|Roman imperial dynasties|
|—with Caracalla and Geta||209–211|
|Caracalla and Geta||211–211|
|Severan dynasty family tree
Year of the Five Emperors
Crisis of the Third Century
Julia Domna (170 AD –217 AD) was a member of the Severan dynasty of the Roman Empire. Empress and wife of Roman Emperor Lucius Septimius Severus and mother of Emperors Geta and Caracalla, Julia was famous for her prodigious learning as well as her extraordinary political influence. The greatest in a long line of women exercising power behind the throne in Rome, she was effectively the de facto ruler of an Empire of seventy million people stretching from Scotland to Iraq.
Julia was from a Syrian family, thought to be of Arab descent, of the city of Emesa (Homs today). She was the youngest daughter of the high-priest Gaius Julius Bassianus and her eldest sister was Julia Maesa. Her ancestors were Priest Kings of the famous temple of Elagabalus (syr. Ilāh hag-Gabal). The family had enormous wealth and was promoted to Roman senatorial aristocracy. Before her marriage, Julia inherited the estate of her paternal great-uncle Julius Agrippa, a former leading Centurion.
In the late 180s, Julia married future Emperor Septimius Severus, usually considered to be of Punic background. The marriage proved to be a happy one and Severus cherished his wife and her political opinions, since she was very well read and keen on philosophy. They had two sons, Lucius Septimius Bassianus (Caracalla) in 188 and Publius Septimius Geta in 189. Because of her love of philosophy, Julia protected philosophers and helped philosophy to flourish in Rome, despite the hostile attitude toward it displayed by previous emperors.
When Severus became emperor in 193 (known as "Year of the Five Emperors"), he had a civil war waiting for him, against rivals such as Pescennius Niger and Clodius Albinus. Julia accompanied him in his campaigns in the East, an uncommon event in a time when women were expected to wait in Rome for their husbands. Nevertheless, she remained with the emperor and among the several proofs of affection and favour are the minting of coins with her portrait and the title mater castrorum (mother of the camp).
Controversy and transition of power
As empress, Julia was often involved in intrigues and had plenty of political enemies who accused her of treason and adultery. None of these accusations were proven. Severus continued to favour his wife and insisted on her company in the campaign against the Britons that started in 208. When Severus died in 211 in Eboracum (York), Julia became the mediator between their two sons, Caracalla and Geta, who were to rule as joint emperors, according to their father's wishes expressed in his will. But the two young men were never fond of each other and quarrelled frequently. Geta was murdered by Caracalla's soldiers in the same year.
Caracalla was now sole emperor, but his relations with his mother were difficult, as attested by several sources, probably due to his involvement in Geta's murder. Nevertheless, Julia accompanied Caracalla in his campaign against the Parthian empire in 217. During this trip, Caracalla was assassinated and succeeded (briefly) by Macrinus. Julia possibly chose to commit suicide after hearing about the rebellion, though others consider it more likely she died of breast cancer. Her body was brought to Rome and placed in the Sepulcrum C. et L. Caesaris (perhaps a separate chamber in the Mausoleum of Augustus). Later, however, both her bones and those of Geta were transferred by her sister Julia Maesa to the Mausoleum of Hadrian. She was later deified.
If not for Julia, we would have very little information today about the legendary Apollonius of Tyana. It was at the behest of Julia that Philostratus wrote his now famous Life of Apollonius, which comes to us in full form almost two thousand years later. Julia is thought to have died before Philostratus could finish his work of eight volumes.
- (French) Minaud, Gérard, Les vies de 12 femmes d’empereur romain - Devoirs, Intrigues & Voluptés , Paris, L’Harmattan, 2012, ch. 9, La vie de Julia Domna, femme de Septime Sévère, p. 211-242.
- B. Levick, Julia Domna: Syrian Empress, Routledge, 2007
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- Irfan Shahid, Rome and The Arabs: A Prolegomenon to the Study of Byzantium and the Arabs, Washington, 1984, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library, p. 167, ISBN 0-88402-115-7; Glen Warren Bowersock, Roman Arabia, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1983, pp. 126–128, ISBN 0-674-77756-5 . "with the last of his names, he clearly tried to forge a link with the ultimate Antonines, who were the Arab emperors from the family of Julia Domna"; Maxime Rodinson, The Arabs, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, pp. 55, ISBN 0-226-72356-9, , "The emperor Septimus Severus married an Arab from Emessa, Julia Domna, whose sons and great-nephews ruled Rome."
- Levick, Julia Domna: Syrian Empress, p.18
- "Julia Domna 170 CE Syria". Women-philosophers. Retrieved 6 March 2014.
- Jones, Christopher P. (2005). Philostratus, The Life of Apollonius of Tyana. Harvard University Press. p. 2.
- "Cassius Dio — Epitome of Book 79". University of Chicago.[dead link]
- Dzielska, Maria; Stucchi, Sandro (1986). Apollonius of Tyana in Legend and History. p. 14. ISBN 88-7062-599-0.
|Empress of Rome
with Fulvia Plautilla (202–205)