The Art of the Tang Dynasty › Alemanni › Alexander Severus » Origins and History

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  • The Art of the Tang Dynasty › Origins
  • Alemanni › Origins
  • Alexander Severus › Who was

Ancient civilizations › Historical places, and their characters

The Art of the Tang Dynasty › Origins

Ancient Civilizations

Author: Mark Cartwright

The art of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE) began to explore new possibilities in materials and styles with landscape painting and ceramics, in particular, coming to the fore. New techniques, a wider range of colours and an increase in connoisseurship and literature on art are all typical of the period. Not only produced by local artists, many fine works were created by foreigners from across East Asia and the increasing contact between China and the wider world led to new ideas and motifs being adopted and adapted. The Tang dynasty was one of the golden eras of Chinese history and the brash confidence and wealth of the day are reflected in the bright and innovative art it produced.

The Emperor Ming Huang Travelling in Shu


The period of the Tang dynasty saw several significant developments in art from ceramics to brushwork and one of these, perhaps the most important, was an increase in the very appreciation of it as a worthy human endeavour. There was a dedicated official at court, the Imperial Commissioner for the Searching out of Writings and Paintings; schools to train artists such as the famous Hanlin Academy; and the first history of art was written by Zhang Yanyuan in 847 CE, titled Record of Famous Paintings of Successive Dynasties. The book has this to say on the purpose of painting:
Painting perfects the process of civilization and brings support to human relationships. It penetrates the divine permutations of Nature and fathoms the mysterious and subtle. Its achievement is the equal of any of the Six Arts and it moves in unison with the four seasons. It proceeds from Nature itself and not from human artifice.
(Dawson, 205-6).
It is worth noting that many Tang artists were also scholars, especially of Confucian principles, and they were frequently men of literature. Art was, for them and their audience, a means to capture and present the philosophical approach to life which they valued. For this reason the art they produced is usually minimal and without artifice, perhaps sometimes even a little austere to western eyes. Tang art was meant to express the artist's good character and not merely be an exposition of his practical artistic skills. Still, as we shall see, the arrival of new technical possibilities to use more colours and more dynamism would be embraced by professional Tang artists in many media, a tradition which has remained present in Chinese art ever since.


While the tombs of emperors and important people sometimes had large figure statues set outside them most Tang sculpture was of Buddhist subjects. The Buddhist monasteries of China had gradually and relentlessly been gathering wealth largely thanks to their land ownership and exemption from taxes and, by the time of the Tang dynasty, this wealth permitted a great production of religious art. The most popular subjects, as ever, were the Buddha and bodhisattvas and ranged from miniature figurines to life-size statues. Unlike in previous periods, figures became much less static, their suggested flowing movement even drawing criticism from some that serious religious figures, on occasion, now looked more like court dancers. An excellent example of Tang sculpture on the grandest scale can be seen in the rock-cut sculptures at the Longmen Caves, Fengxian temple near Luoyang. Dating to 675 CE the 17.4 metre high figures represent a Buddhist Heavenly King and demon guardians.

Buddhist Sculptures, Longmen Caves


The art of calligraphy, and for the ancient Chinese it certainly was an art, aimed to demonstrate superior control and skill using brush and ink. Calligraphy, already well-established as one of the major art forms during the Han dynasty (206 BCE - 220 CE), would influence painting where critics looked for the artist's forceful use of brush strokes and their variation to produce the illusion of depth. Another influence of calligraphy skills on painting was the importance given to composition. Finally, calligraphy remained so important that it even appeared on paintings to describe and explain what the viewer was seeing.Eventually, such notes became an integral part of the overall composition and a part of the painting itself. It is no coincidence that many of the great Tang painters were also great poets.


Chinese painting on walls and silk had two main objectives: to capture people and landscapes. By the Tang dynasty the latter had finally overtaken the former as the most popular subject. As with sculpture, many Tang paintings had Buddhist themes but, unfortunately, many have been lost, destroyed during the persecution of Buddhists and monasteries during the reign of Wuzong of Tang (840-846 CE). One excellent source of Tang paintings (and many other eras besides) is the Dunhuang caves in northern China. The cave wall paintings show scenes from the life of Buddha with many portraits of bodhisattvas and landscape scenes. Other notable tombs include that of the Tang prince Li Zhongrun (682-701 CE) which has an unfinished wall painting revealing the techniques involved. First, an outline sketch was made on the plaster which was then covered in a white paint and sealed using a mixture of lime and glue. Finally, the desired colours were added and the black outlines repeated.
The historian M. Tregear describes the progress made in Tang Buddhist paintings as follows:
After the still richness of the Sui compositions, the Tang paintings erupt into activity. The huge paradise scenes beloved of the Amitabha sect, which was now dominant, are complex compositions showing palace and temple compounds in which crowds of mortals and immortals are disporting in a pleasure garden, with singing, dancing, discussion and preaching, and magical happenings. These compositions consist of an isometric projection of the buildings seen from above, in which the figures are shown at eye level and usually out of scale. The colour is brilliant and decorative rather than atmospheric. The total effect is, once again, an amalgam of the real and the supernatural which sparks the scene into life. These large compositions, whether pure landscapes or religious subjects, are the start of a long tradition in Chinese painting.
(Tregear, 87).

Fu Sheng by Wang Wei

Non-religious paintings, like Buddhist works, have not survived in any great quantity either. For example, no work is available of the famous portrait painter Wu Daozi (680-740 CE) who also adorned many court- and religious buildings with his murals.Daozi was said to have painted with such passion and verve that he attracted crowds to watch him wherever he painted.Fortunately, some Tang tombs have provided portrait paintings of their occupants, including court women, as well as animals such as lions.
There are, too, surviving paintings by the most celebrated court scene painter Yan Liben (c. 600-673 CE) who famously painted a huge scroll depicting 13 emperors but, alas, none by the leading landscape artist Wang Wei (aka Mojie, 699-759 CE). The latter artist is credited with inventing the horizontal picture scroll (vertical pictures being the convention until then) and with creating the pomo or “broken ink” technique where washes of ink are painted in layers to create the effect of a solid, textured surface. He also pioneered the use of a single colour throughout a painting. Fortunately, some of his major works do survive as later copies and they are testimony to his influence on Chinese art in general and his success at achieving his objective of capturing both distance and emptiness.
Portraits in Chinese art were traditionally rendered with great restraint, usually because the subject was a great scholar or court official and so should, by definition, have a good moral character which should be portrayed with respect by the artists.There were, however, instances of more realistic portraits. One example is the two paintings of generals commissioned by Emperor Daizong which he hung outside his bedroom to act as guardians, such was the fearsome aspect of their portraits.The paintings would convince people in later times that the subjects were, in fact, door gods.

An Audience with Taizong by Yan Liben

In landscapes, Tang artists became much more concerned with humanity's place in nature. Small human figures guide the viewer through a panoramic landscape of mountains and rivers in Tang paintings whereas later periods would see more intimate and abstract scenes of nature. Painting the scene with several different viewpoints and multiple perspectives is another common characteristic. One of the most famous of all Chinese landscape paintings is the 8th century CE painted silk panorama known as 'The Emperor Ming Huang Travelling in Shu'. It is a sprawling and detailed masterpiece of mountain scenery in the typical Tang style using only blues and greens. The original is lost but a later copy can be seen at the Palace Museum of Taipei.


Gold and silver vessels were made, usually by casting, for use by the elite and these very often show signs of Persian influence in their shape and the motifs used to decorate them. The designs were likely carried by Persians in person, fleeing the Islamic invasion and settling in China. Potters then applied these ideas to their own medium (as did painters) and they included leaf patterns, grapevines, floral chains, and the squat pilgrim bottle. Even human figures on such vessels - especially musicians, merchants and soldiers - are directly taken from Persian tradition. Textile patterns were another inspiration for Tang potters and other popular motifs included lotuses and flowers.

Tang Dynasty Camel

Tang potters were now more technically proficient than any of their predecessors. New colour glazes were developed in the period and include blues, greens, yellows and browns which were produced from cobalt, iron and copper. Colours were mixed, too, producing the three-coloured wares the Tang period has become famous for. Rich inlays of gold and silver were also sometimes used to decorate Tang ceramics.
In the northern areas of China there was a tradition for placing figurines in tombs and these were made of ceramic. Common forms are human figures, horses and camels, with parts made from moulds and then assembled, all with brightly painted details which are in marked contrast to the predominantly monochrome paintings of the period. Another source of colour was glassware - most often made in yellow-browns and bright blues. Other minor arts created decorative objects in carved precious and semi-precious stones, lacquer, inlaid wood, amber, and woven, died, printed and embroidered silk.

Alemanni › Origins

Definition and Origins

Author: Joshua J. Mark

The Alemanni (also known as the Alamanni and the Alamans, meaning "All Men" or "Men United") were a confederacy of Germanic-speaking people who occupied the regions south of the Main and east of the Rhine rivers in present-day Germany.Many historians claim that the Alemanni first enter the historical record in 213 CE when Cassius Dio records the campaigns of Caracalla and his duplicitous dealings with the Alemanni. It is true that the name "Alemanni" first appears in Cassius Dio but, if one accepts that the Alemanni and the Suebi (or Suevi, who appear in earlier records) were the same (as not all do), then their first mention comes in 98 CE in Tacitus' Germania. They were a constant threat to the Roman Empire from 213 CE until they were defeated by Julian at the Battle of Strasbourg in 357 CE and then again by Valentinian I in 367 CE. After the Battle of Strasbourg, Julian entered into treaties with the Franks of Gaul who were then left alone by Rome. They were able to stabilize their communities and grow in power until, in 496 CE, the Frankish king Clovis conquered the Alemanni tribes and absorbed them into his kingdom. After this, their name lived on in the language of the region they had once inhabited and in the name given to Germany, Allemagne, in French and other languages.


The Roman senator and historian Tacitus (56-117 CE) wrote of the Suevi in the 1st century CE, claiming they controlled the better part of the region known as Germania. He links the Alemanni with the Hermunduri, another Germanic tribe, but this claim has been contested by modern-day scholarship. The Suevi Tacitus depicts sound very much like the later Alemanni, in that they were a confederation of different tribes, which may have even included the Cherusci (famous for their leader Arminius ' destruction of Varus' three legions in Teutoburger Wald in 9 CE). Tacitus is the first writer to note the Suevi's distinctive hair styles and religious practices. He writes:
We have now to speak of the Suevi; who do not compose a single state, like the Catti or Tencteri, but occupy the greatest part of Germany and are still distributed into different names and nations, although all hearing the common appellation of Suevi. It is characteristic of this people to turn their hair sideways, and tie it beneath the poll in a knot.
By this mark the Suevi are distinguished from the rest of the Germans; and the freemen of the Suevi from the slaves. Among other nations, this mode, either on account of some relationship with the Suevi, or from the usual propensity to imitation, is sometimes adopted; but rarely, and only during the period of youth.
The Suevi, even till they are hoary, continue to have their hair growing stiffly backwards, and often it is fastened on the very crown of the head. The chiefs dress it with still greater care and in this respect they study ornament, though of an undebasing kind. For their design is not to make love, or inspire it; they decorate themselves in this manner as they proceed to war, in order to seem taller and more terrible; and dress for the eyes of their enemies (Germania, 38).
Regarding religion, Tacitus writes that the Suevi were pagan and seem to have practiced a form of Druidism. Their chiefs were drawn from a tribe in the confederation known as Semnones who also served as high priests:
The Semnones assert themselves to be the most ancient and noble of the Suevi; and their pretensions are confirmed by religion. At a stated time, all the people of the same lineage assemble by their delegates in a wood, consecrated by the auguries of their forefathers and ancient terror, and there by the public slaughter of a human victim celebrate the horrid origin of their barbarous rites. Another kind of reverence is paid to the grove. No person enters it without being bound with a chain, as an acknowledgment of his inferior nature, and the power of the deity residing there. If he accidentally falls, it is not lawful for him to be lifted or to rise up; they roll themselves out along the ground. The whole of their superstition has this import: that from this spot the nation derives its origin; that here is the residence of the Deity, the Governor of all, and that everything else is subject and subordinate to him. These opinions receive additional authority from the power of the Semnones, who inhabit a hundred cantons, and, from the great body they compose, consider themselves as the head of the Suevi (Germania, 39).
The religious practices centered on chthonic locales, then, where a central deity held sway. Rivers, streams, glades, and valleys were often chosen as sacred ground for the energies which manifested themselves in these locales. As with many other ancient civilizations, the Suevi believed the soul had to cross a body of water to reach the afterlife and that the soul lived on after death. Suevi/Alemanni grave excavations have revealed that they were buried fully dressed and with personal items that they would need in the next world. These burial practices continued after they converted to Christianity sometime between the 6th and 8th centuries CE although, of course, their religious practices changed dramatically.


Although the Suevi have been identified with the later Alemanni, historians caution against equating the two without recognizing their differences over the centuries which separate Tacitus' account (98 CE) from Cassius Dio's (c. 229 CE). The scholar Guy Halsall writes, "It is unlikely that the situation which pertained in the mid-first century was at all relevant to the late Roman period. Tacitus' Germania is a minefield probably best avoided [in this regard]" (121). The scholar Peter Heather comments on this also, stating how unified the Alemanni appear in the work of Ammianus Marcellinus (c. 325-391 CE) while, "One of the central points brought home by even the quickest read of Tacitus' Germania is just how fragmented, in political terms, the Germanic world was at that date" (36). It is for this reason that historians usually cite Cassius Dio's account as the first mention of the Alemanni and ignore Tacitus' earlier description of the Suevi.
By the time of Dio's account, the Alemanni were largely Romanized from their long acquaintance with the Romans. Halsall writes how, in the border region of the Danube and the Roman Empire,
some of the Alemanni, who it has been suggested were formed at least partly by the Romans themselves from inhabitants of the agri decumates [a term possibly meaning 10 agricultural regions]and authorised barbarian settlers, occupied former Roman villa sites, such as at Wurmlingen in Baden Wurttemberg (128).

Roman Emperor Caracalla

The Alemanni at this time wore Roman attire and emulated Roman social customs. Even so, they were not 'Romans' in the accepted sense of that word and maintained their own language and culture. Therefore, when they asked the emperor Caracalla for help against a neighboring tribe in 213 CE, he saw no reason why he should not conquer them instead. Cassius Dio writes:
Antoninus [Caracalla] made a campaign against the Alamanni and whenever he saw a spot suitable for habitation, he would order, "There let a fort be erected. There let a city be built." And he gave these places names relating to himself, though the local designations were not changed; for some of the people were unaware of the new names and others supposed he was jesting. Consequently he came to feel contempt for these people and would not spare even them, but accorded treatment befitting the bitterest foes to the very people whom he claimed to have come to help. For he summoned their men of military age, pretending that they were to serve as mercenaries, and then at a given signal — by raising aloft his own shield — he caused them all to be surrounded and cut down, and he sent horsemen round about and arrested all the others (78.13.4).
Whether the Alemanni were particularly hostile to Rome before this is not known, but they became one of Rome's most bitter enemies afterwards.


• 256 CE: Gregory of Tours (c. 538-594 CE) famously wrote of the Alemanni invasion of Gaul in 256 CE under their king Chrocus. Chrocus led his army across the land, destroying the cities, churches, towns, and slaughtering the inhabitants until he was defeated at Arles and executed. Surviving members of his army were then either killed or absorbed into the Roman ranks as mercenaries.
• 259 CE: The Alemanni invaded Italy, ravaging the fertile Po Valley, until they were defeated at the Battle of Mediolanum by a Roman force led by emperor Gallienus.
• 268 CE: The Battle of Benacus was fought in 268/269 CE between the emperor Claudius II (supported by the later Emperor Aurelian ) and the Alemanni. The Alemanni, allied with the Juthungi, invaded northern Italy and were met at Benacus by the Roman forces. The Romans again decisively defeated the Alemanni, killing most of them and scattering the rest.
• 271 CE: The Alemanni and Juthungi again invaded Italy, while the emperor Aurelian was busy repulsing Vandals on the Danube frontier. He marched his forces to meet the Alemanni threat but was ambushed and defeated at the Battle of Placentia. This defeat resulted in widespread panic throughout Rome, as the Juthungi marched toward the city which had no sizeable force to protect it. Aurelian regrouped, however, and chased the Juthungi, finally meeting them at the Battle of Fano where he defeated them completely, driving them into the Metaurus River where many of them drowned. The surviving Juthungi then sued for a peace which Aurelian rejected. He pursued them and their Alemanni allies and destroyed most of the force at the Battle of Pavia. Those Alemanni who survived were hunted down and killed trying to escape back home through the province of Raetia. Although he had stopped the invasion and destroyed the enemy, Aurelian recognized the need for better defenses for Rome and so ordered a new and stronger wall built around the city.
• 298 CE: The emperor Constantius defeated the Alemanni twice at the Battle of Lingones and then again at the Battle of Vindonissa.
• 356 CE: Julian, commanding his first military force (prior to becoming emperor), was surprised and defeated by the Alemanni at the Battle of Reims.
• 357 CE: Julian defeated the Alemanni at the Battle of Strasbourg, completely overwhelming their forces and capturing one of their most important leaders, Chnodomar (also known as Chnodomarius) who had mobilized the Alemanni for battle and led them from the front. Although Julian's victory subdued the Alemanni and allowed him to march into Germania, re-build and garrison Roman forts, and force tribute from the tribes, it did not destroy the Alemanni or disperse them. Peter Heather writes:
The defeat of Chnodomarius did not mean the total destruction of the alliance at whose head he had stood, as the defeats of his first-century counterparts such as Arminius and Maroboduus had done three centuries before.Not only were many of the lesser Alamannic kings who had participated in the battle left in place by Julian's diplomacy, but, within a decade of the battle, a new pre-eminent leader, Vadomarius, was worrying the Romans.He was skillfully removed by assassination, but then a third appeared in his place: Macrinus. Ammianus records three separate attempts by one of Julian's successors, Valentinian I, to eliminate Macrinus by capture and/or assassination, but eventually, pressed by events further east, the emperor gave in. Roman and Alamann met in the middle of the Rhine for a water-borne summit, where the emperor acknowledged Macrinus' pre-eminence among the Alamanni. Unlike in the first century, even major military defeat was not enough to destroy the larger Alamannic confederation (40-41).
The "major military defeat" Heather refers to is not only the Battle of Strasbourg but the later Battle of Solicinium in 367 CE, in which Valentinian I defeated the Alemanni in the southwestern region of Germany. Even though he was victorious, the Alemanni were by no means broken and were still a formidable force some 80 years later when they joined the forces of Attilathe Hun and took part in the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains against the Romans under Flavius Aetius in 451 CE. Even so, the Battle of Strasbourg severely limited their abilities to threaten Rome for years after. The historian Roger Collins writes,
This single battle really turned the tide as far as the Alaman penetration of Gaul was concerned. It broke the Alamannic confederacy of tribes that had largely been built up and held together by the military credibility of Chnodomar, and for the first time enabled the Romans to take the initiative…Threatened with a Roman invasion of their own territory, the Alamans sought a truce (35).
Again, however, it must be noted that the confederacy was not disbanded nor did the Alemanni seem to consider themselves a conquered people.

Map of the Frankish Kingdoms AD 511


First Julian, and then Valentinian I, entered into treaties with the confederacy of the people known as the Franks ("the fierce people"). In an effort to maintain the newly restored Roman city of Cologne, Julian blockaded the territory of the Franks, depriving them of much-needed trade goods, until they agreed to his terms. Collins comments on this, writing :
It is notable that Julian made no attempt to penetrate the marshy lands north of the Meuse that the Franks had occupied, and their continuing occupation of this area was tacitly accepted by the Romans. From this small start the subsequent Frankish occupation of all of Gaul would develop. This, it might be said, was `the birth of France'.In 357/8, however, what was achieved was a treaty of federation: Frankish occupation of Roman territory was accepted in return for their helping to defend the region (35).
This arrangement was good for the Franks, who began to steadily flourish, but not as beneficial to the Alemanni. By the time the Alemanni fought alongside the Huns in 451 CE at the Catalaunian Plains, the Franks had become powerful enough to be counted as allies of the Romans under Aetius. The Franks were united under the reign of their first king, Clovis I (466-511 CE), who then expanded the boundaries of Gaul to conquer western Europe. The Alemanni continued to inhabit the region of Germania until they were defeated by Clovis I at the Battle of Tolbiac in 496 CE and were subjugated by the Franks.Afterwards, some were assimilated into Frankish culture and took up residence in Gaul, while others continued to live in their former region under Frankish rule. Their name is remembered today in the Alemannic dialect of German, and the word for 'Germany' (Allemagne, Alemania) in many modern-day languages.

Alexander Severus › Who was

Definition and Origins

Author: Donald L. Wasson

Alexander Severus would serve as the Roman emperor from 222 CE until his untimely death in 235 CE. At the urging of his mother, aunt, and grandmother, Roman Emperor Elagabalus named his cousin Alexianus (the future Alexander Severus) as his heir in the summer of 221 CE. After realizing the possible consequences of his actions, he planned for the young Caesar ’s execution. Unfortunately for Elagabalus, the tide would quickly turn against him when instead of killing young Alexianus, he and his mother would meet their deaths at the hands of the Praetorian Guard. On March 11 (some say 13), 222 CE, the Roman Senate welcomed the thirteen-year-old as the empire ’s new imperial ruler.


Marcus Julius Gessius Alexianus (Alexander Severus) was born in the Phoenician city of Caesarea in 208 CE (no exact date in known) to Gessius Marcianus and Julia Avita Mamaea, niece of Julia Domna - second wife of Emperor Septimius Severus. Historian Herodian wrote that Alexianus was actually named after the Macedonian king Alexander the Great. Like his cousin Elagabalus, Alexianus was also a priest of the sun-god Elagabal at the Syrian town of Emesa - something his mother would keep very quiet.
In the summer of 221 CE Alexianus' mother and grandmother, Julia Maesa, as well as his aunt, Julia Soaemias, convinced Emperor Elagabalus to name his young cousin as his heir and grant him the title of Caesar telling him the appointment would give him more time to pray and dance at the altar of Elagabal. In reality they were worried that his attempt to replace the traditional religion of Rome with that of Elagabal as well as his unorthodox lifestyle would bring about his (and their) ruin.Elagabalus' plan to assassinate his cousin failed - possible bribery of the Praetorian Guard was suspected. In order to have him accepted by the Guard, Alexianus' mother employed the same ruse that had been used for Elagabalus, namely, that Alexianus was the illegitimate son of Emperor Caracalla.


With the death of Elagabalus, Alexianus, who had assumed the name Marcus AureliusSeverus Alexander, was confirmed by the Senate as emperor making him the second youngest to ever sit on the throne (second only to Elagabalus). However, the young emperor would never be granted any real authority as the government would be placed firmly in the hands of his mother and grandmother - the latter would die in 224 CE. Historian Cassius Dio wrote:
He immediately proclaimed his mother Augusta and she took over the direction of affairs and gathered wise men about her son, in order that his habits might be correctly formed by them; she also chose the best men in the senate as advisors, informing them of all that had to be done.
To ease the transition and erase the memory of Elagabalus, as well as regain the trust of the citizens of Rome, the Cult of Elagabal was banished and the old gods restored. Alexander's mother wanted to portray the young emperor as a typical Roman boy with no ties to the “Syrian god.” The large black stone that sat on Palatine Hill, symbol of the Elagabal cult, was returned to Emesa. The Elagaballum, a temple built to honor Elagabal, was renamed the Temple of Jupiter Ultor. Lastly, to appease many of the members of the old aristocracy, who were far more capable and experienced than the “Syrian henchmen” appointed under Elagabalus, were restored to their previous positions. These changes enabled the government to return to a more conservative mentality.
Although Alexander's authority was limited, there was one individual he fought to protect (in strong opposition to his mother and the Senate): the historian and Senator Cassius Dio who had been named consul for the second time. In his Roman History Cassius Dio wrote about his relationship with Alexander:
Alexander, however, paid no heed to them, but, on the contrary, honoured me in various ways, especially by appointing me to the consul for the second time … he became afraid that they might kill me if they saw me in the insignia of my office, and so he bade me spend the period of my consulship in Italy, somewhere outside Rome.
Julia Mamaea, known as Mother of the Emperor and the Camp and the Senate and the Country, established a sixteen-man committee of senators to advise the young emperor which was a blatant attempt to mend the rift between the imperial throne and Senate. On a personal note, she also employed a private counselor named Domitius Ulpianus or Ulpian, the commander of the Praetorian Guard and a former lawyer. She saw him as someone who could use his legal expertise to help with government affairs. While he assisted in helping introduce several reforms (a reduction of taxes, new aqueducts, and building projects), his old-fashioned ideas about discipline angered many within the Guard. In 224 CE this alienation between the guard and their commander brought about three days of riots between the people of Rome and the Guard. The riots led to the death of two commanders - Julius Flavianus and Gerinius Chrestus - both killed on the orders of Ulpian. The Praetorian Guard reacted, pursuing and killing Ulpian in the imperial palace. His assassin, Marcus Aurelius Epagothus was “rewarded” (Alexander and his mother were “persuaded” to make the appointment) with the governorship of Egypt, but he, too, would later be assassinated.

Severus Alexander

Remembering the excesses of his predecessor and hoping to avoid controversy, in 227 CE Julia Mamaea felt the need to marry the young emperor into a respectable patrician family. She chose the family of Seius Sallustius Macrinus whose daughter Gnaea Seia Herennia Sullustia Barbia Orbiana was the intended bride. Unhappily for both Alexander and Gnaea, the emperor's mother became jealous of the young bride (she didn't want another women to have the title of Augusta) and threw her out of the palace. Her father, who some believe had received the title of Caesar, found safety for both of them in the camp of the Praetorian Guard, but this was viewed as an act of rebellion, consequently, she was exiled to northern Africa, and he was executed. Alexander would never remarry.


While the empire had remained in relative peace during the reign of Emperor Elagabalus, it was not the case with Alexander.Despite unrest in the army and without military experience, Alexander and, of course, his mother moved eastward to address growing tension within the provinces, arriving in Antioch in 231 CE. In 226 CE the Persian king Ardashir (Artaxerxes) had overthrown the Parthian king Artabanus and assumed complete power as the Parthian ruler, moving quickly into Mesopotamia which was an obvious threat to the eastern provinces of Rome. Despite a failed uprising in Egypt and without the full support of his army, the emperor decided to launch an assault on Ardashir. The Roman commanders chose a three-pronged offensive: one portion of the army pushed into Northern Iran, a second migrated down the Euphrates to the Persian Gulf, and the last moved towards the Parthian capital of Ctesiphon. Unfortunately, the extreme caution of Alexander and the lack of a coordinated attack resulted in heavy losses and what could only be called a fiasco. Although considered a “qualified success” since the Persian forces did not advance, Alexander returned to Rome in 233 CE with morale within the army seriously damaged, and the emperor labeled a coward. In contrast, Ardashir would establish the Sassanid dynasty that would rule Persia for over four hundred years.

Arch of Alexander Severus, Dougga

While still suffering from a lack of military support, Alexander and his mother decided to cross the Rhine and battle the Germans who had been attacking and plundering Roman fortifications in eastern Gaul. Again, he entered the fight without a definite plan (the “only” plan was to pay-off the Germans) and without the full respect of the army. Combined with Julia's reductions in military expenditures as well as cuts in pay and bonuses, the army realised the inadequacies of Alexander and sought a new emperor and the man they chose was Gaius Julius Verus Maximinus or Maximinus Thrax, a barbarian from Thrace. He would become the first of what historians call “The Barracks Emperors.” The historian Herodian said:
…the soldiers bitterly resented this ridiculous waste of time. In their opinion Alexander showed no honorable intention to pursue the war and preferred chariot -racing and a life of ease, when he should have marched out to punish the Germans for their insolence.


In the spring of 235 CE Maximinus was awarded “the purple” (a symbol of imperial authority) by his troops. They quickly moved towards Alexander's camp. “When Alexander was told what had happened, he was panic-stricken and utterly dumbfounded by the extraordinary news. He came rushing out of the imperial tent like a man possessed, weeping and trembling and raving against Maximinus for being unfaithful and ungrateful ….” (Herodian). Alexander and his mother were murdered at Vicius Britannicus, and according to some sources, their bodies were returned to Rome. The Historia Augustastated, “… it is generally agreed that those who killed him were soldiers, for they hurled many insults [at] him, speaking of him as a child and of his mother as greedy and covetous.” The authors added, “Alexander did everything in accordance with his mother's advice, and she was killed with him.”
The new emperor would, though, never set foot in Rome. Unfortunately, the imperial throne could not be easily awarded and following the death of Alexander there occurred what is called “The Year of the Six Emperors.” It would be some time before Gordian III would sit, without opposition, upon the imperial throne.


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