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Ruthless Roman Emperors – Septimius Severus and Caracalla
Posted In: Ancient Civilizations  8/27/12
By: Yona Williams

When it comes to tales of 'like father, like son,' Roman emperors Septimius Severus and Caracalla are a pair that go down in history as some of the worst leaders regarding the history of the Empire. From the persecution of religious groups to extreme acts of sadism, you will learn more about this father-son duo in this article.

Septimius Severus

Ruling from 193 to 211, Septimius Severus was a Roman emperor that was not very well liked by the people. Born in a province of Africa called Leptis Magna, Septimius was successful in advancing through the military when Marcus Aurelius and Commodus were in power. Severus didn’t come into power until after the death of Emperor Pertinax in 193 – during a time period referred to as the Year of the Five Emperors. Severus deposed and killed the incumbent emperor (Didius Julianus) before assuming power. He then fought rival claimants for the throne, including generals.

Once his rule over the western provinces was finalized, Severus waged a temporary war in the east against the Parthian Empire. This move would prove a more successful campaign than previous battles. He sacked the capital city of Ctesiphon and then expanded into the eastern frontier to the Tigris.

Under the reign of Septimius Severus, Christians were persecuted because he believed that there was no other religion but Roman. He permitted the enforcement of policies that had been long-going throughout the land. Roman authorities did not purposefully seek out Christians, but when people were accused of following the religion, they would be forced to either make an offering to the Roman gods or curse Jesus. If they refused, they were executed. Severus did not respect anyone else, but for those in his army.
The succession of Severus' sons, Caracalla and Geta, led to the founding of the Severan dynasty, which became the last dynasty of the empire before the Crisis of the 3rd Century. Using draconian fear, Severus created a stable empire that did not last long because of the actions of his son, Caracalla.


From 211 to 217, Caracalla used fear to get what he wanted as a Roman emperor. With a reputation for being sadistic and cruel, one of his first acts was to assassinate his own brother, Geta (who was co-ruling the empire). He also had Geta's wife killed. When word of this crime spread throughout the lands, citizens living in Alexandria, Egypt put on a public play that ridiculed the leader. When Caracalla learned of the performance, he made his way to Alexandria with his army in tow. He invited all of the citizens to their city square and had them slaughtered. His army ransacked the city, looting homes and then burning the entire community. In the end, 20,000 people died in the aftermath.

In nearly every Roman province, Caracalla made it clear that he was not a likeable leader. If there were any signs of rebellion, he put an end to it. He sometimes acted upon rumors and did not wait for proof of dissent. He was quick to order the death of anyone that seemed suspicious. His army was just as ruthless. Wherever they went, they killed residents, raped the women, and destroyed towns.

Caracalla's end came at the hands of one of his guardsmen. On April 8, 217, he was killed on the side of the road just outside of Carrhae while he was urinating. Little did he know, having the guard's brother executed on a false accusation would later become his downfall.

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