A very readable book covering most of the important events that shaped the Roman Empire of antiquity, with a focus on the men who ruled with near-absolute power. There were seventy or so Emperors, so the author had to choose carefully which ones to present in depth. Along the way, he addresses the issue of the causes of the Empire’s disintegration, the so-called “Fall of the Roman Empire”, which has been the object of controversy and polemics among historians ever since Edward Gibbon’s 18th-century treatise on the subject. In the present book, there is no particular focus of trying to deduce the personality traits of the Emperors, so as usual one has to act as something of a Sherlock Holmes to try to sniff out the NPA types of the main characters.
One of the emperors presented in Ten Caesars is #8: Septimius Severus, “The African”. You’ve never heard of Severus? Well, neither had I.
Why is Severus important? It turns out that he is the survivor of the great power struggle that followed the death of the humanistic philosopher-emperor, Marcus Aurelius in 180 AD. This was the end of the Pax Romana, the long era of peace and prosperity, and -- according to Gibbon and other historians -- the beginning of the fatal downturn of the Empire.
Who exactly was Septimius Severus? We make a strong case for Severus’ being a non-sanguine A type -- perhaps even the first Emperor of Rome to have a non-sanguine personality type.
Severus was not from European stock. He was born in North Africa, now Libya, and chose a wife from Arabic Syria. On our habitancy map this is an area where non-sanguine NPA types are prevalent. Severus is described as “short” in stature, and “crude”, “rude”,“blunt”, “ruthless”, “deceitful” and “a gloomier man in every way” in demeanor. He wore plain, shabby attire, and shunned the usual “royal purple” even in formal dress. Even by the standards of the time, he was brutal in executing many hundreds of perceived opponents, including senators. His elder son and succeeding Emperor, Caracalla, was probably an A type, as well (see image below). The sources describe him as bullying his younger half-brother when they were young, and having him put to death by the Praetorian Guard when he became Emperor. In fact, Caracalla is regarded by some historians as being the most cruel and tyrannical of all the Roman Emperors.
Above all, Severus and his son became militaristic Emperors who transformed the Empire into a militant enterprise whose primary objective was territorial expansion. Not good for the future of the Empire. One cause of the “Fall” was territorial overexpansion and placing too many resources into military matters, until cracks appeared and the Empire began to crumble under its own weight. So, we can point to the ascent of the “non-sanguine, aggressive” Severus and his son as a key moment in the history of the Empire when things started to go very wrong. And very likely, we posit, it was this genetic happenstance, or the non-sanguine, aggressive “A type” personality of Severus, that was the precise cause. As Gibbon states, Sevarus was “the principal author of the decline and fall.” How rapidly things began to go wrong in barely a decade between the rule of the benevolent Marcus Aurelius and that of the barbarian Septimius Severus!
So, the definitive history of the “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” remains to be written.
Emperor Caracalla, son of Severus:
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