Lucius Septimius Severus was born on 1 April AD 145 at Lepcis Magna in Tripolitania.
Severus was a small man, but powerfully built. Though in old age he was to became very weak and ridden with gout. He was not very well educated, he spoke little in public. And so too, he is renowned for his cruelty and ruthlessness. The Historian Cassius Dio says about him, 'Severus was careful of everything that he desired to accomplish, but careless of what was said about him.
Shortly after his eighteenth birthday Severus arrived in Rome and was appointed senator by Marcus Aurelius in about AD 175. Thereafter he became governor of Gallia Lugdunensis and Sicily and, towards the end of Commodus' reign, he was made consul in AD 190.
The plot succeeded and brought Pertinax to power. But soon after Pertinax was murdered and Didius Julianus bought the throne from the praetorian guard. Laetus was executed for his involvement with the murder of Commodus.
The three main people who had been placed in powerful positions by Laetus all found it was time to act. The three were Severus, Pescennius Niger and Clodius Albinus.
But Clodius Albinus, commander of the legions in Britain and with much support in the senate, was approached by Severus, who granted him the position of Caesar (junior emperor). This junior position clearly implied that Clodius Albinus was marked out as Severus' successor, or so at least Albinus was led to believe.
It was a shrewd political trick to buy off Clodius, as it now left Severus to advance rapidly on Rome. Advancing with no less than 16 legions under his command, opposition simply crumbled before him.
Severus ignored all of Julianus' threats and pleas, and shortly before his army's arrival at Rome, Julianus was indeed sentenced to death by the senate and was thereafter killed in his deserted palace.
Once he arrived in Rome, Severus had those involved in the murder of Pertinax executed. Meanwhile the praetorian guard which had proved such a threat to any emperor was disbanded, and its members were banished from Rome. Instead he put in its place a force double in size, made up of men drawn from his army, especially the Danubian legions.
Having firmly established himself at Rome and knowing his western borders toward Albinus secured with his grant of the caesarship, Severus was free to move eastwards and deal with Pescennius Niger. In AD 194 Severus Severus crushed Niger's forces at Issus on the very plain on which Alexander the Great had defeat Darius some 500 years earlier.
His rule of the east secured, Severus now turned his attention to Clodius Albinus. First he declared his elder son Caracalla to be Caesar and therefore his heir late in AD 195. This was clearly a slap in the face to Albinus, who understood himself successor to the throne.
What followed was very revealing about the man who was now the uncontested emperor of the Roman empire. Severus had Albinus stripped corpse laid out on the ground, so that he he could ride over it and trample it with his horse. Thereafter Albinus' head was severed and sent to Rome. His body, along with those of his wife and sons, was flung into the Rhine.
Albinus' province Britain was thereafter, like Niger's Syrian province, divided into two parts; Britannia Superior and Inferior.
If Albinus had enjoyed support in the senate, then Severus now clamped down on those supporters. He ruthlessly put to death 29 senators and numerous equestrians in Rome.
Now, Severus attentions once more turned back to Parthia. Had his earlier expedition into Parthia been a brief affair, most likely as he felt he had to return to the west to take care of Albinus, then now he was undisputed ruler and had no such restrictions.
The business of government was largely conducted on Severus' behalf by his praetorian prefects, who quickly became loathed by the public. Most notorious of all was the close friend of the emperor, prefect Gaius Fulvius Plautianus, who didn't take long to gain a reputation for abuses of power and utter cruelty. There was even a rumour that for his daughter Publia Fulvia Plautilla, who was wed to the emperor's son Caracalla, he had grown men castrated to be her eunuch-servants.
Throughout his reign Severus was one of the outstanding imperial builders. He restored a very large number of ancient buildings - and inscribed on them his own name, as though he had erected them. His home town Lepcis Magna benefited in particular. But most of all the famous Triumphal Arch of Severus at the Forum of Rome bears witness to his reign.
His health fading and weak from gout, Severus woudl set out one last time on military campaign. This time it was Britain which demanded the emperor's attention. The Antonine Wall had never really acted as a perfectly successful barrier to the troublesome barbarians to the north of it. By this time it had in fact been virtually abandoned, leaving the British provinces vulnerable to attack from the north. In AD 208 Severus left for Britain with his two quarrelsome sons. Large military campaigns now drove deep into Scotland but didn't really manage to create any lasting solution to the problem.
'Keep on good terms with each other,' is said to have been his last advice to his sons, 'be generous to the soldiers, and take no heed of anyone else !"
His sons Caracalla and Geta brought an end to any military campaigns into the Scotland which were still underway and then set out home, carrying the ashes of their father to Rome, where they were laid to rest in the Mausoleum of Hadrian. Soon after he was deified by the senate.