19A Severus Alexander AE32 of Pisidia, Antioch
Obverse: IMP CAES SEVER ALEXANDER, laureate head right
Reverse: COL CAES ANTIOCH, she-wolf and twins right,
SR in exergue
Lindgren 1222, BMC 64
19B Severus Alexander, AE24 of Deultum, Thrace
Obverse: IMP C M AVR SEV ALEXAND AVG, laureate, draped,
cuirassed bust right
Reverse: COL FL PAC DEVLT, she-wolf standing right,
head turned back, suckling the twins Romulus and Remus
Varbanov 2325 (this coin); Jurukova 132
Severus Alexander Denarius. 229 AD.
Obverse: IMP SEV ALEXAND AVG, laureate head right
Reverse: P M TR P VIII COS III P P, Mars advancing
left, holding branch, spear and shield.
RIC 92, RSC 365, BMC 603, Sear 7907
Severus Alexander AD 222-235 Silver Denarius
Obverse: IMP SEV ALEXAND AVG - Laureate bust right,
Reverse: P M TR P COS - Fortuna standing left, holding
a globe and cornucopia, in left field, a star
Antioch mint: AD 222 = RIC IVii, 263, page 90 - Cohen
Severus Alexander (Latin: Marcus Aurelius Severus Alexander Augustus; 1
October 208 – 19 March 235) was Roman Emperor from 222 to 235 and the last
emperor of the Severan dynasty. He succeeded his cousin Elagabalus,
upon the latter's assassination in 222, and was ultimately assassinated
himself, marking the epoch event for the Crisis of the Third Century —
nearly 50 years of civil wars, foreign invasion, and collapse of the monetary
economy, though this last part is now disputed.
Alexander was the heir apparent to his cousin, the 18-year-old Emperor
who had been murdered along with his mother Julia Soaemias, by his own
guards, who, as a mark of contempt, had their remains cast into the Tiber
river. He and his cousin were both grandsons of the influential and
powerful Julia Maesa, who had arranged for Elagabalus' acclamation as emperor
by the famous Third Gallic Legion. It was the rumor of Alexander's
death that triggered the assassination of Elagabalus and his mother.
As emperor, Alexander's peace time reign was prosperous. However,
militarily Rome was confronted with the rising Sassanid Empire. He
managed to check the threat of the Sassanids, but when campaigning against
Germanic tribes of Germania, Alexander attempted to bring peace by engaging
in diplomacy and bribery. This alienated many in the Roman Army and
led to a conspiracy to assassinate and replace him.
Under the influence of his mother, Alexander did much to improve the morals
and condition of the people, and to enhance the dignity of the state.
He employed noted jurists to oversee the administration of justice, such
as the famous jurist Ulpian. His advisers were men like the senator
and historian Cassius Dio, and it is claimed that he created a select board
of 16 senators, although this claim is disputed. He also created
a municipal council of 14 who assisted the urban prefect in administering
the affairs of the 14 districts of Rome. Excessive luxury and extravagance
at the imperial court were diminished, and he restored the Baths of Nero
in 227 or 229; consequently, they are sometimes also known as the Baths
of Alexander after him.
Upon his accession he reduced the silver purity of the denarius from 46.5%
to 43% — the actual silver weight dropped from 1.41 grams to 1.30 grams;
however, in 229 he revalued the denarius, increasing the silver purity
and weight to 45% and 1.46 grams, respectively. The following year
he decreased the amount of base metal in the denarius while adding more
silver, raising the silver purity and weight again to 50.5% and 1.50 grams.
Also during his reign taxes were lightened; literature, art and science
were encouraged; and, for the convenience of the people, loan offices were
instituted for lending money at a moderate rate of interest.
In religious matters, Alexander preserved an open mind. It is said
that he was desirous of erecting a temple to Jesus but was dissuaded by
the pagan priests. He allowed a synagogue to be built in Rome, and
he gave as a gift to this synagogue a scroll of the Torah known as the
In legal matters, Alexander did much to aid the rights of his soldiers.
He confirmed that soldiers could name anyone as heirs in their will, whereas
civilians had strict restrictions over who could become heirs or receive
a legacy. Alexander also confirmed that soldiers could free their
slaves in their wills. Additionally, he protected the rights of soldiers
to their property when they were off on campaign and reasserted that a
soldier's property acquired in or because of military service (his castrense
peculium) could be claimed by no one else, not even the soldier's father.
On the whole, Alexander's reign was prosperous until the rise, in the east,
of the Sassanids under Ardashir I. Of the war that followed there
are various accounts. According to Herodian, the Roman armies suffered
a number of humiliating setbacks and defeats, while according to the Historia
Augusta as well as Alexander's own dispatch to the Roman Senate, he gained
great victories. Making Antioch his base, he marched at the head
of his troops towards Ctesiphon, but a second army was destroyed by the
Persians, and further losses were incurred by the retreating Romans in
Nevertheless, although the Sassanids were checked for the time, the conduct
of the Roman army showed an extraordinary lack of discipline. In
232 there was a mutiny in the Syrian legion, who proclaimed Taurinus emperor.
Alexander managed to suppress the uprising, and Taurinus drowned while
attempting to flee across the Euphrates. The emperor returned to
Rome and celebrated a triumph in 233.
After the Persian war, Alexander returned to Antioch with the famous Origen,
one of the greatest Fathers of the Christian Church. Alexander's
mother, Julia Mammaea, asked for Origen to tutor Alexander in Christianity.
While Alexander was being educated in the Christian doctrines, the northern
portion of his empire was being invaded by Germanic and Sarmatian tribes.
A new and menacing enemy started to emerge directly after Alexander's success
in the Persian war. In A.D 234, the barbarians crossed the Rhine
and Danube in hordes that even caused panic at the gates of Rome.
The soldiers serving under Alexander, who were already demoralized after
their costly war against the Persians, were further discontented with their
emperor when their homes were destroyed by the barbarian invaders.
As word of the invasion spread, the Emperor took the front line and went
to battle against the Germanic invaders. The Romans prepared heavily
for the war, building a brigade of ships to carry the entire battalion
across. However, at this point in Alexander's career, he still knew
little about being a general. Because of this, he hoped the sole
threat of his armies might be enough to persuade the Germanics to surrender.
Severus enforced a strict military discipline in his men that sparked a
rebellion among the Germanic legions. Due to incurring heavy losses
against the Persians, and on the advice of his mother, Alexander attempted
to buy the Germanic tribes off, so as to gain time.
It was this decision that resulted in the legionaries' looking down upon
Alexander. They considered him dishonorable and feared he was unfit
to be Emperor. Under these circumstances the army swiftly looked
to replace Alexander.
Gaius Iulius Verus Maximinus was the next best option. He was a soldier
from Thrace who had a golden reputation and was working hard to increase
his military status. He was also a man with superior personal strength,
who rose from peasantry to ultimately being the one chosen for the throne.
With the Thracian's hailing came the end of the Severan Dynasty.
With Severus' own army growing with animosity and turning against him,
the path for his assassination was paved.
Alexander was forced to face his German enemies in the early months of
235. By the time he and his mother arrived, the situation had settled,
and so his mother convinced him that to avoid violence, trying to bribe
the German army to surrender was the more sensible course of action.
According to historians, it was this tactic combined with insubordination
from his own men that destroyed his reputation and popularity. Pusillanimity
was responsible for the revolt of Alexander’s army, resulting in Severus'
falling victim to the swords of his own men, following the nomination of
Maximinus as emperor.
Alexander was assassinated March 19, 235 together with his mother, in a
mutiny of the Legio XXII Primigenia at Moguntiacum (Mainz) while at a meeting
with his generals. These assassinations secured the throne for Maximinus.
Lampridius documents two theories that elaborate on the Severus' assassination.
The first claims that the disaffection of Mammaea was the main motive behind
the homicide. However, Lampridius makes it clear that he is more
supportive of an alternative theory, that Alexander was murdered in Sicilia
(located in Britain).
This theory has it that, in an open tent after his lunch, Alexander was
consulting with his insubordinate troops, who compared him to his cousin
Elagabalus, the divisive and unpopular Emperor whose own assassination
paved the way for Alexander's reign. A German servant entered the
tent and initiated the call for Alexander's assassination, at which point
many of the troops joined in the attack. Alexander's attendants fought
against the other troops but could not hold off the combined might of those
seeking the Emperor's assassination. Within minutes, Alexander was
After Alexander's death his economic policies were completely discarded,
and the Roman currency was devalued. This marked the beginning of
the Crisis of the Third Century, a time period in which the Roman empire
came close to falling apart entirely.
Alexander was the last of the Syrian emperors and the first emperor to
be overthrown by military discontent on a wide scale. His death signaled
the end of the Severan dynasty and the beginning of the chaotic period
known as the Crisis of the Third Century, which brought the empire to near
Alexander's death at the hands of his troops can also be seen as the heralding
of a new role for Roman emperors. Though they were not yet expected
to personally fight in battle during Alexander's time, emperors were increasingly
expected to display general competence in military affairs. Thus,
Alexander's taking of his mother's advice to not get involved in battle,
his dishonorable and unsoldierly methods of dealing with the Germanic threat,
and the relative failure of his military campaign against the Persians
were all deemed highly unacceptable by the soldiers. Indeed, Maximinus
was able to overthrow Alexander by "harping on his own military excellence
in contrast to that feeble coward." Yet by arrogating the power
to dethrone their emperor, the legions paved the way for a half-century
of widespread chaos and instability.
Alexander's reign was also characterized by a significant breakdown of
military discipline. In 223, the Praetorian Guard murdered their
prefect, Ulpian, in Alexander's presence and despite the emperor's pleas.
The soldiers then fought a three-day battle against the populace of Rome,
and this battle ended after several parts of the city were set on fire.
Dio was among those who gave a highly critical account of military discipline
during the time, saying that they would rather just surrender to the enemy.
Different reasons are given for this breakdown of military discipline:
Campbell points to
"...the decline in the prestige
of the Severan dynasty, the feeble nature of Alexander himself, who appeared
to be no soldier and to be completely dominated by his mother's advice,
and lack of real military success at a time during which the empire was
coming under increasing pressure."
Herodian, on the other hand, was convinced that "the emperor's miserliness
(partly the result of his mother's greed) and slowness to bestow donatives"
were instrumental in the fall of military discipline under Alexander.
According to Canduci, Alexander is remembered as an emperor who was "level
headed, well meaning, and conscientious," but his fatal flaw was his domination
by his mother and grandmother. Not only did this undermine his authority,
but his mother's influence was the cause of Alexander's least popular actions
(convincing him not to take part in battle and trying to buy off the warring
Although the Senate declared the emperor and his rule damned upon the report
of his death and the ascension of a replacement emperor, Alexander was
deified after the death of Maximinus in 238.
Severus Alexander became emperor when he was 13 years old, making him the
youngest emperor in Rome's history, until the ascension of Gordian III.
Alexander's grandmother believed that he had more potential to rule than
her other grandson, the increasingly unpopular emperor Elagabalus, whom
Alexander replaced. Thus, to preserve her own position, she had Elagabalus
adopt the young Alexander and then arranged for Elagabulus' assassination,
securing the throne for Alexander. The Roman army hailed Alexander
as emperor on March 13, 222, immediately instilling him with the titles
of Augustus, pater patriae, and pontifex maximus.
Throughout his life, Alexander relied heavily on guidance from his grandmother,
Maesa, and mother, Julia Mamaea. Maesa died in 223, leaving Mamaea as the
sole influence upon Alexander's actions.
As a young, immature, and inexperienced 13-year-old, Alexander knew little
about government, warcraft, or the role of ruling over an empire.
Because of this, throughout his entire reign he was a puppet of his mother's
advice and entirely under her jurisdiction, a prospect that was not popular
among the soldiers.
Alexander was married three times. His most famous wife was Sallustia Orbiana,
Augusta, whom he married in 225 when Sallustia Orbiana was 16 years old.
Their marriage was arranged by Alexander's mother, Mamaea. However,
as soon as Orbiana received the title of Augusta, Mamaea became increasingly
jealous and resentful of Alexander's wife due to Mamaea's excessive desire
of all regal female titles. Alexander divorced and exiled Orbiana
in 227, after her father, Seius Sallustius, was executed after being accused
of attempting to assassinate the emperor.
Alexander's second wife was Sulpicia Memmia, a member of one of the most
ancient Patrician families in Rome. Her father was a man of consular
rank; her grandfather's name was Catulus.
The identity of Alexander's third wife is unknown. Alexander did
not father children with any of his wives.
According to the Augustan History, a late Roman work containing biographies
of emperors and others, and considered by scholars to be a work of very
dubious historical reliability, Alexander prayed every morning in his private
chapel. He was extremely tolerant of Jews and Christians alike.
He continued all privileges towards Jews during his reign, and the Augustan
History relates that Alexander placed images of Abraham and Jesus in his
oratory, along with other Roman deities and classical figures.
Information was taken from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
at this URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Severus_Alexander