This is a short article I posted on another forum earlier this year. I was thinking the folks on this forum may find it interesting as well
Caracalla - Imperial Alexandrophile
In the eyes of the Romans, Alexander the Great of Makedon was one of the greatest heroes of all times. He had lived the exotic dream of eastern conquest, one that a number of prominent Romans - Crassus, Julius Caesar, Marcus Antonius, Trajan, Lucius Verus, Septimius Severus, Caracalla, and a host of others tried to live - albeit with much less success.
Unsurprisingly, Alexander was idolized by a host of Rome's emperors and famous leaders, including Augustus, Caligula, Nero, Trajan, Hadrian, and all the emperors of the Severan Dynasty that ruled from 193 to 235 AD. Most prominent, and perhaps, most obsessive, of these Roman Alexandrophiles was the Caesar that popular history has dubbed "Caracalla".
Caracalla was born L. Septimius Bassianus, on April 4th, 186 AD. When he was ten years old - and his brother, P. Septimius Geta, was eight - his father was recognized as the Caesar Augustus of the whole Roman world, with the conclusion of a civil war that raged throughout the East and Gaul. Seeking to make his claim to the Purple look more legitimate, the crafty Severus hijacked the family name of the Antonine Emperors who had ruled 138-192. He thus declared his elder son Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Caesar, and so Caracalla's real name for most of his life was Antoninus.
Almost from the moment of his father's death in Britannia in February of 211, Caracalla's reign was a riot of murder and mayhem. The first of many prominent victims of his jealousy and violent temper was his greatest rival - his younger brother Geta. In the aftermath of Geta's brutal murder, Caracalla allegedly executed 20,000 citizens who had supported his brother, among them the Praetorian praefects Papinianus and Valerius Patruinus.
Yet, paradoxially, Caracalla was also capable of acts of clemency. He undid many of his father's harsher rulings; every prominent person Severus had banished to an island Caracalla recalled and restored to their former state. There is also no evidence of his continuing his father's brutal policy against the Christians. One of Caracalla's most famous rulings does not stand out as the action of a heartless pyschopath; in the second year of his reign, with his Constitutio Antoniniana, he gave the rights of citizenship to every free person living in the Roman Empire.
Cassius Dio, one of our two main sources on the life of Caracalla, summarized this dangerous and probably bipolar emperor by saying that he had "the lightness, the cowardice, and the recklessness of Gaul...the roughness and cruelty of Africa, and the abominations of Syria..."
Caracalla's brutality and his many eccentricities earned him a number of unflaterring nicknames. He earned his most famous, "Caracallus" (modernly Caracalla) for wearing a style of Celtic coat that bore this name. He was also known as Tarautas, after a gladiator who was known for being short, ugly, and vicious towards his foes.
But, in the eyes of his historians Cassius Dio Cocceianus, and Herodianus of Syria, Caracalla was most noteworthy for his obsession with Alexander the Great, and his fetish for all things Makedonian.
Dio tells us that Caracalla's desire to emulate Alexander was so great that he carried a sword and drank from vessels that had allegedly belonged to the conqueror. He also organized a huge unit - thirty-two cohorts strong - of legionaries equipped with the weapons and armor used by 4th Century BC phalangites, and he called this unit his "Phalanx Macedonica". This led to his warning the Parthian King that he had a force of infantry that was "invincible when fighting with spears".
The tombstone of Aurelius Alexianos - a Roman soldier who died in Greece during or shortly after the reign of Caracalla - even shows him wearing the traditional Makedonian felt cap. Even his composite Greek and Latin surname may hint at Caracalla's influence; the latter actually encouraged his men, especially officers, to change their names to Makedonian ones.
Just being one of Alexander's countrymen was enough to win one favor in Caracalla's sight. Caracalla once complimented a soldier for his skill in handling his horse, and asked him where in the Empire he came from. The soldier replied that he was a Makedonian; his name was Antigonos, and his father's name was Philippos. Caracalla replied "I have all I desire"; he showered the soldier with all kinds of rewards - not the least of them a prominent place in the Senate.
On another occasion, a serial killer named Alexander was brought before the Emperor. The accuser, speaking of the murderer, called him "the bloodthirsty Alexander" and "the god-detested Alexander" several times over. Caracalla became increasingly heated and finally said "if Alexander doesn't suit you, you may regard yourself as dismissed." Dio does not tell us if Caracalla went as far as pardoning the murderer on account of his name, but considering Caracalla's character and obsession it's a good possibility...
In 215 AD, while preparing for a campaign against Parthia, Caracalla commited what was probably the greatest crime of his bloodsoaked reign. He had heard that his name had become the inspiration for a number of unkind jokes in the great Egyptian metropolis of Alexandria. At the time, Caracalla's "Macedonian Phalanx" was drilling in the East, and he had also just raised a new batch of recruits in the Peloponnese to form a similar "Spartan Phalanx". He asked the magistrates of Alexandria to send all their young men out on a plain outside the city, so he could select recruits for an "Alexandrian Phalanx".
When the young men were assembled, however, Caracalla had his soldiers butcher them. The Alexandrian youths put up a stout fight, managing to kill a number of the soldiers, but in the end they were decimated. Their corpses were thrown in a mass grave, and some were even buried alive. The city of Alexandria itself was pillaged, and thousands of its citizens lost their lives.
Dio found it ironic that a man who so desired to be another Alexander was prepared to slaughter the inhabitants of Alexander's city over a few petty insults. But Caracalla didn't have much longer to confuse and terrorize the people of his Empire with his tumultous, unpredictable personality. On April 8th, 217, just four days after his birthday, he was murdered by the Praetorian soldier Julius Martialius. Dio tells us that Martialius was holding a grudge against Caracalla because the latter had declined his request to have the rank of centurion; Martialius was killed by a soldier loyal to Caracalla soon afterwards, but Dio claims that memorials honoring him were set up in Rome, and the people actually worshipped his departed spirit, in gratitude for freeing them from Caracalla's iron fist and unbalanced personality.