Caracalla – 198-217AD


198-217 AD

Son of Septimus Severus

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, originally named Julius Bassianus, was born at Lugdunum, Gaul on April 6th, 188 AD. He was the elder son ofSeptimus Severus and Julia Domna. His original name, Bassianus, came from the Syrian side of his family. Following the Civil War in the aftermath of Commodus’ murder, his father attempted to strengthen his own imperial line in hopes of establishing a Severan Dynasty by raising his son to the rank of Caesar (or junior emperor) in 195 AD. Thus, Caracalla was given the rank of Caesar two years before his brother Geta, who would be his most hated enemy.

In 197 AD, Caracalla was given the title of Designate, a clear sign that he was to succeed his father. The following year, 198 AD, he was raised to the rank of Augustus once again ahead of his younger brother. Clearly, Caracalla was Severus’ favorite of his two sons. His father’s preference for Caracalla over his brother Geta led to palace intrigues casting the two brothers against one-another despite their mother’s attempts at intervention.

The Praetorian Prefect Gaius Plautianus conspired to improve his already considerable powers by wedding his daughter Plautilla to Caracalla in 202 AD. Despite Caracalla’s resistance to the marriage, his father needed the support of Plautianus. Regardless of his father’s wishes, Caracalla treated his bride with contempt and secretly plotted against her father perhaps out of revenge. Accounts varied as to the manner by which Plautianus fell from grace in 205 AD, but the death of the prefect was greeted with joy by Caracalla, who wasted no time in exiling his wife while he awaited patiently for his own father’s death.

Septimus Severus waged a long campaign in Britain between 208 to 211 AD. As part of his father’s victory, Caracalla received the title of Britannicus in 211 AD. However, due to his father’s ill health, Caracalla was forced to conduct many of the campaigns in his place which earned him the loyalty of the legions in the field. The name “Caracalla,” by which he is best known to posterity, was a nickname given him by the troops derived from the hooded cloak which he wore.

Septimus Severus died in Britain at Eburacum (York) in 211. The troops who had followed Caracalla faithfully, refused to show the same favoritism that his father had when it came to his brother. The Guard and the legions had sworn an oath to both sons of Severus, which did not please Caracalla in the least.

Gold Aureus Caracalla as Augustus Geta as Caesar

Geta had been given the rank of Caesar in 198 AD. However, he was not raised to the rank of Augustus until 209 AD. Herodian tells us that the two brothers proposed to divide the Empire between them. Whether or not this is true is difficult to say. At the very least, it might have been Geta’s proposal for Caracalla himself appears to have had other plans. On February 12th, 212 AD, Caracalla assassinated Geta in their mother’s apartment. Caracalla claimed that Geta had tried to murder him. However, given the ruthless actions that followed, it is clear that Caracalla had planned Geta’s murder from the outset. In order to prevent any problems among the legions and the Praetorian Guard, Caracalla immediately paid a large bonus and raised their pay.

Following his brother’s murder, Caracalla appeared in the Senate to explain his actions. Again, he feared that everyone was suspicious. Geta did have many powerful friends and Caracalla was very much aware that his crime would lead to much opposition. To ease his fears, Caracalla showed just how ruthless he could be. He ordered a general massacre of Geta’s supporters and friends. Everyone from Senators to house hold servants were executed without trial. The total number of people executed reached 20,000! Caracalla even executed the elderly daughter of Marcus Aurelius, Cornificia, who had been found crying over the Geta’s death. He also used the event to execute his wife, Plautilla, despite the fact that she had been exiled. These events forever hung over Caracalla’s head throughout his entire reign.

Caracalla was, understandably, quite nervous while in Rome always fearing some retribution. Thus he left the city and headed straight for the German frontier. He was also obsessed with the fulfillment of his martial dreams. He preferred to be with his soldiers marching along side them rather than riding in a chariot. Caracalla also constantly dressed in the manner of a simple soldier. But there was no hiding from his deeds. The respect of the Senate he would never earn and instead he displayed an outright hatred of the members of the legislative body.

An administrator, he was not. Those issues in which Caracalla did attempt to administer soon suffered greatly under his domain. Fearing a revolt, Caracalla did change the provincial distribution of the legions so that no more than two could be stationed in any province. Between his bonus and significant pay increases for his troops, the one thing that immediately began to dwindle was his treasury.

Caracalla Addressing His Troops
Bronze Sesterius

Caracalla virtually plundered the imperial treasury to pay his military units. He introduced a monetary reform by which he added double denominations in gold and silver while cheating on the weight substantially. The new double aureus and double denarius (antoninianus) were scarcely equal to 50% more in metal content. Nonetheless, inflation and financial crisis continued to expand.

Like Nero before him, Caracalla became desperate for cash. In 212 AD, to gain further revenues, Caracalla decreed the Constitutio Antoniniana bestowing citizenship on nearly everyone in the Roman world. Caracalla was certainly not being generous or concerned for the population. Despite its limitations (slaves were automatically ineligible), this broad edict of bestowing citizenship to everyone he could was merely intended to replenish his treasury. Once a person was a citizen of Rome, they immediately were subject to inheritances and emancipation taxes.

Caracalla spent freely on his soldiers, which kept a constant need for revenue. New taxes were instituted and old ones increased across the board. As he toured the Empire, cities were forced to build him race tracks, amphitheaters and personal houses wherever he visited. While Commodus had believed himself to be the reincarnation of Hercules, Caracalla saw himself as the reincarnation of the Greek conqueror – Alexander the Great.

Caracalla’s Baths – Rome

Caracalla’s interests were clearly with his military. However, he also is noted for the huge baths which he constructed in Rome. The Baths of Caracalla were perhaps the grandest of all structures in Rome second only to the Colosseum. The architectural splendor of the project clearly demonstrated his extravagance. Even in the 4th century, they were still considered by many as one of the wonders of the world at that time.

In 213 AD, Caracalla marched to the Danube and Rhine frontiers where he defeated the barbarian confederation of the ALAMANNI on the Main River. He also added forts to strengthen the frontier. In 214 AD, he had planned to conquer the East following the footsteps of Alexander the Great. He swept through Macedonia recruiting a 16,000-man phalanx, similar to the ancient Macedonian phalanx. However, illness prevented him from undertaking any serious campaign. Caracalla did retrace Alexander’s route to Egypt however, where, in 215 AD, he unleased yet another massacre. After being warmly received, he visited Alexander’s tomb. For some unknown reason, he slaughtered many of Alexandria’s inhabitants shortly thereafter.

Caracalla was becoming increasingly unstable. An Egyptian soothsayer, Serapio, had openly predicted the Emperor’s death and the succession of Macrinus - Prefect of the Praetorian Guard. Serapio was thrown to the lions, but survived. Still, Caracalla had him executed anyway. Caracalla confirmed his growing fear of the Prefect in dispatches sent back to Rome. Macrinus managed to discover the Emperor’s writings and indeed began to plot his assassination.

By 216 AD, Caracalla’s Eastern preparations for conquest were complete. He set out once again for Mesopotamia. While travelling between Edessa and Carrhae, Caracalla became ill due to an upset stomach and stopped to relieve himself. It was the perfect moment and the plot took shape. On April 8, 217 AD, Julius Martialis, an officer in the imperial body guard, performed the deed. After murdering Caracalla, he attempted to flee on horse back but was brought down by a javelin.

Titles and Powers, 196-217 AD

AD Tribunician Power Imp Acclamation Consul Other

196 ………………………………………………CAESAR
197……………………………. IMP.DESIG PONTIFEX
198 TR.P…………………… IMP…. AVGVSTVS
199 TR.P.II.
200 TR.P.III.
201 TR.P.IIII.
202 TR.P.V. ………………. COS
203 TR.P.VI.
204 TR.P.VII.
205 TR.P.VIII……………….COS II
207 TR.P.X.
208 TR.P.XI…………………COS III
209 TR.P.XII.
210 TR.P.XIII………………………….BRIT
211 TR.P.XIIII…………………………PM PP
212 TR.P.XV……………… IMP.II. (?)
214 TR.P.XVII……………. IMP.III.
217 TR.P.XX.

Caracalla became TR.P.II. on January 1st, 199 AD. Therefore, his tribunician power was renewed each year thereafter on that date.

Monetary System


During the reign of Caracalla, a new denomination was created known as the Antoninianus. This coin was a double denarius and was distinguished by the Emperor wearing a radiated crown. Double Aureus denomination was also created. In both cases, the metal weight was not a full measure of double.

Mints:(during sole reign): Rome

Obverse Legends:



The portraiture of Caracalla as displayed on his coinage provides a reasonable chronology of his physical development from that of a boy of eight years to a man of twenty-nine just prior to his assassination. As Caesar and in his early years as Augustus, Caracalla is portrayed as a child. During the latter half of his joint reign with his father Severus, the portrait of Caracalla becomes that of an adolescent. In 209 AD, He is first shown with a beard and from there onward his portrait steadily develops to the full maturity of his later years as an adult.

As Caesar 196-198 AD

under Septimius Severus

1) Bare-headed and draped bust, right
2) Bare-headed, draped and cuirassed bust, right

As Augustus, 198-212 AD

With Septimius Severus, 198-209 AD
With Septimius Severus and Geta, 209-211 AD
With Geta, 211-212 AD

As Sole Emperor, 212-217 AD

1) Laureate head, right
2) Laureate and draped bust, right
3) Laureate, draped and cuirassed bust, right


As Caesar

AU Aureus (7.15 grams)
AR Denarius (3.42 grams)
Æ Sesterius
Æ As

As Augustus

AU DOUBLE Aureus (9.54 grams)
AU Aureus (7.15 grams)
AU Quninarius
AR Cistoporus
AR Antoninianus (Double Denarius) (5.70 grams)
AR Denarius (2.85 ams)
AR Quinarius
Æ Sesterius (18.7 grams)
Æ Dupondius
Æ As

The Monetary History of the World
 © Martin A. Armstrong