Caracalla, formally known as Antoninus, was Roman emperor from 198 to 217 AD. He was a representative of the Severan dynasty, the son of Septimius Severus and Julia Domna. Caracalla was co-ruler with his father from 198, but later, he continued to rule with his brother Geta, emperor from 209, after the death of Septimius Severus in 211. Moreover, Caracalla killed Geta and reigned as sole ruler of ancient Roman Empire.
His reign is known for domestic instability and external invasions from the Germanic tribes
From an early age, Caracalla was always in conflict with his brother, Geta, who was only 11 months younger than him. At the age of 14, Caracalla was married to the daughter of his father’s close friend Plautianus, Fulvia Plautilla, but this arranged marriage was not happy, and Caracalla despised his wife. Caracalla and Fulvia had a daughter in this marriage, which ended abruptly when in 205 Plautianus was accused, convicted of treason and executed. Plautilla was expelled and then executed by Caracalla.
In 208, when heard about the troubles in Britain, Septimius Severus thought that this was a good opportunity not only to campaign there, but also to take both his sons with him. The campaign, thought Severus, would give both sons the opportunity to get acquainted with the realities of the government, thereby providing them with the experience they could use when succeding their father. While in Britain, Geta was allegedly made responsible for civil administration there. At the same time, Caracalla and his father campaigned in Scotland. Although Caracalla did not really gain some valuable experience in military matters, he tried to kill his father at least once so that he could become emperor. Despite the fact that this attempt was unfortunate, Severus left the sword within reach of his son, challenging him to finish the plan he had ruined earlier. Caracalla backed down, but, according to Herodian, constantly tried to convince the doctors of Severus to speed up the demise of the dying emperor. In any case, the emperor died at Ebaracum in 211. The last advice of Severus to Caracalla and Geta was “to be good to each other, enrich the army, and damn the rest” (Dio 77.15.2).
Caracalla’s father, Septimius Severus, died in 211 while on campaign in Caledonia, north of Roman Britannia. Caracalla and Geta inherited the throne together. After concluding a peace with the Caledonians and on the way back to Rome with their father’s ashes, brothers continuously argued with each other. Moreover, they considered to divide the empire in half along the Bosphorus to stop arguing. Caracalla was to rule in the west and Geta was to rule in the east. However, their mother persuaded brothers not to do this.
In 211, Julia Domna organized a reconcilitation meeting, where Caracalla had Geta assassinated by members of the Praetorian Guard. Geta died in his mother’s arms. Later, Caracalla executed most of Geta’s supporters and ordered a “damnatio memoriae” presented by the Senate against his brother’s memory.
Geta’s image was removed from all paintings; all coins were melted down; statues destroyed; name removed on papyrus from records
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About 20.000 people were massacred after the “damnatio memoriae”. All these people were somehow related to Geta as his friends, guards, advisers or military staff.
Despite the fact that Caracalla did not follow his father’s last words about being good to his brother, he made everything to make the military forces of the empire happy. Caracalla declared to his soldiers that:
I am one of you,” he said, “and it is because of you alone that I care to live, in order that I may confer upon you many favours; for all the treasuries are yours.” And he further said: “I pray to live with you, if possible, but if not, at any rate to die with you. For I do not fear death in any form, and it is my desire to end my days in warfare. There should a man die, or nowhere. (Dio 78.3.2)
Caracalla raised the annual army salary by 50%. In order to pay it, he debased the coinage from a silver content of from about 58 to 50%. Also, the emperor created a new coin “antoninianus,” which was supposed to be worth of 2 denarii. Caracalla tried to portray himself as a fellow soldier while on campaign. He was very popular with the army.
During the reign of Caracalla, the military activity in Britain began to wind down. As the campaign in Britain came to a standstill towards the end of Severus’s reign, Caracalla found it necessary to take a saving maneuver and end the campaign there, but not before establishing a protectorate in southern Scotland to monitor the activities of the locals. This, in fact, not only secured the inheritance of his father as an imperial propagandist on the island, but also justified the adoption of the name Britannicus by Caracalla. In 213, Caracalla decided to campaign in Raetia and Upper Germany against the Alamanni. However, there wasn’t any serious enemy activity until two decades later. During these campaigns, Caracalla adopted the title of Germanicus.
One of the most important acts of Caracalla’s reign was his Edict of 212 AD the”Constitutio Antoniniana.” This edict awarded Roman citizenship to all free inhabitants of the empire. There were several reasons for its creation. First, the edict allowed Caracalla to portray himself as a more egalitarian emperor and widen the base of people from whom he could collect an increased inheritance tax. However, since he spent a lot of money on army, there was a financial instability in the empire and this edict only cheapened the Roman citizenship.
The edict created a new class division of upper and lower classes (honestiores and humiliores)
During the reign, Caracalla idolized Alexander the Great and tried to emulate him. He wanted to make a campaign in the east as a way to gain such emulation. Caracalla also visited Alexandria to pay respects to Alexander the Great at his tomb. Firstly, the emperor was very welcomed by the locals. However, when he recognized that they are making jokes about him and Geta, Caracalla massacred a large segment of the population.
Caracalla then moved east to the frontier in 216 AD and found that the situation was not as beneficial for Rome as it was before. Vologaeses’ brother Artabanus V replaced him and managed to restore the degree of stability in Parthia. In this case, the best option for Caracalla was a quick campaign to demonstrate the strength of the Romans, but instead, the emperor decided to marry one of the daughters of Artabanus. However, Artabanus refused, considering it a rather unsuccessful attempt by Caracalla to claim Parthia. According to Herodian, Caracalla’s behavior was even more reprehensible: the emperor invited Artabanus and his family to meet to discuss peace. The Parthian king and his retinue laid down their weapons as a sign of goodwill, but Caracalla ordered his forces to massacre them. Most of the Parthians who presented there were killed, but Artabanus managed to escape with several comrades.
Emperor Caracalla was one of the less famous emperors of ancient Roman Empire. He was known as cruel, murderous and whimsical emperor. At the beginning of 217, he was based at Edessa before renewing hostilities against Parthia. Later, on April 217, Caracalla was travelling to visit a temple near Carrhae (southern Turkey) and after stopping briefly to urinate, he was stabbed to death by a soldier, Justin Martialis. Martialis was outraged by the refusal of Caracalla to give him the position of centurion. However, the soldier was also killed right after the assassination of Caracalla.
Author: Kate Zusmann
For the last 6 years I live in the Eternal City. Traveling, exploring new things, writing blogs, shooting vlogs are my main hobbies, but the thing that I like even more is to share my experience and thoughts with you! Explore Rome with Us :)
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