3 Later Severans

  • Return of the Severans
  • Plot of the Severan Women
    • Fall of Macrinus partly own agency 
      • Line between usurper and legitimate emperor very fine
      • Unsettled army
      • Court – elite senators – unhappy with an equestrian being on the throne/equestrian bureaucracy 
        • Macrinus starts to appoint other equestrians to office
      • Problems with finances
    • Partly caused by Julia Maesa
      • Orchestrates the return of Severans to power through her grandchild Elagabalus
      • Julia Maesa grandmother of Bassianus (Elagabalus) who resembles Caracalla
      • May 218 – takes Bassianus to camp and is declared emperor by troops, renamed Marcus Aurelius Antoninus – attempt to bind with Caracalla and claim to legitimacy with image
    • Fall of Macrinus
      • Macrius sends Parthian legion, but they change sides once they arrive
        • Pays them before they go to declared Diadumenianus co-emperor
      • Macrinus had Praetorian and some auxiliary units
      • Macrinus flees, army surrenders
      • Macrinus killed by escort

  • Elagabalus
  • The Beast from the East
    • Reigned 218-222
    • From 217, held ancestral priesthood of ‘lh ‘gbl (Elagabal)
      • Very popular in Emesa, Syria
      • 13 years old when held priesthood; 15 when became emperor
    • Took priesthood seriously; no intention to cease the priesthood
      • Sends image of himself to senate so that they can get used to his unusual dress
      • Also on his public imagery
    • In 2020, makes Elagabalus chief god in Pantheon 
  • Tyrannical Behaviour
    • Criticisms of Elagabalus encompass eastern, orientalised negativity on the part of Greco-Roman authors 
      • Part of what they are insulting is the fact that he is an emperor who came from Syria
    • Series of graphic and erotic stories told about him
    • Exacerbated by eastern focus
    • Emperor supposed to be symbol of masculine value
    • Aided by imagery of emperor
      • Coinage contains disctinctive headband of Syrian priests
      • Chose to be represented in an unsual way in official coinage

  • Severus Alexander
  • Fall of Elagabalus
    • Behaviour becomes too much for everyone… even Maesa
    • June 26 221 – Elagabalus compelled to adopt younger cousin as Caesar
      • Gessius Alexianus Bassianus (Severus Alexander) 225-235
      • 12 years old at time
        • Leads to commentary on how ridiculous the imperial family had become, having emperors as young as 12
    • March 11 222 Alexander replaces Elagabalus as emperor
      • Circumstances not entirely clear 
      • Alexander not seen in public, guard riot
      • Elagabalus goes to camp to placate; mother brings Alexander
      • Killed, together with mother (Julia Soaemias)
    • Alexander declared emperor at 13 years old
      • No pretence of gradually acquiring titles and office which had still persisted to this point into the third century 
      • Simply voted all titles initially and immediately 
        • Worked well in a period where they were limited claimants to power
        • Now multiple claimants and the longer you wait, the greater license that gives to other individuals to make a claim to power
        • Unclear who emperor is in moments of transition – army can claim an individual as emperor, the senate can ratify a different person, but the person who ends up emperor may be someone entirely different
        • Nature of office has to change because it’s becoming harder and harder to hold onto the office – necessity of conditions changing the rules 
      • When authors reference women they often do so to cast an image on their associated male figures 
        • Herodian commenting that affairs and controls of empire in the hands of women – Herodian 6.1.1
        • Herodian suggesting things were managed better by the women precisely because the Severan men were not in control 
        • Out of this period of crisis, the question of genuine female agency comes to the foreground 
  • Policy
    • ‘Traditional reign? Attempt to get back to how things were under Septimius Severus
      • Overtures to the senate
      • Many who were consuls under Septimius were made consul again under Alexander
        • Including CASSIUS DIO hence being understandably positive
      • Conventional approaches to finances
        • Attempt by behaviour and image to bind himself back into the Golden Age
        • Trajan and Marcus have become the touchpoints for the Golden Age – the best emperor and the philosophical emperor
    • Has to reckon with the rise of Sassanids beat Arsacids
      • 224: Ardashir of Sassanid family defeats Artabanus of Arsacids
      • King of Kings – unites previously separate Parthain tribes into a newly invigorated Persian empire
      • Puts up imagery of this in the same place of previous dominant Persian rulers – Darius, Cyrus etc.
      • Contrasts with obvious weakness of Rome’s ruling dynasty 
      • 230 attacks Roman frontier 
      • Alexander’s response neither quick nor successful 
        • Disinclination to war? 
        • Buys into an image of young, inexperienced emperor on the throne
      • Celebrates a triumph despite poor outcome 
        • Out of touch with reality of what happened 
      • Herodian remembers the defeat to be specifically the fault of Alexander 
        • Ascribes to excessive feminine influence 
        • Hint that his weakness opens the floodgates of what is to eventually come 
    • Maximinus revolt in which Alexander and his mother are both killed in 235
  • Legacy
    • Positive legacy – why?
      • In part the lack of information – in general, when there is an absence of evidence, history is usually kinder than not – cf. Titus 
      • Senate liked Alexander and in particular, Cassius Dio liked him 
      • Calm before the storm 
    • OR a passive observer on already escalating issues
      • Amusing that the last fact Dio tells us about his epic narrative is that he himself had to leave Rome 
      • Dio sees the rise of Persia to be the real problem 
      • Rome loses control of the narrative 
      • 1st and 2nd century Rome is the dominant power in the Mediterranean but in the 3rd century Rome loses control of the narrative and Persia becomes dominant
      • Rome a passive recipient of the agency of others
      • Argument to be made that the 3rd century is then viewed through the control of the new Persian empire 
      • Alexander the last emperor who can tell the story 
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