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|Roman imperial dynasties|
Julia Maesa on a coin from Sidon. On the reverse, Astarte.
|—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 Maesa (ca. 7 May 165 –ca. 3 August 224) was a Roman citizen and daughter of Gaius Julius Bassianus, priest of the sun god Heliogabalus, the patron god of Emesa (modern Homs) in the Roman province of Syria. Grandmother of both the Roman emperors Elagabalus and Alexander Severus, she figured prominently in the ascension of each to the title at the age of fourteen. She was also the maternal aunt of the emperors Geta and Caracalla.
Restoration of Severan rule
Like her younger sister Julia Domna, she was among the most important women to exercise power behind the throne in the Roman empire. Following the death of Caracalla, Julia Maesa rescued the Severan dynasty from the usurper Macrinus.
Maesa was married to Syrian noble Gaius Julius Avitus Alexianus by whom she had two daughters: Julia Soaemias Bassiana and Julia Avita Mamaea, each one the mother of a future emperor. Following the accession to the throne of her brother-in-law Lucius Septimius Severus, Maesa moved to Rome to live with her sister Julia Domna, Severus' wife. After the murder of Julia Domna's son (the emperor Caracalla), and Julia Domna's suicide, Julia Maesa was compelled to return to Syria. The new emperor Macrinus did not proscribe her, and allowed her to keep her money.
Once back in Syria and possessed of ample funds, Maesa engaged in a plot to overthrow Macrinus and place one of her grandsons, Elagabalus (son of her daughter Julia Soaemias Bassiana), in his place. In order to legitimise this pretension, mother and daughter instigated the rumor that the 14-year-old boy was Caracalla's illegitimate son. The two Julias were successful, mainly because the emperor Macrinus was of an obscure origin, without the proper political connections, and Elagabalus became emperor.
Appointment of Alexander Severus
For her loyalty and support, Elagabalus honored his grandmother Julia Maesa with the title Augusta avia Augusti (Augusta, grandmother of Augustus). However, he proved to be a disaster as emperor, scorning Roman values with both religious and sexual scandals. He took the liberty of marrying a Vestal Virgin (one of a rumored five wives during his brief four-year reign), and Maesa decided to promote instead her fourteen-year-old grandson Alexander Severus (son of her daughter Julia Avita Mamaea).
Maesa convinced Elagabalus to adopt his cousin Alexander as his heir. Shortly after, Elagabulus was murdered by the Praetorian Guard, along with his mother. Both were thrown into the Tiber River in contempt, after being dragged from the palace through the streets. This event followed a rumor that Alexander had died.
Death and reverence
Julia Maesa died on an uncertain date around 224. Like her sister Julia Domna before her, Julia Maesa was deified.
- Shahid, Irfan (1984). Rome and The Arabs: A Prolegomenon to the Study of Byzantium and the Arabs
- I, Claudia 2,Volume 2, Diana E.E. Kleiner and Susan B. Matheson, University of Texas Press, 2000, pg. 23
Media related to Julia Maesa at Wikimedia Commons