The Ancient Library
 

Scanned text contains errors.

SEVERUS.

tiver ; but fmd.ng himself hotly pursued and his retreat cut off, perished by his own hand. The conqueror, after feasting upon the spectacle of his enemy's corpse, ordered the head to be cut off and despatched to Rome, whither he quickly followed, and put to death many senators sus­pected of having been in correspondence with the foe. Games were exhibited, and largesses be­stowed on the people; but as soon as the first excitement of success had passed away Severus, still thirsting for military renown, resolved to return to Asia, and again assail the Parthians, who, taking advantage of the civil strife in the West, had spread over Mesopotamia. Accordingly he set forth accompanied by his sons Caracalla and Geta, crossed the Euphrates early in the year A. d. 198, and commenced a series of operations which were attended with the most brilliant re­sults. Seleucia and Babylon were evacuated by the enemy ; and Ctesiphon, at that time their royal city, was taken and plundered after a short siege. The campaign against the Arabs, who had espoused the cause of Niger, was less glorious. The emperor twice assailed their chief town Atra, and twice ^was compelled to retire with great loss.

The next three years were spent in the East. Severus entered upon his third consulship in Syria (a. d. 202), Caracalla being his colleague j visited Arabia, Palestine, and Egypt; and having made all the necessary arrangements in these countries, re­turned to Rome in the same year, in order to offer the decennial vows, and to celebrate the marriage of his eldest son with Plautilla. The shows in honour of the return of the prince, of the comple­tion of the tenth year of his reign, of his victories, and of the royal nuptials, were unparalleled in magnificence ; that is to say, the bloodshed and butchery of men and animals were greater than ever. On one occasion, four hundred wild beasts were let loose in the amphitheatre at one moment, and seven hundred, at the rate of a hundred for each day, were slaughtered during the course of the games. At this time, also, each citi­zen whose poverty entitled him to obtain corn from the public store, and each of the praetorians received ten aurei ; a largess which consumed about sixteen millions and a half sterling, the greatest sum which had ever been bestowed in such a manner on any one occasion.

For seven years Septimius remained tranquilly at Rome ; but in A. d. 207, either because a rebellion in northern Britain had assumed an aspect so serious that his presence was deemed requisite, or for the purpose of giving active employment to his sons, who were leading a life of profligacy, and to the legions, whose discipline had become relaxed, he determined again to take the field. Accordingly, passing through Gaul, he reached his destination, early in a. d. 208. Marching at once to the disturbed districts, he entered Caledonia, and penetrated, we are told, to the very extremity of the island, the inha­bitants offering no steady or formidable opposition, but rather luring the invaders onward, in the expectation that they might be destroyed in detail, by want and misery. Nor do these anticipations appear to have been altogether disappointed: after having endured excessive toil in transport­ing supplies over barren pathless mountains, in raising causeways across swampy plains, and in throwing bridges over unfordable rivers, the troops

807

SEVERUS.

retraced their steps, worn out with hardships of every description, without having accomplished any great object, or secured any permanent ad­vantage. In this expedition incalculable misery was inflicted ; the prince lost fifty thousand men, and gained the title of Britannicus. That no moral impression even was made is evident from the fact that, scarcely had the legions withdrawn towards the south, and commenced the famous wall which still bears the name of their com­mander, when a fresh insurrection broke out among the Meatae and the Caledonians. Enraged by this audacity, Severus declared his resolution to exterminate the whole race, and instantly began to make preparations for a new campaign. But his designs were cut short by death. He was attacked by a violent disease in the joints,, and expired at York, on the 4th of February, a. d. 211, in the sixty-fifth year of his age, and the eighteenth of his reign. His ashes were conveyed to Rome, and deposited in the tomb of M. Aurelius. As a matter of course, his apotheosis was decreed by the senate, and Herodian has preserved a detailed account of the ceremonies performed.

Although the character of Severus appears in a most favourable light when viewed in contrast with those rulers who immediately preceded and followed him, there is in it not much to admire, and nothing to love. He was, it must be ad­mitted, a stranger to their brutal vices ; he was free from all capricious tyranny; under ordinary circumstances he governed the state with integrity, and did all that might best promote the interests of the community at large. He devoted himself with great zeal to the administration of justice, and to the reform of public abuses: he was, more­over, an admirable general; and the strict dis­cipline maintained by him among the troops, effectually repressed, for a season, military insolence and excess. Nor can we refuse to acknowledge that he possessed a large, keen, and vigorous intellect, such as might well befit the ruler of such an empire in such unhappy times. But he was utterly devoid of all high moral principle, totally destitute of gentleness and generosity of temper. When he had once resolved to gain an object, he entertained no scruples with regard to the means by which his purpose was to be accomplished; and although not naturally cruel, was perfectly indif­ferent to human suffering and life. Nor did success soften this hardness of heart, or qualify the bitter resentment which he cherished against all who in any way opposed or thwarted his designs. Not content with victory, he ever sought to glut his vengeance on his fallen foes, and was always most odious in the hour of triumph. In private life it is said that he was a warm friend, simple and domestic in his habits, and fond of literary pursuits.

Although undoubtedly possessed of a masculine tone of mind, we find one singular trait of weak­ness, so much at variance with his shrewdness, sagacity, and strong sense in other matters, that we must regard it as a most remarkable example of the paralysing influence of vanity. He en­deavoured to establish a connection between himself and his predecessors in the purple, and most pre­posterously announced that he was the adopted son of M. Aurelius, fifteen years after the death of that prince. In this manner he set up a claim to a long 'line of imperial ancestors, which he formally and

3 f 4

Pages
About | First

805

806

807
letter/word  
volume
page #  
Search this site
Google


ancientlibrary.com
WWW
All non-public domain material, including introductions, markup, and OCR © 2005 Tim Spalding.
Ancient Library was developed and hosted by Tim Spalding of Isidore-of-Seville.com.