Severas was born into a patrician family which had settled in Etruria (the former Etruscan lands to the north of Rome) during the reign of Augustus. His father had a solid if unremarkable military career, even serving directly under Emperor Castor at one point. However, late in his career he was accused of murdering a senator while serving in Saguntum in Iberia. The charges were dropped, but the scandal destroyed the family's patron-client relations, effectively ruining them. Young Septimius Severas came of age in genteel poverty. He was pushed by his father to pursue a military career, but found that his talents ran more toward administration, and he soon entered the system of senatorial magistracies, eventually catching the eye of Aurelia, the widowed cousin of the emperor, whom he had met in his teens. The two married in 53.
With his new wife's connections, in 56 Severas managed to be appointed to the highly coveted governorship of Gerasa, one of the cities in the Decapolis. [Historical Note: The Decapolis is an alliance of ten cities in and around eastern Palestine, all but one (Damascus) being Greek colonies founded during the conquests of Alexander the Great. Together they control much of the empire's trade with the far east, including the lucrative spice and silk caravans run by the Nabataean Arabs. Though they have been part of the Roman empire for over a century, the ten cities enjoy considerable autonomy. Under constant threat from the Parthians, at the urging of motivated and creative Roman officials like Severas the cities' native elites have banded together for protection, providing much of their own defense.] As praetor in Gerasa, Severas is the senior Roman official within the Decapolis and has served admirably in a difficult political situation where he must deal with the demands of the local tetrarchs, the commands of his immediate superior the proconsul of Palestine, regular conflicts with neighboring client kingdoms such as volatile Judaea and trade rival Palmyra, the constant military threat of the Parthians, and the needs of the legions stationed in Syria which protect the entire region.
Severas has returned to Rome to deliver an administrative report to the senate and the emperor. However, with the emperor off in Sicilia, Severas has been cooling his heels for three weeks awaiting the emperor's return.
Page updated 7/14/99, Scott Martin