Macrinus AE 28mm of Laodikeia in Syria
Obverse: IMP C M OP SEVE MACRINO, laureate head right
Reverse: ROMAE FEL, she-wolf suckling the twins Romulus
Macrinus (Latin: Marcus Opellius Severus Macrinus Augustus; c.?165 – June
218) was Roman Emperor from April 217 to 8 June 218. He reigned jointly
with his young son Diadumenianus. Macrinus was by origin a Berber
from Mauretania Caesariensis. A member of the equestrian class, he
became the first emperor who did not hail from the senatorial class and
was the first emperor from Mauretania. Before becoming emperor, Macrinus
served under Emperor Caracalla as a praetorian prefect and dealt with Rome's
civil affairs. He later conspired against Caracalla and had him murdered
in a bid to protect his own life, succeeding him as emperor.
Macrinus was proclaimed emperor of Rome by 11 April 217, while in the eastern
provinces of the empire, and was subsequently confirmed as such by the
Senate; however, for the duration of his reign he never had the opportunity
to return to Rome. His predecessor's policies had left Rome's coffers
empty and the empire at war with several kingdoms, including Parthia, Armenia
and Dacia. As emperor, Macrinus first attempted to enact reform to
bring economic and diplomatic stability to Rome. While Macrinus'
diplomatic actions brought about peace with each of the individual kingdoms,
the additional monetary costs and subsequent fiscal reforms generated unrest
in the Roman military. Caracalla's aunt Julia Maesa took advantage
of the unrest and instigated a rebellion to have her fourteen-year-old
grandson, Elagabalus, recognized as emperor. Macrinus was overthrown
at the Battle of Antioch on 8 June 218 and Elagabalus proclaimed himself
emperor with support from the rebelling Roman legions. Macrinus fled
the battlefield and tried to reach Rome, but was captured in Chaceldon
and later executed in Cappadocia. He sent his son to the care of
Artabanus V of Parthia, but Diadumenianus was also captured before he could
reach his destination and executed. After Macrinus' death the Senate
declared him and his son enemies of Rome and had their names struck from
the records and their images destroyed.
Background and career:
Macrinus was born in Caesarea Mauretaniae (modern Cherchell, Algeria) in
the Roman province of Mauretania to an equestrian family of Berber origins.
He received an education which allowed him to ascend to the Roman political
class. Over the years he earned a reputation as a skilled lawyer
and under Emperor Septimius Severus he became an important bureaucrat.
Severus' successor Caracalla later appointed him a prefect of the Praetorian
While Macrinus probably enjoyed the trust of Emperor Caracalla, this may
have changed when, according to tradition, it was prophesied that he would
depose and succeed the emperor. Macrinus, fearing for his safety,
resolved to have Caracalla murdered before he was condemned.
In the spring of 217, Caracalla was in the eastern provinces preparing
a campaign against the Parthian Empire. Macrinus was among his staff,
as were other members of the Praetorian Guard. In April, Caracalla
went to visit a temple of Luna near the site of the battle of Carrhae and
was accompanied only by his personal guard, which included Macrinus.
On April 8, while traveling to the temple, Caracalla was stabbed to death
by Justin Martialis, a soldier whom Macrinus had recruited to commit the
murder. In the aftermath, Martialis was killed by one of Caracalla's
For two or three days, Rome remained without an emperor. By April
11, Macrinus had proclaimed himself emperor and taken for himself all of
the imperial titles and powers, without waiting for the Senate. The
army backed his claim as emperor and the Senate, so far away, was powerless
to intervene. Macrinus never returned to Rome as emperor and remained
based in Antioch for the duration of his reign. Macrinus was the
first emperor to hail from the equestrian class, rather than the senatorial
and also the first emperor of Mauretanian descent. He adopted the
name of Severus, in honor of the Severan dynasty, and conferred the imperial
title of Augusta to his wife Nonia Celsa and the title of Caesar and name
of Antoninus to his son Diadumenianus in honor of the Antonine dynasty,
thus making him second in command. At the time of Diadumenian's accession
he was eight years old.
Despite his equestrian background, Macrinus was accepted by the Senate
for two reasons: for the removal of Caracalla, and for having received
the loyalty of the army. The senators were less concerned by Macrinus'
Mauretanian ancestry than by his equestrian social background and scrutinized
his actions as emperor. Their opinion of him was reduced by his decisions
to appoint men to high offices who were of similarly undistinguished background.
Only the Senate had the constitutional power to choose the emperor from
among the senators and Macrinus, not being a senator and having become
emperor through force rather than through traditional means, was looked
Macrinus had several issues that he needed to deal with at the time of
his accession, which had been left behind by his predecessor. As
Caracalla had a tendency towards military belligerence, rather than diplomacy,
this left several conflicts for Macrinus to resolve. Additionally,
Caracalla had been a profligate spender of Rome's income. Most of
the money was spent on the army; he had greatly increased their pay from
2,000 sesterces to 3,000 sesterces per year. The increased expenditures
forced Caracalla to strip bare whatever sources of income he had to supply
the difference. This shortfall left Rome in a dire fiscal situation
that Macrinus needed to address.
Macrinus was at first occupied by the threat of the Parthians, with whom
Rome had been at war since the reign of Caracalla. Macrinus settled a peace
deal with the Parthians, after fighting an indecisive battle at Nisibis
in 217. In return for peace, Macrinus was forced to pay a large indemnity
to the Parthian ruler Artabanus V. Rome was at the time also under
threat from Dacia and Armenia, so any deal with Parthia would likely have
been beneficial to Rome. Next, Macrinus turned his attention to Armenia.
In 216, Caracalla had imprisoned Khosrov I of Armenia and his family after
Khosrov had agreed to meet with Caracalla at a conference to discuss some
issue between himself and his sons. Caracalla instead installed a
new Roman governor to rule over Armenia. These actions angered the
Armenian peoples and they soon rebelled against Rome. Macrinus settled
a peace treaty with them by returning the crown and loot to Khosrov's son
and successor Tiridates II and releasing his mother from prison, and by
restoring Armenia to its status as a client kingdom of Rome. Macrinus
made peace with the Dacians by releasing hostages, though this was likely
not handled by himself but by Marcius Agrippa. In matters of foreign
policy, Macrinus showed a tendency towards settling disputes through diplomacy
and a reluctance to engage in military conflict, though this may have been
due to lack of resources and manpower than his own personal preference.
Macrinus began to overturn Caracalla's fiscal policies and moved closer
towards those that had been set forth by Septimius Severus. One such
policy change involved the pay of Roman legionnaires. The soldiers
that were already enlisted during Caracalla's reign enjoyed exorbitant
payments which were impossible for Macrinus to reduce without risking a
potential rebellion. Instead, Macrinus allowed the enlisted soldiers
to retain their higher payments, but he reduced the pay of new recruits
to the level which had been set by Severus. Macrinus revalued the
Roman currency, increasing the silver purity and weight of the denarius
from 50.78 percent and 1.66 grams at the end of Caracalla's reign to 57.85
percent and 1.82 grams from Fall 217 to the end of his reign, so that it
mirrored Severus' fiscal policy for the period 197–209 A.D. Macrinus'
goal with these policies might have been to return Rome to the relative
economic stability that had been enjoyed under Severus' reign, though it
came with a cost. The fiscal changes that Macrinus enacted might
have been tenable had it not been for the military. By this time,
the strength of the military was too great and by enacting his reforms
he angered the veteran soldiers, who viewed his actions in reducing the
pay of new recruits as a foreshadowing of eventual reductions in their
own privileges and pay. This significantly reduced Macrinus' popularity
with the legions that had declared him emperor.
Caracalla's mother Julia Domna was initially left in peace when Macrinus
became emperor. This changed when Macrinus discovered that she was
conspiring against him and had her placed under house arrest in Antioch.
By this time Julia Domna was suffering from an advanced stage of breast
cancer and soon died in Antioch, possibly by starving herself. Afterwards,
Macrinus sent Domna's sister Julia Maesa and her children back to Emesa
in Syria, from where Maesa set in motion her plans to have Macrinus overthrown.
Macrinus remained in Antioch instead of going to Rome upon being declared
emperor, a step which furthered his unpopularity in Rome and contributed
to his eventual downfall.
Julia Maesa had retired to her home town of Emesa with an immense fortune,
which she had accrued over the course of twenty years. She took her
children, Julia Soaemias and Julia Mamaea, and grandchildren, including
Elagabalus, with her to Emesa. Elagabalus, aged 14, was the chief
priest of the Phoenician sun-deity Elagabalus (or El-Gabal) in Emesa.
Soldiers from Legio III Gallica (Gallic Third Legion), that had been stationed
at the nearby camp of Raphanea, often visited Emesa and went to see Elagabalus
perform his priestly rituals and duties while there. Julia Maesa
took advantage of this, to suggest to the soldiers that Elagabalus was
indeed the illegitimate son of Caracalla. On May 16, Elagabalus was
proclaimed emperor by the Legio III Gallica at its camp at Raphanea.
Upon Elagabalus' revolt, Macrinus travelled to Apamea and conferred the
title of Augustus onto Diadumenianus and made him co-emperor.
Macrinus realised that his life was in danger but struggled to decide upon
a course of action and remained at Antioch. He sent a force of cavalry
commanded by Ulpinus Julianus to regain control of the rebels, but they
failed and Ulpinus died in the attempt. This failure further strengthened
Elagabalus' army. Soon after, a force under Elagabalus' tutor Gannys
marched on Antioch and engaged Macrinus' army on 8 June 218 near the village
of Immae, located approximately 24 miles from Antioch. At some point
during the ensuing Battle of Antioch, Macrinus deserted the field and returned
to Antioch. Macrinus was then forced to flee from Antioch as fighting
erupted in the city as well. Elegabalus himself subsequently entered
Antioch as the new ruler of the Roman Empire. Macrinus fled for Rome;
he traveled as far as Chalcedon before being recognized and captured.
His son and co-emperor Diadumenianus, sent to the care of Artbanus V of
Parthia, was himself captured in transit at Zeugma and killed in June of
218. Diadumenianus' reign lasted a total of 14 months, and he was
about 10 years old when he died. Macrinus, upon learning of his son's
death, tried to escape captivity, but he injured himself in the unsuccessful
attempt and was afterward executed in Cappadocia; his head was sent to
Elegabalus. Much like Macrinus, Diadumenianus' head was also cut
off and sent to Elegabalus as a trophy.
Macrinus and his son Diadumenianus were declared hostes, enemies of the
state, by the Senate immediately after news had arrived of their deaths
and as part of an official declaration of support for the usurper Elagabalus,
who was recognized in the Senate as the new Emperor. The declaration
of hostes led to two actions being taken against the images of the former
Emperors. First, their portraits were destroyed and their names were
stricken from inscriptions and papyrii. The second action, taken
by the Roman soldiers who had rebelled against Macrinus in favour of Elagabalus,
was to destroy all of the works and possessions of Macrinus. The
damnatio memoriae against Macrinus is among the earliest of such sanctions
enacted by the Senate. Many of the marble busts of Macrinus that
exist were defaced and mutilated as a response to the damnatio memoriae
and many of the coins depicting Macrinus and Diadumenianus were also destroyed.
These actions against Macrinus are evidence of his unpopularity in Rome.
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