20. The Late Severans

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ElagabalusBust ElagabalusCoin SeverusAlexander MAPPalatinepalace AlexanderOrbiana

A trail of wives: Elagabalus (coin above), a rampant teenage bisexual, went through as many as five wives according to the contemporary histories. However, we only know of three (top to bottom): Julia Cornelia Paula, the Vestal Virgin Julia Aquillia Severa and Annia Fausta, who he put aside to remarry Julia Aquillia Severa.

Contemporary busts of Elegabalus show an attractive youth and a calm countenance in contrast to his wild religious and sexual frenzies.


Severus Alexander as a young adolescent.


Obverse of a gold aureus of Severus Alexander shows the mature emperor, but even in his twenties he bowed to his mother Julia Mamaea’s wishes. She arranged his marriage to Sallustia Orbiana, (bust

and coin right), when

he was still in his

teens, and then

resented the hold

his clever wife held

over him and had

her banished.

ArdashirICoin MAPSeveranEnd

By the end of the Severan Dynasty (235), the process of covering the Palatine Hill in Rome with imperial residences was complete. Once the parkland homes of the Roman elite, the entire hill had been enclosed, and the once public spaces were the exlusive preserve of the emperors and the vast bureaucracy that served them.

Above (and inset on the map below): The first ruler of the Sassanian empire of Persia, Ardashir I vowed to regain all the territory of the ancient Achaemenid empire which had been lost to Alexander the Great, and throw Rome back to the shores of the Aegean Sea. His son, Shapur I, was to come close to achieving this ambition.

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