Severus had two children and is supposed to have rejoiced on his deathbed for
"he was leaving two Antonini to rule the state with equal powerserein following the example of Pius, who left to the state Verus and Marcus Antoninus, his two sons by adoption; and that he rejoiced all the more, because, while Pius had left only adopted sons, he was leaving. sons of his own blood to rule the Roman state"
HA Severus 20.1-2
This makes it clear that Severus was attempting to create an heir of "Antoninity" about his dynasty but today I will look at how he prepared the ground throughout his reign by studying his treatment of the young Geta and Caracalla. I hope to show that Severus attempted to mirror the actions of Marcus Aurelius in the treatment of his children and their rise to power.
Caracalla played the dominant role, being the older of the two, and is treated in a manner that is notably similar to Marcus Aurelius' treatment of Commodus. Both children accompanied their fathers on campaign from an early age. We see Commodus presented as "GERM(anicus) SARM(armaticus)" on coinage while still Caesar
Aureus 175-176, AV 7.29 g.
Obv:"COMMODO CAES AVG FIL GERM SARM" Bare-headed, draped and cuirassed bust r.
Rev. PRINCI – PI IV – ENTVTIS Altar inscribed FORT / REDV / CI.
C 601. BMC M. Aurelius 652. RIC M. Aurelius 618. Calicó 2313
This coin was minted when Commodus could at most be 15 years old it is clear that these titles were as a result of accompanying his father on his campaigns and not as a result of his own actions. Caracalla is treated in a very similar manner; when he is declared "PART(icus) MAX(imus) on his coinage at the age of only 13, such as this denarius from 201AD
Obv: ANTONINVS PIVS AVG, laureate draped bust right
Rev: PART MAX PONT TR P IIII, two Persians bound & seated back to back at base of trophy.
It is clear that Caracalla did little on this campaign except merely accompany his father and therefore it is an obvious example of Severus attempting to follow the example set by Marcus Aurelius, an example that would hopefully still be fresh in the mind of the troops.
Severus' treated Caracalla's political career again in a very similar fashion so that both the army and the senate would grow to recognise this new Antoninus. We see a pattern that would have been familiar to the mature senators, who had lived during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, with Severus entering his son Caracalla into the political sphere at a very young age and treating him again in a manner very similar to Commodus.
Commodus received the "toga virilis" on the Danube fronteir, as Marcus Aurelius prepared to leave for the East (HA Marcus Aurelius 22.12). The HA says that commodus received this honour the same year as he was raised to Caesar, during the consulship of Piso and Julianus, making it 175AD (HA Commodus 12.1-3). This would mean that Commodus was only 14 when he received the honour.
Caracalla also received his toga following a campaign with his father. The Historia Augusta claims that he received it while in Antioch prior to being made co consul with his father in 202AD at the young age of 13 (HA Sev 16.8). He was also raised to Caesar at the age of 8 and was full Augustus and co emperor by the age of 10, as seen on this denarii from 198-199AD
Caracalla Denarius. 198-199 AD.
Obv:IMP CAES M AVR ANTON AVG, laureate, draped & cuirassed bust right
Rev: FELICITAS AVGG, Felicitas standing left, holding caduceus & cornucopiae.
RIC IV.1 Caracalla 18
It is clear that Severus was following the Antonine model for the rise of Caracalla to power as he introduced his son to both into the military and political spheres at a very early age.
Had it merely been the norm to raise a child to the purple in this manner one would have expected to see a similar treatment of Geta, as he was only one year younger. Yet this was not the case.
The young Geta does not share his fathers military glory, as Caracalla did, but instead only receives his own coinage when he is raised to Caesar in 198AD. One would therefore assume that he was to be the junior partner in the imperial pairing; however Severus raises Geta to co-Augustus in 209AD.
Surely this points to a political motive?
The fact that Severus wished Geta to be an equal partner to his elder brother in the end suggests that Severus was attempting to highlight the treatment of the youthful Caracalla. This idea is supported by the fact that Geta is presented in a form first found in inscriptions relating to Marcus Aurelius' younger son Annius Verus. Both children are referred to as their mothers son, Geta being son of Julia (ILS 459) and Annius being son of Faustina (ILS 386). This is not standard practice and is first found in dedications to Annius Verus, so it must therefor be for political reasons.
Essentially I hope to have explained (I did write this blog in several parts so it may be very patchy) that Severus used his children as a political tool to present his family in a manner similar to that of the recent members of the Antonine house. He did so by carefully introducing his successor to the military and senate at a very young age in a fashion similar to the treatment of Commodus. He also held back from raising his younger son to Augustus to highlight the treatment of Caracalla while still using him as a mirror of young Annius Verus.