Julia Domna (sometimes Julia Domma) had a very privileged start in life. Born into the wealthiest family in Syria, her father was a high-priest and her great-uncle had been a leading Roman Centurion – who left her his estate.
Educated in politics and philosophy, Domna’s star continued to rise as she married the roman Septimius Severus in her late teens. By all accounts it was an extremely happy pairing, and Severus openly listened to his clever wife’s opinions and advice.
Domna had two sons, Caracall and Geta, and the family’s fortunes increased when Severus became emperor of Rome in 193. However, this position would come at a price as Severus faced civil war with a number of rivals.
As Severus marched out on military campaigns to the Eastern reaches of the empire, Julia Domna travelled at his side. This bought her a lot of respect among the common people and soldiers, and she was given the title Mater Castrorum – mother of the camp.
Back in Rome, Julia Domna flourished in the role of empress. She pursued her passion for philosophy and encouraged philosophers to share their knowledge. She commissioned Philostratus to write his Life of Apollonius, which is still considered the major source of information on Apollonius.
In 208 Severus and Julia left Rome again for Britain, where three years later Severus died in York. The emperor’s sons, Caracalla and Geta were left to rule jointly, with Julia as their mediator. Unfortunately, the two brothers did not get on, and within a year Caracalla had ordered his soldiers to murder Geta.
Julia was horrified by her son’s actions and their relationship never recovered. She continued to play the role of dutiful mother and was with Caracalla in Parthia when he was assassinated in 217.
Having lost her husband and both sons and suffering from breast cancer, Julia Domna chose to commit suicide. She was carried back to Rome and given an empress’s burial.
Julia Domna: Syrian Empress – Barbara Levick
Matrona Docta: Educated Women in the Roman Élite from Cornelia to Julia Domna – Emily Ann Hemelrijk
Julia Domna Glyptothek By Unknown – User:Bibi Saint-Pol, own work, 2007-02-08, Public Domain
The Severan Tondo By Fred the Oyster – Staatliche Museum zu Berlin, Public Domain
Coin featuring Julia Domna By Rasiel Suarez, CC BY-SA 3.0
Coins, Aureus with Septimius Severus, Julia Domna, Caracalla and Geta By cgb – http://www.cgb.fr/septime-severe-julia-domna-caracalla-et-geta-aureus,brm_251139,a.html, CC BY-SA 3.0