Car-a-cal'la, (Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Bassianus,)
a Roman emperor, born at Lyons in 188 a. d.
He was the son of the emperor Septimius Severus, who,
dying in 212, left the empire to Caracalla and his brother
Geta. The latter was assassinated by order of Caracalla,
who sought to confirm his power by sacrificing many
friends of Geta. Papinian, the jurist, was one of the victims,
who, it is said, amounted to thousands. His reign
was a series of cruelties, extortions, and follies. He chose
for his chief ministers persons of the vilest character. He
led his army into Parthia about 216 A.D., ravaged a part
of the country, and retired before he had encountered
the Parthian army. A conspiracy having been formed
by Macrinus, Caracalla was killed by one of his soldiers
near Edessa, in Asia, in 217 a.d., and Macrinus reigned
in his stead.
See Gibbon, "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire;" Mkis
Dissertatio de Caracalla," 1702; Spartian, "Vita Caracallx."
Lucius Septimius Bassianus (April 4, 188 – April 8, 217), commonly known as Caracalla, was Roman emperor from 211 to
217. The eldest son of Septimius Severus, he ruled jointly with his younger brother Geta until the latter's death in
211. Caracalla is remembered as one of the most notorious emperors. British historian Edward Gibbon referred to him
as "the common enemy of mankind" because of the massacres he authorized in various parts of the empire. Caracalla's
reign was notable for the Constitutio Antoniniana, granting Roman citizenship to freemen throughout the Roman Empire,
according to historian Cassius Dio in order to increase taxation. He debased the silver content in Roman coinage by 25
percent in order to increase the pay of the legions. He also ordered the construction of a large thermae outside Rome,
the remains of which, known as the Baths of Caracalla, can still be seen today.
Rise to power
Caracalla, of mixed Punic–Roman–Berber and Syrian descent, was born Lucius Septimius Bassianus in
Lugdunum, Gaul (now Lyon, France), the son of the later Emperor Septimius Severus and Julia Domna. At the age of seven,
his name was changed to Marcus Aurelius Septimius Bassianus Antoninus to solidify connection to the family of Marcus
Aurelius. He was later given the nickname Caracalla, which referred to the Gallic hooded tunic he habitually wore and
which he made fashionable.
His father Severus, who had risen to the imperial throne in AD 193, died in AD 211 while campaigning in the Caledonian
marches at Eboracum (now York), and Caracalla was proclaimed co-emperor with his brother Publius Septimius Antoninius
Geta. However since both of them wanted to be sole ruler, tensions between the brothers were evident in the few months
they ruled the empire together (they even considered dividing the empire in two, but were persuaded not to do so by
their mother). Then in December AD 211 at a reconcillation meeting arranged by their mother, Caracalla had Geta
assassinated by members of the Praetorian Guard loyal to him. Geta died in their mother's arms. Caracalla then
persecuted Geta's supporters and ordered a damnatio memoriae by the Senate against his brother. Geta's image was simply
removed from the coinage, leaving a blank space next to Caracalla.
Among those killed were Caracalla´s ex-wife, Fulvia Plautilla, and her brother and other members of the family of his
former father-in-law Gaius Fulvius Plautianus. Plautianus had already been executed for alleged treachery against
emperor Severus in AD 205.
In AD 213, Caracalla went north to the German frontier to deal with the Alamanni tribesmen who were causing trouble in
the Agri Decumates. 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, the Senate conferred upon him the empty title of "Germanicus
Maximus". The following year the emperor traveled to the East and to Egypt.
According to Gibbon:
Caracalla was the common enemy of mankind. He left (AD 213) the capital (and he never returned to it) about a year
after the murder of Geta. The rest of his reign was spent in the several provinces of the empire, particularly those of
the East, and every province was by turns the scene of his rapine and cruelty. The senators, compelled by fear to
attend his capricious motions, were obliged to provide daily entertainments at an immense expense, which he abandoned
with contempt to his guards and to erect, in every city, magnificent palaces and theatres, which he either disdained to
visit, or ordered to be immediately thrown down. The most wealthy families were ruined by partial fines and
confiscations, and the great body of his subjects oppressed by ingenious and aggravated taxes.
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. The emperor 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, encouraged their insolent familiarity," according to Gibbon. "The vigour of the soldiers, instead of being
confirmed by the severe discipline of camps, melted away in the luxury of 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. The rugged
soldier–emperor iconic type was adopted by most of the following emperors who depended on the support of the legions to
rule, like Maximinus Thrax.
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.
Seeking to secure his own legacy, Caracalla also commissioned one of Rome's last major architectural achievements, the
Baths of Caracalla, the largest public baths ever built in ancient Rome. The main room of the baths was larger than St.
Peter's Basilica, 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 statues.
While travelling from Edessa to continue the war with Parthia, 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 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 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, Macrinus, who almost certainly engineered the conspiracy
against the emperor.
According to Aurelius Victor in his Epitome de Caesaribus, the cognomen "Caracalla" refers to a Gallic cloak that
Caracalla adopted as a personal fashion, which spread to his army and his court. Cassius Dio and the Historia
Augusta agree that his nickname was derived from his cloak, but does not mention its country of origin.
Legendary king of Britain
Geoffrey of Monmouth's legendary History of the Kings of Britain 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 allies and overthrown by Carausius, who, according to Geoffrey, was a Briton, rather than the Menapian Gaul
that he actually was.