18. The In-fighting Severans

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SeptimiusSeverusBust JuliaDomnaSeverus-Coin CaracallaCaesCoin CaracallaBusts Plautilla GetaCaesarCoin

Founder of a new dynasty, Septimius Severus introduced sweeping changes to the army that altered the course of Roman history and made a soldier’s life better. A champion of legal reform, he was also greedy and calculatingly cruel when it suited the purposes of the state—as defined by the emperor. Sadly, his strict discipline did not extend to his two sons.


Julia Domna (right), second wife of Septimius Severus and mother of two emperors, would remain a power behind the throne for a quarter of a century. The coin below features Severus on the obverse, and Julia Domna with their two young sons, Caracalla and Geta, on the reverse.

GetaYoungOld GetaCoin

A denarius (left) of Geta struck between 200 and 202 when he was about four. The inscription styles him as Pontifex, Princeps Iuventutis (priest and junior

prince). Two busts of Geta show

him as a boy of about nine and

the young man who found favor

with the army. Obverse of a coin (right below) features Geta as GETA PIVS AVGVSTVS BRITANNICVS, issued shortly after the conclusion of the British campaign in 211. It follows the convention of depicting younger men as though they were older.

Left: Busts of Caracalla as a young boy and the emperor who believed he was another Alexander the Great; and a coin (below) depicting him as the young Caesar.


Right: An innocent victim—when her father, Plautianus, was appointed praetorian prefect, Plautilla was married off to Caracalla, who soon came to loathe her, although history gives us no reason for his dislike. When her father fell from grace, so did she. After divorcing her, Caracalla banished her to the Lipari Islands off Sicily, where she was executed after his accession to the throne

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Illustrations © Oliver Frey; Maps © Roger M. Kean    © 2010–2016 Reckless Books, England