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Helene A. Guerber

An Unnatural Son

T HE pretorian guard by this time fancied that they could have things all their own way. They now elected and killed two emperors, Pertinax and Julianus, and finally decided to obey a third, Septimius Severus, who entered Rome as a conqueror, at the head of the legions he had commanded in Illyria.

For the sake of the people, who had loved Pertinax, the new emperor ordered that he should be placed among the gods, and that a ceremony called an Apotheosis should take place for this purpose.

A waxen image of the dead Pertinax lay in state for a whole week upon a golden bed, and was then publicly burned on a huge pyre. When the flames rose up around it, an eagle, purposely hidden in the pyre, was set free, and flew up into the sky in terror. The ignorant spectators were then told that the eagle had carried the soul of Pertinax up to heaven, and that they must henceforth worship him.

Having become master of Rome, and secured the approval of the people, Severus turned all his energies against his two rivals; for both the legions of Britain and Gaul, and those of Syria, had elected emperors at the very time when the legions in Pannonia and Illyria named him for the same office.

Severus first went east to fight Niger, his most dreaded rival. Several battles were fought, ending with the defeat and death of the Syrian leader. Niger's head was then cut off, and flung over the walls of Byzantium, his principal stronghold on the Bosphorus.

When the people beheld this bloody token, they fought even harder than before to defend the city; but, although they made a glorious resistance, Severus at last forced them to surrender. By his order, the city was sacked, the walls razed, and the people reduced to slavery; but, as you will soon see, Byzantium rose again, and soon became the rival of Rome.

As one of his rivals had been killed, Severus now marched westward to meet Albinus, the other. The two armies met in Gaul, near Lyons, and a terrible battle was fought, in which Severus won the victory by his personal bravery in the face of great danger.

The emperor now went back to Rome, where twenty-nine senators were slain by his order, because they had dared to take sides with his rival. Then, to make sure that the empire would not pass out of his family, he made both his sons associate emperors.

Severus, the twentieth emperor of Rome, was very strict in making everybody obey him, and was a stern ruler. He also won much glory as a general, and fought many battles in many lands. His last campaign was in Britain, where he had gone to suppress an insurrection, and where his two sons accompanied him.

We are told that Caracalla, the eldest son, was so eager to be emperor in his turn that he made an attempt to murder his father during this campaign.

Grieved to the heart by such unnatural conduct, Severus privately reproved his son, and even offered him a sword, saying: "There, kill me if you dare!" Although Caracalla did not take advantage of the permission thus given him, he is suspected of having poisoned his father a little later.

Severus died in Britain, at York, and his last words are said to have been the following, addressed to his funeral urn: "Little urn, thou shalt soon contain him for whom the universe seemed too small."