Geta (emperor)

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Bust of Geta
Bust in the Louvre
Roman emperor
Reign209 – 26 December 211
PredecessorSeptimius Severus
Co-emperorsSeptimius Severus (until February 211)
Born7 March 189
Died26 December 211 (aged 22)
Publius Septimius Geta
FatherSeptimius Severus
MotherJulia Domna

Publius Septimius Geta (/ˈɡɛtə/; 7 March 189 – 19/26 December 211) was Roman emperor with his father Septimius Severus and older brother Caracalla from 209, when he was named augustus like his brother, who had held the title from 198. Severus died in 211, and although he intended for his sons to rule together, they proved incapable of sharing power, culminating with the murder of Geta in December of that year.[1]

Early life[edit]

Geta was the younger son of Septimius Severus by his second wife Julia Domna. Geta was born in Rome on 7 March,[2][3] at a time when his father was only a provincial governor at the service of Emperor Commodus. In 198, Geta was raised to caesar. Septimius Severus gave Geta the title of augustus (Emperor) in 209.

During the campaign against the Britons in the early 3rd century AD, imperial propaganda promoted the image of a happy family that shared the responsibilities of rule. Geta's brother Caracalla acted as Severus' second-in-command, and administrative and bureaucratic duties were Geta's responsibility. In reality, however, the rivalry and antipathy between the brothers did not abate. With the death of Emperor Septimius Severus in 211, control of the empire passed to Geta and Caracalla jointly.[4]

Joint Emperor[edit]

When Septimius Severus died in Eboracum in 4 February 211, Caracalla and Geta were proclaimed joint emperors and returned to Rome. Their mother, Julia Domna, who had served as a crucial advisor and confidante to her husband, was able to maintain her political influence over two co-emperors. It is said that on the journey from Britain to Rome the two brothers kept well away from each other, not once lodging in the same house or sharing a common meal.[5]

Their joint rule was a failure. The Imperial Palace in Rome was divided into two separate sections, and neither allowed the servants of the other into his own. They only met in the presence of their mother, and with a strong military guard, being in constant fear of assassination.[6] The current stability of their joint government was only through the mediation and leadership of their mother, Julia Domna, accompanied by other senior courtiers and generals in the military. The historian Herodian asserted that the brothers decided to split the empire in two halves, but with the strong opposition of their mother, the idea was rejected, when, by the end of 211, the situation had become unbearable.[7] Caracalla tried unsuccessfully to murder Geta during the festival of Saturnalia (17 December). Finally, the next week, Caracalla had his mother arrange a peace meeting with his brother in his mother's apartments, thus depriving Geta of his bodyguards, and then had him murdered in her arms by centurions.[8][9]

Deleted mention of Geta in an inscription after his damnatio memoriae (Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Cagliari)

Caracalla ordered the damnation of his memory, which was thoroughly carried out, as is clear from the archaeological record.[10][11] Reportedly, Caracalla was thereafter tormented by guilt over his deed, but sought to expiate it by adding to this crime the proscription of all his brother's former followers.[12] Cassius Dio stated that around 20,000 men and women were killed or proscribed on this charge during this time.[13]


Very few marble portraits attributable to Geta survive to date, presumably due to the very thorough damnatio memoriae which resulted in the erasing of his images. However Roman coins with his image are plentiful, and can reflect how his father Septimius Severus and mother Julia Domna and later Geta himself wanted him to be seen by the Roman people (and especially the Roman military).

Images of Geta and his older brother Caracalla cannot be well distinguished until the death of the father. Both sons were supposed to be presented as equally suitable heirs to the throne, showing thus more "depth" to the dynasty.

On his coins, Caracalla, who became augustus in 198, was shown with a wreath of laurels, while Geta remained bareheaded until he himself became augustus in 209.[14] Between 209 and their father's death in February 211, both brothers were shown as equally mature young men with a short full beard, ready to take over the empire. Between the death of Septimus Severus and the assassination of Geta, Caracalla's portraits did not change, while Geta was depicted with a long beard with hanging hairs, much like his father, a strong indication of Geta's efforts to be seen as the "true" successor of his father.[14]

The Severan Tondo panel painting depicts Septimius Severus and his family with an obliterated face assumed to be Geta.


Severan dynasty family tree[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Varner, Eric R. Mutilation and Transformation: Damnatio Memoriae and Roman Imperial Portraiture (2004) Brill Academic Publishers. p. 168
  2. ^ Vagi, David (2016). Coinage and History of the Roman Empire. Routledge. p. 252. ISBN 9781135971250. The notoriously unreliable Historia Augusta (Geta, 3) suggest Geta was born [on 27 May 189]. However, other more reliable sources are available for determining Geta's date of birth.
  3. ^ Kitzler, Petr (2015). From 'Passio Perpetuae' to 'Acta Perpetuae'. de Gruyter. p. 14. ISBN 9783110418675.
  4. ^ "Roman Emperors - DIR Geta".
  5. ^ Edward Gibbon, The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire, (The Modern Library, 1932), chap. VI., p. 114
  6. ^ Gibbon, Ibid.
  7. ^ Herodian, History of the Empire from the death of Marcus, IV., p. 144
  8. ^ Gibbon, Ibid. p. 115
  9. ^ According to Dio, "he was only twenty-two years and nine months old". The exact date is disputed: Zwei syrische Verwandte des severischen Kaiserhauses. In: Chiron 12, 1982, S. 217–235: 229f y 49 (19 December); Michael L. Meckler: Caracalla and his late-antique biographer, Ann Arbor 1994, S. 15, 109–112 (25 December); Anthony R. Birley: The African Emperor. Septimius Severus, Routledge, 1991, 189 (26 December); A. Mastino, Le titolature di Caracalla e Geta, 1981 (2 February 212, accepting the HA).
  10. ^ Dunstan, William, E. (2011). Ancient Rome. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield. pp. 405–406. ISBN 978-0-7425-6832-7.
  11. ^ Goldsworthy, Adrian (2009). How Rome Fell: death of a superpower. New Haven: Yale University Press. pp. 70–71. ISBN 978-0-300-16426-8.
  12. ^ Gibbon, Ibid.
  13. ^ Cassius Dio, Roman History 78.4.
  14. ^ a b (in German) Andreas Pangerl: Porträttypen des Caracalla und des Geta auf Römischen Reichsprägungen - Definition eines neuen Caesartyps des Caracalla und eines neuen Augustustyps des Geta; Archäologisches Korrespondenzblatt des RGZM Mainz 43, 2013, 1, 99–116


External links[edit]

  • Life of Geta (Historia Augusta at LacusCurtius: Latin text and English translation)
Geta (emperor)
Born: 7 March 189  Died: 19 December 211
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Septimius Severus
Roman Emperor
With: Septimius Severus and Caracalla
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by
Lucius Fabius Cilo,
Marcus Annius Flavius Libo
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Caracalla
Succeeded by
Marcus Nummius Umbrius Primus Senecio Albinus,
Lucius Fulvius Gavius Numisius Petronius Aemilianus
Preceded by
Lucius Annius Maximus,
Gaius Septimius Severus Aper
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Caracalla
Succeeded by
Lucius Aurelius Commodus Pompeianus,
Quintus Hedius Lollianus Plautius Avitus
Legendary titles
Title last held by
King of Britain Succeeded by