Geta (Publius, or Lucius, Septimius Geta Augustus; 7 March 189 -26 December
211), was a Roman emperor who ruled with his father Septimius Severus and
his older brother Caracalla from 209, when he was named Augustus like his
brother who had held the title since 198. Severus died in 211, and
although he intended for his sons to rule together, they proved incapable
of sharing power culminating with the murder of Geta in December of that
Geta was the younger son of Septimius Severus by his second wife Julia
Domna. Geta was born in Rome, at a time when his father was only
a provincial governor at the service of Emperor Commodus.
Conflicts between Geta and Caracalla were constant and often required the
mediation of their mother. To appease his younger son, Septimius
Severus gave Geta the title of Augustus in 209.
During the campaign against the Britons in the early 3rd century CE, imperial
propaganda promoted the image of a happy family that shared the responsibilities
of rule. Septimius Severus entrusted Julia Domna with the role of
counsellor, Caracalla acted as the emperor's second in command, and administrative
and bureaucratic duties were Geta's responsibility. In reality, however,
the rivalry and antipathy between the brothers did not abate.
When Septimius Severus died in Eboracum in early 211, Caracalla and Geta
were proclaimed joint emperors and returned to Rome.
Their joint rule was a failure. Later sources speculated that the
brothers wished to split the empire in two halves. By the end of
211, the situation had become unbearable. Caracalla tried unsuccessfully
to murder Geta during the festival of Saturnalia. Finally, on the
19th of December, Caracalla had his mother arrange a peace meeting with
his brother in his mother's apartments, and then had him murdered in her
arms by centurions.
Following Geta's assassination, Caracalla ordered his brother's name to
be removed from all inscriptions. The now sole emperor also took
the opportunity to get rid of his political enemies, on grounds of conspiracy.
Cassius Dio stated that around 20,000 men and women were killed or proscribed
during this time.
Very few marble portraits attributable to Geta survive to date, presumably
due to the very thorough damnatio memoriae which resulted in the erasing
of his images. However Roman coins with his image are plentiful,
and can reflect how his father Septimius Severus and later Geta himself
wanted him to be seen by the Roman people (and especially the Roman military).
Images of Geta and his older brother Caracalla cannot be well distinguished
until the death of the father. Both sons were supposed to be presented
as equally suitable heirs to the throne, showing thus more "depth" to the
On his coins, Caracalla, who became Augustus in 197, was shown with a wreath
of laurels, while Geta remained bareheaded until he himself became Augustus
in 209. Between 209 and their father's death in February 211, both
brothers were shown as equally mature young men with a short full beard,
ready to take over the empire. Between the death of Septimus Severus
and the assassination of Geta, Caracalla's portraits did not change, while
Geta was depicted with a long beard with hanging hairs much like his father,
a strong indication of Geta's efforts to be seen as the "true" successor
of his father.
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