A Not-So-Festive Case of Fratricide: Caracalla Murdered His Brother on 19 December 221 CE.

By Anne Leader 

A not-so-festive case of fratricide: on 19 December 221 CE, Caracalla killed his brother Geta in order to gain full command of the Roman Empire. The sons of Septimius Severus, the brothers had co-ruled with their father since 209. They succeeded him on his death in February 211, but Caracalla quickly soured on sharing power. Not only did Caracalla have his brother murdered, but also he tried to erase his memory by destroying and defacing his portraits. This act, known as damnatio memoriae, can be seen in a family portrait where the young Geta has had his face scratched out while Caracalla looks the happy innocent, or on the so-called Arch of the Argentarii where the figure of Geta has been removed.

Severan tondo, ca. 200, Staatliche Museum, Berlin.

Portrait of the Emperor Caracalla, from a statue reworked as a bust, 212 CE, Naples Archaeological Museum

Publius Septimius Geta, c. 208 CE. From Gabies. Louvre Museum, Paris.

Denarius of Geta, early 3rd century CE.

Medallion with Roman Emperor Caracalla, early 3rd century CE. Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore.

Arch of the Argentarii, Rome. Reliefs show family of Septimius Severus with figure of Geta destroyed.

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