Severus Alexander - Roman Emperor 222-235 A.D.
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Severus Alexander - Roman Emperor: 222-235 A.D. -
Silver Denarius 21mm (2.77 grams) Struck at the mint of of Rome 231-235
Reference: RIC 254d, BMC 897, C 546
IMP ALEXANDER PIVS AVG - Laureate, draped and cuirassed bust right.
SPES PVBLICA - Spes advancing left, holding flower and raising skirt.
Marcus Aurelius Severus Alexander (October 1,
208–March 18, 235 AD), commonly called Alexander Severus, was the
Roman emperor (11 March 222–235) of the
Severan dynasty. Alexander Severus
succeeded his cousin,
Elagabalus upon the latter's
assassination in 222 AD, and was ultimately assassinated himself,
epoch event for the
Crisis of the Third Century—nearly
fifty years of disorder, Roman civil wars, economic chaos, regional
rebellions, and external threats that brought the Empire to
Alexander Severus was the
heir apparent to his cousin, the
eighteen-year-old Emperor who had been murdered along with his mother by
his own guards—and as a mark of contempt, had their remains cast into
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 famed
Third Gallic Legion.
A rumor of Alexander's death circulated, triggering
the assassination of Elagabalus.
Alexander's reign was marked by troubles. In military
conflict against the rising
Sassanid Empire, there are mixed
accounts, though the Sassanid threat was checked. However, when
Germanic tribes of
Germania, Alexander Severus apparently
alienated his legions by trying diplomacy and bribery, and they
Alexander was born with the name Marcus Julius Gessius Bassianus
Alexianus. Alexander's father,
Marcus Julius Gessius Marcianus was a
Promagistrate. His mother
Julia Avita Mamaea was the second
Julia Maesa and Syrian noble
Julius Avitus and maternal aunt of
Elagabalus. He had an elder sister
called Theoclia and little is known about her. Alexander's maternal
great-aunt was empress
Julia Domna (also Maesa's younger
sister) and his great-uncle in marriage was emperor Lucius
Septimius Severus. Emperors
Publius Septimius Geta, were his
mother's maternal cousins. In 221, Alexander's grandmother, Maesa,
persuaded the emperor to adopt his cousin as successor and make him
Caesar and Bassianus changed his
name to Alexander. In the following year, on March 11, Elagabalus was
murdered, and Alexander was proclaimed emperor by the
Praetorians and accepted by the Senate.
When Alexander became emperor, he was young, amiable, well-meaning,
and entirely under the dominion of his mother. Julia Mamaea was a woman
of many virtues, and she surrounded the young emperor with wise
counsellors. She watched over the development of her son's character and
improved the tone of the administration. On the other hand, she was
inordinately jealous. She also alienated the army by extreme parsimony,
and neither she nor her son were strong enough to impose military
discipline. Mutinies became frequent in all parts of the empire; to one
of them the life of the jurist and praetorian praefect
Ulpian was sacrificed; another
compelled the retirement of
Cassius Dio from his command.
On the whole, however, the reign of Alexander was prosperous until
the rise, in the east, of the
Sassanids. Of the war that followed
there are various accounts. (Mommsen
leans to that which is least favourable to the Romans). According to
Alexander's own dispatch to the senate, he gained great victories. At
all events, though the Sassanids were checked for the time, the conduct
of the Roman army showed an extraordinary lack of discipline. The
emperor returned to
Rome and celebrated a triumph in 233.
The following year he was called to face German invaders in
Gaul, who had breached the Rhine
frontier in several places, destroying forts and over-running the
countryside. Alexander mustered his forces, bringing legions from the
eastern provinces, and crossed the Rhine into Germany on a pontoon
bridge. Initially he attempted to buy the German tribes off, so as to
gain time. Whether this was a wise policy or not, it caused the Roman
legionaries to look down on their emperor as one who was prepared to
commit unsoldierly conduct.
Herodian says "in their opinion
Alexander showed no honourable intention to pursue the war and preferred
a life of ease, when he should have marched out to punish the Germans
for their previous insolence". These circumstances drove the army to
look for a new leader. They chose
Gaius Iulius Verus Maximinus, a
Thracian soldier who had worked his way up through the ranks.
Following the nomination of Maximinus as emperor, Alexander was slain
(on either March 18 or March 19, 235), together with his mother, in a
mutiny of the
Primigenia. These assassinations secured the throne for
The death of Alexander is considered as the end of the Principate
system established by
Augustus. Although the Principate
continued in theory until the reign of
Diocletian, Alexander Severus' death
signalled the beginning of the chaotic period known as the
Crisis of the Third Century which
weakened the empire considerably.
Alexander was the last of the Syrian emperors. Under the influence of
his mother, he did much to improve the morals and condition of the
people. His advisers were men like the famous jurist Ulpian, the
historian Cassius Dio and a select board of sixteen senators; a
municipal council of fourteen assisted the urban praefect in
administering the affairs of the fourteen districts of Rome. The luxury
and extravagance that had formerly been so prevalent at the court were
put down; the standard of the coinage was raised; taxes were lightened;
literature, art and science were encouraged; the lot of the soldiers was
improved; 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 the
founder of Christianity, but was
dissuaded by the pagan priests.
Alexander was married three times. His most famous wife was
Augusta, whom he married in 225. He
divorced and exiled her in 227, after her father,
Seius Sallustius, was executed for
attempting to assassinate the emperor. Another wife was Sulpicia Memmia.
Her father was a man of consular rank; her grandfather's name was