Caracalla, the Roman emperor who believed himself the reincarnation of Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great has been considered in antiquity as a symbol of political and military virtue, many emperors and kings sought in his figure, elements to obtain legitimacy. Caracalla is the only Emperor who develops such a personal admiration and veneration of the Macedonian figure, constantly showing it in his way of acting. The sources contain several references to this event, the Augustan History, although he only refers to this in a Small occasion, if you affirm that this obsession begins in caracalla as a young person:

After exceeding his childhood, either because of the cunning of his character, or because he considered that he should be compared to Alexander the Great of Macedonia, he became more reserved, more severe and even more atrocious, to the point that many did not believe that It was the same they had known as a child. He always had on his lips Alexander the Great and the deeds that he had done. (Augustan History1989: 287)

Dio Cassius goes through many anecdotes of the passion that Caracalla professed to Alexander:

«He was so enthusiastic about Alexander that he used certain weapons and cups that he thought had belonged to him, both in the camp and in Rome itself (…) organized a phalanx composed of 16,000 soldiers, all of them Macedonians, called it the phalanx of Alexander. The armament of these soldiers was the same used by the troops of Alexander (…) demanded to be called the August of the East «(Dio 1955: 293)


Dio relates that at one point, Caracalla wrote a letter to the Senate telling them that Alexander had returned to life on his person since unfortunately he had had such a short life, to live his purpose he needed to live again. Among other things, the author argues that Caracalla professed a hatred that constantly increased against the Aristotelian philosophers, who led him from the outset to burn all his books and ban their meetings to take away all their privileges, as he considered that Aristotle had participation in the death of Alexander. In this Dio enterprise, trying to highlight this admiration bordering on the childishness of Caracalla, describes that when asked a Macedonian tribune, his name, and the name of his father, who was Philip, was immediately promoted to the category of Senator with the rank of a former praetor. It is certainly probable that the historical background of this Caracalla imitation of Alexander was the military situation of the Roman Empire on its eastern border, due to the constant hostilities against the Parthian empire. Septimius Severus had previously faced this empire during the years 197 and 198. In the same way, Caracalla marched towards that frontier to fight against these enemies which historically were related to the Persian Empire against which Alexander fought. It is possible that this feeling of admiration towards Alexander was instilled in Caracalla by his father Septimio Severo, who during the struggle for the imperial title, marches in 194 against Pescenio Niger. The decisive battle takes place in the area of ​​Issos in Cilicia, the same place where Alexander gets his victory against the Persian king Darius in 333 BC, this surely has awakened a first feeling of admiration in Caracalla while still a child. Herodian also refers to this Alexandrian of Caracalla, argues that passing through Thrace, neighboring territory of Macedonia, immediately became Alexander, and tried to restore his memory by all means, entrusted the cities to put images and statues of Alexander, covered temples with those statues, which according to him, showed his resemblance to the Macedonian. Caracalla himself presented himself wearing Macedonian clothes as he caused it, formed the Macedonian phalanges and ordered the generals commanding them to take the names of Alexander’s generals. In this eagerness to imitate Alexander, Herodiano counts the lived thing in Alexandria, to where it marched under the pretext to see the city founded in honor to its hero and model, like thus also to honor the God Serapis. Immediately he ordered to prepare great sacrifices and offerings to be given in honor of Alexander. The inhabitants of Alexandria were impressed to learn of the emperor’s affection, that is why the reception was «as never had been paid to an emperor». Arriving in Alexandria, Caracalla immediately went to Alexander’s tomb, where he took off his purple robe, his rings and all the valuable items, and deposited it in the sepulcher of Alexander. According to Herodiano, this act had been executed with the greater of the cinismos on the part of Caracalla, since its true aim was to eliminate them in response to the rumor that the alexandrine mocked him, as much of his situation as murderer of his brother, as of his veneration of Alexander. Caracalla Urdió a plan where leading a large number of young people, with the excuse of a selection to join the ranks in the phalanx created in honor of Alexander, made them form unarmed, and then give the order to his soldiers to eliminate them . Caracalla sought, like Alexander the Great, the universality of the empire, we see this reflected in the constant campaigns against the Parthians, as well as the supposed wedding that Caracalla intended with the daughter of King Parto, this within this context of resignification of the image of Alexander, as the union between this reborn Alexander and Roxana, which would mean not only the expansion of the empire but also the consummation of the idea of ​​universalization of the empire.

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