Caracalla (198 - 217) and Geta (209 - 211)
|Set up as co-emperors by their father, Caracalla and Geta succeeded in raising sibling rivalry to a whole new level.|
|About this coin:
Minted within six months of the murder of his brother,
this coin shows the start of the deterioration (said to
have been caused in part by guilt over the murder) of his
"boyish good looks". Looking at his later
coinage, it's hard to believe he wasn't even 30 when he
The reverse of this coin features his mother, Julia Domna.
It's clear that their father preferred Caracalla over his brother Geta. Though they were less than a year apart in age, Septimius Severus raised Caracalla to the rank of Augustus in 198, but didn't raise Geta to the same rank until 11 years later. But it's just as clear that their mother, Julia Domna, was more fond of her younger son, and Severus elevated him mostly on her insistence.
|About this coin: After murdering Geta, Caracalla ordered all coins and statues of his brother to be destroyed. The existence of this coin shows that the order wasn't entirely successful.|
The hatred of the two boys for each other was held in check while Daddy lived. But he died while the three of them were out campaigning in Britain, and the boys immediately cut the campaign short and hurried back to Rome to try to undermine each other politically. Both brothers had their followers, and both sets of followers egged their favorite brother on, leading to progressively worse acts against each other.
The one thing they agreed upon was that they couldn't live together, so first they divided the Imperial palace, bricking off all connecting passageways. Then they made plans to divide the empire. But their mom torpedoed this plan, asking, "How are you going to divide your mother?"
Frustrated at the demise of the plan to divide the empire, each began trying to arrange for the demise of the other. In December of 211, Caracalla finally succeeded, reportedly carrying out the deed with his own hands. Not satisfied with merely killing his brother, Caracalla then ordered the execution of 20,000 people suspected of liking Geta, including Caracalla's exiled wife. About the only person who liked his brother that he did not kill was his mother. He also ordered that all coins, statues, and other works of art featuring Geta be destroyed.
Murdering his brother and tens of thousands of others took its toll on Caracalla, and he decided he needed a vacation. First, he had some fun stomping Germanic barbarians, earning himself the title of "Germanicus Maximus", then he went on a tour of sites of Alexander the Great's conquests. In Alexandria, he visited Alexander's tomb, then slaughtered a few thousand unarmed civilians, probably because someone said something nice about his brother.
After that, Caracalla decided he'd had enough fun, so he got back to work. He headed east, where the Parthians were in disarray due to a civil war between Vologases V and Artabanos V; Caracalla pretended to ally himself with Artabanos, going so far as to promise to marry his sister, but then turned around and attacked him when he was unprepared. Well satisfied with the result of his amusing little trick, Caracalla wintered in Mesopotamia, presumably asking around as to whether Vologases had any close female relatives of marriageable age.
But Caracalla's planned conquest of Parthia was not to be. In Mesopotamia, Caracalla fell victim to a conspiracy that probably included his Praetorian Prefect, Macrinus, and definitely included at least one of the Imperial bodyguards. The guard stuck a knife into Caracalla while he was relieving his bowels, then tried to escape on horseback; but another of Caracalla's guards nailed him with a javelin.
The historian Herodian portrays Geta as virtue incarnate and Caracalla as a pure brute without redeeming virtues, which might explain why he was so popular with the military. (Of course, the fact that he raised their pay by more than 50% might have contributed as well) But, aside from the occasional slaughter of a few thousand innocent civilians, Caracalla actually did a pretty good job. He reformed the monetary system, extended citizenship to all free males of the empire, not just the Romans, and engaged in major building projects, the most impressive of which are the so-called Baths of Caracalla. And it's not at all clear that Geta would have done any better.
Certainly, the charge of fratricide against Caracalla is hard to just pass off. But it's clear is that both boys were trying to murder each other. It just happened that Caracalla was the one who succeeded.