by Dr Simon Elliott
In 2018, Greenhills Books published my third – and my best-selling – book to date. This covered the amazing story of the AD 209 and AD 210 campaigns in Scotland of Septimius Severus, when the great warrior emperor led a force of 50,000 legionaries and auxilia, and the Classis Britannica regional fleet in Britain, on Rome’s final attempts to fully conquer the far north of Britain.
Severus had actually arrived in AD 208 after the governor in the province, Lucius Alfenus Senecio, reported trouble in the north that was severe enough to require either the emperor to attend in person, or to send reinforcements. He got both, with Severus arriving with the Imperial household to turn York into his capital for the final three years of his life.
The first campaign was sanguineous in the extreme, with the Romans launching massive legionary spearheads in a sophisticated assault that soon saw the Scottish Borders and Midland Valley up to the Highland Line conquered. Despite a vicious guerilla campaign against the invaders, the native Britons in the north eventually succumbed to the weight of numbers and signed a peace agreement. However, over the winter they rebelled again. This led Severus to repeat the campaign, this time giving orders to carry out a genocide that caused a depopulation event in the region that lasted for generations. He was too ill himself to lead the latter, with his son Caracalla taking charge. However, Severus died in York in February 211. After this, the Romans lost interest in the far north of Britain again, with the northern frontier once more falling back to the line of Hadrian’s Wall.
When I write my books, I love to travel to all the sites in order to carry out primary research and take photographs. In the case of this book, that included Rome. Here, much of the Forum Romanum and the palace on the Palatine Hill date to the time of the Severan dynasty. One of my own highlights when I lead Andante Travels tours in Rome is to take guests behind the Arch of Septimius Severus (pictured above), where you can physically see where Caracalla carried out a damnatio memoriae against his younger brother Geta, having murdered him within a year of Severus dying.