A Libyan Hero: Septimius Severus – Al Marsad

A LIBYAN HERO: SEPTIMIUS SEVERUS | By Fouzi Ammar Alloulki

“Septimius Severus, had huge interest in his homeland, Libya, where he invested so much in doing trade with the East and the West. Libya at the time was called ‘The Storage of Goods and Commodities in the East’ and it used to be a focal and highly important center of trade in Africa, the Middle East and all of the Mediterranean Region. It was the adjoining pathway between Europe and Africa. Moreover, Septimius invested heavily in developing Leptis Magna, his home city in particular, by building houses, theatres, baths, bazaars and much more. He was proud to be Libyan!”

When I was a student in England I used to visit various museums and exhibitions in the country. The tours and visits hardly cost anything to the visitor. There were so many magnificent sites in London, such as the Royal Albert Hall, Prince Albert Museum, The National Science Museum, The History Museum, Victoria Museum, Madame Tussauds, The Planetarium, and last but not least, the Charlie Chaplin Museum.

Just by observing the behavior of tourists being amused and amazed by all that they saw was intriguing enough. They all move in flocks and in a patterned manner and congregate around their tour guide asking all sorts of questions. By doing so they learn new knowledge and grasp information about culture, history and politics. This in addition to the staggering number of photographs they capture each day.

I had a memorable experienced when I visited York city, which lies at the confluence of rivers Ouse and Foss, in North East of England, around 200 miles north of London. York is famous for its famous castle, cathedral and famous ancient wall. This Roman city was once known for having been conquered by both Roman and Germanic forces. I visited its famous museum and saw a number of statues and to my surprise I found myself standing in front of the statue of Septimius Severus and thought to myself: what on earth could this Libyan statue be doing here?

York, UK

I stood in front of this magnificent statue and admired its shape and appearance. I read the inscription at the foot of the statue and there in front of me stood a short lady who was carrying a great many reference books. She said to me that she was interested in this Great Hero! I said he is from my homeland! She asked me: “Are you from Leptis Magna?” I replied, “Yes there or thereabouts. I am Libyan”. She immediately placed all the books on the floor, took off her glasses and told me that this Great Hero was a proud military personality, a lawyer, highly intellectual and spoke several languages.

She continued explaining some amazing facts about this Great Warrior, that he was born 145 AD in Libya, from Phoenician roots from his father’s side and Italian/Roman roots from his mother’s side. He was born in Libya and was known as the African Emperor. In 175 AD he married a Libyan lady named Paccia Marciana. She died in 186 AD.

In 179 AD he was appointed as the Military Leader of all the Roman forces residing in Syria. There, he married a Syrian woman Julia Domna and had two sons from her, named Caracalla and Geta.

He studied Art and Philosophy in Athens and worked as a lawyer in Rome. Even though he spoke with a discernible accent, he was still known to be one of most erudite of personalities in Rome. He was known to always spend time with famous philosophers and poets of his time. His grandfather was Persian and one of his relatives was a high ranking official within the Roman government. This influential background helped Septimius enter and practice politics as a senator in the Roman House of Commons and later as an adviser to the Emperor.

Septimius eventually rose to become the Governor of Southern Spain, before going back to Africa as Deputy Emperor, like a General Leader of the House of Lords in Rome. The life of Septimius became enriched by his rapid rise to power, especially after the transfer of rule from Emperor Marcus Aurelius to Emperor Commodus, where he took many high-ranking posts within the Roman Empire. Some of these positions were Deputy Consul, then the Ruler of France, Sicily, Austria and Hungary. And finally in 193 AD, Septimius became the Emperor to Rome after the assassination of Emperor Pertinax.

A full statue of the Libyan Septimius Severus, Emperor of the Roman Empire

I was listening attentively to this lady as she spoke so proudly of this Great Libyan Hero. I asked her a question: “How come you know so much about this Great personality? Do you work in this museum?” She replied, “My name is Claire, they call me Professor Claire, I used to be the Head of Roman Artefacts in this museum, the Yorkshire Museum. I just retired recently, last week.” She added, “I am emptying my office and will be moving to my new house in Bournemouth, South of England, where there is sunshine, beaches and a lovely breeze. This is the last batch of books and belongings that I am taking to my new home, as she pointed to the pile of books on the floor.”

The Yorkshire Museum, York, UK

She told me more: “I used to be a lecturer for many years before working in this museum. I will now concentrate on writing for the remaining part of my life.” I asked her what did Leptis Magna benefit from its Emperor and Great Leader? She replied “Septimius Severus, had huge interest in his homeland, Libya, where he invested so much in doing trade with the East and the West. Libya at the time was called ‘The Storage of Goods and Commodities in the East’ and it used to be a focal and highly important center of trade in Africa, the Middle East and all of the Mediterranean Region. It was the adjoining pathway between Europe and Africa. Moreover, Septimius invested heavily in developing Leptis Magna, his home city in particular, by building houses, theatres, baths, bazaars and much more. He was proud to be Libyan!”

I asked her how did Septimius Severus reach all the way to the Britain and settle here? She collected her thoughts and then said: “Septimius Severus was a man of exceptional physical strength, always dressed in a simple manner, capable of withstanding difficulties, a brilliant warrior, winning in almost every battlefield. He had a ruthless heart when it came to winning in battle. He had vision, foresight and resilience like no other. He was quite good looking and very handsome. He was fluent in both Phoenician and Roman, the languages of his mother and father. He decided later on to fight the Caledonians in Scotland, which had over 40,000 fighters. He won all his battles against Scotland! He then settled here in York, and then experienced some of its best times of ease and development; also, peace prevailed and there were no more fights with the Scottish. After which it became his place of residence.”

In 211 AD, death came to this Great Libyan Hero. He suffered gout illness for long. He said in front of his two sons Caracalla and Geta, at the hour of death, that I have achieved everything in this life, and everything is worthless! One of his last wishes was, according to Professor Claire: “Take care of the Empire and take even more care of the army. Please them as much as you can”.

“Septimius Severus was a man of exceptional physical strength, always dressed in a simple manner, capable of withstanding difficulties, a brilliant warrior, winning in almost every battlefield. He had a ruthless heart when it came to winning in battle. He had vision, foresight and resilience like no other. He was quite good looking and very handsome. He was fluent in both Phoenician and Roman, the languages of his mother and father.”

The Professor then said, “This is just a glimpse and a brief capture of the life of Septimius Severus the Great Hero of Africa, or Libya if you prefer me to say so!”

It was amazing how I felt her to be short in height, and yet it was I who in reality felt even shorter in front of her as she spoke about the history of this great Libyan personality from our history—and I was so incredibly ignorant about the facts of his great life.

© Al Marsad English (2019)