Cameo of Empress Julia Domna.


Her origins:

Julia Domna was born in Emesa, Syria, in about 170 AD., the daughter of Julius Bassianus, who was the High Priest of the god, Elagabal, the patron god of Emesa. Julia and her sister, Julia Maesa, not unexpectedly became devotees of the "Sun God".

Her meeting with Septimius Severus:

When Julia first met Septimius Severus he was already married. He was very interested to learn that Julia's horoscope foretold that she would one day marry a king, being an extremely ambitious and superstitious man. He actually believed, through dreams and other signs, that he was destined to become Emperor of Rome, Julia and her horoscope made such an impression on him that when his wife died, a few years later, while he was Governor of Gaul, he dispatched a letter to Syria , almost immediately, with a proposal of marriage. Julia, aged 16 years, accepted and they were married in 186 AD. With Julia's horoscope now linked to his Septimius Severus's dreams of one day being Emperor increased and in addition had acquired a wife with looks, charm, wit and intelligence, with the inbuilt cunning to use all her attributes to great effect!!

The birth of her sons:

Julia seems to have been cherished by Severus, particularly for her knowledge especially of philosophy and her first son, Lucius Septimius Bassianus (Caracalla), was born, in 188 AD., in Lugdunum. Her second child, Publius Septimius Geta, was born, in 189 AD., in Italy.

Julia becomes the Empress:

After a brief civil war, Septimius Severus ascended the throne, in 193 AD. In recognition of Julia Domna's years of devoted service, she was awarded the title of "Augusta".

Julia as Empress:

Julia accompanied her husband on his campaigns in the East , an uncommon event in a time when women were expected to wait in Rome for their husbands. Nevertheless, she remained with the Emperor and among the several proofs of affection and favour are the minting of coins with her portrait and the title MATER CASTORVM (mother of the camp).

Julia's influence and personality pervaded the whole Empire. Certainly, no other Empress survives on so many inscriptions and on so many coins.

Severan empresses were often compared to or depicted in the guises of Greek goddesses on provincial and civic coins. Imperial coins struck in the name of Julia Domna celebrate the goddess Venus, both as Venus Victrix, the patron goddess of Julius Caesar and as Venus Genetrix, the divine ancestress of the original Julian family. These associations established legitimacy for Julia Domna because they conferred upon her  the equivalent status of the revered Julian family, from which Augustus emerged as the first Emperor of Rome.

Julia was a strikingly beautiful and intelligent woman who gathered eminent people of learning and writers at the imperial court , to promote the literary arts of her day. She is well known for a new trend in hairstyle! The Empress is easily discerned on coins and in portrait statues by her legendary "helmet" hair-do. Roman provincial cities minted their own coins of Julia Domna that acted as the cultural transmitters. Woman in the provinces, especially the aristocratic women, saw the new hairstyle fashioned by the Empress and subsequently emulated the model depicted on her coins.

The death of her son, Geta:

As well as being a virtual co-ruler of the Roman Empire, Julia Domna also had the political intrigue and plotting within her own family to handle. It is known that her two sons were forever fighting each other in the political sense; but this escalated to a level that typified the devious nature of the Roman hierarchy!

In 211 AD. Julia's husband, Septimius Severus, died at Eburacum (York). His final instruction to his sons was "Rule together as brothers , enrich the soldiers and forget about everybody else". This went unheeded and it was a year later, after returning to Rome, that Caracalla - who was now co-ruler of the Empire with his brother - arranged the murder of Geta.

Antoninus (Caracalla) had planned to murder his brother, Geta, at the Saturnalia; but he was unable to, because his evil intentions were so well known as to make concealment impossible. From this point on there was constant conflict between them, with each planning against the other and many counterplots. Since many soldiers and athletes were guarding Geta, both at home and abroad, by day and by night, Antoninus (Caracalla) persuaded his mother to summon both of them to her room, on the pretext that he wanted a reconciliation.

Since Geta trusted her, Antoninus went in with him and when they were inside, a group of centurions, who had been assembled by Antoninus, rushed in and struck Geta, who had run to his mother as soon as he saw them and puts his arms round her neck and held himself to her bosom, weeping and crying out "Mother, mother, who bore me, help, I am being murdered".

                                                                                                                Cassius Dio.

The infighting amongst the Severus family was well known and Cassius Dio wrote "Thy house shall perish utterly in blood".

Julia under her son, Caracalla:

After Geta's death Julia Domna continued to assist her surviving son with administration of the Empire. She was such an influence upon all concerned that her name was even seen on official documents seen by the Senate.

The death of Julia Domna:

In 217 AD. Caracalla was murdered by his successor, Macrinus. Julia Domna was residing in Antioch, when word was received that her son had been assassinated and Macrinus was now her Emperor. Already ill, Cassius Dio wrote that she was suffering from breast cancer and she apparently decided to commit suicide. She was said to have totally abstained from food and died in 217 AD., aged about 47 years.

Her body was transported to Rome and deposited in the sepulchre of Caius and Lucius Caesar; but afterwards removed by her sister, Julia Maesa, along with the bones of Geta, to the cemetery of the Antonines.