Birthday: October 1, 208
Emperors & Kings
Died At Age: 26
Sun Sign: Libra
Also Known As: Marcus Aurelius Severus Alexander Augustus
Born in: Arca Caesarea (modern Akkar, Lebanon)
Famous as: Roman Emperor
Spouse/Ex-: Augusta, Sallustia Orbiana, Sulpicia Memmia
father: Marcus Julius Gessius Marcianus
mother: Julia Mamaea
Died on: March 19, 235
place of death: Mainz
Cause of Death: Assassination
Alexander Severus, also called Marcus Aurelius Severus Alexander Augustus, was a Roman Emperor who was the last emperor of the Severan dynasty. He reigned over the Roman Empire from 222 to 235. His reign was marked by civil wars, foreign invasion and collapse of the monetary economy. Ascending the throne when he was just a teenager, the young Alexander was nothing more than a puppet in the hands of his powerful mother who yielded the actual power. The young emperor was just a pawn in the web of political conspiracies his mother and grandmother had woven in order to achieve power. Alexander’s cousin Elagabalus, a teenager himself, had been proclaimed the emperor in 218. Their grandmother persuaded Elagabalus to adopt Alexander in order to make him the heir apparent. Then playing a cruel political trick the grandmother had Elagabalus assassinated in 222 which resulted in the ascension of Alexander Severus as the emperor. Thrust into such a powerful and responsible position so early in his life, Alexander was unable to fulfill his duties in an orderly manner and faltered especially during times of political unrest. His troubled reign came to an end in 235 when he along with his mother was murdered by his own troops.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born on 1 October 208 to Marcus Julius Gessius Marcianus, a Syrian Roman Aristrocrat, and Julia Avita Mamaea, a powerful Roman woman. His maternal grandmother was Julia Maesa, a woman who held lofty political ambitions.
From a young age he was trained in literature and military services. Some of his teachers included Valerius Cordus, Titus Veturius, and Aurelius Philippus.
He was a handsome boy who loved to socialize with his friends. He was a very simple person who wore plain white robes and cloaks and was not fond of imperial clothing or gold.
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Ascension & Reign
In 218 his cousin, Elagabalus, was made the emperor. At that time Elagabalus was just 14 years old and his grandmother Julia Maesa had played a prominent role in his becoming the emperor.
Julia Maesa used her influence to persuade Elagabalus to adopt the young Alexander and proclaim him as the heir apparent. However, later on Elagabalus changed his mind and rumors were rife that he saw Alexander as a threat and planned to have him eliminated.
In 222 Elagabalus was assassinated by members of the Praetorian Guard in a plot formulated by his own grandmother in order to bring her other grandson to power. Thus Alexander became the emperor, unopposed, at the age of 13.
Since he was too young to rule on his own, he was often guided by his mother and grandmother. In spite of his young age he tried his best to rule in the true interest of his people.
He employed noted jurists for administration of justice and it is claimed that he created a board of 16 senators. He dismissed excessive extravagance at the imperial court and created a municipal council of 14.
He was very open-minded when it came to religious matters and wanted to build a temple for Jesus though he was advised against it. He gave permission for a synagogue to be built in Rome.
He was sympathetic towards the soldiers and enacted many policies for their benefit. The soldiers were given the right to name anyone as heir in their will—a right that civilians at that time did not have.
Even though he successfully ruled during peace time, he lacked the leadership skills to protect his citizens during wars. In 230 and 231, the Sassanid king Ardashir I invaded the Roman province of Mesopotamia.
Alexander’s army lacked the discipline to face such attacks though for the time being he was able to defend his territory. However, there was a mutiny in 232 in which Taurinus was proclaimed emperor. Alexander managed to control the uprising and Taurinus drowned and died as he was trying to escape.
Another enemy attack took place in 234 when the German barbarians crossed the Rhine and Danube and reached the gates of Rome. Alexander’s soldiers who were already disillusioned by their emperor’s incompetence were further enraged at this unexpected attack.
He tried his best to lead his forces in the war against the Germans but he woefully lacked the skills to be a successful general. In a desperate attempt, he tried to buy off the German tribes and this agitated his own soldiers very much. He was now viewed as unfit to be the emperor after this incident and assassinated by his own men.
Personal Life & Legacy
He became the emperor at the tender age of 13 and was thus highly dependent on the guidance of his mother and grandmother and solely on his mother after his grandmother’s death.
He was married thrice. He married Sallustia Orbiana in 225 and divorced her in 227. His second wife was Sulpicia Memmia, a member of an ancient Patrician family in Rome. He also had another wife whose identity is not known. He did not have children with any of his wives.
He had become very unpopular among his own soldiers due to his incompetence especially during the German war. Alexander, along with his mother, was assassinated on 19 March 235. He was the last of the Syrian emperors.
His death resulted in the end of the Severan dynasty.