April was an exciting month in the life of Emperor Caracalla. Oh, you weren't familiar with Caracalla? He was Roman Emperor from 198 to 217, part of the Severine dynasty. To give you the short history of Caracalla, he was a dick. Don't believe me? Just ask his brother, Geta, with whom he co-ruled the Empire after their father, Septimius Severus
Snape died. That is, until Caracalla had Geta murdered in 211.
Caracalla was born on April 4, 188, in Lugdunum (which we call "Lyon" nowadays) and was saddled with the name Lucius Septimius Bassianus. There we go with the names ending in "-anus" once again. Understandably, ol' Low Asshole (rough translation) changed his name to Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Caesar to better connect with former, greater emperors, Marcus Aurelius and a couple of the Caesars.
The name Caracalla? Oh, I'm glad you asked. He earned it because he went everywhere wearing a cloak with a hood. It was a bit of local fashion among the Gauls, and when Caracalla became Emperor, the fashion really took off. Kind of like a Ronald Reagan jelly bean theme or a Bill Clinton saxophone motif.
Caracalla was a military man, which was important for two reasons: one, commanding the army (and having their support) went far when trying to stake a claim to the throne in Rome. Just ask Geta. You know, if he wasn't murdered by his brother's goons. The second reason it was important was that it helped him keep the throne after he won it. It also was nice that his soldiers decided that they would also wear caracallae, thus helping make the garment popular.
Caracalla gave a finger to the traditional look of an Emperor, wearing his hair and beard in traditional short, military fashion. Also, most of his depictions showed him scowling; Caracalla wasn't going to take your shit. He was one of the first Emperors who didn't try to beautify his image, and it showed. Oh boy, did it show. Diocletian is usually the first name on list of megalomaniacal asshole Emperors, but Caracalla was near the top. Thousands died in the persecutions under Caracalla, mostly for supporting his brother Geta's claim to the throne. Or for just pissing him off.
The boys had been sparring on-and-off for years about co-rulership of the Empire, so their mother, Julia Domna, arranged to have her sons get together, sit down, and work things out. Caracalla did, sort of. He ordered those members of the Praetorian Guard loyal to him to kill his brother. Geta ended up dying in Julia Domna's arms. Classy, Caracalla. He then ordered the military to slaughter anyone who supported his brother's claim to the throne, pretty much ending all threat to his rule.
Caracalla then claimed that he killed Geta in self-defense, the old "he's coming right at me!" defense. The people of Alexandria did not quite believe the Emperor, and thus produced a satirical play about the subject. Caracalla, who didn't have time for your shit, was unamused and, when 20,000 citizens of Alexandria came out to welcome him to the city, Caracalla had them slaughtered.
For all that, Caracalla also did some good things. His big thing, the thing that he might best be remembered for, the thing that almost absolves him of the boorish dickishness was known as the Edict of Caracalla. In it, he extended the rights of citizenship to every free man and woman (this was a big deal) in the Empire. Previously, citizenship had been granted only to those who lived in Rome and was extended out to cover the Italian peninsula. Caracalla thumbed his nose once more at tradition and extended citizenship to anyone living within the borders of the Roman Empire.
Caracalla is also known for construction of one of the last major public works in Rome: the Baths of Caracalla. Covering a sprawling 33 acres, the baths were one of the few to also include a public library with rooms for reading in both Greek and Latin; two palaestrae or gyms for practicing boxing and wrestling; a row of shops; a dedicated swimming pool open to the sky and featuring bronze mirrors to warm the water; and several large gardens for bathers to stroll in after they finished splashing about in the heated waters of the baths. It was all open to the public; an estimated 1600 bathers could be accommodated at one time at the Baths.
Though this might seem like an exceedingly generous thing to do, it was one of the ways that Caracalla kept his enemies at bay. He taxed the rich families heavily in order to provide for these public works. After killing Geta, Caracalla took the army and began moving around the northern and eastern provinces of the Empire, demanding more money from the rich families to support his army's movements. He also levied heavy taxes in order to pay for meaningless temples, palaces, baths and other such constructs in these outlying provinces.
However, the Baths were his most famous and lasting works. They are still a popular tourist attraction in Rome today, and there is written evidence that the Baths were used well into the 19th century in Rome, though they had to be rebuilt a few times thanks to the ravages of time, earthquakes and the odd band of savages moving through the area.
Seems fitting that we should honor Caracalla with today's Latin phrase:
Pronounced: "Ba-lynn-aye-oh oo-tee-myur!"
I mentioned April being a big month for Caracalla. Well, the always-friendly and terribly-tactful Caracalla had been offered a marriage proposal with a Parthian bride that would bring about peace between Rome and neighboring Parthia. In true Caracalla fashion, he went through with the sham of a wedding and then had the bride and all the guests put to death.
Damn. Red Wedding, anyone?
The Parthians, none too pleased about this, threatened and then attacked Roman lands and so continued the Parthian War of Caracalla. Satisfied with his handiwork, Caracalla mustered his soldiers and headed east, hellbent on finishing off the Parthian threat once and for all. Many had thought or hoped that Caracalla's daddy, Septimius Severus
On April 8, 217, while on the way toward the enemy capitol of Ctesiphon, Caracalla called a halt to the march and headed off to the side of the road to toss a whiz. A man named Julius Martialis, pissed because Caracalla had killed his brother, went Inigo Montoya on the Emperor and killed him with a single sword-stroke while the Emperor was pissing. There's a good chance that Caracalla died with his dick in his hand, the attack was so fast and so decisive. The assassin was then shot through with an arrow ending his fifteen minutes of fame right then and there.
Conveniently, the chief of Caracalla's Praetorians was a man named Macrinius who, amazingly, succeeded Caracalla as Emperor. Macrinius was Emperor for about a year before he, too, was assassinated. No word on where his dick was when he died.