens, with his sons, and his elder son, then aged five, was dividing out with a rather lavish hand among his childish playmates the fruit that was placed nearby; his father said, reproving him: 'Share it out more sparingly, for you do not possess royal wealth,' and the boy replied 'But I will possess it.' After his departure to Germany he conducted himself in such a way in his governorship as to increase his reputation, which had already become noteworthy.
Up to this point his military activity was as a private citizen. But then, after it had been learned that Commodus had been murdered and, moreover, that Julianus held the empire amid universal hatred, he was proclaimed emperor by the German legions at Carnuntum, on the Ides of August, although he did put up some resistance to the many who urged him on. He gave the soldiers . . . sesterces each. Then, after strengthening the provinces which he was leaving in his rear, he marched on Rome. All yielded to him wherever he went, while the armies of Illyricum and Gaul, under the pressure of their generals, had alreadysworn allegiance to him - for he was received by everyone as the avenger of Pertinax. At the same time, on the instigation of Julianus, Septimius Severus was declared a public enemy, and envoys were sent to the army who were to order the soldiers to desert him, on the instructions of the Senate. At first, when Severus heard that the envoys had been sent by authority of a senatorial decree, he was very frightened. Afterwards, by bribing the envoys, he ensured that they spoke in his favour before the army and crossed to his side. Having learned this,Julianus caused a decree ofthe Senate to be passed regarding his sharing of the empire with Severus. It is uncertain whether or not he did this as a trick, since he had already, before this, dispatched certain men, well known for their assassinations of generals, who were to kill Severus. Similarly he had sent men to assassinate Pescennius Niger, who had also assumed the position of emperor in opposition to him, on the instigation of the Syrian armies. But Severus escaped the hands of those that Julianus had sent to murder him and sent a letter to the praetorian guard, giving them the signal either to desertJulianus or to kill him. He was obeyed at once; Julianus was killed in the palace and Severus was invited to Rome. Thus Severus became the victor merely at will - something that had never happened to anyone - and hastened to Rome under arms.
After Julianus had been killed, Severus still remained in camp and under canvas, as if moving through enemy territory, and the Senate sent a deputation to him of a hundred senators, to congratulate him and to beg his favour. They met him at Interamna [Terni], and after their clothes had been shaken in case they were carrying any weapons, they greeted him, armed as he was, with armed men standing around. On the following day, when all the palace household had presented itself, he gave the members of the senatorial deputation seven hundred and twenty gold pieces each, and sent them ahead of him, having given any who wished the opportunity of remaining and returning to Rome with him. He also appointed as prefect of the guard Flavius Juvenalis, whom Julianus had taken as his own third prefect.
Then, entering Rome under arms, with armed soldiers, he ascended the Capitol. From there, in the same attire, he proceeded to the Palatine, with the standards which he had taken from the guard carried before him, held downwards not on high. Then, all over the city, soldiers took up their station, in the temples, in the porticoes and in the palace, treating them as their quarters; and the entry of Severus aroused hatred and terror, for the soldiers snatched goods without payment, threatening to plunder the city. On the next day, tightly surrounded by armed men - not only soldiers but his friends as well - he came to the Senate. In the Senate House he rendered an explanation of his assumption of the imperial position and gave it as his pretext that Julianus had sent men known for their assassinations of generals to murder him. He also compelled the passage of a senatorial decree that it-should not be lawful for the emperor to kill a senator without the consent ofthe Senate. But while he was in the Senate, the soldiers, in a state of mutiny, demanded ten thousand sesterces a man, on the precedent of those who had conducted Octavianus Augustus to Rome and had received such a great sum. Severus wanted to restrain them and was unable to, but he sent them away mollified by an additional bounty.
He then held a state funeral, with an effigy of Pertinax, and consecrated him as one of the deified emperors, adding a Helvian flamen and sodales, who had previously been Marcian. He also ordered that he himself should take the name of Pertinax, although later he wanted that name to be abolished as if it were an omen. Then he paid offhis friends' debts. Hc gave his daughters, with dowries, in marriage to Probus and Actius. He offered his son-in-law Probus the prefecture of thc city, but he refused, saying that to be prefect seemed a lesser thing than to be the emperor's son-in-law. Moreover he straightaway made each of his sons-in-law consul, and each of them he enriched. On the next day he came to the Senate, and after making accusations against them, proscribed and executed the friends of Julianus. He heard a great many lawsuits, and punished severely magistrates who had been accused by provincials, when the charges against them were proved. He took such care over the grain- supply, which he had found to bc very low, that when he died he was to leave the Roman people a surplus amounting to seven years' tribute.
He left Rome to settle the eastern situation, saying nothing publicly about Niger as yet. However, he sent legions to Africa to prevent Niger from moving through Egypt and Libya to occupy it, and causing hardship to the Roman people by cutting off the grain-supply. He left Domitius Dexter as prefect ofthe city in place of Bassus, and departed within thirty days of his arrival at Rome. Having moved out from the city to Saxa Rubra he had to endure a serious outbreak of mutiny on the part of the army, on account of the place chosen for pitching camp. His brother Geta came to meet him at once, and was instructed to govern the province entrusted to him, although he was hoping for something else. The children of Niger, who were brought to him, he treated with the same respect as his own. He had indeed sent ahead a legion to take possession of Greece and Thrace, to prevent Pescennius from occupying them; but Niger was already holding Byzantium and, wishing to seize Perinthus as well, killed a great many men from this force. He was therefore declared a public enemy, together with Aemilianus. Niger invited Severusto share the empire, but he was treated with contempt. Severus did, to be sure, promise him a safe exile, if he wanted it, but he did not pardon Aemilianus. Then Aemilianus was defeated in the Hellespont by the generals of Severus, and fled first to Cyzicus and then to another city, where he was killed on their orders. Niger's own forces were also put to flight by the same generals. When he had heard these things, Severus sent a letter to the Senate, as if everything had been dealt with. Then he fought with Niger and killed him at Cyzicus, and carried his head round on a spear. After this he sent Niger's `children, whom he had treated on an equal basis to his own, into exile with their mother. He sent a letter to the Senate concerning the victory and he did not inflict punishmcnt on any of the senators who had belonged to Niger's party, except for one.
He was more angry with the people of Antioch, for two reasons: they had made fun of him when he was serving in the east and they had helped Niger even when he had been defeated. Eventually he took away many of their privileges from them. He also deprived the people of Neapolis [Nablus] in Palestine of their citizenship, because they were in arms on behalf of Niger for a long time. He took savage reprisals against many who had followed Niger, other than members of thc senatorial order. He inflicted penalties and indemnities on many cities ofthe same party too. He put to death those senators who had served in Niger's army with the rank of general or tribune. Then he undertook a great deal in the region of Arabia, bringing the Parthians back under Roman authority, and the Adiabenians too, all of whom, indeed, had taken the side of Pescennius. On account of this, when he returned, a triumph was offered him, and he was named Arabicus Adiabenicus Parthicus. But he rejected the triumph, so as not to seem to be triumphing for a victory in civil war. He also declined the name of Parthicus, so as not to provoke the Parthians. While he was actually on his way back to Rome, after the civil war with Niger, another civil war, with Clodius Albinus who rebelled in Gaul, was announced to him. For this reason his sons were later put to death, together with their mother. He therefore at once declared Albinus a public enemy, together with those who had written to Albinus, or had replied to his Ictters, in favourable terms. At Viminacium, on his march against Albinus, he nominated his elder son Bassianus, who had been given the name Aurelius Antoninus, as Caesar. This was in order to destroy the hopes which Severus' brother Geta had conceived of gaining the imperial position. The reason why he gave his son the name Antoninus was that he had dreamed that an Antoninus would succeed him. Hence some think that Geta pus younger son] was also called Antoninus, so that he too might succeed him as emperor. Some think that Bassianus was called Antoninus because Severus himself wanted to pass over into the family of Marcus.
At first, indeed, the generals of Severus were defeated by those of Albinus. Severus, in his anxiety, then consulted Pannonian augurs, from whom he learned that he would be the victor, but that his adversary would neither fall into his power nor escape, but would perish beside the water. Many friends of Albinus at once deserted and came to Severus, and many of Albinus' generals were captured, and punished by Severus. Meanwhile, after many varying encounters, Severus fought against Albinus successfully in Gaul for the first time at Tinurtium. It was then that he came into extreme peril by a fall from his horse; he was believed to have died from a lead ball, and the army was on the point of choosing another man as emperor.At that time, Severus read in the senatorial minutes a motion congratulating Clodius Celsinus, a Hadrumetine and a kinsman of Albinus. Severus was enraged with the Senate, as though it had recogruzed Albinus by this act. He therefore decreed that Commodus should be enrolled among the de)fied emperors, as though in this way he would be able to revenge himself on the Senate. He proclaimed the de)fication of Commodus before the soldiers first, and then announced thc fact in a letter to the Senate, with the addition of a victory speech. Next, he ordered that the bodies of the senators who had been killed in the war should be torn limb from limb. Then he ordered that the head of Albinus, whose body had been brought to him half alive, should be cut o_and sent to Rome, and he accompanied it with a letter. Albinus was defeated on the eleventh day before the Kalends of March [9 February A.D. 197]. Moreover, Severus ordered that the remains of Albinus' corpse should be exposed before his own house and should lie there for a long time. Besides this, he himself rode on horseback over the corpse of Albinus, and admonished his horse when it took fright and even loosened its reins so that it might trample boldly. Others add that he ordered the man's corpse to be thrown into the Rhone - and the bodies of his wife and children at the same time. Countless members of Albinus' party were put to death, in cluding many leading men in the state and many distinguished women; the property of all of them was confiscated and swelled the state treasury. Many of the Spanish and Gallic notables were also killed at this time. Finally, he gave the soldiers a rate of pay that none of the emperors had reached. To his sons, too, he left an inheritance from this proscription greater than any of the emperors had left, since he had made a large part of the gold throughout Gaul, Spain and Italy. This was the time when the procuratorship of the Privy Purse was first established. Of course, many who remained loyal to Albinus after his death were defeated in battle by Severus. At that time, more over, the legion of Arabia was reported to have defected to Albinus.
Therefore, having taken a heavy vengeance on the desertion ofthe Albinians by putting a great many of them to death, and also wiping out Albinus' family, he came to Rome, angry with both the people and the Senate. He praised Commodus in the Senate and at an assembly of the people, declared him to be a god and said that it was tbe depraved with whom he had been unpopular. It was apparent that Severus was quite openly in a rage. After this he dealt with the subject of his own clemency, although he was.exceedingly cruel and killed the senators listed below. He did in fact kill, without any hearing of their case, these nobles:
Yet the murderer ofthese men, so many and so distinguished - for many among them were consulars, many praetorian in rank, all certainly of high degree - is regarded by the Africans as a god! He falsely accused Cincius Severus of making an attempt on his life with poison, and for this reason pUt him tO death. Then he cast to the lions Narcissus, the man who strangled Commodus. Besides this, he put to death many persons of lowly status, not counting those whom the fury of battle had consumed.
After this, since he wanted to make himself popular with people, he transferred the posting service from private individuals to the imperial treasury. Then he caused his son Bassianus Antoninus to be named Caesar by the Senate, and the imperial insignia were granted him by decree. A rumour then arose of a Parthian war.
He set up statues to his father, mother, grandfather and first wife. Plautianus had been a very close friend, but when Severus learned of his way of life he held him in such hatred that he declared him a public enemy, had his statues throughout the world overthrown, and made him famous for the severity of his punishment. Severus was particularly angered that Plautianus had set up his own statue among the likenesses of Severus' relatives and kinsmen. He revoked the penalty imposed on the Palestinians for supporting Niger. Afterwards Severus returned to his friendship with Plautianus, and after entering the city as though celebrating an ovation, he came to the Capitol. However, he killed him eventually. He gave his younger son Geta the toga of manhood andjoined the daughter of Plautianus in marriage with his elder son. Those who hat called Plautianus a public enemy were deported. Thus there is always change in everything, as if by a law of nature. Then he designated his sons to the consulship. He buried his brother Geta.
Then he set out for the Parthian war, having put on a gladiatorial show and given largess to the people. In the meantime he killed many people on charges that were either genuine or faked. A great many were condemned for making jokes, others because they kept silene, others for making a lot of contrived remarks, such as: Behold an emperor true to his name, a true Pertinax, a true Severus It was certainly commonly said that Septimius Severus' motive for the Parthian war was a desire for glory, and that it was not launched out of any necessity. At any rate, having taken the army across from Brundisium he came to Syria without breaking his joumey and drove offthe Parehians. After this he resumed to Syria so as to prepare himself and take the offensive against the Parehians. In the meantime on the instigation of Plautianus he hunted down the remnants of Pescennius' following, to the extent that he even laid hold on some of his own friends as conspirators against his life. He also killed many for allegedly consulting astrologers or seers about his healeh, especially each and every person suitable for the imperial office, since he himselfhad sons who were still small boys, and he either believed, or heard, that this was being said by those who were predicting the position of emperor for themselves. In the end, when not a few had been killed, Severus made excuses for himself, and after their death denied that he had ordered what had been done. This applied particularly to Laetus, according to Marius Maximus. When his sister, a woman of Lepcis, had come to him, scarcely able to speak Latin, and the emperor was very embarrassed about her, he gave the broad stripe to her son and many gifts to her, and told the woman to return to her home town - with her son as well, who died shortly afterwards.
When the summer was already ending, therefore, he invaded Parthia, defeated the king, came to Ceesiphon, and took it. It was almost winter for in those regions wars are better carried out in winter, although the soldiers live on the roots of grasses and contract diseases and sickness as a result. Therefore, when he was unable to proceed farther, because the Parthians were making a stand, and the soldiers' bowels were loosened on account ofthe unfamiliar diet, he nonetheless persisted and took the town, put the king to flight, killed a great number of men and earned the title Parthicus. Because of these things, also, the soldiers hailed his son Bassianus Aneoninus, then in his thirteeneh year and already with the title Caesar, as co-emperor. They called Geta his younger son Caesar also, naming him Aneoninus as well, according to most writers.He gave the soldiers a very generous donative on account of these titles, and all the bogey of the Parthian town was handed over to them. Then he returned into Syria, as a conqueror and as Parthicus. The senators offered him a triumph, but he refused, the reason being that his arthritis made it impossible for him to stand up in the chariot. He did, to be sure, allow his son to triumph - the Senate had decreed him a triumph over the Jews, because of successes achieved in Syria by Severus. Then, when he had crossed to Antioch, he bestowed the toga of manhood on his elder son and designated him as consul, as colleague to himself; and they at once entered on their consulship, while seill in Syria.
After this, he gave the soldiers an increase in their pay and then set out for Alexandria. On the journey he established many laws for the Palestinians. He prohibited conversion to Judaism under heavy penalties, and laid down the same penalty in the case of Christians too. Then he gave the Alexandrians the right to have town-councillors - up till that time they used to live without a public authority just as they had under their kings, content with the single magistrate whom Caesar had appointed. Besides this he changed many of their laws. This tour was pleasant for him - as Severus himself subsequently always made clear - because of his devotion to the god Sarapis, because he became acquaineed with the antiquities and because he saw rare animals and strange places. For he diligently inspected Memphis and Memnon, the pyramids and the labyrinth.
But since it is tedious to follow up minor details, this man's great deeds were the following when Julianus had been conquered and killed, he dismissed the praetorian cohorts, enrolled Pertinax among the gods contrary to the will of the soldiers, and ordered that the decrees of Salvius Julianus should be abolished; here, however, he was unsuccessful. Then he appears to have had the surname of Pertinax not so much ae his own wish as on account of his parsimonious characeer. In fact, through the unlimited slaughter of many he was regarded as somewhat cruel. When a certain man from the enemy had surrendered to him as a suppliant and had asked, what would Severus have done in his place, he was not softened by the good sense of such a question, and ordered the man to be put to death. Besides this, his fervent aim was to liquidate opposing factions, and there was almost no encounter from which he did not emerge the victor. He subdued Abgarus, king of the Persians.
He received the submission of the Arabs. He compelled the Adiabeni to pay tribute. He fortified Britain - and this was the greatest glory of his reign - with a wall led across the island to the Ocean at each end ;in recognition of this he also received the title Britannicus. He rendered Tripolitania, from whence he sprang, completely safe, having battered the most warlike tribes; and he donated to the Roman people in perpetuity a free and lavish daily supply of olive oil.
The same emperor, although implacable towards offences, likewise displayed singular judiciousness in encouraging all hard-working persons. He was quite interested in philosophy and the practice of rhetoric, and enthusiastic about learning in general. He took some measures against brigands everywhere. He composed a convincing autobiography dealing with both his private and his public life, making excuses only for the vice of cruelty. With regard to this, the Senate pronounced that either he ought not to have been born or that he ought not to die, since he appeared to be both excessively cruel and excessively useful to the republic. However, as concerns his family he was less careful, retaining his wife Julia who was notorious for her adulteries and was also guilty of conspiracy.
Once, this emperor, when crippled in his feet, was delaying a war, and the soldiers in their anxiety made his son Bassianus, who was there with him, Augustus. Severus had himself lifted up and was carried to the tribunal, and then summoned all the tribunes, centurions,generals and cohorts responsible for the deed Finally, he ordered that his son, who had accepted the name of Auguseus, should appear before him. He ordered that all those responsible for the deed should be punished except for his son, and all of them, prostrate before the tribunal, begged for pardon. Then he couched his head with his hand and said. 'At last you realize that it is the head that rules and not the feet.' It was he that said, when fortune had led him from a humble status through pursuits of study and military posts to the imperial power, through many stages: 'I have been everything - and gained nothing.
He died at Eboracum [York] in Britain, having subdued the tribes which appeared hostile to Britain, in the eighteeneh year of his reign, stricken by a very grave illness, now an old man.
He left two sons, Antoninus Bassianus, and Geta, to whom he had given the same name, in honour of Marcus Antoninus. He was laid in the sepulchre of Marcus Antoninus, whom of all the emperors he so greatly revered that he even deified Commodus, and thought it right that the name of Aneoninus should be added to the name of all future emperors use like the name Auguseus. He himself was enrolled among the deified emperors by the Senate, on the motion of his sons, who gave him a splendid funeral.
His outstanding public buildings now extant are the Septizodium (A three-storied building nearly 100 feet high and over 300 feet long, erected in A.D.203 at the south-eastern corner of the Palatine Hill.) and the Severan Baths (the precise location of these baths is unknown and they were perhaps incorporated in the Baths of Caracalla); and his too are the doors in the Transtiberine region, next to the gate that bears his name. Their frame collapsed at once, interfering with their use by the public.
The universal judgement on him after his death was thee he was great, especially because for a long while no benefit came to the republic from his sons, while subsequenely, with many usurpations, the Roman state was a prey to plunderers.
This emperor wore such meagre clothing that even his tunic scarcely had any purple, while he covered his
shoulders with a shaggy cloak. He ate sparingly, being very addicted to his
native vegetable, sometimes fond of wine, often abstaining from meat. His person was handsome, he was of
huge size,(Dio Cassius, who knew Severus personally, says that he was small) with a long beard and curly white hair.
His face inspired reverence, his voice was resonant but
with a trace of an African accent right up to his old age. He was equally beloved after his death, when envy, or
the fear of his cruelty, had disappeared.
I recall that I have read in Aelius Maurus(the author apparently made up this name to give credence to the following fictions), a freedman of Hadrian's Phlegon, that when he was dying Septimius Severus rejoiced quite unrestrainedly because he was leaving the republic two Antonines with equal power, after the example of Pius, who left the republic Verus and Marcus Antoninus, his sons by adoption. He was doing better than this because Pius left sons by adoption and he was giving dhe Roman republic rulers begotten by himself; Antoninus - Bassianus that is - was of course born to him from his first marriage and he had Geta by Julia. But his hope greatly deceived him, for fratricide made the one hateful to the republic and his own character dhe other, and the name of Antoninus did not long remain sanctified in any instance. Indeed, when I reflect on the matter, Diocletian Augustus, it is sufficiendy clear that no great man has left a son who is excellent and useful. For such men either die widhout children or for dhe most part have children of such a kind chat it would have been better for dhe human race if they had died without descendants. To begin from Romulus: he left no children, and Numa Pompilius left none chat could be of use to the republic. What of Camillus? He surely did not have children like himself? What of Scipio? What of the Catos, who were such great men? And then, what shall I say about Homer, Demosthenes, Virgil, Crispus Sallust and Terence, Plautus and all the rest? What about Caesar? What about Tullius [Cicero], for whom especially it would have been better not to have had children? What about Augustus, who did not even have a good son by adoption, although he had the power of choosing from all men? Trajan himself, also, made a mistake in choosing his fellow-townsman and nephew. But to omit adoptive sons, lest the Antonines, Pius and Marcus, divine spirits of the republic, occur to us, let us turn to real sons. What would have been more fortunate for Marcus, than not to have Commodus as his heir? What more fortunate for Severus Septimius, than not to have Bassianus? - who straightaway destroyed his brother, supposed to have designed a conspiracy against himself, a fratricidal contrivance; who took his stepmother - and what stepmother? rather she was his mother! - to wife,(i.e. Caracalla marrying his mother Julia Domna which we will discuss when we read Dio Cassius on Julia) in whose bosom he had killed her son Geta; who killed Papinianus, sanctuary of the law and treasury of legal learning, and who was prefect (so that a man great in himself and through his knowledge might not be lacking in rank). Finally, to omit other things, I think it was because of Bassianus' character that Severus, a somewhat harsh man in every way, indeed somewhat cruel also, was held to be righteous and worthy of the altars of the gods. He at any rate, labouring under his disease, is said to have sent his elder son the god-like speech of Sallust, in which Micipsa urged his sons to peace. But that was in vain . . . and so great a man, in ill health . . .(the manuscripts have a blank spot here). Antoninus lived on then, hated by the people for a long time, and that hallowed name was for a long time less beloved, although he both gave clothes to the people, whence he was called Caracallus, and built most magnificent baths. There survives of course at Rome a portico of Severus portraying his deeds, set up by his son, according to most accounts.
The signs of his death were these: he himself dreamed that he was dragged up into the sky by four eagles and a jewelled chariot, while some kind of huge creature of human shape flew in front; and while he was being carried away, he counted out numbers up to eighty-nine, beyond which number of years he did not live even a single one,(62) for he came-to the imperial position as an old man; and when he had been placed in a huge circle of air, for a long while he stood solitary and set apart; then when he began to be afraid that he might fall headlong, he saw himself being called by Jupiter and placed among the Antonines. On the day of the circus games, three little plaster Victories had been set up, in the usual fashion, holding palms. The middle one, which carried a globe inscribed with his own name, was struck by the wind and fell down upright from the podium, and stayed on the ground; the one which was inscribed with the name of Geta collapsed and shattered completely; but the one which carried the inscription of Bassianus, though it lost its palm in the gust of wind, managed to remain standing, although only just. After giving a Moor his discharge from the army, on the Wall, he was resuming to the nearest halting-place (mansio), not merely as victor but having established etemal peace. He was turning over in his mind what sort of man should meet him, when a certain 'Ethiopian' [black man] from the military unit (numerus), with a famous reputation among the jesters and whose jokes were always much quoted, met him with a wreath made of cypress. Enraged, Severus instructed that the man should be removed from his sight, being nettled by the ominous colour and wreath; and the man is recorded to have said, as a joke: 'You have overthrown all things, you have conquered all things, now be a conquering god!' Coming to the town, he wanted to make sacrifice; but first he was led to the temple of Bellona by a mistake on the part of the rustic soothsayer, and then the sacrificial victims provided were black. He rejected them and was on his way back to the palace, when through the attendants' carelessness the black sacrificial victims followed the emperor, right up to the threshold of the imperial residence.
There are in many cities outstanding building works of his. There was indeed magnanimity in his graciousness, in that he restored all the public buildings at Rome that were falling into disrepair from the effects of time, and virtually nowhere had his own name inscribed on them, the inscriptions of the original builders being preserved. On his death he left enough grain for seven years supply to be weighed out at a daily rate of 75,000 pecks; and so much olive oil, in fact, that for five years there was sufficient not only for the use of the city but also for the whole of Italy which needed oil.
His last words are said to have been the following: 'I took over the republic in a disturbed condition everywhere, and I leave it pacified even among the Britons. Now an old man crippled in the feet, I bequeath to my Antonines, a stable empire if they will bc good, a weak one if bad.' Then he ordered the watchword 'tot us work' to be given to the tribune, because Pertinax when he was admitted to the imperial position had given the watchword 'Let us be soldiers'. He had intended next that the royal image of Fortune, who customarilyaccompanies the emperors and is placed in their bed- chambers, should be duplicated, sothat he might leave that most sacred figureto each of his sons; but when he saw that the hour of death was pressing strongly upon him, he is supposed to have ordered that Fortune should be placed on alternate days in the bed- chambers of his sons the emperors. Bassianus ignored this - and then committed fratricide.
His body was carried from Britain as far as Rome, greatly revered by the provincials; although some say that it was only a golden urn containing the remains of Severus, and that this was laid in the sepulchre of the Antonines, since Septimius had been cremated in the place where he died.
When he was building the Septizodium he had no other thought but that his building might present itself to those approaching from Africa; and it is said that if a statue of himself had not been placed in the centre of it by the prefect of the city, during his absence, he wanted to make an entrance into the Palatine House, i.e. into the royal entrance-hall, from that side. Subsequently, Alexander too wanted to do this, but he is said to have been forbidden by the soothsayers, since his consultations had not met with a favourable response.