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Publius and Lucius were Brothers

Septimius Severus took over the Roman empire after a shameful episode in which it was sold by the Praetorian Guard to the highest bidder. Like many emperors in turbulent times, he was active and a good administrator, but devious and ruthless. In 187, while still just a successful general, he married a Syrian noblewoman, Julia Domna. When he became emperor he already had two sons who could grow up to follow him, giving a promise of a dynasty like that of Vespasian, and stability for the empire.

Lucius Septimius Bassianus was born on 4 April 188 CE. In 195, as part of his father's campaign to legitimise his dynasty, he was renamed Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. But today he is known by his nickname, Caracalla, a name which was never used officially.

His younger brother, Publius Septimius Geta, was born on 7 March 189. Strangely, his first name was shown on coins as Lucius when his coinage began, and changed after a couple of years. There is no historical evidence as to why he was shown with the same name as his brother, or why it might have changed.

When Severus was declared Emperor on 9th April 193, Caracalla was aged 5 and Geta was 4. Roman coins of the Severan dynasty were minted from then onwards, and the brothers began to appear on them when they were granted the rank of Caesar. Caracalla became Caesar late in 195, at the same time as his change of name, and appears on coins from 196; Geta became Caesar in 198 and appears on coins from that year. These coin portraits give an intriguing view of the two brothers, from youth to maturity.

Here is a sequence, as near as possible (within the limits of my collection) one coin per year for each brother, all from the Rome mint so as to avoid differences which are purely due to mint style. Though this can not be a definitive gallery. The appearance of a particular brother on a coin of a particular year could vary quite a lot depending on the whim of the engraver.

Caracalla is on the left, Geta on the right. You can click on any portrait to see the full coin with an attribution.

196  —  Caracalla's 8th birthday; Geta's 7th birthday.
Obverse of a coin of Caracalla from 196 CE. In 195 CE, Caracalla was declared Caesar, and had his name changed to that of a distinguished former emperor, Marcus Aurelius. This caused consternation to the existing Caesar, Clodius Albinus, who had been promised the succession. Albinus was declared a public enemy at the end of 195, declared himself Augustus, and invaded Gaul. Severus fought him there during 196.
197  —  Caracalla's 9th birthday; Geta's 8th birthday.
Obverse of a coin of Caracalla from 197-198 CE. In 197 CE, Severus defeated Albinus in a battle near Lyon, and ordered his head cut off and sent to Rome. He took a cruel revenge on Albinus' supporters, including a purge of the senate. After a short stay in Rome, he headed east to fight the Parthians. He took his two sons with him. The Parthians were in decline, and Severus did well.
198  —  Caracalla's 10th birthday; Geta's 9th birthday.
Obverse of a coin of Caracalla from 198 CE. Obverse of a coin of Geta from 198-200 CE. On 28th January 198, when Septimius had captured the Parthian capital Ctesiphon, he took the title of Parthicus Maximus, and caused his troops to salute Caracalla as Augustus. Caracalla received the tribunicial power for the first time (he renewed this each year to 211). Geta probably received the title of Caesar at the same time. Caracalla was clearly treated as the heir, with Geta in a less prominent role. This was to cause problems later.
199  —  Caracalla's 11th birthday; Geta's 10th birthday.
Obverse of a coin of Caracalla from 199 CE. Obverse of a coin of Geta from 199-204 CE. In 199 CE, Severus continued his campaign in the east.
200  —  Caracalla's 12th birthday; Geta's 11th birthday.
Obverse of a coin of Caracalla from 200 CE. Obverse of a coin of Geta from 199-204 CE. Severus and his sons were back in Syria by October 200, and they headed south through Palestine.
201  —  Caracalla's 13th birthday; Geta's 12th birthday.
Obverse of a coin of Caracalla from 201 CE. Obverse of a coin of Geta from 199-204 CE. Around March 201, Severus and his sons entered Egypt, and Severus headed for Alexandria to consolidate the loyalty of the locals, who had supported Pescennius Niger when Severus was making his bid for power. They also visited Memphis and Thebes, and the tomb of Pompeius Magnus at Pelusium. At the end of the year, they took ship for Antioch.
202  —  Caracalla's 14th birthday; Geta's 13th birthday.
Obverse of a coin of Caracalla from 202 CE. Obverse of a coin of Geta from 199-204 CE. In Antioch, on the first day of the new year, Severus began his third consulship, with Caracalla entering his first consulship as his companion. They journeyed on to Rome; the evidence of the coinage (like this galley) is that they travelled partly by land and partly by sea, and the historical evidence doesn't make their route any clearer than this. They arrived sometime between May and late summer, to a series of magnificent celebrations, by which time Caracalla was aged 14 and Geta was 13. This was the year in which Caracalla was married to Plautilla, the daughter of the Praetorian prefect Gaius Fulvius Plautianus. Several coins were issued to celebrate the marriage.
203  —  Caracalla's 15th birthday; Geta's 14th birthday.
Obverse of a coin of Caracalla from 203 CE. Obverse of a coin of Geta from 199-204 CE.

In 203 CE, the Arch of Severus, celebrating their triumph in Parthia, was erected in the Forum.

The boys' uncle Geta, Septimius' brother, was one of the consuls in this year. The similarity of names caused some confusion to the authors of RIC IV.

204  —  Caracalla's 16th birthday; Geta's 15th birthday.
(No coin yet for this year) (No coin yet for this year) Severus presided over ten days of celebration at the Saecular Games, magnificent festivals held only once every 110 years, so that no-one might witness them more than once.
Plautianus' ostentation and his attempts to influence the imperial family were causing some resentment from all – the emperor, his wife Julia Domna, and his brother Geta as well as the two boys. Things started to come to a head after the boys' uncle Geta died.
205  —  Caracalla's 17th birthday; Geta's 16th birthday.
Obverse of a coin of Caracalla from 205 CE. Obverse of a coin of Geta from 205 CE. In this year, Caracalla undertook his second consulship, with Geta as his partner undertaking his first.
On January 22 205, Plautianus was accused of treason – some say, as part of a plot by Caracalla or others to remove him. Plautianus was killed, and Plautilla, together with her brother, were banished to Lipari. Severus spent the next two years quietly, dealing with political and judicial affairs.
206  —  Caracalla's 18th birthday; Geta's 17th birthday.
Obverse of a coin of Caracalla from 206 CE. Obverse of a coin of Geta from 206 CE. Rivalry between the brothers became more intense, sometimes resulting in injuries.
207  —  Caracalla's 19th birthday; Geta's 18th birthday.
Obverse of a coin of Caracalla from 207 CE. Obverse of a coin of Geta from 205-208 CE. RIC IV suggests that Caracalla was already in Britain this year, preparing for the forthcoming campaign.
208  —  Caracalla's 20th birthday; Geta's 19th birthday.
Obverse of a coin of Caracalla from 208 CE. (No coin yet for this year) On January 28, still at the age of 18, Geta was raised to the rank of Augustus. In this year, Severus travelled to Britain with his sons to begin what was to become his last campaign. He hoped that this would distract them from their disagreements and rivalry. The boys were also made partners in the consulate; it was Caracalla's third consulship, and Geta's second.
209  —  Caracalla's 21st birthday; Geta's 20th birthday.
Obverse of a coin of Caracalla from 209 CE. Obverse of a coin of Geta from 208-209 CE. In 209 CE, the fighting in Britain began. Geta received the tribunicial power for the first time. He was left behind in London and York to administer the province, while Caracalla travelled north to Caledonia to fight beside his father. Caracalla seems to have been a dangerous companion. According to Cassius Dio, he more than once attempted to assassinate his father.
210  —  Caracalla's 22nd birthday; Geta's 21st birthday.
Obverse of a coin of Caracalla from 210 CE. Obverse of a coin of Geta from 210 CE. Severus negotiated some sort of peace with the Britons, not wholly favourable to Rome. He then took the title Britannicus Maximus, and both Caracalla and Geta took the title Britannicus.
211  —  Caracalla's 23rd birthday; Geta's 22nd birthday.
Obverse of a coin of Caracalla from 211 CE. Obverse of a coin of Geta from 211 CE. The peace was soon broken by the Caledonians, and Septimius, who was quite ill, dragged himself north to fight again. But the effort was too much for him, and he died in York on February 4 at the age of 65. Before he died, he gave the boys this advice: "Get along with each other; pay off the soldiers; ignore everyone else." The first part of this advice was to be completely ignored.
Caracalla and Geta, now joint emperors, returned to Rome as soon as they could. Their hatred was such that they split the palace between them, posting guards at the intersections. Caracalla was being advised to have Geta killed, and he tried more than once. On 11 December, he succeeded, and became the sole emperor at last. There followed much bloodshed, and revenge on Geta's adherents. Among those who died was the exiled Plautilla.
212  —  Caracalla's 24th birthday.
Obverse of a coin of Caracalla from 212 CE. Caracalla made a number of reforms. He increased soldier's pay (following his father's advice). Construction of the baths that were to bear his name was well under way, though the complex was only partly completed during his reign. And, importantly, he granted Roman citizenship to all free inhabitants of the empire. In the summer of 212, he set out on a military expedition to Raetia and Upper Germany.
213  —  Caracalla's 25th birthday.
Obverse of a coin of Caracalla from 213 CE. Caracalla entered his fourth consulship. He arrived in Raetia at the beginning of August to campaign against the Alemanni. His victory was announced in October and he received the title Germanicus for his successes. He headed back to Rome in the winter.
214  —  Caracalla's 26th birthday.
Obverse of a coin of Caracalla from 214 CE. Caracalla arrived in Rome for a brief visit, probably around January, and soon headed east to Thrace and northern Asia Minor to campaign against the Parthians and Armenians. He wasn't totally successful, except to harass the Parthians. He spent the winter of 214-5 at Nicomedia.
215  —  Caracalla's 27th birthday.
Obverse of a coin of Caracalla from 215 CE. In between summer campaigns, Caracalla visited Alexandria, to find much dissension and rioting. He punished the city severely, executing thousands. While in Alexandria, he visited the Serapeum and took part in the rituals there. At some time, he also visited Pergamum and took part in the healing rituals of the famous temple of Asklepios. This involved sleeping near the temple and having his dreams interpreted.
216  —  Caracalla's 28th birthday.
Obverse of a coin of Caracalla from 216 CE. Caracalla asked to marry the daughter of Arbatanus V, one of the rival Parthian kings. When he was turned down, he invaded Mesopotamia. The Parthians retreated, and the Roman armies returned across the Euphrates.
217  —  Caracalla's 29th birthday.
Obverse of a coin of Caracalla from 217 CE. Caracalla is known to have made several visits to temples during his travels. Early in 217, while based in Edessa, he made a trip to Carrhae, to the temple of the world-famous moon god Sin. As he returned on April 8, he was killed, supposedly while defecating; and the killer was in turn killed by his guards. The Praetorian prefect, Macrinus, was suspected of organising the assassination. It is certain that he became the next emperor!

Caracalla was certainly ruthless and violent, characteristics he probably learned from his father. It is tempting to view his murdered brother as a meek innocent in contrast, but this is not likely to be accurate.

Caracalla's reforms were important and had a profound effect on the empire. His death put only a temporary end to the Severan dynasty. Less than two years later, Macrinus and his son were killed in their turn, and Caracalla's cousin, the outrageous Elagabalus, priest of a Syrian sun god, took the helm.

Dating the Coins

Assigning dates to Geta's coins as Caesar is not as simple as it might seem from one of the most widely used reference books, the 2002 volume of Sear's Roman Coins And Their Values. I used those dates at first, but Curtis Clay has pointed out that Sear's apparently confident dating is taken uncritically from Philip Hill's "The Coinage of Septimius Severus and his Family of the Mint of Rome AD 193-217", and where the coins are not datable from their legends, Hill had no evidence to support his conjectures, some of which were based on incorrect ideas about mint organisation. So I looked elsewhere.

Volume IV of The Roman Imperial Coinage, and Volume V of Coins of the Roman Empire in the British Museum, both assign a very similar set of dates to particular obverse legends on Geta's coins. (You would expect these two books to agree with each other, as Harold Mattingly is the first listed author of both.) They are not usually specific to the year, but assign the coins to a series covering two or more years. A few reverse legends within these bands can be pinned down to their year. For this page I have used these sources, and sequenced my examples within these bands according to the appearance of the portrait, using dated coins where I have them. The year bands are: 198-200; 203-208; 205-208; 209-210; 211-212.

It is much easier to find coins of Caracalla dated definitely by their legends, many of which give COS and TR P numbers for years we know. Where I have them, I have used coins dated in this way.

You can click on any image to see the full coin and its attribution.

Other Relevant Pages

You might also be interested in these web pages which go into the subject of Geta and his coin portraits.

Warren Esty's page on Geta's coin portraits.

Doug Smith's page on Geta's coins.


The information on this page came from several web and book sources, some already mentioned.
Roman Coins And Their Values, volume II, 2002, by David Sear.
The Roman Imperial Coinage volume IV, by Harold Mattingly, Edward A Sydenham and C H V Sutherland
Coins of the Roman Empire in the British Museum Volume V, Pertinax to Elagabalus, by Harold Mattingly, R.A.G. Carson and P.V. Hill.
A biography of Septimius Severus called "The Life and Reign of the Emperor Lucius Septimius Severus" by Maurice Platnauer, B.A., B. Litt. This biography has at least one error; 'There is no rescript placing Septimius in Sirmium on 18 March [202]: that is merely "an error in the index of Haenel, Corp. legum ab imp. rom. ante Justinian. latarum, repeated by Hasebroek" and by Platnauer (Whittaker, Loeb Herodian, p. 325, note 4).' (comment from Curtis Clay on the Forum Classical Numismatics Discussion Board).
The main web source I used was De Imperatoribus Romanis, a series of summaries of each emperor.
Thanks to Curtis Clay for information on the dating of coins of Geta.
[A later addition: Mr. Clay asserts elsewhere that Albinus was defeated on 19th February 196, not in 197; no doubt this emerges from his detailed die study in his Oxford thesis of 1972.]
If any expert spots a mistake, I will be very grateful to hear about it and put it right. There is an email link below.

The content of this page was last updated on 6 February 2016.

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