Born Lucius Septimius Bassianus. on this day in 188 AD. As Roman emperor (211-217 CE.), Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus. Other titles included Britannicus, Parthicus, Arabicus, Germanicus, and Adiabenicus Maximus. Caracalla is a nickname not used by the emperor. It is thought to refer to a hooded cloak that he made popular. Caracalla succeeded his father, Septimius Severus, co-reigned with his brother, Geta, and preceded Macrinus.
This is a Types 4 Caracalla portrait, characterized by a rather rectangular face and block-like cranium, along with a sharp turn of the head, usually to the left. Also, exaggerated musculature of the forehead combined with pronounced naso-labial folds give the appearance of an X running through the center of his face. Also shown are juvenile portraits that bear an obvious and intentional similarity to the child portraits of Marcus Aurelius.
The unknown sculptor responsible for most of these images, often called “the Caracalla master” developed a style that was imitated by those creating portraits of many later emperors. To the visually illiterate, i.e., us modern viewers, the portraits show a cruel and almost deranged ruler. The portraits have no doubt contributed to modern – and perhaps even ancient (e.g. the Historia Augusta – part history, part fiction) – biographies that paint Caracalla as the epitome of the Roman barbarism that would be cured, in some interpretations of history, by the later introduction of Christianity.
Caracalla’s political record is, however, not totally consistent with his bad reputation. Caracalla, with all his executions, killed fewer family members than Constantine the Great, who is viewed much more kindly by history. The scowl and suspicious glance worn by Caracalla in these images was, among other things, a nod to the army, who had put his father, Septimius Severus, on the throne and kept him there for two decades, and a show of military strength from Caracalla, who became commander in chief at a relatively young age after Severus’s death. Regardless of your assessment of Caracalla (whose reputation seems to call for reevaluation) you cannot deny the mastery of his sculptor.