By Pat Southern
Last updated 2011-02-17
After the assassination of Commodus in 192 AD, the governor of Upper Pannonia, Lucius Septimius Severus waited for the right opportunity to make his bid for power.
Early in the following year he marched on Rome, on the pretext of vengeance for the short lived emperor Pertinax, who had been elevated then eliminated by the Praetorian guard. On arriving in Rome, Severus disbanded the Praetorians and recruited his own men into a new guard. Next, he set about winning over the Senate and the people, and overcoming his main rivals: Clodius Albinus (declared emperor in Britain) and Pescennius Niger, (proclaimed by the eastern troops).
The civil wars were over by 197 AD, when Severus turned his attention to the army. All emperors knew very well that the true source of their power lay in the support of the troops, because with armed support they could quell all opposition. Without it, they could be very easily removed. Severus was the first to admit openly that the army shored up his imperial power, and he rewarded the soldiers accordingly .
He gave them a pay rise - the first for many decades - and allowed them more privileges. He knew that service in the army must be made more attractive. Another innovation was to distance the imperial house from the populace by making himself and his family sacrosanct, setting a precedent that was carried to extremes by Aurelian and Diocletian at the end of the third century.
Ever the realist, on his death bed in York in 211 AD, Severus told his sons to look after the soldiers and to ignore everyone else.
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