Caracalla

Caracalla

Overview
Caracalla was Roman emperor
Roman Emperor
The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman State during the imperial period . The Romans had no single term for the office although at any given time, a given title was associated with the emperor...

 from 198 to 217. The eldest son of Septimius Severus
Septimius Severus
Septimius Severus , also known as Severus, was Roman Emperor from 193 to 211. Severus was born in Leptis Magna in the province of Africa. As a young man he advanced through the customary succession of offices under the reigns of Marcus Aurelius and Commodus. Severus seized power after the death of...

, he ruled jointly with his younger brother Geta
Publius Septimius Geta
Geta , was a Roman Emperor co-ruling with his father Septimius Severus and his older brother Caracalla from 209 to his death.-Early life:Geta was the younger son of Septimius Severus by his second wife Julia Domna...

 until he murdered the latter in 211. Caracalla is remembered as one of the most notorious and unpleasant of emperors because of the massacres and persecutions he authorized and instigated throughout the Empire.

Caracalla's reign was also notable for the Constitutio Antoniniana
Constitutio Antoniniana
The Constitutio Antoniniana was an edict issued in 212 AD, by the Roman Emperor Caracalla...

(also called the Edict of Caracalla) , granting Roman citizenship
Roman citizenship
Citizenship in ancient Rome was a privileged political and legal status afforded to certain free-born individuals with respect to laws, property, and governance....

 to all freemen throughout the Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

 for the purpose of increasing tax revenue, according to historian Cassius Dio.
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Encyclopedia
Caracalla was Roman emperor
Roman Emperor
The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman State during the imperial period . The Romans had no single term for the office although at any given time, a given title was associated with the emperor...

 from 198 to 217. The eldest son of Septimius Severus
Septimius Severus
Septimius Severus , also known as Severus, was Roman Emperor from 193 to 211. Severus was born in Leptis Magna in the province of Africa. As a young man he advanced through the customary succession of offices under the reigns of Marcus Aurelius and Commodus. Severus seized power after the death of...

, he ruled jointly with his younger brother Geta
Publius Septimius Geta
Geta , was a Roman Emperor co-ruling with his father Septimius Severus and his older brother Caracalla from 209 to his death.-Early life:Geta was the younger son of Septimius Severus by his second wife Julia Domna...

 until he murdered the latter in 211. Caracalla is remembered as one of the most notorious and unpleasant of emperors because of the massacres and persecutions he authorized and instigated throughout the Empire.

Caracalla's reign was also notable for the Constitutio Antoniniana
Constitutio Antoniniana
The Constitutio Antoniniana was an edict issued in 212 AD, by the Roman Emperor Caracalla...

(also called the Edict of Caracalla) , granting Roman citizenship
Roman citizenship
Citizenship in ancient Rome was a privileged political and legal status afforded to certain free-born individuals with respect to laws, property, and governance....

 to all freemen throughout the Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

 for the purpose of increasing tax revenue, according to historian Cassius Dio. He is also one of the emperors who commissioned a large public bath-house (thermae
Thermae
In ancient Rome, thermae and balnea were facilities for bathing...

) in Rome. The remains of the Baths of Caracalla
Baths of Caracalla
The Baths of Caracalla in Rome, Italy were Roman public baths, or thermae, built in Rome between AD 212 and 216, during the reign of the Emperor Caracalla.- History :...

 are still one of the major attractions of the Italian capital.

Early life


Caracalla, of mixed Punic–Roman
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

Berber
Berber people
Berbers are the indigenous peoples of North Africa west of the Nile Valley. They are continuously distributed from the Atlantic to the Siwa oasis, in Egypt, and from the Mediterranean to the Niger River. Historically they spoke the Berber language or varieties of it, which together form a branch...

 and Syria
Syria
Syria , officially the Syrian Arab Republic , is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest....

n descent, was born Lucius Septimius Bassianus in Lugdunum
Lugdunum
Colonia Copia Claudia Augusta Lugdunum was an important Roman city in Gaul. The city was founded in 43 BC by Lucius Munatius Plancus. It served as the capital of the Roman province Gallia Lugdunensis. To 300 years after its foundation Lugdunum was the most important city to the west part of Roman...

, Gaul
Gaul
Gaul was a region of Western Europe during the Iron Age and Roman era, encompassing present day France, Luxembourg and Belgium, most of Switzerland, the western part of Northern Italy, as well as the parts of the Netherlands and Germany on the left bank of the Rhine. The Gauls were the speakers of...

 (now Lyon
Lyon
Lyon , is a city in east-central France in the Rhône-Alpes region, situated between Paris and Marseille. Lyon is located at from Paris, from Marseille, from Geneva, from Turin, and from Barcelona. The residents of the city are called Lyonnais....

, France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

), the son of the later Emperor Septimius Severus and Julia Domna
Julia Domna
Julia Domna was a member of the Severan dynasty of the Roman Empire. Empress and wife of Roman Emperor Lucius Septimius Severus and mother of Emperors Geta and Caracalla, Julia was among the most important women ever to exercise power behind the throne in the Roman Empire.- Family background...

. At the age of seven, his name was changed to Marcus Aurelius Septimius Bassianus Antoninus to create a connection to the family of the philosopher emperor Marcus Aurelius. He was later given the nickname Caracalla, which referred to the Gallic hooded tunic he habitually wore and which he made fashionable.

Reign


His father died in 211 at Eboracum
Eboracum
Eboracum was a fort and city in Roman Britain. The settlement evolved into York, located in North Yorkshire, England.-Etymology:The first known recorded mention of Eboracum by name is dated circa 95-104 AD and is an address containing the Latin form of the settlement's name, "Eburaci", on a wooden...

 (now York
York
York is a walled city, situated at the confluence of the Rivers Ouse and Foss in North Yorkshire, England. The city has a rich heritage and has provided the backdrop to major political events throughout much of its two millennia of existence...

) in northern Britain. Caracalla was present and was then proclaimed co-emperor with his brother Publius Septimius Antoninus Geta
Publius Septimius Geta
Geta , was a Roman Emperor co-ruling with his father Septimius Severus and his older brother Caracalla from 209 to his death.-Early life:Geta was the younger son of Septimius Severus by his second wife Julia Domna...

. Caracalla continued campaigning against the Caledonians
Caledonians
The Caledonians , or Caledonian Confederacy, is a name given by historians to a group of indigenous peoples of what is now Scotland during the Iron Age and Roman eras. The Romans referred to their territory as Caledonia and initially included them as Britons, but later distinguished as the Picts...

 the following season, but soon ended all military activity, as both brothers wanted to be sole ruler thus making relations between them increasingly strained as they tried to rule the Empire jointly (they even considered dividing the Empire in halves, but were persuaded not to do so by their mother).

Then in December AD 211 at a reconciliation meeting arranged by their mother Julia, Caracalla had Geta assassinated by members of the Praetorian Guard loyal to him, Geta died in his mother's arms. Caracalla then persecuted Geta's supporters and ordered a damnatio memoriae
Damnatio memoriae
Damnatio memoriae is the Latin phrase literally meaning "condemnation of memory" in the sense of a judgment that a person must not be remembered. It was a form of dishonor that could be passed by the Roman Senate upon traitors or others who brought discredit to the Roman State...

by the Senate against his brother.

Geta's image was simply removed from all coinage, paintings and statues, leaving a blank space next to Caracalla's. Among those killed were Caracalla's ex-wife, Fulvia Plautilla
Fulvia Plautilla
Publia Fulvia Plautilla, Fulvia Plautilla or Plautilla was a Roman Princess, briefly Roman Empress and the only wife to Roman Emperor Caracalla. Caracalla was her paternal second cousin.-Birth and family:...

, and her brother and other members of the family of his former father-in-law Gaius Fulvius Plautianus
Gaius Fulvius Plautianus
Gaius or Lucius Fulvius Plautianus was a member of the Roman gens Fulvius, a family of the patrician status which had been active in politics since the Roman Republic....

. Plautianus had already been executed for alleged treachery against emperor Severus in 205.

Also, around the time of his accession he devalued the Roman currency
Roman currency
The Roman currency during most of the Roman Republic and the western half of the Roman Empire consisted of coins including the aureus , the denarius , the sestertius , the dupondius , and the as...

. He decreased the silver purity of the denarius from 56.5% to 51.5%, the actual silver weight dropping from 1.81 grams to 1.66 grams - though the overall weight slightly increased. In 215 he also introduced the antoninianus
Antoninianus
The antoninianus was a coin used during the Roman Empire thought to have been valued at 2 denarii. It was initially silver, but was slowly debased to bronze. The coin was introduced by Caracalla in early 215 and was a silver coin similar to the denarius except that it was slightly larger and...

, a "double denarius" weighing 5.1 grams and containing 2.6 grams of silver - a purity of 52%.

In AD 213, Caracalla went north to the German frontier to deal with the Alamanni
Alamanni
The Alamanni, Allemanni, or Alemanni were originally an alliance of Germanic tribes located around the upper Rhine river . One of the earliest references to them is the cognomen Alamannicus assumed by Roman Emperor Caracalla, who ruled the Roman Empire from 211 to 217 and claimed thereby to be...

 tribesmen who were causing trouble in the Agri Decumates
Agri Decumates
The agri decumates or decumates agri were a region of the Roman Empire's province of Germania superior , covering the Black Forest area between the Main river and the sources of Danube and Rhine rivers, presently in Southwestern Germany...

. The Romans did defeat the Alamanni in battle near the river Main, but failed to win a decisive victory over them. After a peace agreement was brokered and a large bribe payment given to the invaders, the Senate conferred upon him the empty title of "Germanicus Maximus". The following year the emperor traveled to the East, to Syria and Egypt.

Gibbon in his work describes Caracalla as "the common enemy of mankind". He left the capital in AD 213, about a year after the murder of Geta, and spent the rest of his reign in the provinces, particularly those of the East. He kept the Senate and other wealthy families in check by forcing them to construct, at their own expense, palaces, theaters, and places of entertainment throughout the periphery. New and heavy taxes were levied against the bulk of the population, with additional fees and confiscations targeted at the wealthiest families.

When the inhabitants of Alexandria heard Caracalla's claims that he had killed Geta in self-defense, they produced a satire mocking this as well as Caracalla's other pretensions. In AD 215 Caracalla savagely responded to this insult by slaughtering the deputation of leading citizens who had unsuspectingly assembled before the city to greet his arrival, and then unleashed his troops for several days of looting and plunder in Alexandria. According to historian Cassius Dio, over 20,000 people were killed.

During his reign as emperor, Caracalla raised the annual pay of an average legionary to 675 denarii and lavished many benefits on the army which he both feared and admired, as instructed by his father Septimius Severus who had told him on his deathbed to always mind the soldiers and ignore everyone else. Caracalla did manage to win the trust of the military with generous pay rises and popular gestures, like marching on foot among the ordinary soldiers, eating the same food, and even grinding his own flour with them. With the soldiers, "He forgot even the proper dignity of his rank, encouraging their insolent familiarity," according to Gibbon. "The vigour of the soldiers, instead of being confirmed by the severe discipline of the camps, melted away in the luxury of the cities."

His official portraiture marks a break with the detached images of the philosopher–emperors who preceded him: his close-cropped haircut is that of a soldier, his pugnacious scowl a realistic and threatening presence. This rugged soldier–emperor iconic archetype was adopted by most of the following emperors who depended on the support of the military to rule, like his eventual successor Maximinus Thrax
Maximinus Thrax
Maximinus Thrax , also known as Maximinus I, was Roman Emperor from 235 to 238.Maximinus is described by several ancient sources, though none are contemporary except Herodian's Roman History. Maximinus was the first emperor never to set foot in Rome...

.

According to the historian Herodian, in AD 216, Caracalla tricked the Parthians into believing that he accepted a marriage and peace proposal, but then had the bride and guests slaughtered after the wedding celebrations. The thereafter ongoing conflict and skirmishes became known as the Parthian war of Caracalla
Parthian war of Caracalla
The Parthian war of Caracalla was fought between the Roman and Parthian Empires under Caracalla and Artabanus IV of Parthia respectively. According to Herodian, in 216 AD, Caracalla tricked the Parthians into believing that he accepted a marriage proposal and slaughtered the wedding guests after...

.

Seeking to secure his own legacy, Caracalla also commissioned one of Rome's last major architectural achievements, the Baths of Caracalla
Baths of Caracalla
The Baths of Caracalla in Rome, Italy were Roman public baths, or thermae, built in Rome between AD 212 and 216, during the reign of the Emperor Caracalla.- History :...

, the largest public baths ever built in ancient Rome. The main room of the baths was larger than St. Peter's Basilica
St. Peter's Basilica
The Papal Basilica of Saint Peter , officially known in Italian as ' and commonly known as Saint Peter's Basilica, is a Late Renaissance church located within the Vatican City. Saint Peter's Basilica has the largest interior of any Christian church in the world...

, and could easily accommodate over 2,000 Roman citizens at one time. The bath house opened in 216, complete with libraries, private rooms and outdoor tracks. Internally it was lavishly decorated with gold-trimmed marble floors, columns, mosaics and colossal statuary.

Edict of Caracalla


The Constitutio Antoniniana
Constitutio Antoniniana
The Constitutio Antoniniana was an edict issued in 212 AD, by the Roman Emperor Caracalla...

 (Latin: "Constitution [or Edict] of Antoninus") (also called Edict of Caracalla) was an edict issued in 212 by Caracalla which declared that all free men in the Roman Empire were to be given full Roman citizenship and all free women in the Empire were given the same rights as Roman women.

Before 212, for the most part only inhabitants of Italia held full Roman citizenship. Colonies of Romans established in other provinces, Romans (or their descendants) living in provinces, the inhabitants of various cities throughout the Empire, and small numbers of local nobles (such as kings of client countries) held full citizenship also. Provincials, on the other hand, were usually non-citizens, although some held the Latin Right
Latin Right
Latin Rights was a civic status given by the Romans, intermediate between full Roman citizenship and non-citizen status , and extended originally to the people of Latium . The most important Latin Rights were commercium, connubium, and ius migrationis...

.

The Roman Historian Cassius Dio contended that the sole motivation for the edict was a desire to increase state revenue. At the time, aliens did not have to pay most taxes that were required of citizens, so although nominally Caracalla was elevating their legal status, he was more importantly expanding the Roman tax base.

Assassination



While travelling from Edessa
Edessa, Mesopotamia
Edessa is the Greek name of an Aramaic town in northern Mesopotamia, as refounded by Seleucus I Nicator. For the modern history of the city, see Şanlıurfa.-Names:...

 to continue the war with Parthia
Parthia
Parthia is a region of north-eastern Iran, best known for having been the political and cultural base of the Arsacid dynasty, rulers of the Parthian Empire....

, he was assassinated while urinating at a roadside near Carrhae on April 8, AD 217, by Julius Martialis, an officer of his personal bodyguard. Herodian
Herodian
Herodian or Herodianus of Syria was a minor Roman civil servant who wrote a colourful history in Greek titled History of the Empire from the Death of Marcus in eight books covering the years 180 to 238. His work is not entirely reliable although his relatively unbiased account of Elagabalus is...

 says that Martialis' brother had been executed a few days earlier by Caracalla on an unproven charge; Cassius Dio, on the other hand, says that Martialis was resentful at not being promoted to the rank of centurion. The escort of the emperor gave him privacy to relieve himself, and Martialis then ran forward and killed Caracalla with a single sword stroke. He immediately fled on horseback, but was in turn killed by a bodyguard archer.

Caracalla was succeeded by the Praetorian Guard Prefect
Praetorian prefect
Praetorian prefect was the title of a high office in the Roman Empire. Originating as the commander of the Praetorian Guard, the office gradually acquired extensive legal and administrative functions, with its holders becoming the Emperor's chief aides...

, Macrinus
Macrinus
Macrinus , was Roman Emperor from 217 to 218. Macrinus was of "Moorish" descent and the first emperor to become so without membership in the senatorial class.-Background and career:...

.

His nickname


According to Aurelius Victor
Aurelius Victor
Sextus Aurelius Victor was a historian and politician of the Roman Empire.Aurelius Victor was the author of a History of Rome from Augustus to Julian , published ca. 361. Julian honoured him and appointed him prefect of Pannonia Secunda...

 in his Epitome de Caesaribus, the agnomen
Agnomen
An agnomen , in the Roman naming convention, was a nickname, just as the cognomen was initially. However, the cognomina eventually became family names, so agnomina were needed to distinguish between similarly named persons...

 "Caracalla" refers to a Gallic cloak
Cloak
A cloak is a type of loose garment that is worn over indoor clothing and serves the same purpose as an overcoat; it protects the wearer from the cold, rain or wind for example, or it may form part of a fashionable outfit or uniform. Cloaks are as old as human history; there has nearly always been...

 that Caracalla adopted as a personal fashion, which spread to his army and his court. Cassius Dio and the Historia Augusta
Augustan History
The Augustan History is a late Roman collection of biographies, in Latin, of the Roman Emperors, their junior colleagues and usurpers of the period 117 to 284...

agree that his nickname was derived from his cloak, but does not mention its country of origin.

Legendary king of Britain


Geoffrey of Monmouth
Geoffrey of Monmouth
Geoffrey of Monmouth was a cleric and one of the major figures in the development of British historiography and the popularity of tales of King Arthur...

's legendary History of the Kings of Britain
Historia Regum Britanniae
The Historia Regum Britanniae is a pseudohistorical account of British history, written c. 1136 by Geoffrey of Monmouth. It chronicles the lives of the kings of the Britons in a chronological narrative spanning a time of two thousand years, beginning with the Trojans founding the British nation...

makes Caracalla a king of Britain, referring to him by his actual name "Bassianus", rather than the nickname Caracalla. In the story, after Severus's death the Romans wanted to make Geta king of Britain, but the Britons preferred Bassianus because he had a British mother. The two brothers fought a battle in which Geta was killed and Bassianus succeeded to the throne. He ruled until he was betrayed by his Pictish
Picts
The Picts were a group of Late Iron Age and Early Mediaeval people living in what is now eastern and northern Scotland. There is an association with the distribution of brochs, place names beginning 'Pit-', for instance Pitlochry, and Pictish stones. They are recorded from before the Roman conquest...

 allies and overthrown by Carausius
Carausius
Marcus Aurelius Mausaeus Valerius Carausius was a military commander of the Roman Empire in the 3rd century. He was a Menapian from Belgic Gaul, who usurped power in 286, declaring himself emperor in Britain and northern Gaul. He did this only 13 years after the Gallic Empire of the Batavian...

, who, according to Geoffrey, was a Briton, rather than the Menapian
Menapii
The Menapii were a Belgic tribe of northern Gaul in pre-Roman and Roman times. Their territory according to Strabo, Caesar and Ptolemy stretched from the mouth of the Rhine in the north, and southwards along the west of the Schelde. Their civitas under the Roman empire was Cassel , near Thérouanne...

 Gaul that he actually was.

External links

  • Life of Caracalla (Historia Augusta at LacusCurtius: Latin text and English translation)