1902 Encyclopedia > Alexander Severus (Marcus Aurelius Alexander Severus)

Marcus Aurelius Alexander Severus
Roman emperor (from 222)

MARCUS AURELIUS ALEXANDER SEVERUS, Roman emperor from 222 to 235, was of Syrian parentage, and was born at Area near the Syrian Tripolis (now Trka ; Yakut, iii. 653 ; cf. Gen. x. 17), probably in the year 205. His father Gessius Marcianus held office more than once as an imperial procurator ; his mother Julia Mamsea was the daughter of Julia Maesa, the scheming and ambitious lady of Emesa who had succeeded in raising her grand-son Elagabalus to the throne of the Cassars ; see the genealogical table in HELIOGABALUS. His original name was Alexius Bassianus, but he changed it in 221, when I Maesa persuaded Elagabalus to adopt his cousin as suc-i cessor and create him Caesar. In the next year Elagabalus was murdered, and Alexander was proclaimed by the Praetorians and accepted by the senate. Ho was then a mere lad, amiable, well-meaning, but somewhat weak, and entirely under the dominion of his mother, a woman of many virtues, who surrounded her son with wise counsellors, watched over the development of his character, and improved the tone of the administration, but on the other hand was inordinately jealous of her influence, and alien-ated the army by extreme parsimony, while neither she nor her son had a strong enough hand to keep tight the reins of military discipline. Mutinies became frequent in all parts of the empire: to one of them the life of the praetorian praefect Ulpian was sacrificed ; another compelled the retirement of Dion Cassius from his command (see DION). On the whole, however, the reign of Alexander Severus was prosperous till he was summoned to the East to face the new power of the Sasanians (see PERSIA, vol. xviii. p. 607). Of the war that followed we have very various accounts; Mommsen (vol. v. p. 420 sq.) leans to that which is least favourable to the Eomans. At all events, though the Persians were checked for the time, the conduct of the Roman army showed an extraordinary lack of discipline. The emperor returned to Rome and celebrated a triumph (233), but next year he was called to face German invaders in Gaul, and there was slain with his mother in a mutiny which was probably led by Maximinus, and at any rate purchased him the throne. Whatever the personal virtues of Alexander were, and they have not lost by contrast with his successor's brutal tyranny, he was not of the stuff to rule a military empire.

The above article was written by: J. S. Reid, D.Litt.

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