[Tondo showing Julia Domna and family, 2nd century CE, Antikensammlung, Berlin, source: Wikimedia Commons]
Julia was the first Roman Empress to come from somewhere other than Rome and was probably of Arab descent. She was born in Syria to the priest Bassanius. Little is known of her early life, but later events show that she was probably quite well educated in her childhood. Septemius Severus married her in 187 or so, supposedly because she was destined to marry a king. Whether or not the story is true, which it may have been, it did a fantastic job of legitimating Severan rule.
With the assassination of Commodus* began the Year of the Five Emperors (193), with Sevrus as one of the contenders. Unlike many of women of her time, though very like some of her predecessors, Julia accompanied her husband on campaign even after he had definitively won power. Like Faustina the Younger she earned the title of Mother of the Camp. Her elder son, Caracalla, was born in Gaul, the younger, Geta, back in Rome.
[Aureus depicting Julia Domana Augusta, source: Wikimedia Commons]
Julia died of starvation in 217 sometime after hearing of Caracalla’s assassination. Whether this was suicide or a complication of breast cancer is unknown. It is remarkable that she, a nobody daughter of a Syrian priest, rose to become the Empress, the events of her life an important part both of the Severan campaign to legitimize a new imperial dynasty and of others’ later attempts to tear them down.
*Son of Faustina the Younger.
**She especially supported the Pythagoreans.
Cassius Dio, Roman History books 75-79 - Lacus Curtius
"Septemius Severus," Historia Augusta - Lacus Curtius
Langford, Julie. Maternal Megalomania: Julia Domna and the Imperial Politics of Motherhood. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013.
Benario, Herbert W. "Severan Julias" - De Imperatoribus Romanis
Julia Domna - Women Philosophers
Julia Domna - Wikipedia