Marcus Opellius Macrinus was born around 164-5 AD in Mauretania, North Africa into an obscure family. He worked as an advocate in Roma during the reign of Septimius Severus and progressed through various post to become one of the Praetorian Prefects towards the end of the reign of the emperor Caracalla.

Bust of caracallaHe was, according to Dio, an honourable man but fate dealt him a blow when, while campaigning in Mesopotamia, certain prophesies about his future if they were to become known to the emperor would have lead to his execution. Caracalla had, after all, murdered his own brother in order to secure the throne of Rome and would stop at nothing to retain it. It was thus that, in order to try and secure his own future and that of his family, including his nine year old son, Diadumenian, he arranged for the murder of Caracalla in May 217.

The plot was successful and, after a respectful gap of about three days he was proclaimed emperor by the legions in the east. Given his supposed honour there may have been a degree of guilt experienced by Macrinus as it is said that he sent a message of condolence to Julia Domna, Severus' widow an mother of the murdered Caracalla, on the other hand it could be just a cynical ploy to further distance himself from the assassination. Indeed Macrinus adopted the name Severus and gave Diadumenian Antoninus.

Antoninianus of MacrinusThe coinage system at Rome that he inherited had three years previously been "reformed" by Caracalla, reducing the weight of the gold issues and introducing the radiate silver "antoninianus".Antoninianus of Macrinus However, soon after he came to power, within a month or so, Macrinus abandoned the antoninianus and restored the gold coinage. This dating is fairly secure as no antoniniani of his son, Diadumenian, are recorded with the name Antoninus, yet Macrinus is styled Severus. Consequently whilst the silver denarius is frequently seen of these two rulers the antoninianus is not.

Macrinus small bronze from AntiochMacrinus was probably the first Roman emperor not to have completed any part of his reign actually resident in Rome yet, despite claims by catalogues to the contrary, all his Roman coinage was minted in Rome. There is no evidence to support a secondary mint in the East, Antioch for example. It is true that the portraits change considerably through the reign but it is a product of the Rome mint evolving the image of an emperor that they had not seen in person. Indeed, when the chronology of the issues was arranged by Curtis Clay the evolving nature of the portrait becomes clear (The Roman Coinage of Macrinus and Diadumenian, Numismatische Zeitschrift 93, 1979)

Diadumenian 3 assaria from Marcianopolis - young portraitDiadumenian also evolves in his appearence and this is quite noticeable in the civic coins struch for him. Diadumenian 5 assaria from Nikopolis - mature bustHe changes from childish, almost baby features, to a maturing youth very quickly. The change takes place over approximately one year and reflects iconographically rather than physically his changing status.

The reign ended in turmoil. Julia Maesa, the sister of Julia Domna, fostered disquiet in the army in favour of her son, the infant Antoninus, known better today as Elagabalus, even to the extent of claiming he was the son of Caracalla. This, combined with an unsatisfactory truce with the Parthians after which the Romans paid out gifts and reparations in the order of two hundred million sestertii during the winter of 217, resulted in revolt in May 218AD.

Shortly before the final battle with the supporters of Elagabalus the young Diadumenian was proclaimed emperor in order to try and foster an aura of a successful dynasty and ensure succession. Macrinus was defeated in battle on 8 June 218 and finally captured Chalcedon. Diadumenian who had been dispatched to the Parthians for safety was taken at Zeugma.

Diadumenian Augustus - small bronze from AntiochRare Roman denarii are recorded with the title of Augustus for Diadumenian (at least two now known), however, a number of the civic and provincial issues also accord him this title. Whether it is confusion or error on their part or whether they truly are contemporaneous with the event is uncertain.

Diadumenian: 2 assaria from Marcianopolis Macrinus: Paduan medallion with a reverse type of Nero (?)


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