What’s on : Lectures

Emperor Severus’ British expedition: motives, course and aftermath

15 Feb 2011
Start time
7:30 PM
Tempest Anderson Hall
Prof Anthony Birley
Emperor Severus' British expedition: motives, course and aftermath

Event Information

Emperor Severus’ British expedition: motives, course and aftermath
Professor Anthony Birley, Vindolanda Museum, Hexham

Septimius Severus, “the African Emperor” (born at Lepcis Magna, now Libya), spent his last years, 208-211, at York and campaigning in “Caledonia”, the land north of the Forth-Clyde isthmus, intending to “conquer the whole of it”, his contemporary Dio wrote. Yet work on refurbishing Hadrian’s Wall and associated forts had continued till 208, so it was long supposed that Severus’ “most fortunate British expedition” was merely punitive, and that he planned to return to the Wall line when it ended. The discovery in the early 1960s of his massive base at Carpow on the Tay indicated that he really had sought to “extend the empire”. But when he died, his sons abandoned the Caledonian conquests and raced back to Rome. Caracalla murdered his brother in December 211, the army of Britain had to proclaim its loyalty to him, and he split the province into two, Inferior and Superior – and Scotland was abandoned for good.

by Carole Smith

Septimius Severus died in York on the 4th February 211, of the Julian calendar, the 15th February by ours. As a belated mark of respect the audience stood for a moment in his memory. He was born in North Africa in 145 to a Phoenician (Punic) father and Italian/Roman mother. After seizing power in Rome in 193 he spent the rest of his energetic reign on military campaigns throughout his empire. With some idea of conquering Scotland, he came to Britain in 208, lived in York and never left. His military strategy failed against Scottish guerrilla tactics, but his legacy was Roman militarism, a stable empire – and two feuding sons, Geta and Caracalla who were co-emperors.

The Severan dynasty, a somewhat dysfunctional and unstable family, lasted until 235 AD. Whereas Septimius died of old age his successors were generally assassinated.

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