Zeus, protector of oaths, witness this abomination. Shame! Shame! Anullinus, Prefect of the Armenians, I curse you. And you, Quintus Valerius, Tribune of the Numeri Brittonum. And you, Ammonius of the Cataphracts. Dark Hades release the Erinyes, the terrible daughters of night, the furies who blind the reason of men and turn their futures to ashes and suffering.
And I curse the peasant you will place upon the throne, and I curse those who will follow him. Let not one of them know happiness, prosperity or ease. Let all of them sit in the shadow of the sword. Let them not gaze long upon the sun and earth. The throne of the Caesars is polluted. Those who ascend it will discover for themselves that they cannot evade punishment.
Thus ends the life of Mamaea, mother of Severus Alexander, Imperator of the Roman Imperium, holding her stricken son as they are about to be murdered by the very people who had taken a solemn oath to protect them. Mamaea has cursed the killers, their children, their children`s children, and all who will profit from her son`s death unto the end of time. The above quote is taken from Harry Sidebottom`s excellent new book, Iron and Rust, which chronicles the beginning of the 3rd century anarchy which almost reduced the Roman world to ashes; when emperors came and went with monotonous regularity, sometimes several ruling at once their own little patch of Rome`s vast dominions, and calling themselves Imperator. The book`s title is well chosen from the historian Dio Cassius, lamenting on the moral, military and cultural disintegration of a super power whose glory seemed to have existed and dominated the world since the beginning of time…..” Our history now descends from a kingdom of gold to one of iron and rust.”
Severus Alexander was young, someone with a murky parentage, which changed like an absent minded gust of wind with alarming regularity to suit the prevailing political situation. By the time he was raised to the purple, he had acquired three fathers at the last count – including two emperors – one of them, Elagabalus, was only five years older than himself, and who was also considered his brother/ cousin. With such dizzying changes of paternal convenience, it`s no wonder that a man`s word of honourable allegiance unto death to another, was no longer considered of vital concern. What was vital was looking after number one at everyone else`s expense if needs be, and go hang the consequences. The legions stayed loyal as long as their financial demands were met by emperors who were battle winners: defeat in battle, or paying off the enemy to go away for a while didn`t sit well with a military force which prided itself on it`s fearsome reputation of being the planet`s greatest, and most gruesomely efficient killing machine.
It was a professional army of trained murderers which finally rebelled against Alexander`s sensible policy of buying off one enemy in order not having to fight on more than one front at once. The army saw this as cowardice, and worse; it was a slur on itself, and needed to be remedied in the time honoured Roman tradition of removal of one emperor in favour of another who would provide them with plunder by winning battles, and uphold the army`s martial integrity; God knows, it possessed no other but loyalty to itself. So, young Alexander and his highly intelligent and able mother, were sacrificed on the alter of selfish greed, and misplaced, military indignation. Rome would eventually reap what it sowed, and collapse under the weight of it`s own history; by the end, gone were the heroic ideals, and the cultural, intellectual and military supremacy which had been the bedrock of the spread of Roman civilisation. The glittering gold of a glorious past had been replaced by a cheap, and not so cheerful bar of rusty iron, left out in the rainstorm of history for far too long. Mamaea would have been delighted no doubt at how things turned out.