The Eastern Roman Empire under the Severans – new beginnings, old connections?

The Eastern Roman Empire under the Severans – new beginnings, old connections?

Julia Hoffmann-Salz, Free University Berlin; Holger Wienholz, German Archaeological Institute; Matthäus Heil, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften
Vom - Bis
16.06.2022 - 18.06.2022
Matthäus Heil, Inscriptiones Graecae, Berlin-Brandenburgischen Akademie der Wissenschaften

The Severan Dynasty often was represented as a family deeply rooted in the „oriental“ provinces of the Roman Empire. An international conference is going to assess the impact of this dynasty on the Roman East and the significance of the East for the Empire as a whole during the reign of the Severans. It will be held online as a digital event.

The Eastern Roman Empire under the Severans – new beginnings, old connections?

After the murder of the emperor Pertinax, the year AD 193 saw four men being proclaimed as Roman emperors by their respective troops: in Rome, Didius Julianus, an Italian, was made emperor by the Praetorian guard; Septimius Severus, who was from North Africa and had a Syrian wife, was sponsored by the troops in Pannonia; Pescennius Niger, who was from Italy, was supported by the troops in Syria and finally Clodius Albinus, again from North Africa, was proclaimed emperor by the troops in Britain. It was Septimius Severus who finally defeated his rivals and established a new dynasty that ruled till AD 235. The Severan dynasty would go on to instituted profound changes in the Roman Empire that would shape the empire’s responses towards the various challenges of the third century.

Despite the fact that the year of the four emperors in AD 193 clearly shows the cosmopolitan interconnectedness of the Roman Empire, scholarship called Septimius Severus the “African emperor”1 and his wife and her family the “Syrian empresses”2. Equally, the two final emperors of the dynasty, Elagabal and Severus Alexander, are also often framed within a narrative of oriental exoticism stressing their Syrian background3. Even though there has been considerable scholarly interest in the Severan dynasty in the last 20 years, scholarship has not been able to entirely shake off this ‘narrative of origin’. However, important progress has been made with recent studies on individual emperors and empresses of the dynasty as well as on different aspects of their reign. Thus, aspects of Severan administration – in particular the famous Constitutio Antoniana – and military policy have received scholarly attention and re-evaluation. Equally, important new studies have stressed the innovative framing of imperial propaganda and self-representation under the Severans and the dynasty’s so far underestimated impact on Roman culture as a whole. Rantala even goes so far as to claim in the title of his book on the ludi Saeculares that the Severans instituted “a new Roman Empire”4.

To date, however, no study has comprehensibly looked at the impact of Severan rule on the Eastern parts of the Roman Empire. The Eastern Roman Empire was, of course, also affected by the Severan refashioning of empire – from administrative changes in Egypt and Syria to building activities across the Eastern provinces, the Severans left their mark on a region they should in the logic of the ‘narrative of origin’ have been particularly partial to. But were they? Do administrative measures of the Severan emperors show a particular insight into matters of the Eastern part of the Empire? Could the new dynasty draw on local connections to develop and institute these? Did the communities of the Eastern Empire in their turn profit from the fact that the emperors and empresses hailed from their part of the world? Did they built more or honor the emperors of the Severan dynasty more because they felt a special connection to them? And what kind of a Roman Empire do we have to imagine in the East in Severan times? Did the peoples of the Eastern parts of the Empire refashion their identities because of the ‘Syrian empresses’? In short – what 2 happened in the Eastern Roman Empire under Severan rule – do we see new beginnings, old connections?

“The Eastern Roman Empire under the Severans – new beginnings, old connections?” will bring together scholars from a wide variety of fields taking a new look at the impact of Severan rule on the Eastern half of the Roman empire in a three-day digital conference at the FU Berlin in 2022. The conference will aim to provide a forum for scholars working on the Severan age in the Eastern Roman Empire to showcase their work as well as offering a comprehensive insight into the state of the art of our current knowledge on this issue. Speakers will be given 30 minutes for a presentation, followed by 15 minutes for discussion. Papers can be given in German, English and French, though the main language of communication will be English. Short abstracts for the papers will be shared in advance of the conference with the participants. Papers will be given by invited speakers, but this call for papers is also open for applications for further papers. Please contact us till November, 19th, 2021, with a short proposal (400 words), if you wish to present a paper at the conference:

Get in touch with us.

Matthäus Heil, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften (
Julia Hoffmann-Salz, Free University Berlin (
Holger Wienholz, German Archaeological Institute (

1 A. Birley, Septimius Severus: The African emperor, London 1999.
2 J. Babelon, Impératrices syriennes, Paris 1957.
3 E.g. R. Turcan, Héliogabale et le sacre du soleil, Paris 1985.
4 J. Rantala, The Ludi Saeculares of Septimius Severus: the ideologies of a new Roman Empire, London 2017.


Julia Hoffmann-Salz
Free University Berlin

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Englisch, Französisch, Deutsch
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