The Eastern Roman Empire under the Severans – new beginnings, old connections?
Digital Conference held at the Freie Universität Berlin, Germany
16. – 18. June 2022
After the murder of the emperor Pertinax, the year AD 193 saw four men being proclaimed
as Roman emperors by their respective troops: in Rome, Didius Julianus, an Italian, was made
emperor by the Praetorian guard; Septimius Severus, who was from North Africa and had a Syrian
wife, was sponsored by the troops in Pannonia; Pescennius Niger, who was from Italy, was
supported by the troops in Syria and finally Clodius Albinus, again from North Africa, was
proclaimed emperor by the troops in Britain. It was Septimius Severus who finally defeated his
rivals and established a new dynasty that ruled till AD 235. The Severan dynasty would go on to
instituted profound changes in the Roman Empire that would shape the empire’s responses
towards the various challenges of the third century.
Despite the fact that the year of the four emperors in AD 193 clearly shows the
cosmopolitan interconnectedness of the Roman Empire, scholarship called Septimius Severus the
“African emperor”1 and his wife and her family the “Syrian empresses”2. Equally, the two final
emperors of the dynasty, Elagabal and Severus Alexander, are also often framed within a narrative
of oriental exoticism stressing their Syrian background3. Even though there has been considerable
scholarly interest in the Severan dynasty in the last 20 years, scholarship has not been able to entirely
shake off this ‘narrative of origin’. However, important progress has been made with recent studies
on individual emperors and empresses of the dynasty as well as on different aspects of their reign.
Thus, aspects of Severan administration – in particular the famous Constitutio Antoniana – and
military policy have received scholarly attention and re-evaluation. Equally, important new studies
have stressed the innovative framing of imperial propaganda and self-representation under the
Severans and the dynasty’s so far underestimated impact on Roman culture as a whole. Rantala
even goes so far as to claim in the title of his book on the ludi Saeculares that the Severans instituted
“a new Roman Empire”4.
To date, however, no study has comprehensibly looked at the impact of Severan rule on
the Eastern parts of the Roman Empire. The Eastern Roman Empire was, of course, also affected
by the Severan refashioning of empire – from administrative changes in Egypt and Syria to building
activities across the Eastern provinces, the Severans left their mark on a region they should in the
logic of the ‘narrative of origin’ have been particularly partial to. But were they? Do administrative
measures of the Severan emperors show a particular insight into matters of the Eastern part of the
Empire? Could the new dynasty draw on local connections to develop and institute these? Did the
communities of the Eastern Empire in their turn profit from the fact that the emperors and
empresses hailed from their part of the world? Did they built more or honor the emperors of the
Severan dynasty more because they felt a special connection to them? And what kind of a Roman
Empire do we have to imagine in the East in Severan times? Did the peoples of the Eastern parts
of the Empire refashion their identities because of the ‘Syrian empresses’? In short – what
happened in the Eastern Roman Empire under Severan rule – do we see new beginnings, old
1 A. Birley, Septimius Severus: The African emperor, London 1999.
2 J. Babelon, Impératrices syriennes, Paris 1957.
3 E.g. R. Turcan, Héliogabale et le sacre du soleil, Paris 1985.
4 J. Rantala, The Ludi Saeculares of Septimius Severus: the ideologies of a new Roman Empire, London 2017.
“The Eastern Roman Empire under the Severans – new beginnings, old connections?” will
bring together scholars from a wide variety of fields taking a new look at the impact of Severan
rule on the Eastern half of the Roman empire in a three-day digital conference at the FU Berlin in
2022. The conference will aim to provide a forum for scholars working on the Severan age in the
Eastern Roman Empire to showcase their work as well as offering a comprehensive insight into
the state of the art of our current knowledge on this issue.
Speakers will be given 30 minutes for a
presentation, followed by 15 minutes for discussion. Papers can be given in German, English and
French, though the main language of communication will be English. Short abstracts for the papers
will be shared in advance of the conference with the participants. Papers will be given by invited
speakers, but this call for papers is also open for applications for further papers. Please
contact us till November, 19th, 2021, with a short proposal (400 words), if you wish to present
Get in touch with us:
Akademie der Wissenschaften
Free University Berlin