Who was Julia Domna?

In the Near East, Julia Domna was born in Emesa (which is now Homes), Syria in 170 CE and would later become the Empress of Rome. She not only practiced philosophy, but also became a patron to an assortment of philosophers who lived during her time. In history, she earned the reputation as an historian. Even the Numismatics community placed her image on a host of Roman coins that people liked to collect. More about this historic figure is told in this article.

Julia was born in Emesa, where three other Roman Empresses called their home , all named Julia. This included her sister, Julia Maesa, as well as Julia Mammea and Julia Soemia. Another emperor (her nephew) was also born in Emesa – Emperor Elagabalus (Heliogabalus, if you were a Greek). Julia was born to Bassianus, who inherited the knowledge of a high priest associated with the Sun god, Heliogabalus, who was known as the patron of Emesa.

Records show that the woman was proud of her Syrian background and that she never turned her back on the last name ‘Domna’ , her Syrian name that she kept after she traveled to Rome. She would marry a Roman by the name of Septimius Severus, while she was a young woman. Septimus was a member of the Roman army while Marcus Aurelius ruled as emperor. He was stationed in many different regions of the empire, which included Syria.

So, how did Septimius and Julia meet? Following the death of his first wife (Marica), Septimus went on a search to find a young woman to replace his deceased love. Legend has it that astrology showed that Julia would take a king as his husband and Septimus wanted to jump at the chance to fulfill the prophecy. Some believed this quite odd, as Julia was only 16 years old at the time and did not have any wealth to her name.

Throughout the marriage, Julia enjoyed the respect of her husband, which probably had something to do with her level of intelligence and her keen sense of politics. The two would produce two sons. Lucius Septimius Bassianus (Caracalla) was born in 188 BCE, while Publius Septimius Geta was brought into the world in 189 BCE.

In 193 BCE, Septimus became the Emperor, which created the position of empress for Julia. Soon after, civil war broke out and unlike the majority of wives in her position , she accompanied her husband on his campaigns. She even slept in the camps and did not return home. She shined through as an exceptionally different wife because it was rare for a woman to take such a stance. More commonplace , women stay home and wait for their men to return from the battlefield.

As a result of her actions, Septimus ordered the mint of coins that showcased Julia’s portrait. On the coins , the words “mater castrorum” (which translated into ‘mother of the camp’) were part of their construction. In later years, she continued to accompany her husband on military campaigns.

In 208 BCE, Septimus was killed at York , making her two sons enter the position of co-emperors. This was what Julia’s husband had hoped for. Unfortunately, the two brothers were unable to get along with one another when it came to co-rulership. This created non-stop battles between the two. Julia was constantly trying to keep the two apart.