This thesis examines the public image of the later members of the Severan dynasty (Caracalla, Geta, Elagabalus and Alexander Severus) in order to identify and analyse the underlying motivations behind the actions undertaken to promote their public image by each of these emperors at a time of great change in the third century AD. This was achieved through a chronological examination of the coins, inscriptions, portraiture and public building programmes of the later Severans. The first chapter examines the public image of Caracalla and Geta under Septimius Severus; the second chapter analyses Caracalla’s sole rule; and the final chapter investigates Elagabalus and Alexander Severus in order to establish how they, or those acting on their behalf, wished to portray themselves to the public. The literary works of Cassius Dio, Herodian, and the Historia Augusta supplemented this archaeological evidence.
Chapter One shows the public image of Caracalla and Geta under Septimius Severus was largely centred around family and the creation of the new Severan dynasty as a way for Septimius to legitimise his rule. Under Septimius, distinct imagery of ‘the heir’ arose, as well as the introduction of the honorific epithet nobilissimus for Geta, which became synonymous with the Caesar after this period. Chapter Two demonstrates that after Septimius Severus died and Caracalla had his brother killed, the public image of the emperor overall shifted significantly. Although the concept of the domus divina was still widely received in the provinces, the emphasis on family ceased to be a concern of Caracalla’s. Instead, the emperor heavily advertised his liberalitas and divine support through coinage and his military role through his portraits. Finally, in Chapter Three, the reigns of Elagabalus and Alexander Severus saw the return of familial ideals and the concept of a dynasty to their public image, which was largely in response to the brief rule of the usurper Macrinus. Both the emperors also had a large focus on the support of the gods and heavily publicised their virtues on coinage. Alexander Severus, in his thirteen-year rule, enacted a large public building programme across the Empire and this also featured strongly as an aspect of his public image.
Overall, this thesis shows that the public image of the later Severans was highly receptive to political, economic and social events in the first half of the third century AD. The ways in which the Severans reacted to these events were formed by both pre-existing responses established by earlier emperors, as well as new approaches. These new approaches in turn influenced the public image of emperors in the later third and into the early fourth centuries AD. As each of the later Severan emperors faced different challenges during their reigns, distinct changes can be seen in their public image. As such, there is no single consistent theme which can be ascribed to the Severan dynasty. However, in examining the public image of Caracalla, Geta, Elagabalus and Alexander Severus, it can be seen that each emperor adhered to the general themes of legitimisation, security (of their rule, and thus of the empire) and public benefaction. The public actions taken by each of the emperors, and the image they projected to the empire through these, meant that noticeable variations could be seen in the reception of these ideas throughout the empire.