Major Accomplishments of Septimius Severus, the first African to become emperor of Rome

Septimius Severus was Roman Emperor from 193 to 211.

Septimius Severus (or Lucius Septimius Severus Pertinax) was a Roman emperor who ruled from 193 to 211 AD. He was born in Leptis Magna, a city in modern-day Libya, on April 11, 145 AD. Best known as the first African emperor of Rome, Septimius Severus achieved several significant accomplishments during his reign, which greatly impacted the Roman Empire.

Below, World History Edu presents some of his notable achievements:

Military Reforms

Emperor Septimius implemented important military reforms that strengthened the Roman army. He increased soldiers’ salaries and introduced greater discipline and organization within the legions, leading to a more efficient and loyal military force.

It must be stated that there were some bits of complaints from some sections from the public about the increased taxes, which were then used to finance the emperor’s military and civilian projects.

Parthian Campaigns

Roman Empire in 210 AD

Extent and influence of Roman Empire during the reign of Septimius Severus

Septimius Severus went down into the historical annals as one of the greatest Roman emperors because of his military campaigns against the Parthians, which began around AD 197.

The emperor had successful military campaigns against the Parthian Empire and then proceeded to conquer the northern parts of Mesopotamia. He thus secured the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire, expanding its territory and influence. For his military feats, he was honored with the title of Parthicus Maximus.

Rebuilding Rome

One of Septimius Severus’ major achievements was witnessed when he invested heavily in rebuilding and beautifying the city of Rome. He repaired many public buildings, including the Temple of Saturn and the Senate House. He also constructed new structures such as the Arch of Septimius Severus in the Roman Forum, which still stands today.

The Arch of Septimius Severus at Leptis Magna

The Arch of Septimius Severus at Leptis Magna

Legal and Administrative Reforms

During his almost 18-year reign (i.e. from 9 April 193 to 4 February 211), he introduced legal reforms aimed at protecting the rights of citizens. With the help of renowned jurists Papinian and Ulpian, he codified existing laws, simplified legal procedures, and expanded the rights of freed slaves. These reforms aimed to create a fairer and more just legal system.

Septimius Severus is also best known for his administrative reforms, which he paid close attention to in order to improve the efficiency of the Roman government. He increased the number of senators and granted greater autonomy to provincial governors, giving them more power and responsibility.

Roman Emperor Septimius Severus implemented quite a number of administrative reforms to improve the efficiency of the Roman government. Image: Gold bust of Septimius Severus [de] found in 1965 at Didymoteicho in Northern Greece, now at the Archaeological Museum of Komotini, Greece.

Rome experienced relative political stability during his reign

A fierce warrior emperor from North African, Septimius Severus worked very hard to stabilize the Roman Empire politically. After a period of civil war, he established himself as the sole ruler, bringing an end to the Year of the Five Emperors.

Occurring after the assassination (in 192 AD) of Emperor Commodus (reign: 177-192), the Year of Five Emperors (in the year AD 193) witnessed a period in which five very powerful Romans fought for the title of Roman emperor. The five men were Pertinax, Didus Julianus, Pescennius Niger, Clodius Albinus, and Septimus Severus himself.

The North African Roman Severus emerged victorious during the civil war and went on to establish the Severan dynasty in 193. His reign thus ushered Rome into a period of relative stability and prosperity.

Founded the Severan dynasty which ruled Rome from 193 to 235

As stated above Septimius Severus laid the foundation for a new dynasty, known as the Severan Dynasty. The dynasty ruled the empire from 193 to 235. He secured the succession of his two sons, Caracalla and Geta as co-emperors from 198 to 211.

However, their rule was marked by conflicts and many assassinations. For example, Geta was murdered by the very powerful Praetorian Guard in 211 under the orders of his older brother Caracalla. Emperor Caracalla himself was murdered by a disgruntled soldier in 217 during his campaigns against the Parthian Empire.

The Severan Tondo

The Severan Tondo, a famous piece of Roman artwork created during the reign of the Severan dynasty, portrays Roman emperor Septimius Severus, his wife Julia Domna, and their children Caracalla and Geta, whose face is removed.

Military campaign in Britain

In 208 AD, Septimius Severus, together with his sons Caracalla and Geta, commanded a military campaign in Roman Britain with the objective of asserting Roman authority over the regions, including Caledonia, not yet under their control.

The governor of Britain appealed to Severus to do something about the dangers and threats posed by tribes from the north. It is said that the emperor marched to Britain with more than 40,000 soldiers.

In Britain, he ordered the construction of the Walls of Roman London in order to prevent the Roman province from being overran by the tribes from the north. His army also reconquered areas in Southern Uplands all the way to Antonine Wall.

The Severan Campaigns in Roman Britain (208-211 AD)

Septimus ordered the construction of the Walls of Roman London in order to prevent the Roman province from being overran by the tribes from the north.

His fierce campaign against Caledonian forces compelled them to come to the negotiating table and sue for peace. Severus agreed to their request provided the Caledonians handed control of the Central Lowlands to Rome.

However, about a year later, the Caledonians reneged on some of their commitments. This time, Severus was determined to wipe the Caledonians off the face of the earth, stating that “Let no-one escape sheer destruction, no-one our hands, not even the babe in the womb of the mother, if it be male; let it nevertheless not escape sheer destruction.”

Just as he was about to embark on a second large-scale campaign against the Caledonians, his health deteriorated. He suffered from a number of illnesses, including gout. He moved his camp to Eboracum (present-day York, England) and passed away in 211, aged 65.

Septimius Severus: Quick Facts

Septimius Severus

Achievements of Roman Emperor Septimius Severus. Image: Roman marble bust of Septimius Severus, early 3rd century AD, Altes Museum in Berlin, Germany

Born: Lucius Septimius Severus

Date of birth: 11 April 145

Place of birth: Leptis Magna, Roman Province of Africa

Died: 4 February 211

Place of death: Eboracum, Roman Britain

Aged: 65

Mother: Fulvia Pia

Father: Publius Septimius Geta

Spouses: Paccia Marciana, Julia Domna

Children: Caracalla, Geta

Dynasty: Severan

Predecessor: Marcus Didius Julianus

Successors: Caracalla and Geta

Best known for: Founding the Severan dynasty

Death

Emperor Septimius Severus died on 4 February 211. The exact cause of Emperor’s death is uncertain, but it is believed to be a combination of his existing health issues and old age. Some sources suggest that he died from natural causes, while others speculate that he was poisoned.

In the later years of his reign, Septimius Severus suffered from various health issues, including gout and a severe illness. Despite his declining health, he embarked on a military campaign in Britain to consolidate Roman control over the region.

How is he remembered in history?

Septimius Severus is best known as a capable and influential emperor who made significant contributions to the Roman Empire through military, legal, administrative, and architectural reforms. His reign marked a significant period in Roman history, setting the stage for subsequent developments in the empire.

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