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New in our coin shop: History in Coins – July 11th 212: Constitutio Antoniniana

 

July 11th 212, Rome

The Roman emperor Marcus Severus Antoninus Caracalla wants to and has to prove his piety before the gods: They have presented him such a victory that his gratitude is without limits. All the people of Rome shall praise the glory of the gods and honor their cults. Therefore Caracalla enacts a law to make sure that as many people as possible can share his victory.

With an imperial order – the so called Constitutio Antoniniana – he grants almost all free people in the Roman Empire civil rights. Never before has there been such a comprehensive cut in the social interactions and the jurisdiction of the Empire.

But what a victory celebrates Caracalla in such a magnificent way?

 

February 4th 211, Eboracum in Britain

The Roman emperor Septimius Severus – weakened by several war campaigns and suffering from gout for several years – lies in his deathbed. He calls for his two sons Caracalla and Geta and admonishes them with the words: „Be united, enrich the soldiers and despise all the others.“ Shortly after that the Emperor dies at the age of 65.

But the paternal urgings fall on deaf ears. Since their youth the two brothers are bitter enemies. Officially they are to share the regency over the Empire but even during the journey back to Rome to bury their father’s ashes their relationship grows even more hostile because of permanent struggling. Arriving in Rome their brotherly relationship turns out to be pure illusion. The Emperors collect their respective followers and take care that they keep away from each other. Rome is in a state of siege.

 

December 21st  211, Rome

Rome is near to a civil war. After months full of hostilities and riots Caracalla convinces his mother Julia Domna, that he wants to live in peace with his brother. Then the Emperor’s widow invites her other son Geta for a talk in the Emperor’s palace.

But instead of mild words and brotherly love Geta has to face sword and blood. Bought assassins and Caracalla himself stab the Emperor to death who flees into his mother’s arms.

This nefarious action makes Caracalla immediately the sole ruler. The day after the Emperor appears before the Senate of Rome and tells them of his bloody deed. He simply claims to have reacted first before his brother commits an assassination of his own. He ist he one who is left standing and therefore victorous. He makes the Senate to impose a damnatio memoriae over Geta, the extermination of memory, of all written and drawed testimonies of his brother.In return he promises to pardon all exiles, to increase the soldier’s salary and to share monetary gifts. The people seem to be calmed down. But Caracalla wants to be on the safe side: Another 20.000 people fall victim to his machinations as he kills his brother’s followers.

It is this alleged victory which Caracalla let the people celebrate by imposing the Constitutio Antoniniana: Killing his brother and to secure his regency. That law plays an important role in this context. The Emperor hopes to assemble a devoted followership around him to make them fight against his enemies. This is to understand verbally. The new citizens are now in the position to directly start a prestigious career in the legions. They are not forced to laboriously get the civil rights by serving as the auxiliary troops. Ultimately, this move proves to be unhelpful: On April 8th 217 Caracalla is stabbed by a former legionary and two of his bodyguard, while he urinates.


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