Caracalla (kărəkălˈə) [key], 188–217, Roman emperor (211–17); son of Septimius Severus. His real name was Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, and he received his nickname from the caracalla, a Gallic tunic he regularly wore. He was made caesar in 196 and augustus in 198, but he resented having to share these honors with his brother Geta. Early in his career he revealed his ruthless character by bringing about the downfall of his father-in-law, the political leader Plautianus, through false reports. After Septimius Severus died, leaving the empire to his two sons, Caracalla murdered (212) the more popular Geta and ordered a general massacre of Geta's followers and sympathizers (including the jurist Papinian). He thus ushered in a reign infamous for cruelty and bloodshed. Caracalla did, however, pacify the German frontier. He also extended Roman citizenship to all free inhabitants of the empire, not out of generosity but to increase his income from taxes in order to meet staggering expenses. He tried to buy popularity with his soldiers and planned an ambitious campaign to extend his father's conquests into old Persia. When leading an expedition in Asia, Caracalla was murdered by Macrinus, who succeeded him. The famous Baths of Caracalla were erected in his reign.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.