Severus was, like Trajan and Hadrian, a great builder and road-maker. The whole empire was connected by a network of paved roads made by the soldiery, cutting through hills, bridging valleys, straight, smooth, and so solid that they remain to this day. This made communication so rapid that government was possible to an active man like him. He gave the Parthians a check; and, when an old man, came to Britain and marched far north, but he saw it was impossible to guard Antonius’ wall between the Forth and Clyde, and only strengthened the rampart of Hadrian from the Tweed to the Solway. He died at York, in 211, on his return, and his last watchword was “Labor!” His wife was named Julia Domna, and he left two sons, usually called Caracalla and Geta, who divided the empire; but Geta was soon stabbed by his brother’s own hand, and then Caracalla showed himself even worse than Commodus, till he in his turn was murdered in 217.
[Illustration: SEPTIMUS SEVERUS.]
His mother, Julia Domna, had a sister called Julia Saemias, who lived at Antioch, and had two daughters, Saemias and Mammaea, who each had a son, Elagabalus—so called after the idol supposed to represent the sun, whose priest at Emesa he was—and Alexander Severus. The Praetorian Guard, in their difficulty whom to chose Emperor, chose Elagabalus, a lad of nineteen, who showed himself a poor, miserable, foolish wretch, who did the most absurd things. His feasts were a proverb for excess, and even his lions were fed on parrots and pheasants. Sometimes he would get together a festival party of all fat men, or all thin, all tall, or short, all bald, or gouty; and at others he would keep the wedding of his namesake god and Pallas, making matches between the gods and goddesses all over Italy; and he carried on his service to his god with the same barbaric dances in a strange costume as at Emesa, to the great disgust of the Romans. His grandmother persuaded him to adopt his cousin Alexander, a youth of much more promise, who took the name of Severus. The soldiers were charmed with him; Elagabalus became jealous, and was going to strip him of his honors; but this angered the Praetorians, so that they put the elder Emperor to death in 222.
[Illustration: ALEXANDER SEVERUS.]
Alexander Severus was a good and just prince, whose mother is believed to have been a Christian, and he had certainly learned enough of the Divine Law to love virtue, and be firm while he was forbearing. He loved virtue, but he did not accept the faith, and would only look upon our Blessed Lord as a sort of great philosopher, placing His statue with that of Abraham, Orpheus, and all whom he thought great teachers of mankind, in a private temple of his own, as if they were all on a level. He never came any nearer to the faith, and after thirteen years of good and firm government he was killed in a mutiny of the Praetorians in 235.