The Roman Society

Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies

Septimius Severus Conference 2011

Septimius Severus Day at the British Museum

Roman Society and Association of Roman Archaeology
BP Theatre, Clore Education Centre, British Museum
Saturday 26 November, 2011

10.30 – 12.00 ARA AGM

13.30    Dr. Philip Kenrick (Oxford): Lucius Septimius Severus: Libya's most distinguished son?

Modern Libyans have tended to regard anything to do with the Roman period in Libya as symptomatic of foreign occupation. Yet Lepcis Magna in Tripolitania was a wealthy city long before it came under Roman rule, and its magistracies continued to be held by ancient families of Liby-Phoenician stock. The Roman emperor Septimius Severus came from such a family. After a successful military career in the service of Rome and his accession to the purple, he had little opportunity to revisit his homeland, but he made use of the finest skills and materials that the empire could offer in order to embellish his native city.  In this presentation, I shall explore the cultural background of the Severan dynasty and the response of the North African provinces to its accession to imperial power.

14.30    Dr. Nick Hodgson (Archaeological Projects Manager, Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums): The archaeology of the British expedition of Septimius Severus, AD 208-11

In 208 the emperor Septimius Severus, aged 63 but ‘in his heart more enthusiastic than any youth’ set out for Britain, knowing, we are told, from astrology and omens that he would not return and would die during his third year in the island.  With him travelled his wife, Julia Domna, his co-Augustus and 20-year old elder son Caracalla, his younger son Geta and the whole of the imperial court and retinue.  After careful preparations, while Geta and trusted officials ran administered the empire from York, a vast army, led in person by Severus and Caracalla, moved into what is now Scotland.  The 1,800th anniversary of the death of Severus at York in February 211 provides a pretext for looking again at what we know of the great Severan expedition and the motives that lay behind it, as well as its consequences for the people of North-East Scotland.  This paper will examine the contribution of recent archaeological discoveries to our understanding of the Severan campaigns.  In particular the implications of the immense and intricate preparations signalled by the construction of the Severan supply-base at South Shields will be considered, for this provides clues to the real long term Roman intentions.  The archaeology of South Shields also has much to contribute to the debate about the date and purpose of the legionary fortress of Carpow on the Tay, whose Severan date has recently been doubted by several commentators.  Finally there is the fascinating question of the extent to which the archaeological evidence confirms or contradicts the lurid accounts of the campaigns given by the two Greek historical sources, and what it tells us about the achievements and the legacy of the expedition. 

15.30    Tea

 16.00    Dr. Fraser Hunter (Principal Curator, National Museum of Scotland): “Barbarians in revolt”: Caledonia before and after Severus

Roman texts and propaganda paint a vivid picture of the Severan campaigns in north Britain. Increasingly, archaeology is also providing a picture, and a rather different one. This talk will look at what we now know about the peoples of Caledonia, their relations with the Roman world, and the responses to the Severan invasion. The results paint an altogether more complex picture of these societies, and give us a more realistic picture of the “revolting barbarians”, but also provide some insights into Roman propaganda techniques. New information also allows us to put the Severan campaigns into a more complex picture of long-term relations beyond the frontier, and the long-lasting and arguably devastating effects which this had.

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