They say behind every great man is a great woman and the Roman Empire was no exception! Roman women in particular were a truly fierce lot and their ambitions, particularly among the ruling families, dictated the rise and fall of many an emperor. The Julias were a particularly fierce bunch, known for their political prowess and influence during the Severan dynasty (193-235 AD), as well as their distinctive hairstyles. Come with me now on a journey into one of the craziest dynasties in Roman history and without further ado, I bring you: The Julias!
Claim to Fame: Wife of Emperor Septimius Severus and mother of Emperors Geta and Caracalla
The Stats: Lucius Septimius Severus hit the jackpot when he married Julia Domna. She was well educated, versed in the politics and philosophies of the day, and her husband actually respected her political opinions! As empress, she was actively involved in her husband’s duties and even accompanied him on his campaign against the Britons. Political enemies tried to implicate her in a number of scandals and intrigues but none were ever proven. When Septimius Severus died in 211 AD in York, Julia secured the succession of her two young sons who became co-emperors until Caracalla had his brother killed a short time later. After Caracalla was assassinated in 217 AD (in true Roman fashion), she chose to commit suicide to avoid humiliation by usurpers and was later deified by her sister, Julia Maesa.
Fierceness Rating: She raised 2 emperors, survived scandals AND managed to get things done with that intense hairdo on a daily basis. I give Julia Domna 9/10.
Claim to Fame: Sister of Julia Domna, grandmother to Emperors Elagabalus and Alexander Severus
The Stats: Like her sister Julia Domna, Julia Maesa was no shrinking violet. She married Syrian noble Gaius Julius Avitus Alexianus and had two daughters (Julia Soaemias and Julia Mamaea), both of whom would be mothers of future emperors. After the death of her nephew Caracalla, Julia Maesa rescued the Severan dynasty from the usurper, Macrinus, and restored her family to ruling power in Rome. How did she do that? Well, she organized a successful plot against Macrinus and placed her grandson, Elagabalus, on the throne. Unfortunately, Elagabalus’ reign as emperor was a short-lived disaster. Julia Maesa made out just fine in the end, however, as she was deified after her death like her sister before her.
Fierceness rating: For rescuing the Severan dynasty, I’d say Julia Maesa has earned an 8/10.
Claim to Fame: Daughter of Julia Maesa, mother of Emperor Alexander Severus
The Stats: Julia Mamaea gained respect throughout Rome for avoiding the scandals that so plagued her relatives and successfully groomed her son, Alexander Severus, for rule as emperor when he succeeded his cousin, Elagabalus. Since Alexander Severus was only 14 when he became emperor, Julia ruled on his behalf and overturned many of the ridiculous and scandalous polices that teen emperor Elagabalus had put into effect. Upon reaching adulthood, Alexander Severus proclaimed his mother Imperial Consort and had her accompany him on his military campaigns across the empire.
Fierceness Rating: 8/10 for this Julia too, since she got to be emperor for a bit and handled a Persian and a German invasion like a pro.
Claim to Fame: Daughter of Julia Maesa, mother of Emperor Elagabalus
The Stats: Raised and educated in Syria with her sister, Julia Soaemias quickly established herself as a powerful figure in Roman society. When her cousin, the emperor Caracalla, was assassinated, she devised a plot with her mother to dethrone the usurper to the Severan dynasty, Macrinus, with her second son, Sextus Varius Avitus Bassianus. Like her sister, Julia Mamaea, Julia Soaemias ruled on behalf of her teenage son, who chose the name Elagabalus when he became emperor. Unfortunately, Elagabalus’ brief reign as emperor was an utter disaster and his tendency towards deviant sexual behavior caused quite the scandal in Rome. As if things weren’t bad enough, both she and Elagabalus were later assassinated by the Praetorian Guard and Elagabalus was succeeded by his cousin, Alexander Severus.
Fierceness Rating: I give Julia Soaemias a 7/10 for doing her best when a crazy, bratty teen was ruling the entire Roman empire. It was tough times during the Severan dynasty!
The Fabulous Julias
So there you have it! The fabulous Julias of the Severan dynasty. Even though things were pretty chaotic during this particular period in Roman history, these ladies managed to accomplish quite a lot and proved they were just as ambitious and cunning as their male counterparts and even more stylish. They were only four ladies out of many extraordinary women in Roman history but they were certainly some of the fiercest and that’s why we still love them (and their hair!) all these years later.