Front Page Titles (by Subject) 11.: THE CONSTITUTIONAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PRINCIPATE OF SEPTIMIUS SEVERUS — ( Pp. 154-161 ) - The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. 1
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11.: THE CONSTITUTIONAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PRINCIPATE OF SEPTIMIUS SEVERUS — ( Pp. 154-161 ) - Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. 1 
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ed. J.B. Bury with an Introduction by W.E.H. Lecky (New York: Fred de Fau and Co., 1906), in 12 vols. Vol. 1.
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THE CONSTITUTIONAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PRINCIPATE OF SEPTIMIUS SEVERUS — (Pp. 154-161)
The name of Septimius Severus marks an important stage in the development of the Principate of Augustus into the absolute monarchy of Diocletian. If he had been followed by emperors as strong and far-sighted as himself, the goal would have been reached sooner; and, moreover, the tendencies of his policy would have been clearer to us. But the administration of his immediate successors was arbitrary; and the reaction under Alexander threw things back. Severus had no Tiberius or Constantine to follow him; and like Augustus he committed the error of founding a dynasty. His example was a warning to Diocletian.
The records of his reign show that he took little account of the senate, and made much of the army. This has been brought out by Gibbon. But it would be a mistake to call his rule a military despotism. He did not apply military methods to civil affairs. He was more than a mere soldier-emperor: he was a considerable statesman.
His influence on constitutional history concerns three important points. (1) He furthered in a very marked way the tendency, already manifest early in the second century, to remove the line of distinction between Italy and the provinces. (a) He recruited the Prætorian guards, hitherto Italians, from the legionaries, and so from the provinces. (b) He encroached on the privileges of Italy by quartering one of three new legions, which he created, in a camp on Mount Alba near Rome. (c) He assumed the proconsular title in Italy. (d) By the bestowal of ius Italicum he elevated a great many provincial cities (in Dacia, Africa, and Syria) to a level with Italy. (2) He increased the importance of the Prætorian prefect. We can see now this post undergoing a curious change from a military into a civil office. Held by Papinian, it seemed to be the summit in the career not of a soldier but of a jurist. (3) The financial policy of Severus in keeping the res privata of the princeps distinct from his fiscus, — crown property as distinguished from state revenue (cp. p. 126, footnote 52).
There is no doubt that the tendency to give effect to the maius imperium of the princeps in controlling the governors of the senatorial provinces and the republican magistrates (consuls) was confirmed and furthered under Severus. For example, governors of senatorial provinces are brought before his court, Hist. Aug. x. 4, 8. The maius imperium, used with reserve by the earlier emperors, was one of the chief constitutional instruments by which the princeps ousted the senate from the government and converted the “dyarchy” into a monarchy.
Note. — In regard to the prefecture of the Prætorian guards, the rule that it should be held by two colleagues was generally observed from Augustus to Diocletian. We can quote cases of (1) two prefects under Augustus, Tiberius, Gaius, Claudius, Nero, Otho, Vitellius, Domitian, Trajan, Hadrian, Pius, Marcus, Commodus, Julianus, Severus, Caracalla, Elagabalus, Macrinus, Alexander, Gordian; (2) of one prefect under Augustus (Seius Strabo), Tiberius (Sejanus Macro), Claudius and Nero (Burrus), Galba, Vespasian (Clemens, Titus), Pius, Alexander (Ulpian), Probus; (3) of three prefects under Commodus, Julianus, Alexander (Ulpian as superior colleague and two others).