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Coin Portrait of the Week #35


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Publius Septimius Geta





A.D. 209-211 (IMP) A.D. 199 (coin) Geta (as caesar)– Denarius / RSC 193a / RIC 4 / BMC s159-50 / L SEPTIMIVS GETA CAES / Draped Bust Right / SPES PVBLICA / Spes (Goddess of Hope) advancing holding flower and raising skirt standing left






Geta was the younger of two sons born to the Emperor Septimius Severus and his second wife, Julia Domna.


His older brother, the emperor commonly referred to as Caracalla, was a mere 11 months older. This closeness in age between the young and ambitious sons of an emperor eventually fostered rivalry between the two. When Caracalla was 7 his father changed his name from Lucius Septimius Bassianus to Marcus Aurelius Septimius Bassianus Antoninus in an effort link his family to the beloved Antonines.


His father, at the height of popularity after his successes against the Parthians, raised Caracalla, aged 10, to the rank of Augustus. This effectively made him his co-ruler and heir apparent. Geta was named Caesar, a lesser position. Although he was a second son and held a lower rank, as a member of the imperial family he enjoyed rank and privilege most of his life.



Head of Geta as a boy


As he and his brother grew into their teens, they clashed more frequently, threatening to shatter the carefully constructed image of a close nit and unified imperial family. Along with his own coin issues and statues, Septimius Severus minted coins and commissioned works of art with images of his young sons, his wife, and the family together. He promoted not just himself but his family. This was to be a dynasty.


Much of the imperial court traveled with the Emperor and his sons to Britain in 208. Caracalla supported his father in his military campaigns, Geta was given civilian authority and took a more administrative role. Septimius Severus elevated Geta to Augustus in 209 making him co-ruler with himself and Caracalla. He was possibly looking to appease his younger son and ease the tension between the two brothers. Instead the rivalry only intensified.


The rivalry turned to animosity and antagonism. The brothers would oppose each other on almost every issue out of spite. The private rivalry soon began to transform into a public spectacle. This threatened to ruin their fathers carefully fostered image of a serene imperial family who worked together in harmony.


On this subject the historian Cassius Dio states:


"if the one attached himself to a certain faction, the other would be sure to choose the opposite side"


Severus fell ill and died on February 4, 211 in York. He is said to have made one last plea to his son to make peace but his pleas fell on deaf ears. Two brothers at odds with each other would now be expected to peacefully coexist as joint emperors. Caracalla was 22, Geta was 21.


The two brothers returned to Rome and immediately began to oppose the other on almost every issue. Government was crippled and people were forced to chose sides. It quickly became a bitter and bloody struggle between the two factions.


The Historian Cassius Dio states:


"The two pretended to love and commend each other, but in all that they did they were diametrically opposed, and anyone could see that something terrible was bound to result from the situation. This was foreseen even before they reached Rome."




Although Severus shared the title of Augustus with his sons, there was little question that he retained most of the power. He used his influence to keep his two son in line as best he could. Without their fathers controlling influence, the brothers were free to finally settle their differences once and for all.


This long sibling rivalry, Geta's short time as Augustus, and his life would come to an end just 11 months after his fathers death. After at least one earlier failed attempt to take his brothers life, Caracalla had Geta killed some time in late December of 211. He was 22 years old at the time of his death.


Cassius Dio recounts his death. How accurate a depiction it is of his last hours is in question:


"Antoninus wished to murder his brother at the Saturnalia, but was unable to do so; ... and so there now ensued many sharp encounters between the two, each of whom felt that the other was plotting against him, and many defensive measures were taken on both sides. Since many soldiers and athletes, therefore, were guarding Geta, both abroad and at home, day and night alike, Antoninus induced his mother to summon them both, unattended, to her apartment, with a view to reconciling them. Thus Geta was persuaded, and went in with him; 3 but when they were inside, some centurions, previously instructed by Antoninus, rushed p283in a body and struck down Geta, who at sight of them had run to his mother, hung about her neck and clung to her bosom and breasts, lamenting and crying: "Mother that didst bear me, mother that didst bear me, help! I am being murdered." And so she, tricked in this way, saw her son perishing in the most impious fashion in her arms, and received him at his death into the very womb, as it were, whence he had been born; for she was all covered with his blood, so that she took no note of the wound she had received on her hand."


Caracalla managed to either purge, exile, intimidate, or pay off all those who still stood in his way. To the senate he justified his actions as self defense. He lamented that he had been the victim of a plot and his life were in danger. In essence he murdered his brother before his brother could murder him. He also took quick steps to pacify the legions offering them rewards for their loyalty. As Cassius Dio states:


"Immediately after the murder of Geta, Caracalla hurried from the Palace to the Praetorian Camp, where he declared that Geta had made a plot against him. He then promised the soldiers a donative"


Septimius Severus issued coins bearing portraits of both Caracalla and Geta as young boys (examples of both can be found on this site). Both brothers also later issued coins themselves with adult portraits. In statues and adult portraits on coins, Caracalla is often depicted with and almost angry, furrowed brow, intense and imposing. Surviving depictions of Geta are often of an innocent looking child or a less imposing young man. He is seldom depicted quite as brutish as his older brother.


This gives fuel to the common view of Geta as a young innocent victim of treachery and fratricide, committed by a brutish and homicidal older brother. Although he was indeed murdered by his brother, the truth is more likely that each conspired to kill the other. Geta simply failed to take his brother out before his brother got to him.


Caracalla could justify his actions officially but the fact that he murdered his brother would remain a touchy subject. Helvius Pertinax was killed by Caracalla for a witticism directed towards him, probably for a joke in reference to his murder of Geta.


The less than reliable Historia Augusta elaborates on fatal faux pas:


"The son of Pertinax is said to have remarked as Caracallas titles were being read aloud Sarmaticus Maximusand Parthicus Maximus, "Add to these also Geticus Maximus, that is to say, Gothicus."


Of Geta as a person, there is little reliable information, Dio states:


"the troops felt very kindly toward the younger brother, especially as he resembled his father very closely in appearance."


Again the Historia Augusta elaborates:


"As a youth, he was handsome, brusque in his manners though not disrespectful, incontinent in love, gluttonous, and a lover of food and of wine variously spiced. In his literary studies he held fast to the ancient writers. He was ever mindful of his father's sayings, always regarded by his brother with hatred, more affectionate than his brother toward their mother, speaking with a stammer though his voice was melodious. He was very fond of bright clothing — so much so, in fact, that his father would laugh at him."


After Geta's murder, many of his statues were destroyed, his name officially erased from inscriptions, and many coins bearing his likeness were melted down.



Severan family portrait, the face of Geta has been rubbed out





Caracalla: Brother and Co-ruler with Geta. He killed his brother for plotting against him





If you would like to read about his brother Bassianus / Antoninus / "Caracalla" you can go here:



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Amazing. Imagine, nearly 2000 years after the man lived, we've amassed a historical documentation of him in so many different forms. Fascinating to think of a figure being immortalized like that.

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Now that I am older I DO wish I had become an archaeologist...I cant think of many things cooler than uncovering some treasure, town, temple...being the first person in however many years to lay eyes on these treasures and study them up close....Oh well...whats done is done :ninja:

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Beautiful coin.


Severus well understood the basics of human nature. He knew where the raw enmity between his sons was leading, and tried to bring peace by making them co-emperors with himself. Yoking them in power, however, served only to sharpen their rivalry. It was at about this time that the elder son, Antoninus, became known by the nickname that would stay with him throughout history – Caracalla. It derived from the local style of hooded tunic – a bit like a duffel coat – that he wore while in Britain and later made fashionable in Rome. He also began to exhibit the behaviour that would forge his reputation as a monster. It began with a failure – failure, that is, to assassinate his own father, against whom he drew his sword while they were riding to negotiate the Caledonians’ surrender. Alerted by his guards, Severus faced the young man down.


There is some evidence in York (a grave of beheaded Romans) that could be the first purge of his dead father's retinue. Start as you mean to go on!


The new emperor also put to death his estranged wife, Plautilla, and her brother, and continued as he had begun – purging the high command of everyone who had ever told him “no”.


Cassius Dio says that Caracalla killed large numbers of the elite at Rome after disposing of his brother Geta.



Like nobody else before or since, Caracalla had it coming. On April 8, AD217, four days after his 29th birthday, appropriately on his way to a Moon Temple in modern-day Turkey, this irredeemable lunatic dismounted from his horse, pulled down his breeches and surrendered to the demands of diarrhoea. It was one of his own bodyguards who stepped forward and stabbed him to death.

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I doubt some of that.


One must examine the scource, when they are writing, who they were and what they are reporting and how they know it happened. Without doubt Caracalla was not loved by the senatorial class (the ones who write biographies and histories), he had no need for them and ignored them...this is probably expressed by Dio best when he claims the emperor said:


"I know that my behavior does not please you; but that is the very reason that I have arms and soldiers, so that I may disregard what is said about me"


Who knows if he said this but I think that even if this statement is being put in his mouth, then this was probably the general feeling people had concerning his attitude. This did not make him popular with those who might be writing about him. The lions share of the sources seem to paint him as pure evil. I quote just one of countless rants concerning him from historians:


His mode of life was evil and he was more brutal even than his cruel father. He was gluttonous in his use of food and addicted to wine, hated by his household and detested in every camp save that of the praetorian guard; and between him and his brother there was no resemblance whatever.


Over and over again the sources heap scorn on him. Its known that an Ancient historians first and foremost job was not to stick strictly to the facts, of which they might have had some nuggets. Often times its the same today. They were known to report anything as fact, invent and exaggerate. Make the story more interesting...he wasn't relieving his bladder...he was defecating!! Constantine purged a large number of rivals and killed TWO family members and he is not so maligned! In the end, the real nugget that might be true regarding his death was that he was killed by men around him as he traveled. This is a common theme in a constantly changing story.


According to Cassius Dio:


" Julius Martialis, who was enrolled among the evocati and had a private grudge against Antoninus for not having given him the post of centurion when he asked for it, and so formed his plot against Antoninus. It was carried out thus. On the eighth of April, when the emperor had set out from Edessa for Carrhae and had dismounted from his horse to ease himself, Martialis approached as though desiring to say something to him and struck him with a small dagger. Martialis immediately fled and would have escaped detection, had he thrown away his sword; but, as it was, the weapon led to his being recognized by one of the Scythians in attendance upon Antoninus, and he was struck down with a javelin. As for Antoninus, the p351tribunes, pretending to come to his rescue, slew him. The Scythian mentioned was in attendance upon Antoninus, not merely as an ally, but also as a kind of body-guard. For the emperor kept Scythians and Germans about him, freemen and slaves alike, whom he had taken away from their masters and wives and had armed, apparently placing more confidence in them than in the soldiers


So he says he was killed by a soldier and his bodyguard avenged him...not that Caracalla was having a bout of diarrhea, it is only known he stopped along the route to 'ease himself'


the even less reliable Historia Augusta recounts it thus:


"He was slain in the course of a journey between Carrhae and Edessa,50 when he had dismounted for the purpose of emptying his bladder and was standing in the midst of his body-guard, who were accomplices in the murder. 2 For his equerry, while helping him to mount, thrust a dagger into his side, and thereupon all shouted out that it had been done by Martialis."


And so on...All accounts revolve around the theme of him stopping and then being killed. They all have different stories as to how it was done...now one must examine who might be the most credible.


In the scenario regarding the attempt on his fathers life that he did not follow through on, there is doubt. Again it illustrates that he was capable of killing anyone, father, brother, etc...for power...like his father but more cruel.


Without doubt he did purge the supporters of Geta as well as other acts like the one against Alexandria. He was cruel like many other emperors, even ones that were thought of as relatively good. He killed a family member...Constantine killed his own son Crispus and his Wife Fausta but he was made a saint.


Caracalla was closely raised by his Father Severus at a time when Rome was beginning a slow downturn and there were many who WERE plotting all around. Severus was able to be cruel to secure power, he had to fight off claimants to the throne, and I would think he would have taught this to BOTH his sons. I believe the typical image of Geta was that of a poor kid killed by his evil brother. I have a feeling the truth would be that he was a Severan and was also ambitious, hated his brother, wanted power and could be cruel to get it. I am sure he wanted Caracalla dead as well and one viper struck before the other. Caracalla announced what he had done and told them why, he said his brother was plotting to kill him, his life was in danger, so he killed him....other emperors would hardly bother to justify the action. I believe Geta probably was plotting to get him, Geta had supporters (his faction), many of them, in the army as well...lucky for Caracalla they didnt like him enough to pass on a large donative.



I believe his father made terrible mistakes. He raised one brother, less than one year older, to a high position leaving Geta as Caesar for many years (coins show this)...this must have caused problems between the two. He raised Caracalla and not Geta making it clear he wanted one to succeed him and not the other.


Then he throws a curve ball after resentment and rivalry at critical levels, and raises Geta to equal status as Caracalla who had just enjoyed many years under the notion he would be his fathers lone sucessor...instead he is now expected to share power with a man who had now become, for all practical purposes, an enemy.


Sure he was cruel, maybe even more cruel than many, certainly did not live up to his namesake at all...none would...I think the truth is somewhere in the basic themes.


Wow...I rambled...

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Yes you are correct regarding diarrhea I should have checked the source, Cassius Dio, it sits in my library, instead of trusting the web.


Still a wonderful coin and a great story


EVEN to experts in ancient mystery, it was a shocking Cold Case File.

The complete skeletons of dozens of men – many of them beheaded – were found buried in a Roman cemetery under Driffield Terrace, near The Mount, York, two years ago.

Most were discovered by York Archaeological Trust during investigations before houses were built in the area.

More were found under a nearby back garden where a patio was to be laid.

From the moment they were found archaeologists knew there was something strange about them.

Removed heads were placed in odd positions – between knees, on chests, or down by feet.

Further investigations revealed they were all men – aged 20-40 – who had been in good health. None was local. Dental examinations confirmed they came from as far afield as Africa, Europe, and the Mediterranean.

Could the men have been decapitated post mortem in a ritual, experts wondered? The dead would often have their heads removed to prevent them returning to haunt the living.

But now a painstaking investigation by a team of experts for the BBC's Timewatch has established that the men were beheaded while still alive.

Martin Stockwell, Field Work Manager for York Archaeological Trust, said 56 skeletons had been recovered from the house-building site, and more than half of them had their heads removed. In the back garden, they found 24 skeletons, 15 decapitated.

Evidence by York based pottery expert Vivien Swan suggested the graves dating from the early third century AD.

Mr Stockwell added: "It looks like a cemetery for some specific purpose. But whether they were gladiators, or early Christians, or troops I doubt we will ever know.

"They were not buried with any particular grave goods.

"One had iron shackles around his ankles, indicating they were prisoners. It was not a mass grave.

"They were individual skeletons in individual plots, and not all in supine positions."

The wounds of those beheaded were terrible.

"It was done very messily in some cases with multiple cuts to the vertebrae and did not look like the precise ritual beheading of Roman cults," he added.

The next theory was the decapitated bodies were casualties of a war being fought at the time by Emperor Septimius Severus against the Scots.

However, bone specialists did not think the injuries were caused by war.

The latest idea – by historian Anthony Birley – is the men were the victims of a blood feud between Emperor Severus's sons, Caracalla and Geta, who both wanted to be Caesar after his death in York in AD211.

Mr Birley, whose brother Robin runs the Vindalanda site on Hadrian's Wall, notes that Roman historian Cassius Dio records that Caracalla went on a killing spree, executing even members of the Royal household including doctors, a chamberlain, and the family tutor.

For the programme, Prof Charlotte Roberts, a leading osteoarchaeologist with many years of experience in analysing human remains, confirmed what Kate Tucker, bone specialist for York Archaeological Trust, already suspected, that the men were executed.

Prof Roberts, based at Durham University, said: "This is an amazing site because there were so many decapitated.

"Usually in a cemetery site you only get one or two.

"It was quite clear from the cuts to the neck, vertebrae, and parts of the skull they seemed to have been beheaded from behind.

"People can have their heads cut off after death but the fact they had been done from behind suggested they were still alive at the time."

She added that the techniques used in the investigation had been similar to those used by forensic scientists on murder victims.

"So it will be a pretty gruesome programme and I expect it will get a lot of viewers," she added.

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I also have a full copy of the works of Dio as well as most others though if I am quoting a source I will use the web and the web source for Dio is exact...plus the web source has the text in both Latin and English.


thats an interesting story constantius, I wouldnt mind tuning in...whats the name of the program?


Something like that probably seems rather gruesome and brutal to us now, but in ancient times, for an emperor, especial a Severan...the killing of 80 men wasnt that big of a deal.

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BBC's 'Timewatch: The Mystery of the Headless Romans'


If you took out the wars, battles, murders, poisonings, executions etc history would be pretty boring.


It is nice to be able to combine the dual pleasures of collecting coins/medals and the study of history, plus being able to share it here @ CoinPeople.

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If you took out the wars, battles, murders, poisonings, executions etc history would be pretty boring.


It is nice to be able to combine the dual pleasures of collecting coins/medals and the study of history, plus being able to share it here @ CoinPeople.


As for your two points above, I entirely agree. Long may the latter continue!




Here's the article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/programmes/ti...romans_01.shtml

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I agree as well, although all those things are hell on the human condition. To see what history is like under a good emperor who does not engage in wars, battles, murders, poisonings, executions...look up Antoninus Pious...its a bit boring as he was a good man and ruler. No one wants to read 'he treated everyone well, he was humble, he didnt kill his brother, mother, son, no treason trials, no wars, etc...YAWN. :ninja:


Thanks for the info on the show, I will make sure to catch it when I can.

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