ALEXANDER SEVERUS (Marcus Aurelius Alexander Severus)

Roman emperor 222-235; b. at Arce in Phenicia, most probably 205; murdered by the army, probably near Mainz, at the beginning of a campaign against the Germans in Gaul, Mar., 235. He was a noble character, conscientious, almost scrupulous, meek, and well inclined toward all gods and men. The religious policy which he inherited was one of electicism and syncretism. Alexander and his two immediate predecessors--Caracalla, 211-217, son and successor of Septimius Severus (q.v.), and Elagabalus, 218-222, reputed son and successor of Caracalla--may be called the Syrian emperors. They were much influenced by Julia Domna, wife of Septimius and daughter of a priest of the sun at Emesa; Julia Mæsa, her sister; and the two daughters of the latter, Soæmias, mother of Elagabalus, and Julia Mamæa, mother of Alexander. About these women gathered a circle of philosophers and scholars who took a deep interest in religious questions. There was naturally here no inclination to the Roman religion and the claims of Christianity were, in part at least, recognized. There was a disposition to attempt to revive heathenism by importing the good in the new religion. Elagabalus (q.v.) had sought to unite the religions of the empire, but in fantastic manner, aiming to make all gods subordinate to the sun-god of Emesa, whose priest he was. Alexander continued his syncretism in nobler fashion. He was susceptible to all good and had respect for all religions. The image of Christ stood in his lararium with those of Orpheus, Abraham, and Apollonius of Tyana, and he is said to have wished to erect in Rome a temple to Jesus. The Christian ethics also attracted him, he often quoted the precept "what ye will not that others do to you, that do not ye to them" and had it inscribed on public buildings. Mamæa was even more favorable to Christianity; Eusebius (Hist. eccl., vi. 21) calls her "a most pious woman, if there ever was one, and of religious life," but the assertion that she was a Christian (first made by Orosius, vii. 18) is unfounded.

That the Church had peace under Alexander, as under his predecessors, was the natural consequence of his training and his character. Lampridius says expressly that Alexander "suffered the Christians to exist," and Firmilian, bishop of Cæsarea in Cappadocia, in a letter to Cyprian (Epist., lxxv. [lxxiv.]), written about 256, speaks of "the long peace." To be sure, individuals may have been brought to trial here and there, but the later accounts which make Alexander a cruel persecutor under whom thousands of Christians suffered death are false, and the reputed martyrdoms under him, as of the Roman bishops Callistus and Urbanus and of St. Cecilia, are unhistoric.