Saturday, April 10, 2021

Julia Domna and the Severan Prophecy

Julia Domna was born in Emesa (present-day Homs) in Roman Syria, the youngest daughter of the high priest of Baal, Julius Bassianus. The family had enormous wealth and was promoted to Roman senatorial aristocracy. Before her marriage, Domna also inherited the estate of her paternal great-uncle, Julius Agrippa, a former leading centurion. 

In 187 CE, she married Severus, who at the time was governor of the Roman province of Gallia Lugdunensis. The Augustan History relates that, after losing his first wife around 186 CE, Septimius Severus heard a prophesy of a woman in Syria who would marry a king. So Severus sought out Domna from one of Syria's most prominent families as his wife.

As empress, Domna was famous for her political, social, and philosophical influence. She received titles such as "Mother of the Invincible Camps" because, unlike most imperial wives, Domna remarkably accompanied her husband on his military campaigns and stayed in camp with the army. After the elder of her sons, Caracalla, started ruling with his father, she was briefly co-empress with Caracalla's wife, Fulvia Plautilla, until the latter fell into disgrace. Following the death of Severus in 211, Domna became the first empress dowager to receive the title combination "Pia Felix Augusta", which may have implied greater powers being vested in her than what was usual for a Roman empress mother. 

Domna is said to have committed suicide in 217 CE upon hearing of her son Caracalla's assassination in the course of his campaign against Parthia, on which she had accompanied him as far as Antioch (present-day Antakya, Turkey).

Image: A Severan Period mold-made lamp, 2nd century CE, terracotta, at the J. Paul Getty Museum (Villa).  This unusual moldmade lamp depicts  a woman dressed in a long-sleeved garment standing next to a truncated column, playing a harp, which leans on her shoulder. Her hairdo is similar to a style worn by Empress Julia Domna, wife of Septimius Severus . The Filling-hole is on top of the instrument and the wick-hole pierces its base. 


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