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Geta (211)

Publius Septimius Geta was born on March 7, 189 at Mediolanuni. He was the second son of emperor Septimius Severus.

Geta was named after Severus' father and was only eleven months younger than his brother, Caracalla. During the civil wars that established Severus as emperor, Emperor Severus used the young Caracalla to solidify popular support by changing the older son's name to connect the boy to the Antonine dynasty and by giving Caracalla the titles first of Caesar, then Augustus. Caracalla was increasingly being treated as the successor, while Geta was being treated as the spare. Geta however was eventually given the title Caesar by his father and publicly promoted.

This promotion was unable to hide the family's dysfunctional relationships, especially the bitter rivalry developing between the two teenage brothers, Caracalla and Geta. Severus then, decided to take his sons with him on a campaign to Britain, first to get them out of Rome and second to keep his sons busy. While Caracalla commanded the troops his younger brother Geta was given civilian authority in Britain. Then more than a decade after his brother received the title Augustus Geta was also given this title, which meant that Geta theoretically was co-emperor along with Severus and Caracalla. Geta's increase in authority did though little to improve his relationship with Caracalla.

Soon after Geta received the title "Augustus" his father Severus' health began to deteriorate, and desperate pleas were made for his sons to get along. Severus died 4 February 211 in York. At the death of Severus Caracalla was 22 years old and his brother Geta 21. The Roman empire now faced a similar situation than 50 years earlier between Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus as they too officially shared the empire. Caracalla might well have been satisfied with this situation had Geta behaved like Verus, whose authority was more official than real and who deferred to his older sibling in political matters. Geta, however, saw his authority as being truly equal to that of his brother, and the two were barely on speaking terms during the long trip back to Rome. Once in the city, the situation did not improve. Government ground to a halt as the two bickered about appointments and policy decisions. A later story even claimed the brothers were considering dividing the empire into two.

Known as an angry, impatient character, he perhaps simply lost patience. On the other hand, Geta was the more literate of the two, often surrounded by writers and intellects. It is therefore quite likely that Geta was making more of an impact with senators than his tempestuous brother. Perhaps even more dangerous to Caracalla, Geta was showing a striking facial similarity to his father Severus. Had Severus been very popular with the military, Geta's star might have been on the rise with them, as the generals believed to detect their old commander in him. Hence one could speculate that perhaps Caracalla opted to murder his brother, once he feared Geta might prove the stronger of the two of them.

By the end of the year Caracalla was being advised to have Geta murdered, and after at least one unsuccessful attempt at the start of the Saturnalia festival, Geta was killed in late December 211. Caracalla pretended to seek to reconcile with his brother and so suggested a meeting in the apartment of Julia Domna. Then as Geta arrived unarmed and unguarded, several centurions of Caracalla's guard broke through the door and cut him down. Geta died in his mother's arms.

Caracalla claimed that the murder came in response to Geta's plottings. His brother's death started a bloody and violent purge of Caracalla's suspected enemies. Geta's memory was condemned, his name was removed from inscriptions and his face removed from sculptures and paintings. Caracalla's critics looked back wistfully at the murdered prince, who came to be described as a lamb devoured by his ferocious, lion-like brother. Official restoration of Geta's reputation came with the arrival of the emperor Elagabalus to Rome in 219, when Geta's remains were put into the Mausoleum of Hadrian to join those of his father and brother.

Ancient Roman Emperors - Geta
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Roman Emperor Geta - Related Topic: Britannia


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