Monday, 25 January 2010

Why the adoption?

Today I am briefly going to attempt to outline my theories with regards to why Severus initially chose to attempt this fictitious adoption into the Antonine dynasty. In order to understand this I feel it is important to step back to the beginning of Severus' reign and look at not only Severus' adoption but also his earlier drive to portray himself as the avenger of Pertinax.

Septimius Severus was not a man that many in Rome felt should be emperor and up until the murder of Pertinax he had no claim to the throne. It was not until the accession of Didius Julianus that Severus took the chance to seize power.

Dio recalls the events of the day following the murder of Pertinax and the accession of Didius Julianus. here we hear what happened when Julianus attended the senate on the day following the death of Pertinax:

The next day we went up to pay our respects to him, moulding our faces, so to speak, and posturing, so that our grief should not be detected. The populace, however, went about openly with sullen looks, spoke its mind as much as it pleased, and was getting ready to do anything it could. 3 Finally, when he came to the senate-house and was about to sacrifice to Janus before the entrance, all fell to shouting, as if by preconcerted arrangement, calling him stealer of the empire and parricide. Then, when he affected not to be angry and promised them some money, they became indignant at the implication that they could be bribed, and all cried out together: "We don't want it! We won't take it!" 4 And the surrounding buildings echoed back their shout in a way to make one shudder. When Julianus heard their reply, he could endure it no longer, but ordered those standing nearest to be slain. That exasperated the populace all the more, and it did not cease expressing its regret for Pertinax and abusing Julianus, invoking the gods and cursing the soldiers; but though many were wounded and killed in many parts of the city, they continued to resist. 5 Finally they seized arms and rushed together into the Circus, and there spent the night and the following day without food or drink, shouting and calling upon the remainder of the soldiers, especially Pescennius Niger and his followers in Syria, to come to their aid. Later, exhausted by their shouting, by their fasting, and by their loss of sleep, they separated and kept quiet, awaiting the hoped-for deliverance from abroad.

Dio Roman History LLXXIV 13.2-5

It was less than 3 weeks before Severus was being declared Augustus by the XIIII legion Gemina MV at Carnuntum and he was heading for Rome. It is clear that Severus had little right to answer the call and it was more than likely the fact that he was in charge of the largest force within striking distance of Rome that convinced him to make the move (Birley 1999 p83ff).

His problem now was that Rome hates tyrants and clearly had just demonstrated that it does not like being bought, so he had to justify taking the Empire by force. Ever since the foundation of the principate system the strength of the legions had been the cornerstone of the Imperial power (Baharal 1996 p9-19) but those who flaunted it were never to be the most popular rulers and so Severus did the only logical thing and declared that he was avenging Pertinax and freeing Rome from a tyrant.

He immediately adopted the title "PERT" on his coinage and went so far as to have Pertinax consecrated an act which is recorded by Dio.

Septimius Severus AR Denarius Emesa Mint 194AD

Obv:IMP CAE L SEP PERT AVG COS II, Laur. bust right
Rev: FORTVN REDVC, Fortuna seated left, holding rudder and corcnucopia

RIC IV.1 379, 16mm, 3.84g

4 Upon establishing himself in power he erected a shrine to Pertinax, and commanded that his name should be mentioned at the close of all prayers and all oaths; he also ordered that a golden image of Pertinax should be carried into the Circus on a car drawn by elephants, and that three gilded thrones should be borne into the other amphitheatres in his honour. 2 His funeral, in spite of the time that had elapsed since his death, was carried out as follows. In the Roman Forum a wooden platform was constructed hard by the marble rostra, upon which p169was set a shrine, without walls, but surrounded by columns, cunningly wrought of both ivory and gold. 3 In it there was placed a bier of the same materials, surrounded by heads of both land and sea animals and adorned with coverlets of purple and gold. Upon this rested an effigy of Pertinax in wax, laid out in triumphal garb; and a comely youth was keeping the flies away from it with peacock feathers, as though it were really a person sleeping. 4 While the body lay in state, Severus as well as we senators and our wives approached, wearing mourning; the women sat in the porticos, and we men under the open sky. After this there moved past, first, images of all the famous Romans of old, 5 then choruses of boys and men, singing a dirge-like hymn to Pertinax; there followed all the subject nations, represented by bronze figures attired in native dress, and the guilds of the City itself — those of the lictors, the scribes, the heralds, and all the rest. 6 Then came images of other men who had been distinguished for some exploit or invention or manner of life. Behind these were the cavalry and infantry in armour, the race-horses, and all the funeral offerings that the emperor and we senators and our wives, and the corporations of the City, had sent. Following them came an altar gilded all over and adorned with ivory and gems of India. 5 When these had passed by, Severus mounted the rostra and read a eulogy of Pertinax. We shouted our p171approval many times in the course of his address, now praising and now lamenting Pertinax, but our shouts were loudest when he concluded. 2 Finally, when the bier was about to be moved, we all lamented and wept together. It was brought down from the platform by the high priests and the magistrates, not only those who were actually in office at the time by also those who had been elected for the ensuing year; and they gave it to certain knights to carry. 3 All the rest of us, now, marched ahead of the bier, some beating our breasts and others playing a dirge on the flute, but the emperor followed behind all the rest; and in this order we arrived at the Campus Martius. There a pyre had been built in the form of a tower having three stories and adorned with ivory and gold as well as a number of statues, while on its very summit was placed a gilded chariot that Pertinax had been wont to drive. 4 Inside this pyre the funeral offerings were cast and the bier was placed in it, and then Severus and the relatives of Pertinax kissed the effigy. The emperor then ascended a tribunal, while we, the senate, except the magistrates, took our places on wooden stands in order to view the ceremonies both safely and conveniently. 5 The magistrates and the equestrian order, arrayed in a manner befitting their station, and likewise the cavalry and the infantry, passed in and out around the pyre performing intricate evolutions, both those of peace and those of war. Then at last the consuls applied fire to the structure, and when this had been done, an eagle flew aloft from it. Thus was Pertinax made immortal.
Dio Roman History LXXV.4

It also appears in the coinage, as seen in this denarius of 193AD

Divus Pertinax (193 AD) AR Denarius
Obv: DIVVS PERT PIVS PATER, bare head of Divus Pertinax right.
Rev: CONSECRATIO, eagle standing on globe left.

RIC 24 A
Image from ARC

Severus clearly goes to great extremes to prove that he is really acting in the interests of the Roman people. The problem with this plan is that two other Provincial governors also answer the call both with a superior claim.

Clodius Albinus was the governor of Britain with 3 legions under his control and a large contingent of supporters in the senatorial class in Rome. Initially he was declared Augustus by his troops but bowed out of the race for the throne, accepting the position of Caesar under Septimius Severus.

This left Severus free to take on his greatest threat; the governor of Syria Pescennius Niger. Niger had a real claim to the throne. The people of Rome had called on him to avenge the murder of Pertinax, so while Severus had answered the call he had no real right to.

Having defeated Niger at Issus, Severus finally unveils his adoption plan. He declares himself DIVI M PII "Son of the divine Marcus" on a series of coinage in the Summer of 195AD (RIC 702). At the same time Severus renames his eldest son Bassanius to "Marcus Aurelius Antoninus". There can be no doubt that Severus intends to found a dynasty. Albinus is declared Augustus by his troops and a second round of civil war ensued.

It has become clear that this situation has outgrown Pertinax. Severus is now left in charge of an Empire in which 1/2 of the legions were earlier under control of the his enemies. Although nominally he was, as Emperor, in charge of the whole military Severus could not rely on this to ensure the loyalty of the troops. Since age of the imperators legions had become more and more loyal to their commanders, for example the XIII legion Gemina were willing to be declared enemies of the state to follow their leader Julius Caesar across the Rubicon. This loyalty could be transferred down through generations, even accepting adopted heirs, as in the case of Octavian.
From Augustus onwards the Emperor was supreme ruler over all the troops and so they owed their loyalty to him over all others. This loyalty explains why some of the worst emperors were accepted by the troops, even Commodus ruled for 12 years. (discussed in full in Baharal 1996). So Severus needed to reunite the troops under him and to do that he chose to link himself to their last "good" commander; Marcus Aurelius.

In theory this meant that he could now trace his lineage as far back as the divine Nerva (eg. Ostia Inscription ) giving him the full support of the troops and also the justification he needed for not only seizing the throne but defeating two superior claimants.

Anyway here is a new coin and I will get an update on Mater Castrorum up soon, I just need to get this bit nailed for uni.

I got a new rare Elagabalus Denarius....

Elagabalus AR Denarius "SACERD DEI SOLIS ELAGAB"
Elagabalus Denarius. 220-222 AD Rome Mint

Obv: "IMP ANTONINVS PIVS AVG", laureate, horned, draped bust right right
Rev "SACERD DEI SOLIS ELAGAB", Elagabalus sacrificing right over lighted altar, holding patera and club

RIC 133, 2.01g, 18mm

Its not the best photo but I love this coin. Not only is it a rare error as it is missing a star from the right field but also it is historically significant. The reverse represents Elagabalus' attempts to install his patrol deity the Easter Sun God Elagabal into the Roman pantheon.

PS. Sorry if this post is a bit fragmented I wrote half of it a week ago.

1 comment:

  1. I am certainly disappointed since you blog is one of my favorites. Still, I can understand the aversion to chore-iness.