Septimius Severus and the expansion of the empire (CIL VIII, 18256)

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Typology (Honorific / Funerary / etc.): 
Original Location/Place: 
Lambaesis, Numidia (Tazoult-Lambèse, Algeria).
Actual Location (Collection/Museum): 
Museum of Lambaesis.
197 CE
Physical Characteristics: 
Inscribed statue base, the molding of the left side of which is missing. The inscription is set within a moulded double frame.
Width: 79 cm
Height: 47 cm
Depth: 41 cm
CIL VIII, 18256
(AE 1967, 0567)
EDH: HD015274
This inscription was set up in Lambaesis, Numidia (modern Algeria) in honour of the emperor Septimius Severus and his son Caracalla; although the text is short, the honorific title that it awards the emperor is indicative of the kind of imperial ideals and virtues that were communicated to the inhabitants of the Roman world across the empire, and particularly those that described the character of the emperor himself. The honorific terminology used in the inscription is also evidence for a shift in the imperial presentation of the emperor, which moved away from traditional concepts of benevolence and civic virtue and rather re-imagined him in terms of “militarism and imperial absolutism” (Noreña, Imperial Ideals, p. 225).
The inscription was dedicated by Quintus Anicius Faustus, the propraetorian legate of the emperor (legato Augustorum pro praetore) and patron of the municipium (patrono municipii). The dedication had been decreed by the local town council of Lambaesis (decreto decurionum) and was paid for from public funds (pecunia publica). Although we cannot now be sure of its original location, it would appear from its size and execution to have been a public monument, that was likely situated in a prominent civic space advertising the loyalty of the town to the emperor and the integrity and devotion of his representative there, Quintus Anicius Faustus. Originally founded as a military base by the Legio III Augusta between 128-129 CE (see CIL VIII, 2534), Lambaesis appears to have developed into a small town, and perhaps became a municipium at the same time that it was declared the capital of the new province of Numidia in 197-198 CE (for the municipal history of Lambaesis and its urban development, see Janon, “Recherches à Lambèse,” p. 215-220). The inscription was likely set up at roughly the same time, to showcase the status of the town and its relative importance within the new province.
The most interesting feature of the inscription is not, however, where or when it was located, but rather the terminology with which it describes the emperor and his son. The dedication is, in fact, to “Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Caesar”, the name given to Caracalla by Septimius Severus as early as 195 CE as part of his claim to Antonine ancestry, which he used to legitimise his rule and hold on power. Attention is drawn to Caracalla here as the son of Severus, in a further assertion of his position and the dynastic succession that his father sought to advertise across the empire. Father and son are presented in an unequivocal demonstration of how the principate will operate beyond the lifetime of the current emperor, looking to the future with Caracalla even characterised as Imperator destinatus – “destined Imperator”. The implication is clear; whether or not the claim of Antonine ancestry was genuine, the gods had sanctioned the emergence of this new dynasty, and the role of the young Caesar as Rome’s future leader.
Even more important than this, however, is the language used to describe Septimius Severus; his name includes the epithet Pius, recalling his adoption into the Antonine line by the Senate in 197 CE, from which it is also possible to date the present dedication. Although his later epithets of conquest, such as Parthicus Arabicus and Parthicus Adiabenicus are not included here, instead he has been given the honorific title propagator imperii – the “enlarger of imperium”; propagator had been used just once before in an epigraphic text, to describe Trajan as the “enlarger of the world” (CIL VI, 40500: propagator orbis terrarum). At least twenty inscriptions dating to the reign of Septimius Severus carry the formula propagator imperii, however, in an apparent reference to the military policy of the emperor (Birley, “Septimius Severus, Propagator Imperii,” p. 297). The overwhelming majority of these come from the province of Numidia, and at least ten from the period in which Quintus Anicius Faustus, the dedicator of this inscription, was governor of the province (Birley, “Septimius Severus, Propagator Imperii”, p. 298). The title appears to have been derived by the Senate in Rome, however, from an epithet more properly associated with Jupiter, and which must have been conceived of two years earlier, in 195 CE, when the decision was taken to honour the new emperor with a triumphal arch in the capital following his success in the first Parthian War (Birley, “Septimius Severus, Propagator Imperii”, p. 298). Indeed, in the dedicatory inscription of that arch, Septimius Severus is honoured ob rem publicam restitutam imperiumque populi Romani propagatum (“on account of the restitution of the state and the extension of the empire of the Roman people”: CIL VI, 1003). The inscription from Lambaesis directly echoes this vision of Severus’s leadership, emphasising the importance of conquest and martial valour; the message is one of permanent victory, which is attributed to Severus in terms that is not exactly the same, are nonetheless deeply reminiscent of the language used by Augustus in his claims to have restored the Roman state to have expanded the boundaries of Roman power (e.g. Res Gestae, 34; 26). For Septimius Severus, the claim was perhaps not unfounded either; he had been the victor at the end of a prolonged civil war, and in his creation of the province of Numidia – where the greatest concentration of the propagator inscriptions are attested – he literally extended the boundaries of the Roman world again, with the discovery of Severan-era forts at Castellum Dimmidi and Bu-Njem (ancient Gholaia, Libya) physically demonstrating the growth and spread of Roman power (Birley, “Septimius Severus, Propagator Imperii” p. 298; Birley, Septimius Severus, p. 216; see MacKendrick, The North African Stones Speak, p. 241-246 and Rebuffat, “L'armée romain à Gholaia,” p. 227-260 for the history of these forts).
For the reign of Septimius Severus, however, the use of this honorific title was a sign of the rise of “absolutist conceptions of imperial authority” and a shift in the kinds of imperial virtues that were advertised across the empire (Noreña, Imperial Ideals, p. 227). Dedications to earlier emperors had focused on their positive civic virtues, heralding ideals of ethical value and personal attributes such as liberalitas (generosity) or indulgentia (indulgence), with the epithets optimus and providentissimus amongst those most commonly given (Noreña, Imperial Ideals, p. 264). As Carlos Noreña has convincingly argued, the end of the second century CE and the advent of the Severan reign marked a change in how the image of the emperor was presented in epigraphic texts, moving away from the attestations of generosity and philosophy of earlier periods, in favour of an emperor whose primary focus was conquest and empire; “the image of a civilian princeps was effectively replaced by that of a military autocrat” (ibid). Carlos Noreña has, however, noted that the legends of the coins of the Severan period – which previously communicated the same epithets and titles found in the inscriptions contemporary with their production – did not follow this shift to a militaristic tone, and rather continued to promote the message of the emperor’s civic virtues and benefits, “giving rise to something of a rift between coins and inscriptions that had not existed previously” (Noreña, Imperial Ideals, p. 236. For detailed analysis of the messages of the coins and inscriptions, see ibid. p. 190-244). He attributed their previous similarity to the “communications networks of the central state”, the apparent ‘failure’ of which by the Severan period was responsible for this new divergence between them, which in turn pointed to “the rise of new configurations of communication within those networks” (Noreña, Imperial Ideals, p. 242). This inscription may therefore represent the growing autonomy of the provinces in their creation and employment of honorific titles for the emperor, which was independent from the ideological terminology promoted by the centre.

Keywords in the original language: 

Bibliographical references: 
Birley, Anthony, Septimius Severus, Propagator Imperii, in Actes du IX-e Congrès international d'études sur les frontières romaines, Mamaïa, 6-13 septembre 1972 (ed. D.M. Pippidi ; Bucuresti; Köln; Wien: Editura Academiei Republicii Socialiste România; Böhlau Verlag, 1974), 297-299
Rebuffat, René, L'armée romain à Gholaia, in Kaiser, Heer und Gesellschaft in der Römischen Kaiserzeit: Gedenkschrift für Eric Birley (ed. G. Alföldy; Francfort: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2000), 227-260
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Septimius Severus and the expansion of the empire (CIL VIII, 18256)
Author(s) of this publication: Caroline Barron
Publishing date: Fri, 08/17/2018 - 20:22
Visited: Sat, 04/20/2019 - 03:05

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