Birley gives an amazingly detailed account of Severus's life, painstakingly assembling all possible evidence. Severus himself remains enigmatic, but the book shows how the decimation of the empire's elite during Marcus's reign left a void to be filled by, among others, Africans like Severus and a slave's son like Pertinax, and how the political consensus of the Antonine age was torn apart under Commodus. On the one hand, the empire is shown to be more socially flexible than usually assumed, if men like Pertinax and Severus could rise so high; on the other hand, it becomes clear how a man of Severus's background, Semitic rather than Italian, would feel like and outsider and distrust the traditional Roman upper classes. However, despite Severus's abilities, one does feel that his reign marked a turning-point towards Rome's decline.
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