Encyclopedia Ichnographica

Alexander Severus


Alexander Severus

Alexander Severus

from: David Magie (translator), The Scriptores Historiae Augustae (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980), vol. II.

p. 199: Nevertheless, although the entreaties of the senate could not persuade him to take the name of either Antoninus or "the Great," the troops conferred on him the name Severus (2) on account of his great strength of spirit and his marvellous and matchless fortitude in face of the soldiers' insolence.

2. This explanation of the assumption of the name Severus is wholly incorrect. He took the name in order to emphasize his connexion with Septimus Severus, and Elagabalus had assumed the name M. Aurelius Antoninus in order to connect himself more closely with Caracalla. The explanation given here is based on the general fondness of these biographers for punning on the names of the emperors.

p. 205: After he succeeded to the imperial power, while still a boy, he used to do everything in conjunction with his mother, so that she seemed to have an equal share in the rule, a woman greatly revered, but covetous and greedy for gold and silver. (notes: Alexander was 13 years old at his accession and the government was carried on entirely by Mamaea after the death of Julia Measa in 226. She was clever enough to conceal the weak and insolent character of her son by providing him with excellent advisors, notably Ulpian, and attributing to him all the reforms instituted by them. Her greed is attested by Herodian. It brought the reign of Alexander into great disrepute and was one of the causes of his downfall. Alexander's own tendency for amassing wealth is alluded to in c. xliv. 2 and lxiv. 3.)

p. 219: He erected in Rome very many great engineering-works. He respected the priviledges of the Jews and allowed the Christians to exist unmolested.

p. 223: He forbade the maintainence in Rome of baths used by both sexes -- which had, indeed, been forbidden previously but had been allowed by Elagabalus. He ordered that the taxes imposed on procurers, harlots, and calamites should not be deposited in the public treasury, but utilized them to meet the state's expenditures for the restoration of the theatre, the Circus, the Amphitheatre, and the Stadium. (note: the Theatre of Marcellus, the Circus Maximus, the Colosseum, struck by lightning under Macrinus, and the stadium build by Domitian in the Campus Martius -- the site of the modern Piazza Navona.)

p. 225: He restored the public works of former emperors and built many new ones himself, among them the bath which was called by his own name (note: the Thermae Alexandrianae were a re-building and extension of the Thermae Neronianae in the Campus Martius immediately N.E. of the Pantheon; the name was still applied to this locality in the eleventh century. These Thermae are depicted on coins of 226) adjacent to what had been the Neronian and also the aqueduct which still has the name Alexandriana (note: It brought the water for his Thermae, conveying it from springs near Gabii about eleven miles E. of the city -- the source of the modern Acqua Felice constructed in 1585. It entered the city at the Porta Maggiore, about 3 km. outside which, near Vigna Certosa, its ruins are still visible, though all traces of it inside the walls have vanished). Next to this bath he planted a grove of trees on the site of some private dwellings which he purchased and then tore down.

p. 229: Alexander also began the Basilica Alexandrina (note: Otherwise unknown, but probably connected with his Thermae.), situated between the Campus Martius and the Saepta of Agrippa (note: See note to Hadr., xix. 10.), one hundred feet broad and one thousand long and so constructed that its weight rested wholly on columns; its completion, however, was prevented by his death. The shrines of Isis and Serapis (note: This double sanctuary was in the Campus Martius between the Pantheon and the Saepta, E. of the modern church of S. Maria sopra Minerva. Originally founded in 43 B.C. (Dio, xivii. 15), it was burned under Titus (Dio, lxvi. 24) but rebuilt under Domitian (Eutropius, vii. 23).) he supplied with a suitable equipment, providing them with statues, Delian slaves, and all the apparatus used in mystic rites. Toward his mother Mamaea he showed singular devotion, even to the extent of constructing in the Palace at Rome certain apartments named after her which the ignorant mob of today calls "ad Mammam" (note: Apparently a popular corruption of Mamaea's name.) and also near Baiac a palace and a pool, still listed officially under the name of Mamaea.

p. 233-35: In the Forum of Nerva (which they call the Forum Transitorium) he set up colossal statues of the deified emperors, some on foot and nude, others on horseback, with all their titles and with columns of bronze containing lists of their exploits, doing this after the example of Augustus, who erected in his forum marble statues of the most illustrious men, together with the record of their achievements.

p. 255: He built a public store-house in each region of the city, and to this anyone who had no store-house of his own might take his property. He built a bath, too, in every region which happened to have none, and even today many of these are still called Alexander's. And he also constructed magnificent dwellings and presented them to his friends, especially the upright.

p. 267: He also wished to build a temple to Christ and give him a place among the gods -- a measure, which, they say, was also considered by Hadrian. For Hadrian ordered a temple without an image to be built in every city, and because these temples, built by him with this intention, so they say, are dedicated to no particular deity, they are called today merely Hadrian's temples. Alexander, however, was prevented from carrying out his purpose, because those who examined the sacred victims ascertained that if he did, all men would become Christians and the other temples would of necessity be abandoned.

p. 273-5: During his campaigns he made such careful provision for the soldiers that they were furnished with supplies at each halting-place and were never compelled to carry food for the usual period of seventeen days, except in the enemy's country. And even then he lightened their burdens by using mules and camels, saying that he was more concerned for the soldier's welfare than for his own, for on them depended the safety of the state. When any of the soldiers were ill he would visit them personally in their tents, even those of the lowest rank, and have them carried in carts and provided with every necessity; and if by chance they grew worst, he would quarter them on the most upright house-holders or highly esteemed matrons in the cities and the country-districts, paying back the expenses which they incurred, whether they recovered or died.

p. 283: He used often to explain what he had heard from someone, either a Jew or a Christian, and always remembered, and he also had it announced by a herald whenever he was disciplining anyone, "What you do not wish that a man should do to you, do not do to him." And so highly did he value this sentiment that he had it written up in the Palace and in public buildings.

buildings of Alexander Severus

...the Porticus Alexexandri Severi is in a totally incorrect position at the end of the Equiria, however, Piranesi may be making a suggestive link between Alexander Severus and the military. The small aedicule Isidis on the Equiria across from the Porticus may also be a reference to Alexander's devotion to his mother--Isis is the premiere mother goddess.

...the baths, aqueduct and his grove all comply correctly within the Ichnographia.

...the Domus Alexandri Severi is not mentioned in the Historiae text, but my theory is that Piranesi placed Alexander's (house) Palace along the Triumphal Way (in the reverse mode) because he favored Christianity and the Golden Rule. The Domus Alexandri Severi is also exactly like the description of Elagabalus' Palace near the Porta Maggiore. Could Piranesi be weaving some complicated message which refers to both the reigns of Elagabalus and Alexander (which did follow each other, and they were cousins), where Alexander successfully undid the corruption of Elagabalus and began to turn Rome toward a more Christian and morally sound city and empire?

...not yet sure, but I think Alexander Severus' name is attached to more buildings within the Ichnographia second only to Nero.

Alexander Severus

a Roman emperor, A.D. 222-235.

Alexander Severus is one of four Roman emperors from the third century associated with buildings and specific sites delineated within the Ichnographia Campus Martius. Caracalla, Geta, and Gordian III are the other third century emperors named in the Ichnographia, however the number of building attributions apropos Alexander Severus substantially outnumber those of these emperors, and, Alexander Severus is indeed second only to the emperor Nero in the number of structures and places within the Ichnographia that bear his name. It is historically true that ample building activity in the Campus Martius occurred during Alexander Severus' reign, and, with one notable exception, Piranesi positions the Alexander Servian constructions with acceptable correctness within his large plan -- the placement of the Thermae Alexandri Severi, Nemus Alexandri Severi, and the Aqua Alexandrina (the Baths, Grove, and Aqueduct of Alexander Severus respectively) in the area west of the Thermae Agrippa and nearby the Thermae Neronianae coincides with corresponding verifiable archeological locations. Piranesi's positioning of the Porticus Alexandri Severi, on the other hand, at the end of the Equiria, far to the north of the Campus Martius, deviates grossly from its traditional location near the Saepta Julia.

The only questionable building that Piranesi attributes to Alexander Severus within the Ichnographia, which may or may not have actually been within the Campus Martius, is the Domus Alexandri Severi.

Porticus Alexandri Severi

...there indeed once was a Sessorian Palace...




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