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Macrinus 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 217 to 218. Macrinus was of "Moor
-Ethnicity:*Moors, several historic and modern populations from North Africa*Sri Lankan Moor, a minority ethnic group of Sri Lanka*Marakkar, a Muslim minority ethnic group of India-Places:...

ish" descent and the first emperor to become so without membership in the senatorial class.

Background and career

Born in Caesarea (modern Cherchell
Cherchell is a seaport town in the Province of Tipaza, Algeria, 55 miles west of Algiers. It is the district seat of Cherchell District. As of 1998, it had a population of 24,400.-Ancient history:...

, Algeria) in the Roman province
Roman province
In Ancient Rome, a province was the basic, and, until the Tetrarchy , largest territorial and administrative unit of the empire's territorial possessions outside of Italy...

 of Mauretania
Mauretania is a part of the historical Ancient Libyan land in North Africa. It corresponds to present day Morocco and a part of western Algeria...

 to an equestrian
Equestrian (Roman)
The Roman equestrian order constituted the lower of the two aristocratic classes of ancient Rome, ranking below the patricians , a hereditary caste that monopolised political power during the regal era and during the early Republic . A member of the equestrian order was known as an eques...

 family, Macrinus received an education which allowed him to ascend to the Roman political class. Over the years he earned a reputation as a skilled lawyer. Under the emperor 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 became an important bureaucrat. Severus' successor Caracalla
Caracalla , was Roman emperor from 198 to 217. The eldest son of Septimius Severus, he ruled jointly with his younger brother Geta until he murdered the latter in 211...

 appointed him 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...

 of the Praetorian guard
Praetorian Guard
The Praetorian Guard was a force of bodyguards used by Roman Emperors. The title was already used during the Roman Republic for the guards of Roman generals, at least since the rise to prominence of the Scipio family around 275 BC...

. While Macrinus likely enjoyed the trust of Caracalla, this may have changed when, according to tradition, he was prophesied to depose and succeed the Emperor. Rumors spread regarding Macrinus' alleged desire to take the throne for himself. Given Caracalla's tendency towards murdering political opponents, Macrinus probably feared for his own safety should the Emperor become aware of this prophecy. According to Dio, Caracalla had already taken the step of re-assigning members of Macrinus' staff.

In the spring of 217, Caracalla was in the eastern provinces preparing a campaign against the Parthian Empire
Parthian Empire
The Parthian Empire , also known as the Arsacid Empire , was a major Iranian political and cultural power in ancient Persia...

. Macrinus was among his staff, as were other members of the praetorian guard. In April, the Emperor went to visit a temple of Luna
In Greek mythology, Selene was an archaic lunar deity and the daughter of the Titans Hyperion and Theia. In Roman mythology, the moon goddess is called Luna, Latin for "moon"....

 near the spot of the battle of Carrhae
Battle of Carrhae
The Battle of Carrhae, fought in 53 BC near the town of Carrhae, was a major battle between the Parthian Empire and the Roman Republic. The Parthian Spahbod Surena decisively defeated a Roman invasion force led by Marcus Licinius Crassus...

, accompanied only by his personal bodyguard, which included Macrinus. Events are not clear, but it is certain that Caracalla was murdered at some point on the trip (perhaps on April 8). Caracalla's body was brought back from the temple by his bodyguards, along with the corpse of a fellow bodyguard. The story as told by Macrinus was that the dead guard had killed Caracalla. By April 11, Macrinus proclaimed himself emperor. Macrinus also nominated his son Diadumenianus Caesar
Caesar (title)
Caesar is a title of imperial character. It derives from the cognomen of Julius Caesar, the Roman dictator...

and successor and conferred upon him the name "Antoninus", thus connecting him with the relatively stable reigns of the Antonine emperors of the 2nd century.

Reign (April 217 – June 218)

Despite his equestrian background, Macrinus was confirmed in his new role by the Senate
Roman Senate
The Senate of the Roman Republic was a political institution in the ancient Roman Republic, however, it was not an elected body, but one whose members were appointed by the consuls, and later by the censors. After a magistrate served his term in office, it usually was followed with automatic...

. According to S.N. Miller, this may have been due to both his background as an accomplished jurist and his deferential treatment of the senatorial class. He found it necessary, however, to replace several provincial governors with men of his own choosing. Caracalla's mother 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...

 was initially left in peace, but when she started to conspire with the military he ordered her to leave Antioch
Antioch on the Orontes was an ancient city on the eastern side of the Orontes River. It is near the modern city of Antakya, Turkey.Founded near the end of the 4th century BC by Seleucus I Nicator, one of Alexander the Great's generals, Antioch eventually rivaled Alexandria as the chief city of the...

. Being at that time in an advanced stage of breast cancer (Cassius Dio) she chose instead to starve herself to death.

In urgent matters of foreign policy, Macrinus displayed a tendency towards conciliation and a reluctance to engage in military conflict. He averted trouble in the province of Dacia
In ancient geography, especially in Roman sources, Dacia was the land inhabited by the Dacians or Getae as they were known by the Greeks—the branch of the Thracians north of the Haemus range...

 by returning hostages that had been held by Caracalla, and he ended troubles in Armenia by granting that country's throne to Tiridates, whose father had also been imprisoned under Caracalla. Less easily managed was the problem of Mesopotamia
Mesopotamia is a toponym for the area of the Tigris–Euphrates river system, largely corresponding to modern-day Iraq, northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey and southwestern Iran.Widely considered to be the cradle of civilization, Bronze Age Mesopotamia included Sumer and the...

, which had been invaded by the 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....

ns in the wake of Caracalla's demise. Meeting the Parthians in battle during the summer of 217, Macrinus achieved a costly draw
Battle of Nisibis (217)
The Battle of Nisibis was fought in the summer of 217 between the armies of the Roman Empire under the newly ascended emperor Macrinus and the Parthian army of King Artabanus IV. It lasted for three days, and resulted in a bloody draw, with both sides suffering large casualties...

 near the town of Nisibis
Nusaybin Nisêbîn) is a city in Mardin Province, Turkey, populated mainly by Kurds. Earlier Arameans, Arabs, and Armenians lived in the city. The population of the city is 83,832 as of 2009.-Ancient Period:...

 and as a result was forced to enter negotiations through which was obliged to pay the enormous indemnity
An indemnity is a sum paid by A to B by way of compensation for a particular loss suffered by B. The indemnitor may or may not be responsible for the loss suffered by the indemnitee...

 of 200 million sesterces to the Parthian ruler Artabanus IV
Artabanus IV of Parthia
Artabanus IV of Parthia ruled the Parthian Empire . He was the younger son of Vologases V who died in 208. Artabanus rebelled against his brother Vologases VI, and soon gained the upper hand, although Vologases VI maintained himself in a part of Babylonia until about 228.The Roman emperor...

 in return for peace.

However, Macrinus displayed some financial farsightedness when he revalued 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 increased the silver purity of the denarius
In the Roman currency system, the denarius was a small silver coin first minted in 211 BC. It was the most common coin produced for circulation but was slowly debased until its replacement by the antoninianus...

 from 51.5% to 58% — the actual silver weight increasing from 1.66 grams to 1.82 grams.

Nevertheless, Macrinus' reluctance to engage in warfare, and his failure to gain victory over even a historically inferior enemy such as the Parthians caused considerable resentment among the soldiers. This was compounded by him curtailing the privileges they had enjoyed under Caracalla and the introduction of a pay system by which recruits received less than veterans. After only a short while, the legions were searching for a rival emperor.

At a high point of his popularity monuments were built to revere Macrinus. The grand tetrastyle Capitoline Temple
Capitoline Temple
The Capitoline Temple of Volubilis is an ancient structure from the Roman period of Volubilis, extant in present day Morocco. This building incorporates a tetrastyle design and was dedicated to the Roman Emperor Macrinus. The temple was dedicated to the trinity of Roman gods: Juno, Jupiter and...

, in Volubilis
Volubilis is an archaeological site in Morocco situated near Meknes between Fez and Rabat along the N13 road. The nearest town is Moulay Idriss. Volubilis features the best preserved Roman ruins in this part of northern Africa...

 was erected to honour Emperor Macrinus in 217 AD.

His popularity also suffered in Rome. Not only had the new emperor failed to visit the city after taking power but a late-summer thunderstorm caused widespread fires and flooding. Macrinus' appointee as urban prefect proved unable to repair the damage to the satisfaction of the populace and had to be replaced.


This discontent was fostered by the surviving members of the Severan dynasty
Severan dynasty
The Severan dynasty was a Roman imperial dynasty, which ruled the Roman Empire between 193 and 235. The dynasty was founded by the Roman general Septimius Severus, who rose to power during the civil war of 193, known as the Year of the Five Emperors....

, headed by Julia Maesa
Julia Maesa
Julia Maesa was a Roman citizen and daughter of Julius Bassianus, priest of the sun god Heliogabalus, the patron god of Emesa in the Roman province of Syria...

 (Caracalla's aunt) and her daughters Julia Soaemias
Julia Soaemias
Julia Soaemias Bassiana was the mother of Roman Emperor Elagabalus and ruled over the Roman Empire during the minority of her son's rule....

 and Julia Mamaea. Having been evicted from the imperial palace and ordered to return home by Macrinus, the Severan women plotted from their home near Emesa in Syria
Syria (Roman province)
Syria was a Roman province, annexed in 64 BC by Pompey, as a consequence of his military presence after pursuing victory in the Third Mithridatic War. It remained under Roman, and subsequently Byzantine, rule for seven centuries, until 637 when it fell to the Islamic conquests.- Principate :The...

 to place another Severan on the imperial throne. They used their hereditary influence over the cult of sun-deity
Solar deity
A solar deity is a sky deity who represents the Sun, or an aspect of it, usually by its perceived power and strength. Solar deities and sun worship can be found throughout most of recorded history in various forms...

 Elagabalus (the Latinised form of El-Gabal) to proclaim Soaemias' son Elagabalus
Elagabalus , also known as Heliogabalus, was Roman Emperor from 218 to 222. A member of the Severan Dynasty, he was Syrian on his mother's side, the son of Julia Soaemias and Sextus Varius Marcellus. Early in his youth he served as a priest of the god El-Gabal at his hometown, Emesa...

 (named for his family's patron deity) as the true successor to Caracalla. The rumor was spread, with the assistance of the Severan women, that Elagabalus was Caracalla's illegitimate son and thus the child of a union between first cousins.

On May 18, Elagabalus was proclaimed emperor by the Legio III Gallica
Legio III Gallica
Legio tertia Gallica was a Roman legion levied by Julius Caesar around 49 BC, for his civil war against the conservative republicans led by Pompey. The cognomen Gallica suggests that recruits were originally from the Gallic Roman provinces. The legion was still active in Egypt in the early 4th...

 at its camp at Raphana
Raphana, in present-day north of Jordan, was a city of the Decapolis. It is thought to lie north of Umm Qais in the Abilene plain.The city was the base camp of the Roman legions Legio III Gallica and of Legio XII Fulminata.-References:*...

. A force under his tutor Gannys marched on Antioch
Antioch on the Orontes was an ancient city on the eastern side of the Orontes River. It is near the modern city of Antakya, Turkey.Founded near the end of the 4th century BC by Seleucus I Nicator, one of Alexander the Great's generals, Antioch eventually rivaled Alexandria as the chief city of the...

 and engaged a force under Macrinus on June 8 218. Macrinus, deserted by most of his soldiers, was soundly defeated in the battle
Battle of Antioch (218)
The Battle of Antioch took place between two Roman armies of the Roman Emperor Macrinus and his contender Elagabalus, whose troops were commanded by general Gannys. Elagabalus won and was crowned emperor.- History :...

 and fled towards Italy disguised as a courier. He was captured near Chalcedon
Chalcedon , sometimes transliterated as Chalkedon) was an ancient maritime town of Bithynia, in Asia Minor, almost directly opposite Byzantium, south of Scutari . It is now a district of the city of Istanbul named Kadıköy...

 and later executed in Cappadocia
Cappadocia is a historical region in Central Anatolia, largely in Nevşehir Province.In the time of Herodotus, the Cappadocians were reported as occupying the whole region from Mount Taurus to the vicinity of the Euxine...

. His son Diadumenianus, sent for safety to the Parthian court, was captured at Zeugma and also murdered.

Macrinus' short reign, while important for its historical "firsts", was cut short due to the inability of this otherwise accomplished man to control or satisfy the soldiery. In his death at the hands of Roman soldiers, Macrinus reinforced the notion of the soldiers as the true brokers of power in the third-century empire and highlighted the importance of maintaining the support of this vital faction. His reign was followed by another seventeen years of rule under the Severan emperors Elagabalus
Elagabalus , also known as Heliogabalus, was Roman Emperor from 218 to 222. A member of the Severan Dynasty, he was Syrian on his mother's side, the son of Julia Soaemias and Sextus Varius Marcellus. Early in his youth he served as a priest of the god El-Gabal at his hometown, Emesa...

 and Severus Alexander.

External links and references