Macrinus, the Berber who became Emperor of Rome

The damnation memoriae It is that Roman custom of condemning the memory of a character by eliminating everything that could remember him, from portraits to inscriptions to the banning of his name in documents.

He was especially focused on one of the most ephemeral Roman emperors that the Empire had: Macrinus. Successor of Caracalla and predecessor of Heliogabalus, he was the first maximum ruler not from the senatorial class.

His fall after little more than two years in powerduring which he never once set foot in Rome, was followed by the deletion of references to him and his son in official documentation, as well as the systematic destruction of their images on statues and coins, which is why today it is difficult find some complete representation of him.

Marcus Opellius Macrinus was born in AD 165. He was not Italic in origin but Berbera native of Caesarea, a city of the Caesarean Mauritania (what is now Cherchel, an Algerian port), and came from the ordo equester (Equestrian class, gentlemen), which allowed him a good education to dedicate himself to law and to be part of the state bureaucracy of Septimius Severus. Later, Caracalla named him prefect of his praetorian guard.

Dio Casio tells that an augur prophesied that he would replace the emperor; it is impossible to know what is true and if this had to do with his decision, but as the news reached Rome in the spring of the year 217 and fearing that this would be interpreted as an act of treason, Macrinus dared to go ahead and organize a plot against Caracalla.

During the endless campaign against the Parthians, he ordered his assassination and three days later the prediction came true: the Mauritanian ascended the throne supported by the army and not opposed by the Senate because, after all, it was fed up with the late emperor.

Adopting the name of Severo to legitimize dynasticallyadded Antonio’s to his son Diadumenian (who was only eight years old) to also connect it with the previous dynasty.

Even so, and despite the initial popularity that aroused among the troops, the senators they despised him because of his low birth and because he appointed others without illustrious surnames to positions of responsibility.

But it was not something that, for the moment, worried the new Caesar. The truly urgent thing was to resolve the financial hardship from the state coffers, which his predecessor had left empty at the cost of paying for his military campaigns and paying the soldiers more than generously.

To solve it, Macrino took advantage of the fact that he was still in Antioch to negotiate the end of hostilities with the Parthians in exchange for a large compensation to its king Artabano V. It was necessary because other enemies lurked in Dacia and Armenia; but although the new emperor showed skill in appeasing them, peace at the price of gold demanded find funds somewhere.

For this, he increased the purity and weight of the silver denarius and resumed the fiscal policy of Septimius Severus. But it wasn’t enough and the only thing he found really useful was reduce crazy salaries that Caracalla had granted to the legionaries.

Obviously, this made him lose his support, which was the only one he really had in the Senate, and the conspiracies against him began. The first led julia domnawife of Septimio Severo and mother of Caracalla, who was discovered and imprisoned, although being seriously ill she chose to commit suicide.

The relief was taken over by her sister, the energetic Julia Maesawhom the banishment in Emesa (her hometown, the current Syrian Homs) decreed by Macrino only helped her develop her plans more comfortably.

His family was linked to the priesthood of the cult of El-Gabalthe local version of the Undefeated Sun, and his son Basian, fourteen years old, was made a priest; This gave him an aura of respectability that his mother reinforced by divulging the recurring legend that his true father it had been Caracalla.

The soldiers of the III Legio Gallica, stationed in that land, were enthusiastic about the story despite its improbability (Caracalla would have been eleven years old when he fathered him) and Basian was proclaimed emperorrenaming it with the name of Marco Aurelio Antonino.

Macrinus’s reaction was to associate Diadumenianus to the throne as august and send an army to suppress the rebellion. But the troops sent were not only unable to break through the opposing defenses, but they were convinced that Basiano was really of the lineage of the Severos and they they changed sides.

The counterattack forced him to flee from Antioch; Despite the fact that he had shaved his beard and head to go unnoticed, they recognized him as he passed through Chalcedonia, from where he intended to cross the Bosporus with the idea of ​​reaching Rome and asking – perhaps naively – for help from the Senate .

Just caught, like Diadumeniano, also fell into the hands of the adversary in the Parthian city of Zeugma, while trying to put himself under the protection of Artabano V; father and son suffered the same fate that summer of 218, being executed and sent their heads to the new emperor, who had assumed as a complementary name the one with which he would go down in history, heliogabalus… and that it would have the same end four years later, continuing the bloody cycle of succession: if the legions had overthrown an emperor chosen by the Praetorians, the next time it would be the other way around.


Sources

history of rome (Sergei Ivanovich Kovalev)/Legions of Rome. The Definitive History of All Roman Imperial Legions (Stephen Dando-Collins)/A Brief History of Rome (Miguel Ángel Novillo López)/roman history (Cassius Dio)/ Wikipedia.