Written by Barnaby Rogerson
Photographed by Don McCullin
One of two sons of a wealthy, politically ambitious, olive-farming family, Septimius Severus grew up in Leptis Magna, along what is now the coast of Libya, in the second century ce. At first not the most promising of teenage scions, he matured to take high command posts on the Danube frontier and, at 48, became the Roman Empire’s first emperor born on the African continent. Over his 18-year reign, he rarely sat on a throne in Rome, preferring travel with the legions to frontiers and far reaches where his efforts expanded the empire to its greatest extent and left legacies in law and architecture that endure today.