Chapter Two: Septimius and the Cursus Honorum.

Peace, one and all…

Here’s Chapter Two (in case there actually was anyone waiting for it, lol)!

Chapter Two: Septimius and the Cursus Honorum
Chapter Two aims to extend the discussion by looking at Septimius’ relationships with the wider Roman nobility. Focus will therefore be given to his progress through the senatorial career structure. In particular, careful attention will be paid to the future emperor’s patron-client networks, and what part, if any, Africa played in their formation and further development.
In order to place the debate within its proper contextual framework, it will be necessary to examine the principal features of Romano-African society. From here, the focus will shift to an in-depth look at Septimius’ senatorial career, from its beginnings in the 160s to the fall of Cleander in 190. It is important to bear in mind at this point that this present work does not aim to be a biographical account; any such study has been rendered largely superfluous by Birley’s generally well-researched effort. In spite of this, detailed reference to relevant events has occasionally been deemed appropriate. It is hoped that by this method the reader can come to a fuller understanding of Septimius’ true place within the wider Roman world.

As is evident at Lepcis, the cities of North Africa were deeply affected by Roman cultural power. This can be seen in a number of ways. Archaeological studies have amply demonstrated the adoption of classical architectural fashions completely transformed the physical appearance of the region’s urban centres[1].

In addition the epigraphic record reveals that, by the mid-second century at the latest, Punic had been all but replaced by Latin in public contexts[2]. African enthusiasm for Latin extended beyond the purely functional. A large number of inscriptions honour the students of Latin literature as ‘amator studiorum’ (‘lover of learning’) and ‘doctissimus et facundissimus’ (‘most learned and eloquent)[3]. Also knowledge of Greek was considered to be the height of sophistication. Apuleius compliments his audience by implying that they could understand Greek and he later insults his opponent by pointing to his ignorance of both Greek and Latin[4]. In this climate, it is perhaps not surprising that amateur poets were abundant. Septimius’ own grandfather wrote poetry[5]. Champlin cites some three hundred ‘metrical efforts’ in the region’s epigraphic corpus[6]. Other examples could also be added. Two long hexameter-style poems have been discovered on two inscriptions from Bu Njem dating to the third century[7].

It was not long before Africa produced its own home grown intelligentsia. By the mid-second century, Carthage had become the intellectual capital of Africa, eventually ranking second in the Western Empire behind Rome itself[8]. In spite of this, the capital remained the true focus for educated Africans. During the first century, both Annaeus Cornutus, Lucan and Persius’ teacher and Sextius Sulla, an associate of Plutarch, were active at Rome[9]. By the mid-second century, the Africans Cornelius Fronto and Tuticius Proculus were the Latin tutors of the young Caesar Marcus Aurelius[10].

Given the prestige of rhetoric, it is small wonder that many aspiring Africans found a fruitful outlet for their talents as jurymen and lawyers in Rome’s burgeoning legal system. The satirist Juvenal confirms this: ‘If you really suppose your tongue can earn you a workable living, you’d better emigrate to Gaul or Africa – lawyers are flourishing there’ (Satires 7.146-148). As was made clear in Chapter One, Septimius’ own grandfather spent many years at Rome ‘in the strident courts’ (Statius Silvae 4.5.49). At about the same time, the famous biographer Suetonius, who may well come from Hippo Regius, was also making a name for himself at the bar[11]. His erudition brought him into contact with the Younger Pliny, whose patronage launched Suetonius on a noteworthy equestrian career, culminating in three successive posts in the imperial bureaucracy[12].

M. Cornelius Fronto, the celebrated Latin orator and tutor of Marcus Aurelius, is another contemporary example. Born at Cirta, probably during the last years of the first century CE, Fronto seems to have migrated to Rome during his adolescence[13]. After completing his studies at the capital, much like Septimius himself as will become clear, Fronto held a vigintiviral post in the imperial bureaucracy, before eventually establishing himself as the leading orator and advocate of his time[14]. Fronto’s rhetorical skill led to him becoming the tutor of the young Caesar, Marcus Aurelius. Fortunately, many of Fronto’s letters are still extant. Fronto’s world revolved around the law courts and literary salons of Rome and his friends and associates are all members of the Roman senatorial elite[15]. His attitude towards Africa is curiously ambiguous. Fronto maintains close and friendly relations with his native Cirta. He is especially concerned to promote the interests of his home city and to enhance the careers of young Cirtans[16]. Despite this, his connections with the rest of provincial Africa are so few as to be almost non-existent; there are few non-Cirtan Africans referred to in his surviving correspondence[17]. Moreover, his references to Africa, though few, are revealing; in one letter he deprecatingly calls himself ‘a Libyan of the Libyan nomads’ (M. Caes 1.10.5), in another he prays to his ancestral god Jupiter Ammon[18]. Elsewhere, he defensively compares himself to Anacharsis, the learned Scythian, believing his own background was similarly wild, despite his erudition[19].

The extant works of the Apuleius, from Madauros in Numidia, allow us further insight into the culture of second century Africa[20]. A brief examination reveals the developing pattern of upward mobility in Africa. Like Fronto, Apuleius was born into a wealthy provincial family, probably during the 120sCE, leaving in the late 130sCE to pursue his studies at Carthage, Rome and unusually, Athens[21]. Subsequently, he made a successful career as a public speaker, being granted a statue at Carthage and serving as Africa’s priest of the imperial cult[22]. Although Apuleius was not known to have been a lawyer, his works betray a clear understanding of Roman law; one of his earliest published works, the Apologia, is a stylised account of his defence against a charge of sorcery[23]. His attitude towards his home province is, like Fronto, ambiguous. In pleading his case before the proconsul, he irritably refers to himself as ‘part-Numidian and part-Gaetulian’ (Apol. 24.2). Replying to attacks on his obscure background, he, like Fronto, cites Anacharsis: ‘Wise Anacharsis was born among the idiot Scythians, the shrewd Athenians produced the block-head Meletides’ (Apol. 24.6).

Despite the defensiveness evident in the writings of both Fronto and Apuleius, Africans were clearly proud of their achievements. P. Postumus Romulus records his entry to the senate with obvious pleasure; he was the ‘first of the Thubursicitani to be awarded the latus clavus’[24]. This was the context behind Statius’ strenuous defence of Septimius’ grandfather: ‘Neither your speech nor your dress is Punic, yours is no stranger’s mind: Italian, you are, Italian!’ (Statius Silvae 4.5.45-46).

Although it is virtually certain that Septimius was born on 11th April 145, little else is known of his early years[25]. Nevertheless, it is possible to expand upon the meagre information found scattered throughout the sources. It is thus more than likely that Septimius spent his formative years in the care of tutors. Given the deep cultural and political allegiance of his family and home-city to Rome this is perhaps to be expected. If his education followed the traditional Roman curriculum, then between the ages of seven and twelve Septimius would have attended the classes of the magister ludi[26]. Here he would have learned basic reading, writing and arithmetic, alongside the memorisation of short moral maxims[27]. On completing these elementary studies, children generally progressed to a more intensive study of grammar, under the direction of the grammaticus[28]. Although Dio has raised some doubt about the extent of Septimius’ education, he must have studied grammar at least[29]. Indeed, as the grandson of an Italianophile poet, Septimius’ schooling was likely to have been fairly extensive. Thus it seems probable that he proceeded to the next stage in Roman education. The talented, or more usually the wealthy, could then attach themselves to an individual rhetor. From the ages of fifteen to eighteen such pupils were given in-depth instruction in public oratory, usually by means of an exhaustive study of literary exempla[30].

In Septimius’ case, the Historia Augusta states that he gave an inaugural public address at Lepcis during his eighteenth year, most probably in the newly refurbished Theatre[31]. This coming-of-age lecture, delivered in front of an audience of the city’s deeply status-conscious nobility, was presumably intended to mark the end of Septimius’ preliminary studies. Correct Latin grammar and pronunciation would therefore have been essential. It is worth noting the care with which Apuleius, making a speech in nearby Oea, takes to compliment his own audience; they are flatteringly assumed to know Greek, understand philosophy and to have had more than a passing acquaintance with magical lore[32].

According to the Historia Augusta, the young Septimius left for Rome shortly after this ceremony, in order to pursue his studies, arriving in the capital sometime during 163-164[33]. Academic and literary pursuits were then at the height of their prestige. Sophists gained massive popularity in the city through their verbal and linguistic skills, whilst philosophers of almost every persuasion continued to beat a path to Rome. The emperor himself, Marcus Aurelius, followed the stoic school and was also the author of the Meditations, a deeply personal reflection on the nature of duty. His former tutors, though old, were still immensely popular. The Athenian Herodes Atticus was still giving lectures on Greek sophistry, whilst his Latin counterpart, Fronto, had become one of the period’s most learned men.

Arriving in the capital, Septimius must have been struck by the prestige and authority of such men. Indeed, as we saw in the previous chapter, it is possible that he may have been a distant relative of Fronto’s. The nomenclature of M. Petronius Sura Septimianus, a son of the orator’s powerful kinsman (cos. 150), seems to recall a marriage link with the Septimii[34]. It is also worth bearing in mind that M. Aufidius Fronto and C. Aufidius Victorinus, Fronto’s two grandsons, later served under Septimius as ordinary consuls[35]. That they served in consecutive years (199 and 200 respectively) is particularly suggestive of a family connection of some sort[36].

In any case, given Septimius’ energetic and ambitious nature, it is likely that he set about his studies with vigour. Although not stated unequivocally, it is virtually certain that he studied law. Honore describes Septimius’ reign as emperor as a key period in the development of Roman law and as a ‘golden age for lawyers’ in particular[37]. As such, a number of ancient and modern historians have argued that as a young man Septimius held the junior post of treasury advocate (advocatus fiscus), although this is almost certainly wrong. Prior to becoming emperor, Septimius was twice called upon to defend himself in open court. As a young man he was charged with adultery, but, in the words of the Historia Augusta, he ‘pleaded his own case and was acquitted by the proconsul Julianus’ (HA Sev. 2.2). In later life, during the chaotic last years of Commodus, Septimius was charged with consulting astrologers. He was again acquitted, and his accuser was apparently crucified. Although, as we shall see, this second trial and acquittal were politically motivated, a thorough knowledge of law would have been vital[38].

We can also gauge the extent of Septimius’ legal training by other means. In 177, Marcus Aurelius appointed Septimius praetor. During the principate, praetors were primarily responsible for presiding over the courts at Rome. Marcus, who is said to have been scrupulous in the administration of justice, dramatically increased the number of days in which the courts could hear cases[39]. As such, it is extremely unlikely that he would have employed someone in such an important capacity who was not familiar with Roman law. This is given still greater emphasis by Septimius’ subsequent posting to Hispania Tarraconensis as legatus iuridicus. The role of the legatus iuridicus was to assist the provincial governor in all legal matters. As such, Septimius would have needed both experience and understanding of the practical application of the law[40]. Septimius must therefore have studied law to quite an advanced degree, possibly working as an advocate, pleading cases in the courts, like his grandfather before him. Although it remains somewhat unlikely, it is not impossible that he was a pupil of the noted jurist Q. Cervidius Scaevola, along with his later colleague Papinian, as stated by the Historia Augusta[41].

Almost immediately after his arrival in Rome, Septimius’ ambition was rewarded when the emperor granted his petition to wear the latus clavus (or broad stripe). This grant was an important first step in establishing Septimius’ fledgling career because it opened up the promise of a place in the senate. As such, it is of particular relevance to our own study because it allows us an insight into the operation of patronage. The Historia Augusta remarks that Septimius was awarded the broad stripe through the efforts of his consular relative, C. Septimius Severus[42]. There was nothing unusual in this. As a close relative and an ex-consul, C. Septimius Severus would have been expected to use his influence to promote his young kinsman’s career. Indeed, the only remarkable thing about this entire incident is just how ordinary it is. There is no mention of Africa or of any African faction at all.

It is also highly likely that Caius’ influence secured Septimius a post in the vigintivirate. From its inception in the early Republic, this ‘board of twenty’ (originally a board of twenty-six) had been used to groom young noblemen for the rigours of a senatorial career by providing them with junior posts in the bureaucracy. Usually held at about the age of twenty, vigintiviral posts covered four distinct areas of responsibility. The three most eminent young men would serve as officials in the mint at Rome (tresviri monetales). Another ten (usually those with consular fathers) served in the courts (the decemviri stlitibus iudicandis). Those from less prestigious backgrounds were usually given posts among either the quattoviri viarum curandarum (who helped oversee the upkeep of the Italian road network) or the tresviri capitals (who seem to have had a policing function)[43]. Although unattested in Septimius’ case, by his time the tenure of one of these posts had become an essential prerequisite for entry to the senate[44]. Indeed, his brother Geta served as a decemvir stlitibus iudicandis[45]. It is virtually certain, therefore, that he held one of these posts, most probably sometime between 164 and 166CE[46].

The next step for many young noblemen would have been a commission as a junior officer (military tribune) in one of the legions. Although a late source avers that Septimius served in this capacity, the Historia Augusta has him ‘omitting the office of tribune of the soldiers’ (HA Sev. 2.3)[47]. Whilst this was unusual, it was by no means unheard of. Those from either patrician or old senatorial families were not so concerned with it, whilst for those from less august backgrounds the military tribunate was not an essential prerequisite for entry into the senate[48]. Moreover, during the 160s Rome fought a number of serious wars on its eastern and northern frontiers. This may well also have had an impact on the recruitment of young officers; whilst there may have been more vacancies than usual, given the occurrence of casualties, it is likely that those tribunes with demonstrable military talent would have been retained for longer periods[49]. Interestingly enough, Septimius’ brother Geta held a tribunate with the legio II Augusta in Britain[50]. It is also distinctly possible that during this time Geta made the acquaintance of the future emperor P. Helvius Pertinax. A number of inscriptions attest the presence of detachments from II Augusta at Corbridge on Tyne, whilst during the 160s, Pertinax held two military posts in Britain[51]. The first was as an equestrian tribune of legio VI Victrix, based at York, though a number of inscriptions show that vexillations from VI Victrix were active on Hadrian’s Wall[52]. The second, and more significant, seems to have been the command of coh. I Tungrorum, most probably based at Housesteads[53].

Two late sources state that Septimius served as an advocate for the imperial treasury (an advocatus fiscus), however this is extremely unlikely[54]. Both references are problematic. In its life of Geta, the Historia Augusta remarks that Septimius named his second son Antoninus because the emperor Antoninus Pius had made him an advocate[55]. Firstly, as there is no mention of this in the epigraphic and numismatic record, this is highly suspicious[56]. Secondly, as Septimius can only have been fifteen years of age when Pius died in 161, he would have been far too young for such a position[57]. In his Breviarium, Eutropius makes a similar remark. However, he is far too vague with details to be given much credence on this occasion[58].

By 166, at the very latest, Septimius’ employment as a vigintivir had come to an end. In the same year, the emperor Lucius Verus returned to Rome after a spectacular victory in the east over Parthia[59]. The ambitious twenty-year-old, who had already acquired something of a reputation as a rake and whose sights must have been set firmly upon attaining the quaestorship at twenty-four, may even have witnessed Verus’ triumphant entry into the city[60]. Unfortunately, the victorious soldiers brought back a deadly plague with them, which spread quickly throughout the capital[61]. Septimius, who may first have retired to his family estates near Veii, seems to have returned to Africa at this point, where he continued his wild behaviour. The ever-interesting vita Severi remarks enigmatically that Septimius was charged with adultery, whereupon he ‘…pleaded his own case and was acquitted by the proconsul Julianus, the man who was his immediate predecessor in the proconsulship, his colleague in the consulship, and likewise his predecessor on the throne’ (HA Sev. 2.2-3). The proconsul of Africa during 167-168 was none other than Salvius Julianus, the famous jurist. Didius Julianus, Septimius’ predecessor as emperor, was in all probability present at the trial, as his relative’s legate[62]. Thus, although the Historia Augusta has erred in its identification, it has recorded a significant point; Septimius and Didius Julianus knew each other prior to 193[63]. It also seems that, during this time, the emperor Lucius Verus died from a stroke, whilst preparing for a major offensive against the hostile tribes of the north[64].

In any case, Septimius was back in Rome in time to stand for the quaestorial elections for 170[65]. Evidently, the acquittal had not adversely affected his career prospects. It is highly likely that his two consular relatives were active behind the scenes on his behalf. In any case, in late 169 Septimius was duly elected quaestor. With this he officially entered the Roman senate, which at that time had a membership of about six hundred[66]. He could therefore speak and vote at senatorial meetings, though as a new senator his more senior colleagues took precedence[67]. During the principate, twenty quaestors were elected annually. Two would be seconded to the emperor himself as quaestores Caesaris, two would serve in the imperial treasury as quaestores urbani, four would assist the consuls and the rest were either based in Italy or were attached to the staff of provincial governors as financial assistants[68]. Although very little is known of Septimius’ year as quaestor, it seems likely, given his ambition, that he applied himself to his duties with enthusiasm. The Historia Augusta states that he ‘became quaestor and performed his duties with diligence’ (HA Sev. 2.3). Interestingly, Dio states that at this time Septimius’ ambitions were encouraged by a prophetic dream, in which he saw himself ‘suckled by a she-wolf just as Romulus had been’ (Dio 74 (75). 3.1).

A military crisis the following year gave Septimius a further opportunity to prove himself. In 170, a punitive expedition was launched against the Marcomanni, Quadi and Costoboci, in retaliation for their attacks on the northern frontier. Directed from Carnuntum by the emperor Marcus Aurelius himself, Roman troops crossed the Danube in an attempt to dislodge these dangerous tribes from their strongholds in Bohemia, Moravia and Romania. In the early spring, however, imperial forces met with a number of grave reverses, which left serious gaps in the Danube defences. Sweeping down from the north, the Marcomanni and Quadi drove across the Carnic Alps and laid siege to Aquileia in northern Italy, before destroying nearby Opitergium. The Costoboci, meanwhile, surged across the Moesian border and swept through into Greece, sacking the Shrine of the Mysteries at Eleusis[69]. Roman losses were heavy. One author puts the number of dead at almost twenty thousand, whilst the governor of Dacia, Claudius Fronto, was killed ‘…fighting for the republic to the last’[70].

The emperor responded to the emergency by advancing the careers of men with military talent. Claudius Pompeianus, the son of an equestrian from Antioch, had proven himself in a number of important posts, including the command of Pannonia Inferior in 167[71]. His loyal service was rewarded by a marriage link to the imperial family itself. A few months after the death of Lucius Verus, and before the end of the official period of mourning, Pompeianus became Marcus’ son-in-law by marrying Verus’ widow Lucilla. Both Lucilla and her mother, the empress Faustina, were opposed to the marriage; Pompeianus’ background was relatively humble and he was considerably older than his new wife[72].

Pompeianus also became the emperor’s chief military adviser, with special responsibility for driving the invaders out of Italy[73]. Pompeianus’ choice of lieutenant was also particularly noteworthy. P. Helvius Pertinax, dismissed from the post of procurator in Dacia two years previously through the ‘machinations of certain persons’, was restored to favour and given command of an auxiliary cohort (HA Pert. 2.4). It is also possible that P. Septimius Geta, Septimius’ elder brother, served as curator at the port of Ancona in northern Italy at about this time[74]. If this is the case, it is a distinct possibility that Pertinax was behind the appointment. Meanwhile, Vehilius Gratus Julianus was sent to destroy the Cosotboci in Greece and Valerius Maximianus was sent along the Danube with a special force of marines, in order to re-open the shattered supply lines to the north[75].

The appointment of quaestors for 171 was also affected by the military emergency. Due to the difficulties caused by the hostilities, there seems to have been a shortage of candidates. To combat this shortfall, some of the previous year’s quaestors had their commissions extended for a second term. Septimius was thus made proquaestor for the province of Baetica in southern Spain[76]. Interestingly enough, it seems that the governor of Baetica in 171-172 was one P. Cornelius Anullinus, who was to become one of Septimius’ key supporters in 193[77]. Given that the governor had some influence over the appointment of subordinate officials, it is possible that Anullinus selected Septimius personally[78].

In any case, in early 171, shortly before he was due to leave Rome, news reached Septimius of his father’s death at Lepcis, whereupon he was given permission to return home and settle his father’s estate[79]. Whilst he was at Lepcis, however, Moorish tribes from Mauretania invaded southern Spain[80]. In order to cope with the invasion, Baetica, which had no legionary garrison of its own, was placed under direct imperial control. Legio VII Gemina was sent from its base at Leon in northern Spain, under C. Aufidius Victorinus, and a special expeditionary force, made up of troops who had fought successfully against the Costoboci in Greece, was despatched under the procurator Vehilius Gratus Julianus[81]. Meanwhile Septimius received orders transferring him to the island province of Sardinia, which had been specially assigned to the senate’s control during the crisis[82]. Whilst this was probably done at the instigation of the imperial government, it is likely that Septimius’ consular relatives had a hand in the matter.

The posting to Sardinia was over by late 172, whereupon Septimius returned to the capital. In the following year (173-174) his relative, C. Septimius Severus (cos. 160), was made proconsul of Africa[83]. During the second century the proconsul’s administrative staff included two legates, Caius, not unnaturally, gave one of these posts to Septimius[84]. As we saw above, the enhancement of familial prestige in this manner was not unusual. Septimius’ duties would have included deputising for the governor, as well as a judge in local assizes[85]. Official ceremonies were also an important aspect of provincial government. Thus an inscription records Caius and Septimius dedicating a triumphal arch at Lepcis, whilst another from Numidia shows Caius as the patron of Thuburiscu Numidarum[86].

Two intriguing incidents recorded by the Historia Augusta should be assigned to this period. Firstly, whilst on official business at Lepcis, Septimius was met and embraced by an old acquaintance. Reacting badly to his friend’s manhandling, Septimius instructed his lictors to give the man a beating, declaring through his heralds that henceforth common citizens should not embrace an imperial legate without due cause[87]. Secondly, Septimius consulted an astrologer (mathematicus), ‘in a certain city of Africa’ (HA Sev. 2.7-8). Upon casting Septimius’ chart, the astrologer is said to have asked him to produce his real birth date and not ‘that of another man’ (HA Sev. 2.8). After Septimius swore that he had told the truth, the astrologer is alleged to have accurately prophesied his later career. Both incidents provide us with valuable insights into Septimius’ character; he had a keen sense of his own importance, was clearly ambitious and was prepared to work hard to achieve his aims.

Septimius’ energy was rewarded at the end of the following year (174CE) when he was made a plebeian tribune ‘by order of the Emperor Marcus’ (HA Sev. 3.1). Although the office of tribune carried little real authority during the principate, along with the aedileship, it remained an important step in the careers of those from less prestigious backgrounds[88]. The tribune still held his power of veto, though little used, and could still, at times, initiate senatorial debate. Despite this, the tribune’s duties remained largely ceremonial[89]. Nevertheless, an imperial recommendation was a prestigious honour. Although it did not guarantee promotion to high office, it was usually a good indicator of future success. It also meant that the candidatus Caesaris did not have to stand for election[90]. Such commendations could be granted in a number of ways: through the emperor’s personal whim, through an official report or through the action of an influential patron. In Septimius’ case, it was probably due to a combination of his relative Caius’ standing and his report to the emperor of his progress. The Historia Augusta remarks that Septimius performed his duties with ‘great strictness and energy’ (HA Sev. 3.1), which an active relative would not fail to bring to the emperor’s attention.

Septimius’ time as tribune, from December 174 to December 175, was a particularly sensitive period in Roman politics[91]. Amidst rumours of Marcus Aurelius’ death, Avidius Cassius, the governor of Syria, rebelled against the government and declared himself emperor, with the support of most of the east. Although Marcus had always been frail, it seems that he had been particularly ill at the time. The literary sources name the empress Faustina as the principal instigator of the revolt[92]. Though we may fairly ignore their accusations of adultery, it is possible, as Birley has plausibly suggested, that the entire affair sprang from Faustina’s and Lucilla’s attempt to safeguard their own position should Marcus die, by destroying the influence of Pompeianus[93]. In any case, the revolt was soon quashed. A staff officer murdered Cassius and the situation gradually returned to normal. Meanwhile, Septimius may well have been called upon to use his tribunician power to help maintain calm in the capital.

This was also an important year for Septimius personally. According to the Historia Augusta, during 175 Septimius, then in his thirtieth year, married a woman from Lepcis[94]. Although little is known about his new bride, it is clear from her nomenclature (Paccia Marciana) that she came from a wealthy family, whose ancestors seem to have received Roman citizenship during the mid first century[95]. Moreover, it is clear that, despite their elevated status, the Septimii were still making marriage alliances with notable Lepcitane families. There is also some evidence that the Septimii were cementing their relationships with the wider nobility by other means. Septimius’ elder brother was appointed to the command of the Legio I Italica, stationed in Moesia Inferior, possibly during the governorship of Pertinax[96]. Although the evidence is somewhat conjectural, if accurate, it demonstrates a growing link between Septimius’ family and Pertinax, whose own patron was the eminent soldier Claudius Pompeianus[97]. In other words, if correct, we are seeing the emergence of an important political faction.

Despite his hard work, Septimius remained ‘one of the ordinary crowd of competitors’ (HA Sev. 3.3-4) and did not receive an imperial recommendation for the praetorship of 177, though he was successfully elected[98]. Although he must have been disappointed, his failure to obtain the emperor’s favour did not mean that he had fallen from grace. During the principate, imperial commendations for the praetorship were usually reserved for the patrician nobility, or for those who had earned the ruler’s patronage in some other way[99]. Thus during his own reign, Septimius himself seems to have used this honour sparingly, reserving it solely for members of the high aristocracy and his own close supporters[100].

As praetor, Septimius would primarily have been responsible for presiding over the courts at Rome, though he would have had other duties. Given his legal training, this would no doubt have appealed to Septimius. In any case, he is likely to have been kept very busy. The sources indicate that Marcus Aurelius dramatically increased the number of days during which the courts could hear cases[101]. It would also have been his first taste of imperium.

Towards the end of 177, in circumstances that are far from clear, Septimius was sent on a special assignment. He was ordered to Hispania Tarraconensis, as an extraordinary judicial legate of the governor (legatus iuridicus) and given responsibility for the north west region of Asturia and Callaecia[102]. In other words, Septimius was to be the governor’s supreme legal expert. This obviously required a high degree of legal expertise, in both theoretical and applied law and was a promising boost to Septimius’ career. From the few other references to the post, it appears that the term of office did not usually exceed three years[103]. As such, Septimius was unable to organise public games at Rome in person. Instead, as the Historia Augusta records, he gave them in absentia[104].

By early 180, at the very latest, Septimius was back in Rome. As an ex-praetor, with some significant legal experience behind him, Septimius’ employment prospects had improved dramatically. He could now serve in a number of official capacities, as the governor of one of the less important provinces, or as a legionary commander[105]. In the event, he was given the command of Legio IV Scythica in Syria[106]. This was Septimius’ first military post and it is surely significant that the then governor was none other than P. Helvius Pertinax[107]. If the suggestion that Geta had served under Pertinax in Moesia is accurate, as tentatively advanced above, then it is eminently possible that this rising star of the Antonine military had a direct hand in the appointment. It is probable that Septimius first made the acquaintance of his future wife Julia Domna during this time. It is also possible that he served alongside L. Fabius Cilo, who commanded the Legio XVI Flavia Firma during the early 180s and was later to be a close associate of Septimius[108].

On the 17th March 180 the emperor Marcus Aurelius died at Bononia in Pannonia Inferior[109]. His son Commodus, who had already been co-emperor for four years, became the new sole ruler. Despite the foresight with which the succession had been arranged, the Roman establishment soon found that life was going to be very different under the new imperator. Commodus, like Caligula and Nero before him, was a flamboyant young man, being only eighteen at the time of his accession. Secondly, like his erstwhile predecessors, Commodus felt stifled by his father’s immense auctoritas. Dio, in his introduction to the reign, accurately describes the new emperor’s character:

‘… he was not naturally wicked, but, on the contrary, as guileless as any man that ever lived. His great simplicity, however, together with his cowardice, made him the slave of his companions, and it was through them that he at first, out of ignorance, missed the better life and then was led on into lustful and cruel habits, which soon became second nature’ (Dio 72 (73). 1.1-2).

Although much of Dio’s account is undoubtedly hostile, Commodus emerges from the sources as a tense, unhappy individual, ill at ease with himself and uncomfortable with the weight of the expectations that were placed upon him[110]. This made him easy prey to ambitious sycophants. During the course of his twelve-year reign a succession of favourites fought for control over him. The first of these creatures was one Saoterus, from Nicomedia in Bithynia[111]. According to one source, he was the emperor’s lover[112]. Whatever the truth of this claim, Saoterus certainly had more influence with Commodus than his late father’s advisors felt was appropriate. The discontent caused by such behaviour, and the disruption it caused to the established career patterns of the nobility, led to two major conspiracies in 182, a mere two years after Marcus’ death.

The first plot involved senior members of the imperial family, the most notable of whom was Commodus’ sister Lucilla. According to Herodian, Lucilla was driven to conspire against her brother by the titles and honours he bestowed on his wife Crispina[113]. In conjunction with her two apparent lovers, Ummidius Quadratus and Claudius Pompeianus Quintianus and the Guard prefect Tarrutienus Paternus, she is said to have planned to murder Commodus at the theatre[114]. Quadratus was the adopted son of Marcus Aurelius’ nephew, whilst Quintianus was the nephew of Lucilla’s husband, Claudius Pompeianus[115]. In the event, however, the melodramatic Pompeianus failed in his attempt. Just before stabbing Commodus, he is said to have paused momentarily and declaimed: ‘See! This is what the senate has sent you’ (Dio 72 (73). 4.4)[116]. This gave the imperial bodyguard time to overpower him.

The two senators were both summarily executed whilst Lucilla was exiled to Capri, to be killed the following year. Her estranged husband, who the sources claim was uninvolved, was allowed to retire to his estates[117]. Two of the emperor’s other favourites, Cleander and Paternus, used the ensuing chaos to have Saoterus murdered[118]. Soon afterwards, however, Paternus became implicated in a second conspiracy and was summarily executed. On this occasion, those killed or exiled included two consuls, two ex-consuls, the imperial secretary (or ab epistulis) and the daughter of Marcus Aurelius’ cousin, amongst others[119].

The entire affair seems to have affected Commodus deeply[120]. From this point onwards, though he might make use of the senate, he seems to have lost his faith in it entirely. However, the emperor’s growing paranoia merely served to intensify his isolation from the nobility, which increased his vulnerability to, and reliance on ambitious favourites. As Whittaker remarks, it was the ‘persistent overthrow of one after another of the amici which in the end left Commodus at the mercy of a Perennis or a Cleander and deprived him of the power to rule’[121].

As such, Commodus increasingly relied upon whim and rumour in weeding out supposed opponents[122]. Thus during 183 the two ex-consuls, Sex. Quintilius Valerius Maximus and his brother Sex. Quintilius Condianus, were put to death by the emperor, because their prestigious civilian and military reputation aroused his suspicion[123]. Maximus’ son, Quintilius Condianus, who was in Syria at the time, was also included in the death sentence. He refused to go quietly, however, and was pursued throughout the province. Dio remarks that Condianus’ ultimate fate was unknown, although ‘a great number of heads purporting to be his were brought to Rome’ (Dio 72 (73). 6.4-5). Both Pertinax and Septimius, as the provincial governor and legate of Legio IV Scythica respectively, must have taken part in this grisly manhunt[124].

Syria seems to have figured in a number of disconcerting reports at about this time. Apart from the hunt for Condianus, two of the senators exiled in 182 were natives of Hierapolis and Tripolis, whilst five years previously Syria had been involved in the revolt of Avidius Cassius[125]. Similarly, suspicions seem to have been raised about the loyalty of the Syrian governor and one of his legates. Thus Commodus, at the instigation of Tigidius Perennis, his new favourite and Paternus’ replacement as praetorian prefect, seems to have recalled Pertinax to Rome[126]. The Historia Augusta records that, upon his arrival in Rome, he ‘received orders from Perennis to retire to his father’s farm in Liguria’ (HA Pert. 3.2-3). Whilst it is possible that this was an isolated incident, given Pertinax’ close relationship with Claudius Pompeianus, it is likely to have been connected in some way with the fall of Lucilla the year before.

Septimius seems to have been dismissed from office himself shortly afterwards. The vita Severi makes the cryptic remark that after this post Septimius ‘proceeded to Athens – partly in order to continue his studies and perform sacred rites, and partly on account of the public buildings and ancient monuments there’ (HA Sev. 3.7-8). This, by itself, suggests that Septimius was either an actual client of Pertinax, or was otherwise believed to have been his close associate. Interestingly enough, Pertinax’ successor in Syria was one Domitius Dexter. Dexter was one of Septimius’ chief supporters in 193. He held the key post of praefectus urbi during the campaign against Niger and was rewarded for his loyal service in 196, when he was made consul ordinarius[127]. It is eminently possible, therefore, that the two men met at this time. Septimius may even have acted temporarily as the governor before Dexter’s arrival[128].

In Athens, Septimius would have found much to distract him from the disappointing lull in his career. Although the days of its glory had long since passed, second century Athens was still an inspiring and captivating place. The city’s intellectual heritage had preserved and developed its reputation. Sixty years previously, Hadrian’s fascination with Athens had breathed new life into the city; old customs were revived, local administration was restructured and endowments were made to the gymnasiarch[129]. These benefactions were further expanded under Hadrian’s successors to include subsidised chairs of philosophy and rhetoric. Thus by the time of Septimius’ enforced retirement, Athens had become the intellectual capital of the empire, challenging even Alexandria[130]. Septimius may well have attended the lectures of such leading thinkers as Apollonius[131]. It is also possible that he first made the acquaintance of Aelius Antipater, pupil of Herodes Atticus, at this time, and he may even have been initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries[132]. Although Septimius was probably a keen student, his two-year absence from the political centre must have grated on him. Circumstances at Rome, however, were beginning to move in his favour.

During Septimius’ sojourn at Athens, Commodus had continued to pursue his gladiatorial career, leaving the affairs of state in Perennis’ ambitious hands. Perennis, who was not content to remain a mere servant, set about isolating Commodus from the senate. Thus men like Pertinax, close associates of Marcus Aurelius, were gradually driven from the political limelight. Lesser opponents were put to death[133]. Key members of the senatorial nobility began to fight back. An alliance with Commodus’ powerful chamberlain, Cleander, was formed and a number of attempts were made to discredit the praetorian prefect.

In 184, a small war broke out in Dacia. Although the fighting was fierce, the situation seems to have been quickly brought under control. Interestingly, Dio states that Septimius’ future rivals, Pescennius Niger and Clodius Albinus, both fought with distinction in this conflict[134]. Controversially, Perennis’ sons were given a command along the Danube towards the end of the campaign. A rumour quickly began to circulate, presumably spread by Perennis’ enemies at court, that he was trying to claim the credit for himself[135].

Perennis also made enemies amongst the British legions. During the early years of Commodus’ reign, Caledonian tribes, from what is now southern Scotland, breached the Roman defences and ‘cut down a general together with his troops’ (Dio 72 (73). 8.2)[136]. In response, Commodus sent the well-known disciplinarian Ulpius Marcellus to restore order. Although he was successful in repelling the invaders, his strict manner quickly caused severe unrest amongst his soldiers[137]. The legionaries reacted by attempting to proclaim Priscus, one of their legates, emperor. Priscus wisely refused[138]. Perennis, no doubt sensing an orchestrated plot, dismissed the province’s legionary legates and replaced them with equestrian officials[139].

Although the subsequent course of events is far from clear, Perennis seems to have been removed soon afterwards. Several incidents, casting doubt on Perennis’ loyalty, are recorded by the sources. Dio states that 1,500 British troops deliberately came to Rome to inform the emperor of Perennis’ treachery. He adds that Commodus himself met these men just outside the capital and, upon hearing their story, had Perennis summarily executed[140]. It is, however, possible that these troops had been specially assigned to Gaul. Deserters and bandits had increasingly troubled the Gallic countryside since the northern wars of Marcus Aurelius. Herodian, by contrast, writes that a much smaller deputation, this time from the Danube legions, caused Perennis’ fall. This group carried with them coins bearing Perennis’ own portrait, instead of the emperor’s. After hearing their testimony, Commodus immediately had Perennis and his sons killed[141].

With the removal of Perennis, Cleander became the real power behind the throne. In order to repay his debts to his supporters amongst the nobility, Cleander recalled those who had been disgraced by Perennis to active duty. Thus in 185 Pertinax was restored to favour and given the crucial task of re-establishing order in rebellious Britain[142]. Septimius, as a client of Pertinax, was also reinstated and later in the same year, was given his first provincial governorship in Gaul[143]. Gallia Lugdunensis was the largest and most important of Rome’s Gallic provinces. Its capital, modern day Lyon, lay at the centre of an extensive road network, connecting Gaul with Italy, Spain and the northern frontiers, and was arguably one of the most important trading centres in the entire western empire[144]. It was also the site of an imperial mint[145]. As such, a five hundred strong guard unit (vigiles) was stationed at the city, under the command of a prefect.

Septimius’ first provincial command was, therefore, of some significance. It seems certain that Cleander was behind the appointment, putting his supporters and those of his allies into key posts[146]. Septimius, like his associate Pertinax, would have been a client of such powerful figures as Claudius Pompeianus and Lollianus Avitus. Indeed, as emperor, Septimius made relatives of both men consulares ordinarii[147]. In any case, Septimius was now clearly linked, through Pertinax, to Cleander.

Septimius’ time in Gaul was significant in a number of other ways. Firstly, there is a distinct possibility that Septimius was involved in military action against a growing bandit menace in the region. Herodian records the destruction caused by one Maternus, a deserter, who terrorised southern Germany and Gaul in 186 before being apprehended and executed[148]. Secondly, Septimius’ links with the wider aristocracy seem to have broadened. In particular, at this time he seems to have first made the acquaintance of a number of key figures. According to the Historia Augusta, Pescennius Niger, Septimius’ later rival for the throne, was sent to Gaul in order to round up these deserters, and because of his apparent hard work and energy was ‘on very friendly terms with Severus’ (HA Nig. 3.3-5). Although we must be extremely cautious with such a notorious source, it is at least feasible that Niger did serve in Gaul during this time and that they both did meet. It is also a possibility that Clodius Albinus, another later rival of Septimius, was active in the region at this time[149]. Interestingly enough, L. Fabius Cilo, who may well have served with Septimius under Pertinax in Syria, was the proconsul of neighbouring Narbonensis during 185[150].

Septimius’ personal life also underwent some major changes. At around the time of his arrival in Gaul his wife Paccia died. According to the sources, he seems to have lost no time in arranging a second marriage[151]. His choice of bride demonstrates a growing ambition. His new wife was Julia Domna, the daughter of the wealthy and influential high priest of Syrian Emesa. In all probability, they had already met whilst he was the legate of Legio IV Scythica. The vita Severi remarks that Septimius sought this marriage because he had discovered that her horoscope showed that she would marry a king[152]. Dio adds a further intriguing tale: ‘When he was about to marry Julia, Faustina, the wife of Marcus, prepared their nuptial chamber in the temple of Venus near the palace’ (Dio 74 (75). 3.1-2). These stories undoubtedly circulated after Septimius had become emperor and adopted himself into the Antonine house. Furthermore they are interesting in that they reveal the ambition of both bride and groom. In any case, Julia was soon pregnant and on April 4th the following year (188) she gave birth to their first child, who they named Bassianus (although he is better known by his later nickname of Caracalla)[153].

By the summer of 188CE, Septimius had returned to Rome from Gallia Lugdunensis[154]. He arrived in the capital to an uncertain future. During his absence, opposition to Cleander had increased sharply. The Historia Augusta records that Commodus’ brother-in-law, L. Antistius Burrus (cos. 181), was busily ‘denouncing and reporting all that was being done’ by the ambitious chamberlain (HA Comm. 6.11-12). Cleander’s reaction was swift and sharp. Pertinax, who owed his restoration to Cleander, wrote to the emperor exposing a conspiracy against him, in which he specifically accused Burrus, in conjunction with C. Arrius Antoninus (cos. suff. 170), of ‘aspiring to the throne’ (HA Pert. 3.7-8). Both men came from Africa, from Thugga and Tibilis respectively, and were closely connected with the imperial house[155]. Burrus was summarily executed, along with many of his supporters[156]. In particular, Cleander was able to strengthen his own position by having the Guard prefect Attilius Aebutianus killed and filling the vacant post himself[157]. Antoninus seems to have been murdered somewhat later in the year[158]. It is also significant that Commodus’ wife Crispina was suddenly exiled at this time, as is the fact that her family, one of whom had been consul in 187, disappear from the consular fasti until 217CE, under Caracalla[159].

The executions of Burrus and Antoninus caused widespread discontent. There was public disquiet at Rome itself[160]. Herodian comments that the urban populace ‘organised themselves in theatres and shouted insults at him [Cleander] all together’ (Her. 1.12.5)[161]. In Africa, where both men must have had extensive estates, there were outbreaks of serious rioting. Pertinax, who had by now acquired a reputation for severity, was sent to Africa to restore order, no doubt at Cleander’s insistence[162]. Although Pertinax was able to re-establish peaceful conditions in Africa, and Cleander was able to do so at Rome, a far more organised and serious conspiracy began to form amongst the old advisers of Marcus Aurelius.

Amidst this growing tension, it is likely that Septimius spent the rest of 188CE in the general vicinity of Rome, possibly at his estate near Veii. Septimius’ next opportunity for advancement would come in the following spring, when provincial commands were allocated[163]. Given Pertinax’ patronage, Septimius could reasonably expect a fairly senior command in one of the more important provinces. In the event, in early 189CE he was appointed proconsul of Sicily[164]. At around the same time, Julia gave birth to a second son at Rome, named Geta after his great-grandfather and uncle[165].

By midsummer 189CE at the latest, Septimius had arrived in Sicily[166]. Although not a senior or military province, Sicily was still an important command. Alongside Africa and Egypt, the island was a major exporter of grain to the capital. As such, Septimius’ main duties would have been bureaucratic, making sure that the grain ships left harbour on time, as well as overseeing the administration of justice. It is likely that he performed his duties diligently, at some point during his command his was designated to serve as suffect consul for 190CE[167]. It is interesting to note that Septimius’ immediate predecessor in Sicily was his own brother Geta[168]. Although theoretically it was not impossible for brothers to succeed one another in the same post, it was not a common occurrence by any means. Indeed, its very rarity requires further scrutiny.

A closer examination strongly suggests that these appointments were part of a wider plan. Firstly, Herodian states that Cleander was trying to increase his popularity by purchasing all of the available corn and then distributing it during the ensuing shortage[169]. Secondly, Cleander’s associates are found governing the major grain-producing provinces. During 188-189CE Pertinax was in command in Africa, whilst Geta was governing Sicily. Septimius held Sicily the year after (189-190CE)[170]. There is some controversy surrounding identity of the prefect of Egypt at this time. According to one source, Cleander recalled M. Aurelius Papirius Dionysius, who had only recently been appointed, to his previous post of praefectus annonae at Rome[171]. Papyri dated to 189-190CE show that one Tineius Demetrius was governing Egypt; it is more than likely that he was Dionysius’ replacement[172].

A disgruntled Dionysius returned to Rome to find that Commodus, at Cleander’s instigation, had made Pertinax the urban prefect[173]. The urban prefecture was an important and influential post. The prefect presided over his own court, which had jurisdiction within the hundredth milestone of Rome. More importantly, he commanded the urban cohorts, the only armed force, apart from the Praetorian Guard and the imperial horse guard, to be based in the capital itself[174].

Soon after his arrival in Rome, Dionysius began to take action against Cleander. Although the subsequent course of events is far from clear, the recent manipulation of the grain supply was causing a serious famine. Dio states that Dionysius deliberately made the situation worse, presumably by delaying the distribution of corn, so that ‘Cleander, whose thefts would seem chiefly responsible…might incur the hatred of the Romans and so be destroyed by them’ (Dio 72 (73). 13.1-3). By the beginning of 190CE, the situation had become critical; the sources speak of an outbreak of plague at about this time, though they differ on the exact order of events[175]. Discontent grew ever more serious as public awareness of the famine’s causes spread. Herodian remarks that organised groups began to publicly insult and denounce Cleander[176].

Events seem to have finally reached a climax during the ludi Ceriales, on April 19th. This festival honoured Ceres, the goddess of corn, probably originally in the hope that her favour would protect the grain ships that usually arrived at about this time[177]. On this occasion, the festivities included horse races. However, before the start of the seventh race, a group of children ran out into the Circus and interrupted the proceedings. Dio remarks that the children, who were led ‘by a tall maiden of grim aspect’, ‘shouted in concert many bitter words, which the people took up’ (Dio 72 (73). 13.3-4). These protests quickly stirred up the people, who ‘set up a shout demanding Cleander’s blood’ (Her. 1.12.5). Rather than dispersing, the increasingly riotous crowd set off to find the emperor, who seems to have been staying at Laurentum just outside the city, ‘invoking many blessings upon him and many curses upon Cleander’ (Dio 72 (73). 13.4)[178]. Learning of the demonstration, Cleander ordered the Praetorians and imperial horse guards to intercept the march, which they did with stark efficiency, ‘charging and cutting down anyone they came across’ (Her. 1.12.6). This panicked the already excited crowd, who fled back to the city[179].

Under normal circumstances, such firmness would presumably have ended the affair. However, both Dio and Herodian state that the demonstration regained its momentum when other soldiers came to their aid, prompting some to attack the Guard with roof tiles and stones[180]. The identity of these soldiers is important. As Cleander, the imperial chamberlain and praetorian prefect, commanded both the Guard and the imperial cavalry these troops must have been the urban cohorts, whose commander was Pertinax, the praefectus urbi. It was the responsibility of the urban cohorts to police the games, which meant that they were already on hand when the disturbance occurred[181]. Pertinax had therefore, either ordered or allowed the soldiers under his command to assist the people. In other words, he was either involved in the conspiracy beforehand or else had let it run its course without interference.

News of the disturbance eventually reached Commodus, though not from a source friendly to Cleander. There is some disagreement regarding the identity of this person. Dio avers that it was Marcia, Commodus’ new concubine, whilst Herodian contends that it was Fadilla, the emperor’s older sister[182]. Although, as Whittaker rightly points out, this is largely unimportant, it is possible to resolve the dispute by arguing that both women were present, and therefore involved themselves[183]. At any rate, the praetorian prefect was blamed for inciting the incident and denounced by the court as a rebel and a traitor, whereupon the emperor, fearing for his own safety, summoned Cleander and had him executed. His body was then handed over to the mob, who ‘dragged it away and abused it and carried his head all about the city on a pole’ (Dio 72 (73). 13.6)[184]. Cleander’s sons, along with many of his close associates, suffered a similar fate[185].

Although only Dionysius is explicitly credited with Cleander’s overthrow by the sources, a closer examination clearly demonstrates that he could not have acted alone. The organisation needed to successfully execute the plot would have required more than one person. Also, the timing of the incident, at a festival in honour of the corn goddess, would have had a particularly striking effect. It is also important to note the decisive presence of such key figures as Pertinax, whose urban cohorts actually fought the Praetorian Guard, and Fadilla and Marcia, whose revelations to Commodus were ultimately responsible for Cleander’s death.

Although Septimius was supported by and promoted through the agency of a number of Roman-Africans, it is an oversimplification to see this as evidence of an ‘African faction’. As this chapter has demonstrated, it is a mistake to rely heavily upon common origin as a primary factor in Septimius’ relationships with the wider elite. In the earlier part of Septimius’ career his key supporters were members of his own family, in particular his consular relative C. Septimius Severus. Members of the wider African nobility are conspicuous by their absence. Later on, it was his family’s connections with the wider nobility that provided Septimius with the necessary patronage. The Septimii were quickly subsumed within the patronage of such rising figures as Pertinax, and through him the high aristocracy. In our third, and final, chapter we will further examine these relationship networks at work within Septimius’ later career, especially during his own bid for power.

[1] The urban archaeology of North Africa has been the subject of intensive study. For an introduction, with references to further reading, see Libya, 7-10; MacKendrick (1980), passim; Mattingly & Hitchner (1995), pp.165-213.
[2] See Chapter One, pages 28-29.
[3] ILAlg.1.33; ILAf.325; CIL 8.2469; AE 1957, p.56.
[4] Apol. 4.1; 82; 98.8.
[5] Statius Silvae 4.5.56-60. See Appendix One.
[6] Champlin (1980), 148 n.86.
[7] Adams (1999), pp. 109-134.
[8] Champlin, op. cit., 18; Harrison (2000), 6-7.
[9] Champlin, op. cit., 18 & 149 n.89; Jones (1971), 60.
[10] HA Marc. 2.3-5; Champlin, op. cit., 149 n.90.
[11] Suetonius’ origins are disputed. An inscription from Hippo Regius, which proudly records his career, has been thought to indicate an African origin. See Wallace-Hadrill (1983), 3-4, 5 n.8; cf. Syme (1958), 780f; (1981), 1337-1339; Jarrett Album, no.157.
[12] Wallace-Hadrill, op. cit., 37-41.
[13] Champlin, op. cit., 5, 20 & App. B.
[14] Champlin, op. cit., 20-21.
[15] Champlin, op. cit., 20-29.
[16] Ad Am. 1.3.1ff; Champlin, op. cit., 15-16.
[17] Only two names are known, Julius Senex and Julius Aquilinus, see Champlin, op. cit., 148 n.74.
[18] Ver. Imp. 2.1.6; Champlin, op. cit., 8.
[19] Fronto Ep. Var. 8.1.
[20] For a summary of Apuleius’ birth, career and surviving works, see Harrison, op. cit., 1-38, 61-62.
[21] Harrison, op. cit., 1, 6.
[22] Harrison, op. cit., 8.
[23] Harrison, op. cit., 6-8, 80-81 n.109.
[24] AE 1906.6 (Thuburiscum Numidarum). See also ILS 1001.
[25] See page 1, note 1.
[26] Muir (1996), pp.509-510; Marrou (1956), 265.
[27] Marrou, op. cit., 269-271.
[28] Marrou, op. cit., 274-283.
[29] Dio 76 (77). 16.1-2.
[30] Marrou, op. cit., 283-291.
[31] HA Sev. 1.5; Libya, 95-96.
[32] Apol. 4; 82; 98.8.
[33] HA Sev. 1.5. If Septimius was born in 145CE, his eighteenth year would fall in 163 to 164; cf. Birley Septimius, 40, who puts this in the previous year, i.e. 162-163CE.
[34] The relationship between Fronto and M. Petronius Mamertinus is shown in Ad Am. 1.10.2. Birley Coup, p.269, followed by Champlin, op. cit., 9-10, argues that Septimianus’ nomenclature suggests a marriage link between his father and an otherwise unknown Septimia. See PIR 2 P287 (M. Petronius Mamertinus, cos. 150); PIR 2 P312 (Septimianus, cos. ord. 190); PIR 2 P311 (M. Petronius Mamertinus, cos. ord. 182); Birley Septimius, 27f, App. 2 no. 57, 58, 59.
[35] Champlin, op. cit., 28. For Aufidius Fronto see PIR 2 A1385; Alfoldy Senat, p.135; Barbieri Albo, no.69. For Aufidius Victorinus, see PIR 2 A1394; Alfoldy Senat, p.135; Barbieri Albo, no.72.
[36] Alfoldy Senat, p.158.
[37] Honore (1962), p.163.
[38] HA Sev. 4.3-4.
[39] HA Marc. 12.3-4, cf. 24.2; Talbert (1984), 185ff; Birley (1993), 133ff, 179ff; Birley Septimius, 54-55.
[40] HA Sev 3.4. See Barnes (1967), pp.93-94; Birley Septimius, 55.
[41] HA Cara. 8.3.
[42] HA Sev. 1.5.
[43] Talbert, op. cit., 13.
[44] Dio 54.26.5; Birley (1981), 4ff; Talbert, op. cit., 14.
[45] IRT 541.
[46] By this reckoning, he would have been about twenty when he served in the vigintivirate. See Birley Septimius, 40.
[47] Eutr. Brev. 8.12.2. For further discussion, see Barnes Family, p.91; Birley Septimius, 39. Platnauer (1918), 40 and Hammond (1940), p.154, avoid the question for lack of evidence.
[48] Talbert, ibid.
[49] The usual length of service in this post seems to have been about one year. Talbert, ibid; Birley Septimius, 39; Birley (1993), App. 3.
[50] IRT 541.
[51] RIB 1127; 1136; 1155-1158.
[52] RIB 1120; 1122; 1125; 1130-1132; 1137; 1159-1163; 1175; 1190 all show troops from VI Victrix at Corbridge on Tyne.
[53] AE 1963.52. For commentary, see Kolbe (1962), pp.407-420; Birley Septimius, 238, n.5.
[54] Victor De Caes. 20.30; HA Geta 2.4.
[55] HA Geta 2.4.
[56] Syme (1971c), 81-82.
[57] If Septimius was born in 145 he would have been fifteen when Pius died on the seventh of March 161. See Magie (1960), 129; Birley (1993), 113, 116, 120. For Septimius’ date of birth see page 1, note 1.
[58] Bird (1993), vii-lvii; Barnes, op. cit., p.93; Jones (1973), 1010.
[59] Birley, op. cit., 145-146.
[60] HA Sev. 2.1-2 remarks that Septimius’ youth was ‘filled with follies and not free from crime’. The minimum age for a quaestor was set at 30 during the late republic. Augustus lowered this, first to 25 and then to 24, on the principle that one’s 25th year began after the end of the 24th birthday (Dig. 50.4.8). Augustus also gave One year’s remission for each child. Birley (1981), 12; Talbert, op. cit., 18.
[61] Birley, op. cit., 149ff.
[62] Thomasson FA, P85
[63] The author of the HA seems to have been particularly confused by the Julianii. For a useful corrective, see Barnes (1970), pp.45-51.
[64] HA Verus 9.11; Birley Septimius, 47-48.
[65] Both Platnauer (op. cit., 40) and Hammond (op. cit., p.154) place the quaestorship in 171-172. This argument fails to take Ulpian’s statement, regarding the legal definition of a year, into account (see note 20 above).
[66] Talbert, op. cit., 29-30
[67] Talbert, op. cit., 16-17
[68] Talbert, op. cit., 17
[69] Amm. Marc. 29.6.1; Birley (1993), 159-183, App. 3.
[70] Lucian Alex 48. For Claudius Fronto see PIR 2 C874.
[71] PIR 2 C973
[72] Pompeianus was probably in his fifties at the time. Lucilla was in her twenties. See Dio 72 (73). 4.5: HA Marc. 20.6-7; HA Verus 9.11; HA Cara. 3.8; Her. 1.8.3; Birley (1993), 161.
[73] Birley, op. cit., 168.
[74] IRT 541.
[75] Birley, op. cit., 165.
[76] HA Sev. 3.4. Birley (1981), 282 n.1, discusses these double-quaestorships. See also Birley Septimius, 50; Barnes, op. cit., p.92 n.43.
[77] See PIR 2 C1322; Alfoldy Senat, p.140, for a summary of his career.
[78] Birley Septimius, 49; Alfoldy Senat, p.124.
[79] HA Sev. 2.3-4. News must have arrived very early in 171, as officials had to be in their respective provinces by 13th April: Dio (60.17.3).
[80] Dated to 171 by Alföldy (1985), p.101.
[81] Birley (1993), 168 n.20; Alfoldy (1969) 38ff; Pflaum CP no.180.
[82] HA Sev.2.5-6. Punic culture remained strong in second century Sardinia. See Van Dommelen (1998), pp.25-48; Astin (1959), pp.150-153.
[83] Caius’ proconsulship can be dated, fairly accurately, to 173-174CE. See Thomasson FA, P89; LP, col. 383, no. 102.
[84] HA Sev. 2.5-6.
[85] Birley Septimius, 51.
[86] Di Vita-Evrard (1963), 389ff; Thomasson FA, P89; Thuburiscu inscription: IL Alg. 1.1283.
[87] HA Sev. 2.6.
[88] Senators of patrician rank could not hold the office of plebeian tribune. See Talbert, op. cit., 18-19.
[89] Talbert, op. cit., 185ff, 235.
[90] Tribunes served from each December for a period of one year, see Talbert, op. cit., 14, 18, 54, 342.
[91] Birley Septimius, 52-53; cf. Barnes, op. cit., p.92.
[92] Dio 71 (72). 17.1; HA Marc. 24.5; HA Avid. Cass. passim; Birley (1993), 184-189.
[93] Birley, op. cit., 185.
[94] HA Sev. 3.2.
[95] Her full name is given in ILS 440. Her names suggest that her ancestors were enfranchised under Q. Marcius Barea Soranus (proconsul of Africa 41-43CE) and C. Paccius Africanus (proconsul in 72CE). See Birley (1988), p.8; Thomasson LP, col. 375 no.29, col. 377-378 no. 50.
[96] Although there are few firm dates in Geta’s earlier career, if, as Birley argues, he was born c.143CE then it is quite conceivable that he held the command of I Italica during the first German-Sarmatian war. Pertinax was governor of Lower Moesia c.175. On Geta see Birley Coup, p.263; Barbieri Albo no. 469; cf. Alfoldy Senat, p.151, who dates the command to 185. On the date of Pertinax’ Moseian command see Dabrowa (1998), 119-120; Birley (1981), 142-146; Kolbe (1962), pp.407-420.
[97] IRT 541.
[98] From the Flavian period onwards, eighteen praetors were appointed annually. The majority o f these magistrates would serve at Rome in the courts, as well as having the responsibility of paying for public games from their own resources, though two served in the imperial treasury (praetores aerarii). HA Sev. 3.3-4 states that Septimius was elected praetor in his thirty-second year, i.e. from April 176 to April 177. As praetors seem to have entered office on 1st January, Septimius must therefore have held office during 177CE. Talbert, op. cit., 18-20, 204-207.
[99] Magie (1960), 376 n.1.
[100] Alfoldy Senat, App. V.
[101] HA Marc. 12.3-4, cf. 24.2; Talbert, op. cit., 185ff.
[102] HA Sev. 3.4; Birley Septimius, 55.
[103] Barnes, op. cit., pp.93-94; Birley Septimius, 55.
[104] HA Sev. 3.5-6.
[105] Talbert, op. cit., 19, 146-147.
[106] The MSS of HA Sev. 3.7 give Massiliam (modern Marseille) as the IV Scythica’s location. This plain error has attracted a number of different corrections. Birley’s emendation to Marsyas, a small tributary of the Euphrates near Samosata and Zeugma, seems the most plausible: 1970, pp.72-73.
[107] PIR 2 H73; Dabrowa, ibid.
[108] Birley Septimius, 69-72. For the history of Julia’s family, see Sullivan (1977), pp. 198-219. For Cilo see PIR 2 F27; Alfoldy Senat, App. II, pp.141-142.
[109] Dio 71 (72). 33.4-34; Birley (1993), 210.
[110] Cf. HA Comm. 3.9.
[111] Dio 72 (73). 12.1-2.
[112] HA Comm. 3.6-7.
[113] Her. 1.8.3-6.
[114] Paternus: Howe (1966), no.1.
[115] Quadratus (PIR 2 Q2) was the natural son of Cn. Claudius Severus (cos. II ord. 173) and the adopted son of M. Ummidius Quadratus (cos. ord. 167). See Syme (1968), p.689-690. For Quintianus see PIR 2 C975 and Birley Septimius, 60-61.
[116] HA Comm. 4.3 gives almost exactly the same wording. Her. 1.8.6 refers to a ‘speech’.
[117] Her. 1.8.4.
[118] HA Comm. 4.5; cf. Dio who credits Cleander with responsibility, 72 (73). 12.1-2.
[119] Dio 73.5.1-2; HA Comm. 3.2; 4.1.7-10; HA Did. Jul. 1.9-2.2. The consuls were Salvius Julianus, son of the famous jurist, and Paternus himself. Velius Rufus and Egnatius Capito (PIR 2 E17) were the two ex-consuls. Vitrasia Faustina, daughter of Annia Funfania Faustina, Marcus’ cousin, and the ab epistulis Vitruvius Secundus were also executed. The former consuls Aemilius Juncus (PIR 2 A352) and Atilius Severus (PIR 2 A1309) were exiled. Didius Julianus (PIR 2 D77), the later emperor and relative of the executed consul Salvius Julianus, also seems to have been exiled at this time. See Dio 73 (74). 11.2; Leaning (1989), p.554.
[120] Her. 1.8.7-8.
[121] Whittaker Revolt, p.356.
[122] Dio 72 (73).7.3; Her. 1.8.2; HA Comm. 8.2-4.
[123] Dio 72 (73).5.3-4; 71 (72).33.1. See PIR 2 Q27 and PIR 2 Q21 for the brothers’ respective careers.
[124] See Dio 72 (73).5.3-6.5; HA Comm. 4.9-10. Cf. Birley Septimius, 61-62.
[125] The executed senators were Velius Rufus and Aemilius Juncus respectively, see Birley Septimius, 56, 60.
[126] Perennis: Howe, op. cit., no.2.
[127] PIR 2 D144; Alfoldy Senat, p.141; Barbieri, Albo, no.203; Dabrowa, op. cit., 122.
[128] Birley Septimius, 68, 73.
[129] Hadrian seems to have revived the practice of sending sacred embassies to Delos. He also seems to have reorganised the council of the Areopagus. The endowments are attested by Dio 69 (70).16.1-2. See Geagan (1979), pp.389-399; Hurwit (1999), 274-275.
[130] Geagan, op. cit., pp.402-405; Hurwit, op. cit., 264 & 277.
[131] Philos. VS 2.601 records that Apollonius conducted a successful embassy for the city, probably in 196-197. Wright (1968), 255; Birley Septimius, 74.
[132] Philos. VS 2.607; Birley Septimius, 73. For a discussion of emperors and the mysteries, see Millar (1992), 449-450.
[133] HA Comm. 5.7-8.
[134] Dio 72 (73). 8.1.
[135] HA Comm. 6.1; Her. 1.9.1. Herodian states that Perennis’ sons were given command of the Illyrian army. It seems, however, that he was in fact referring to Pannonia. See Whittaker (1969), 52 n.1.
[136] The exact date is disputed. According to Frere (1987), 147, the invasion took place in 181. Birley (1981), 136, dates the attack to 182-183.
[137] Although generally favourable, Dio remarks that, as a soldier, Marcellus was ‘haughty and arrogant’ (72 (73). 8.2-3). As a result of this campaign Commodus took the title ‘Britannicus’.
[138] 72 (73). 9.2a.
[139] HA Comm. 6.2.
[140] Dio 72 (73).9.2-4.
[141] Her. 1.9.7-10.
[142] Frere, op. cit., 150; Birley, op. cit., 142-146.
[143] HA Sev. 3.8-9. Barnes, op. cit., p.93; Birley Septimius, 74-76; cf. Platnauer, op. cit., 44; Hammond, op. cit., p.160.
[144] King (1990), 55, 115-119; Drinkwater (1983), 197; Drinkwater (1975), pp.133-140.
[145] King, op. cit., 112.
[146] HA Comm. 6.10-11 states that Cleander ‘loaded with honours men who were recalled from exile’.
[147] Pompeianus’ son, Ti. Claudius Aurelius Pompeianus (PIR 2 C971), was cos. II ord. in 209. L. Hedius Rufus Lollianus Avitus (PIR 2 H41) and Hedius Lollianus Terentianus Gentianus (PIR 2 H37), both relatives of Avitus, also held this post, in 209 and 211 respectively. See Alfoldy Senat, App. IV, p.159.
[148] Her. 1.10.1-7. This is presumably the bellum desertorum referred to in HA Comm.16.2.
[149] HA Alb. 6.3 (cf. 5.5) relates that Albinus was given a command in Gaul, along the Rhine. It is possible that an inscription from Cologne refers to this command. Alfoldy (1968), 27, restores the name as [D. Clo]dio [Albin]o; cf. Birley (1981), 148.
[150] Cilo’s governorship of Narbonensis is attested in a number of inscriptions, see CIL 6.1408 (= ILS1141); 6.1409 (= ILS 1142); AE 1926.79. For his career, see PIR 2 F27; Alfoldy Senat, App.II, pp.141-142; Barbieri Albo, no.213, Barnes (1967), pp.101-102.
[151] HA Sev. 3.9.
[152] HA Sev. 3.9.
[153] Platnauer, op. cit., 50ff; Barnes, op. cit., p.93 n. 48; Birley Septimius, 77-78, App. 2 no. 18.
[154] Talbert, op. cit., 497-498, argues that proconsuls began and ended their terms of office during mid-summer.
[155] Burrus (cos. 181) was married to Commodus’ sister, Vibia Aurelia Sabina (see PIR 2 A757). Antoninus (cos. c.170) was an experienced legal expert and was related to both Cornelius Fronto and C. Aufidius Victorinus (see PIR 2 A1088). His brother was the influential general Q. Antistius Adventus.
[156] HA Comm. 6.11-12.
[157] Aebutianus: Howe, op. cit., no.7. AE 1961.280 refers to Cleander as a cubiculo (chamberlain) and a pugione (praetorian prefect, or literally ‘the Bearer of the Dagger’). See Howe, op. cit., no.8.
[158] HA Comm. 7.1 states that whilst proconsul of Asia, Antoninus had condemned Cleander’s ally Attalus to death.
[159] Whittaker Revolt, p.353; Leunissen Konsuln, 131.
[160] Implied by Her. 1.12.4; Dio 73 (74). 13.3; HA Comm. 7.2-3.
[161] Whittaker Revolt, p.350.
[162] HA Pert. 4.1-2; Whittaker Revolt, p.352.
[163] Talbert, op. cit., 207-208.
[164] HA Sev.3.3; Thomasson LP, col.3 no.22.
[165] HA Sev. 4.2-3; Birley Septimius, App. 2 no.22.
[166] Talbert, op. cit., 498.
[167] Dio 72 (73). 12.4; HA Sev. 4.4.
[168] Thomasson LP, col. 3 no.21; Barbieri Albo, no.469
[169] Her. 1.12.3-4.
[170] Thomasson LP, col. 384 no. 107
[171] The Suda, quoted in Whittaker Revolt, p.355. Whittaker dates the recall to 190CE, ibid.
[172] See Thomasson LP col. 353 no.77
[173] Leunissen Konsuln, 307-308; Dabrowa (1998), 120; also see Birley (1981), 142-146
[174] Cadoux (1996), p.1239.
[175] Dio 72 (73). 14.4; cf. Her. 1.12.2-3.
[176] Her. 1.12.5.
[177] Birley Septimius, 80.
[178] Her. 1.12.2.
[179] Her. 1.12.8.
[180] Dio 72 (73). 13.5; Her. 1.12.8-9.
[181] Whittaker Revolt, p.351.
[182] Dio 72 (73). 13.5-6; Her. 1.13.1.
[183] Whittaker Revolt, p.352 n.22.
[184] cf. Her. 1.13.5; HA Comm. 8.2-3.
[185] Dio 72 (73). 13.6; Her. 1.13.5-6.

6 thoughts on “Chapter Two: Septimius and the Cursus Honorum.

  1. Hi Tony,

    Welcome to my online home. I’m glad you enjoyed it. The other chapters are here too. If you look under the Roman Papers section where it says ‘select a category’, you’ll find them there.

    I see you’re also interested in Commodus. I find that whole period very interesting indeed.

  2. In that case you ought to read my novel, “Wounds of Honour”, set in 182ad and the first in a long series, god willing, that will take us all the way to 211 and Serverus’s death in York. It’s had some quite kind reviews on Amazon and got to 8 in the Sunday Times list a few weeks ago, so it’s not a bad read.

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