Caracalla Denarius. 215 AD
Obverse: ANTONINVS PIVS AVG GERM, laureate head right
Reverse: P M TR P XVIII COS IIII P P, Apollo, naked,
holding branch & resting hand on lyre set on altar
Caracalla, AE23 of Deultum, Thrace.
Obverse: M AVREL ABTONINVS PIVS AV, radiate head right.
Reverse: COL FL PAC wolf and twins, DEVLT in exergue
(I could not a reference ID for this coin, but I did
find an extremely worn coin
for sale at LINK.
The seller was also not able to find a reference ID, but did
mention similar reverse with obverse of Julia Mamaea
Caracalla AE 32mm of Pisidia, Antioch
Struck 212-217 AD
Obverse: IMP CAE M AVR ANTONINVS PIVS AVG, laureate
Reverse: COL CAES ANTIOCH, SR in ex, she-wolf suckling
the twins Romulus and Remus
SNG vA 4939
Caracalla (4 April 188 – 8 April 217), formally Marcus Aurelius Severus
Antoninus Augustus, was Roman emperor from AD 198 to 217. A member
of the Severan Dynasty, he was the eldest son of Septimius Severus and
Julia Domna. Caracalla reigned jointly with his father from 198 until
Severus' death in 211. Caracalla then ruled jointly with his younger
brother Geta, with whom he had a fraught relationship, until he had Geta
murdered later that year. Caracalla's reign was marked by domestic
instability and external invasions from the Germanic people.
Caracalla's reign was notable for the Antonine Constitution (Latin: Constitutio
Antoniniana), also known as the Edict of Caracalla, which granted Roman
citizenship to nearly all freemen throughout the Roman Empire. The
edict gave all the enfranchised men Caracalla's adopted praenomen and nomen:
"Marcus Aurelius". Domestically, Caracalla was known for the construction
of the Baths of Caracalla, which became the second largest baths in Rome,
for the introduction of a new Roman currency named the antoninianus, a
sort of double denarius, and for the massacres he enacted against the people
of Rome and elsewhere in the empire. Towards the end of his rule,
Caracalla began a campaign against the Parthian Empire. He did not
see this campaign through to completion due to his assassination by a disaffected
soldier in 217. He was succeeded as emperor by Macrinus after three
Caracalla is presented in ancient sources as a tyrant and cruel leader,
an image that has survived into modernity. Dio Cassius and Herodian
present Caracalla as a soldier first and emperor second. In the 12th
century, Geoffrey of Monmouth started the legend of Caracalla's role as
the king of Britain. Later, in the 18th century, Caracalla's memory
was revived in the works of French artists due to the parallels between
Caracalla's apparent tyranny and that of King Louis XVI. Modern works
continue to portray Caracalla as a psychopathic and evil ruler. His
rule is remembered as being one of the most tyrannical of all Roman emperors.
Caracalla was born Lucius Septimius Bassianus. He was renamed Marcus Aurelius
Antoninus at the age of seven as part of his father's attempt at union
with the families of Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius. According
to Aurelius Victor in his Epitome de Caesaribus, he became known by the
agnomen "Caracalla" after a Gallic hooded tunic that he habitually wore
and made fashionable. He may have begun wearing it during his campaigns
on the Rhine and Danube. Dio generally referred to him as Tarautas,
after a famously diminutive and violent gladiator of the time.
Caracalla was born in Lugdunum, Gaul (now Lyon, France), on 4 April 188
to Septimius Severus and Julia Domna. He had a slightly younger brother,
Geta, who would briefly rule as co-emperor alongside him. Caracalla's
father, Septimius Severus, appointed Caracalla joint Augustus and full
emperor from the year 198 onwards. His brother Geta was granted the
same title in 210. In 202 Caracalla was forced to marry the daughter
of Gaius Fulvius Plautianus, Fulvia Plautilla, a woman whom he hated, though
for what reason is unknown. By 205 Caracalla had succeeded in having
Plautianus executed for treason, though he had probably fabricated the
evidence of the plot himself. It was then that he banished his wife,
whose later killing might have been carried out under Caracalla's orders.
Caracalla's father, Septimius Severus, died on 4 February 211 at Eboracum
(now York) while on campaign in Caledonia, north of the Roman Britannia.
Caracalla and his brother, Publius Septimius Antoninus Geta, jointly inherited
the throne upon their father's death. Caracalla and Geta ended the
campaign in Caledonia after concluding a peace with the Caledonians that
returned the border of Roman Britain to the line demarcated by Hadrian's
Wall. During the journey back to Rome with their father's ashes,
Caracalla and his brother continuously argued with one another, making
relations between them increasingly hostile. Caracalla and Geta considered
dividing the empire in half along the Bosphorus to make their co-rule less
hostile. Caracalla was to rule in the west and Geta was to rule in
the east. They were persuaded not to do this by their mother.
On 26 December 211, at a reconciliation meeting arranged by their mother,
Caracalla had Geta assassinated by members of the Praetorian Guard loyal
to himself, Geta dying in his mother's arms. Caracalla then persecuted
and executed most of Geta's supporters and ordered a damnatio memoriae
pronounced by the Senate against his brother's memory. Geta's image
was removed from all paintings, coins were melted down, statues were destroyed,
his name was struck from papyrus records, and it became a capital offence
to speak or write Geta's name. In the aftermath of the damnatio memoriae,
an estimated 20,000 people were massacred. Those killed were Geta's
inner circle of guards and advisers, friends, and other military staff
under his employ.
The Roman Empire during the reign of Caracalla
In 213, about a year after Geta's death, Caracalla left Rome never to return.
He went north to the German frontier to deal with the Alamanni and Goths
tribesmen, a confederation of migrating Germanic tribes who had broken
through the limes in Raetia. During the campaign of 213–214, Caracalla
successfully defeated some of the Germanic tribes while settling other
difficulties through diplomacy, though precisely with whom these treaties
were made remains unknown. While there, Caracalla strengthened the
frontier fortifications of Raetia and Germania Superior, collectively known
as the Agri Decumates, so that it was able to withstand any further barbarian
invasions for another twenty years. Historian Edward Gibbon compares
Caracalla to emperors such as Hadrian who spent their careers campaigning
in the provinces and then to tyrants such as Nero and Domitian whose entire
reigns were confined to Rome and whose actions only impacted upon the senatorial
and equestrian classes residing there. Gibbon then concludes that Caracalla
was "the common enemy of mankind", as both Romans and provincials alike
were subject to "his rapine and cruelty".
After Caracalla concluded his campaign against the Alamanni, it became
evident that he was inordinately preoccupied with the Greek-Macedonian
general and conqueror Alexander the Great. He began openly mimicking
Alexander in his personal style. In planning his invasion of the
Parthian Empire, Caracalla decided to equip 16,000 of his men with Macedonian-style
phalanxes, despite the Roman army having made the phalanx an obsolete tactical
formation. The historian Christopher Matthew mentions that the term
Phalangarii has two possible meanings, both with military connotations.
The first refers merely to the Roman battle line and does not specifically
mean that the men were armed with pikes, and the second bears similarity
to the 'Mariam Mules' of the late Roman Republic who carried their equipment
suspended from a long pole, which were in use until at least the 2nd century
AD. As a consequence, the Phalangarii of Legio II Parthica may not
have been pikemen, but rather standard battle line troops or possibly Triarii.
Caracalla's mania for Alexander went so far that Caracalla visited Alexandria
while preparing for his Persian invasion and persecuted philosophers of
the Aristotelian school based on a legend that Aristotle had poisoned Alexander.
This was a sign of Caracalla's increasingly erratic behaviour. But this
mania for Alexander, strange as it was, was overshadowed by subsequent
events in Alexandria.
When the inhabitants of Alexandria heard of Caracalla's claims that he
had killed his brother Geta in self-defence, they produced a satire mocking
this as well as Caracalla's other pretensions. In 215 Caracalla travelled
to Alexandria and responded to this insult by slaughtering the deputation
of leading citizens who had unsuspectingly assembled before the city to
greet his arrival, before setting his troops against Alexandria for several
days of looting and plunder. Following the massacre at Alexandria,
Caracalla moved east onto Armenia. By 216 he had pushed through Armenia
and south into Parthia.
During the reign of Septimius Severus, Julia Domna had played a prominent
public role, receiving titles of honor such as "Mother of the camp", but
she also played a role behind the scenes helping Septimius administer the
empire. Described as ambitious, Julia Domna surrounded herself with
thinkers and writers from all over the empire. While Caracalla was
mustering and training troops for his planned Persian invasion, Julia remained
in Rome, administering the empire. Julia's growing influence in state
affairs was the beginning of a trend of emperors' mothers having influence,
which continued throughout the Severan dynasty.
When Geta died in 211, her responsibilities increased because Caracalla
found administrative tasks to be mundane. She may have taken upon
one of the more important civil functions of the emperor; receiving petitions
and answering correspondence. The extent of her role in this position,
however, is probably overstated. She may have represented her son
and played a role in meetings and answering queries; however, the final
authority on legal matters was Caracalla. When Caracalla was murdered,
Julia was in Antioch sorting out correspondence, removing unimportant messages
from the bunch so that when Caracalla returned, he would not be overburdened
with duties. The emperor filled all of the roles in the legal system
judge, legislator, and administrator.
During his reign as emperor, Caracalla raised the annual pay of an average
legionary from 2000 sesterces (500 denarii) to 2700–3000 sesterces (675–750
denarii). He lavished many benefits on the army, which he both feared
and admired, in accordance with the advice given by his father on his deathbed
always to heed the welfare of the soldiers and ignore everyone else.
Caracalla needed to gain and keep the trust of the military, and he did
so with generous pay raises and popular gestures. He spent much of
his time with the soldiers, so much so that he began to imitate their dress
and adopt their manners.
Construction on the Baths of Caracalla began in 211 at the start of Caracalla's
rule. The baths are named for Caracalla, though it is most probable
that his father was responsible for their planning. In 216 a partial
inauguration of the baths took place, but the outer perimeter of the baths
was not completed until the reign of Severus Alexander. These large
baths were typical of the Roman practice of building complexes for social
and state activities in large densely populated cities. The baths
covered around 50 acres (or 202,000 square meters) of land and could accommodate
around 1,600 bathers at any one time. They were the second largest
public baths built in ancient Rome and were complete with swimming pools,
exercise yards, a stadium, steam rooms, libraries, meeting rooms, fountains,
and other amenities, all of which were enclosed within formal gardens.
The interior spaces were decorated with colourful marble floors, columns,
mosaics, and colossal statuary.
Caracalla and Serapis:
At the outset of his reign, Caracalla declared divine support for Egyptian
deity Serapis – a god of healing. The Iseum et Serapeum in Alexandria
was apparently renovated during Caracalla's co-rule with his father Septimius
Severus. The evidence for this exists in two inscriptions found near
the temple that appear to bear their names. Additional archaeological
evidence exists for this in the form of two papyrii that have been dated
to the Severan period and also two statues associated with the temple that
have been dated to around 200 AD. Upon Caracalla's ascension to sole
ruler in 212, the imperial mint began striking coins bearing Serapis' image.
This was a reflection of the god's central role during Caracalla's reign.
After Geta's death, the weapon that had killed him was dedicated to Serapis
by Caracalla. This was most likely done to cast Serapis into the
role of Caracalla's protector from treachery.
Caracalla also erected a temple on the Quirinal Hill in 212, which he dedicated
to Serapis. A fragmented inscription found in the church of Sant'
Agata dei Goti in Rome records the construction, or possibly restoration,
of a temple dedicated to the god Serapis. The inscription bears the
name "Marcus Aurelius Antoninus", a reference to either Caracalla or Elagabalus,
but more likely to Caracalla due to his known strong association with the
god. Two other inscriptions dedicated to Serapis, as well as a granite
crocodile similar to one discovered at the Iseum et Serapeum, were also
found in the area around the Quirinal Hill.
The Constitutio Antoniniana (lit. "Constitution of Antoninus", also called
"Edict of Caracalla" or "Antonine Constitution") was an edict issued in
212 by Caracalla declaring that all free men in the Roman Empire were to
be given full Roman citizenship, with the exception of the dediticii, people
who had become subject to Rome through surrender in war, and certain freed
slaves. Whether the dediticii were excepted from the decree is a
matter of debate.
Before 212 the majority of Roman citizens had been inhabitants of Roman
Italia, with about 4–7% of all peoples in the Roman empire being Roman
citizens at the time of the death of Augustus in 14 AD. Outside Rome,
citizenship was restricted to Roman colonia[a] – Romans, or their descendants,
living in the provinces, the inhabitants of various cities throughout the
Empire – and small numbers of local nobles such as kings of client countries.
Provincials, on the other hand, were usually non-citizens, although some
Magistrates and their families and relatives held the Latin Right.
Dio maintains that one purpose for Caracalla issuing the edict was the
desire to increase state revenue; at the time, Rome was in a difficult
financial situation and needed to pay for the new pay raises and benefits
that were being conferred on the military. The edict widened the
obligation for public service and gave increased revenue through the inheritance
and emancipation taxes that only had to be paid by Roman citizens.
The provincials also benefited from this edict because they were now able
to think of themselves as equal partners to the Romans in the empire.
However, few of those that gained citizenship were wealthy, and while it
is true that Rome was in a difficult financial situation, it is thought
that this could not have been the sole purpose of the edict.
Another purpose for issuing the edict, as described within the papyrus
upon which part of the edict was inscribed, was to appease the gods who
had delivered Caracalla from conspiracy. The conspiracy in question
was in response to Caracalla's murder of Geta and the subsequent slaughter
of his followers; fratricide would only have been condoned if his brother
had been a tyrant. The damnatio memoriae against Geta and the large
payments Caracalla had made to his own supporters were designed to protect
himself from possible repercussions. After this had succeeded, Caracalla
felt the need to repay the gods of Rome by returning the favour to the
people of Rome through a similarly grand gesture. This was done through
the granting of citizenship.
Another purpose for issuing the edict might have been related to the fact
that the periphery of the empire was now becoming central to its existence,
and the granting of citizenship may have been simply a logical outcome
of Rome's continued expansion of citizenship rights.
The expenditures that Caracalla made with the large bonuses he gave to
soldiers prompted him to debase the coinage soon after his ascension.
At the end of Severus' reign, and early into Caracalla's, the Roman denarius
had an approximate silver purity of around 55%, but by the end of his reign
the purity had been reduced to about 51%.
In 215 Caracalla introduced the antoninianus, a coin intended to serve
as a double denarius. This new currency, however, had a silver purity
of about 52% for the period between 215 and 217 and an actual size ratio
of 1 antoninianus to 0.634 denarii. This in effect made the antoninianus
equal to about 1.5 denarii. The reduced silver purity of the coins
caused people to hoard the old coins that had higher silver content, making
the inflation problem caused by the earlier devaluation of the denarii
worse than it had been before.
In 216 Caracalla pursued a series of aggressive campaigns in the east against
the Parthians, intended to bring more territory under direct Roman control.
He offered the king of Parthia, Artabanus V of Parthia, a marriage proposal
between himself and the king's daughter. Artabanus refused the offer,
realizing that the proposal was merely an attempt to unite the kingdom
of Parthia under the control of Rome. In response, Caracalla used
the opportunity to start a campaign against the Parthians. That summer
Caracalla began to attack the countryside east of the Tigris in the Parthian
war of Caracalla. In the following winter, Caracalla retired to Edessa,
modern ?anl?urfa in south-east Turkey, and began making preparations to
renew the campaign by spring.
At the beginning of 217, Caracalla was at Edessa with a large army preparing
to start a new invasion of Parthia. On 8 April 217 Caracalla was
travelling to visit a temple near Carrhae, now Harran in southern Turkey,
where in 53 BC the Romans had suffered a defeat at the hands of the Parthians.
After stopping briefly to urinate, Caracalla was approached by a soldier,
Justin Martialis, and stabbed to death. Martialis had been incensed
by Caracalla's refusal to grant him the position of centurion, and the
Praetorian Guard Prefect Macrinus, Caracalla's successor, saw the opportunity
to use Martialis to end Caracalla's reign. In the immediate aftermath
of Caracalla's death, his murderer, Martialis, was killed as well.
Three days later, Macrinus declared himself emperor with the support of
the Roman army.
Caracalla's official portrayal as sole emperor marks a break from 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, an iconic archetype, was adopted
by most of the following emperors, such as Maximinus Thrax, who were dependent
on the support of the troops to rule the empire.
Herodian describes Caracalla as having preferred northern European clothing,
Caracalla being the name of the short Gaulish cloak that he made fashionable,
and he often wore a blond wig. Dio mentions that when Caracalla was
a boy, he had a tendency to show an angry or even savage facial expression.
The way Caracalla wanted to be portrayed to his people can be seen through
the many surviving busts and coins. Images of the young Caracalla
cannot be clearly distinguished from his younger brother Geta. On
the coins, Caracalla was shown with laureate after becoming Augustus in
197 while Geta is bareheaded until he himself became Augustus in 209.
Between 209 and their father's death in February 211, both brothers are
shown as mature young men who were ready to take over the empire.
Between the death of the father and the assassination of Geta towards the
end of 211, Caracalla's portrait remains static with a short full beard
while Geta develops a long beard with hair strains like his father.
The latter was a strong indicator of Geta's effort to be seen as the true
successor to their father, an effort that came to naught when he was murdered.
Caracalla's presentation on coins during the period of his co-reign with
his father, from 198 to 210, are in broad terms in line with the third-century
imperial representation; most coin types communicate military and religious
messages, with other coins giving messages of saeculum aureum and virtues.
During Caracalla's sole reign, from 212 to 217, a significant shift in
representation took place. The majority of coins produced during
this period made associations with divinity or had religious messages;
others had non-specific and unique messages that were only circulated during
Caracalla's sole rule.
Caracalla was not subject to a proper damnatio memoriae after his assassination;
while the Senate disliked him, his popularity with the military prevented
Macrinus and the Senate from openly declaring him to be a hostis.
Macrinus, in an effort to placate the Senate, instead ordered the secret
removal of statues of Caracalla from public view. After his death,
the public made comparisons between him and other condemned emperors and
called for the horse race celebrating his birthday to be abolished and
for gold and silver statues dedicated to him to be melted down. These
events were, however, limited in scope; most erasures of his name from
inscriptions were either accidental or occurred as a result of re-use.
Macrinus had Caracalla deified and commemorated on coins as Divus Antoninus.
There does not appear to have been any intentional mutilation of Caracalla
in any images that were created during his reign as sole emperor.
Caracalla is presented in the ancient sources of Dio, Herodian, and the
Historia Augusta as a cruel tyrant and savage ruler. This portrayal
of Caracalla is only further supported by the murder of his brother Geta
and the subsequent massacre of Geta's supporters that Caracalla ordered.
Alongside this, these contemporary sources present Caracalla as a "soldier-emperor"
for his preference of the soldiery over the senators, a depiction that
made him even less popular with the senatorial biographers. Dio explicitly
presented Caracalla as an emperor who marched with the soldiers and behaved
like a soldier. Dio also often referred to Caracalla's large military
expenditures and the subsequent financial problems this caused. These
traits dominate Caracalla's image in the surviving classical literature.
The Baths of Caracalla are presented in classical literature as unprecedented
in scale, and impossible to build if not for the use of reinforced concrete.
The Edict of Caracalla, issued in 212, however, goes almost unnoticed in
The Historia Augusta is considered by historians as the least trustworthy
for all accounts of events, historiography, and biographies among the ancient
works and is full of fabricated materials and sources. The works
of Herodian of Antioch are, by comparison, "far less fantastic" than the
stories presented by the Historia Augusta. Historian Andrew G. Scott
suggests that Dio's work is frequently considered the best source for this
period. However, Doctor and Professor Clare Rowan questions Dio's
accuracy on the topic of Caracalla, referring to the work as having presented
a hostile attitude towards Caracalla and thus needing to be treated with
caution. An example of this hostility is found in one section where
Dio notes that Caracalla is descended from three different races and that
he managed to combine all of their faults into one person: the fickleness,
cowardice, and recklessness of the Gallic, the cruelty and harshness of
the Africans, and the craftiness that is associated with the Syrians.
Despite this, the outline of events as presented by Dio are described by
Rowan as generally accurate, while the motivations that Dio suggests are
of questionable origin. An example of this is his presentation of
the Edict of Caracalla; the motive that Dio appends to this event is Caracalla's
desire to increase tax revenue. Doctors Olivier Hekster, Nicholas
Zair, and Rowan challenge this presentation because the majority of people
who were enfranchised by the edict would have been poor. In her work,
Rowan also describes Herodian's depiction of Caracalla: more akin to a
soldier than an emperor.
Geoffrey of Monmouth's pseudohistorical History of the Kings of Britain
makes Caracalla a king of Britain, referring to him by his actual name
"Bassianus", rather than by the nickname Caracalla. In the story,
after Severus' 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 until Geta was killed and Bassianus succeeded to
the throne, after which he ruled until he was overthrown and killed by
Carausius. However, Carausius' revolt actually happened about seventy
years after Caracalla's death in 217.
Eighteenth-century artworks and the French Revolution:
Caracalla's memory was revived in the art of late eighteenth-century French
painters. His tyrannical career became the subject of the work of
several French painters such as Greuze, Julien de Parme, David, Bonvoisin,
J.A.C. Pajou, and Lethière. Their fascination with Caracalla
was a reflection of the growing discontent of the French people with the
French monarchy. Caracalla's visibility was influenced by the existence
of several literary sources in French that included both translations of
ancient works and contemporary works of the time. Caracalla's likeness
was readily available to the painters due to the distinct style of his
portraiture and his unusual soldier-like choice of fashion that distinguished
him from other emperors. The artworks may have served as a warning
that absolute monarchy could become the horror of tyranny and that disaster
could come about if the regime failed to reform. Art historian Susan
Wood suggests that this reform was for the absolute monarchy to become
a constitutional monarchy, as per the original goal of revolution, rather
than the republic that it eventually became. Wood also notes the
similarity between Caracalla and his crimes leading to his assassination
and the eventual uprising against, and death of, King Louis XVI: both rulers
had died as a result of their apparent tyranny.
Caracalla has had a reputation as being among the worst of Roman emperors,
a perception that survives even into modern works. The art and linguistics
historian John Agnew and the writer Walter Bidwell describe Caracalla as
having an evil spirit, referring to the devastation he wrought in Alexandria.
The Roman historian David Magie describes Caracalla, in the book Roman
Rule in Asia Minor, as brutal and tyrannical and points towards psychopathy
as an explanation for his behaviour. Gibbon, author of The History
of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, takes Caracalla's reputation,
which he had received for the murder of Geta and subsequent massacre of
Geta's supporters, and applies it to Caracalla's provincial tours, suggesting
that "every province was by turn the scene of his rapine and cruelty".
The historian Clifford Ando supports this description, suggesting that
Caracalla's rule as sole emperor is notable "almost exclusively" for his
crimes of theft, massacre, and mismanagement. By contrast, this representation
is questioned by the historian Shamus Sillar, who cites the construction
of roads and reinforcement of fortifications in the western provinces,
among other things, as being contradictory to the representation made by
Gibbon of cruelty and destruction. The history professors Molefi
Asante and Shaza Ismail note that Caracalla is known for the disgraceful
nature of his rule, stating that "he rode the horse of power until it nearly
died of exhaustion" and that though his rule was short, his life, personality,
and acts made him a notable, though likely not beneficial, figure in the
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