Emperor Caracalla
(A.D. 188-217)

(click image to view enlargement)
A.D. 212-217


The two sons of Septimius Severus and Julia Domna were bitter rivals for the imperial throne. As described above (see cat. 30), this struggle ended with the brutal assassination of Geta (Dio 78.2)(see Riley Collection: Young Man). Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, better known today by his nickname Caracalla, became sole emperor in A.D. 212. After a reign of just over six years, Caracalla was himself assassinated in 217 at the age of twenty-nine. Cassius Dio, who knew the emperor personally but detested him, summarized Caracalla's attributes by pointing out that, through his parents, Caracalla "belonged to three ethnic groups but possessed none of their virtues and all of their vices: the fickleness, cowardice and recklessness of Gaul, the harshness and cruelty of Africa, and the craftiness of Syria" (78.6.1).

Distinguishing the portraits of Caracalla and Geta is difficult because most scholars see little difference between the appearance of two brothers who were, in fact, less than a year apart in age. The Riley head belongs to Klaus Fittschen's "First Sole Ruler Type" and thus probably represents Caracalla after his elimination of Geta in 212.1 Because the head is broken high above the neck, it is impossible to say that the characteristic turn of the head was originally present.



1. FZ I, especially 105-109. The Riley head is close to Capitoline 2310 (pls. 110-112). For examples with less voluminous hair, see Dresden Albertinum 401 (M. Wegner and H. Wiggers, Caracalla bis Balbinus [Berlin 1971] pl. 10, c-d) and Uffizi 1941, 213 (Pl. 19).


Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, The Tom and Nan Riley Collection, formerly in an English private collection. Copyright © 1997 Cedar Rapids Museum of Art. All rights reserved.

Photos by C. Randall Tosh, copyright © 1988 The University of Iowa Museum of Art. All rights reserved.

Text from Richard Daniel De Puma. Roman Portraits. Iowa City, IA: The University of Iowa, 1988. Copyright © 1988 The University of Iowa Museum of Art. All rights reserved.


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