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This webpage reproduces part of the
Historia Augusta

published in the Loeb Classical Library,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
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(Vol. II) Historia Augusta

 p33  The Life of Antoninus Geta

1 1   [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] I am well aware, Constantine Augustus, that many besides Your Clemency may raise the question why I should also write the life of Geta Antoninus. With regard to this man, before I tell of his life, or rather of his death, I will set forth the reason why his father Severus gave to him too the name Antoninus.1 2 For there is not much to relate in the life of a man who was removed from human affairs before he could take the imperial power conjointly with his brother.

3 Once when Septimius Severus asked about the future and prayed that it might be revealed to him who should be his successor when he died, he learned from a dream that an Antoninus would succeed him. 4 Whereupon he went at once to the army and gave Bassianus, the elder of his sons, the name Marcus Aurelius Antoninus.2 5 After this, when it was brought to his mind either by fatherly reflection, or, as some relate, by Julia his wife, who was skilled in dreams, that by this action he himself had cut off his younger son from any chance of reigning, he ordered that Geta, his younger son, should also receive the name Antoninus. 6 And so he always gave him this name in  p35 letters to members of his household, writing, whenever he chanced to be absent from home, 7 "Give greetings to the Antonines, my sons and successors". But all his fatherly care was of no avail, for he was succeeded by that son alone who had first been given the name Antoninus. So much about the name Antoninus.

2 1 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Now Geta was named after either his uncle3 or his paternal grandfather,4 concerning whose life and habits Marius Maximus has written at sufficient length in the first section5 of his Life of Severus. 2 He was given the surname Antoninus, moreover, because Severus purposed that every emperor from that time onward should be called Antoninus, just as they were called Augustus.6 This he did out of love for Marcus, whom he always called his brother,7 and whose studies in philosophy and training in letters he always sought to imitate. 3 Some say, however, that it was not only in honour of Marcus that Severus gave his son the name Antoninus, since this was Marcus' name by adoption only,8 but also in honour of him who bore the surname Pius, Hadrian's successor, I mean; 4 and, furthermore, the Severus gave it because it was this emperor who raised him from a pettifogger in the law courts to the post of pleader for the privy-purse,9 and the way to great advancement had been opened up to him by the happy augury of an appointment by Antoninus to the first step in his career, or rather his first public office; 5 and at the same time because no prince seemed to him more auspicious for lending  p37 his name, than the one whose personal name had now been borne by four of the emperors.10

6 With regard to this same Geta, Severus, on learning his horoscope — a study in which, like most Africans, he was very proficient11 — is said to have made the remark: 7 "It seems to me strange, my dear Juvenalis,12 that our Geta is destined to be a deified emperor, for in his horoscope I see nothing imperial." Now Juvenalis was his prefect of the guard. And Severus was not mistaken. 8 For when Bassianus had killed Geta and was in fear of being branded as a tyrant because of his act of fratricide, he was told that his crime could be mitigated were he to give his brother the appellation of the Deified; he then remarked, it is said, 9 "Let him be deified provided he is not alive."13 Accordingly, he placed him among the deified emperors and so came back into favour with a good reputation, fratricide though he was.

3 1 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Geta was born in the consulship of Severus and Vitellius on the sixth day before the Kalends of June at Mediolanum14 — though some have related otherwise. He was the son of Julia, whom Severus married because he found out that her horoscope showed that she should be the wife of a king,15 while he was still only a subject, though he held even then an excellent place in the state. 2 Immediately after Geta was born some one announced that a purple egg had been laid by a hen in the palace. 3 This egg was then brought in, and Bassianus his brother, seizing it, dashed it upon the ground, as a child would do, and broke it; whereupon Julia, it is said, exclaimed in jest, "Accursed fratricide, you have killed your brother". 4 But this,  p39 which was said as a jest, Severus took more seriously than any of those who were present, though afterwards all who were there testified to it as uttered by divine inspiration. 5 There was also another omen. For on the very day and at the very hours when Geta was born, there was born on the farm of a certain plebeian named Antoninus, a lamb which had purple wool on its forehead; thereupon the owner, learning from a soothsayer that after Severus an Antoninus should reign, interpreted the prophecy as referring to himself, but fearing any indication of so great a destiny, he thrust a knife in the lamb. 6 And this too was a sign that Geta should be killed by Antoninus, as became later abundantly clear. 7 There was, moreover, as was later shown by the outcome, another important prediction of the crime which indeed came to pass. 8 For when Severus was making ready to celebrate the birthday of the infant Geta, the sacrificial victim was slain by a boy named Antoninus. 9 At the time no one looked for a hidden meaning in this or commented upon it, but later its importance was understood.

4 1 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 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. 2 There is quoted a famous remark of his in his boyhood; for when Severus was planning to kill the men of the opposite factions16 and said to his family, "I am ridding you of your enemies," Bassianus gave his approval, even declaring that should he be consulted, their children too should be slain, but Geta, it is said, asked how large was the number of those to be put to death. 3 When his father informed him, he asked again, "Have they  p41 parents, have they kinsmen?" And when answer was made that they had, he remarked, "Then there will be more in the state to mourn than to make merry at our victory." 4 And he would have carried his point, had not the prefect Plautianus,17 or rather Juvenalis,18 stood out against him in the hope of proscriptions, for which they became enriched. They were also encouraged by the great brutality of Bassianus. 5 He, in the course of his argument, urged, half in jest half in earnest, that all those of the opposite factions be slain together with their children; whereupon Geta, it is said, exclaimed, "You, who spare no one, are capable even of killing your brother" — a remark which received no attention then, but afterwards passed for an omen.

5 1 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 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. 2 He was very fond of bright clothing — so much so, in fact, that his father would laugh at him. Whatever he received from his parents he used for his own adornment, and he never gave presents to any.

3 After the Parthian war, his father, who was then at the height of his glory and had named Bassianus partner in the imperial power, gave Geta the name of Caesar19 and, according to some, of Antoninus also.

4 It was a common practice of his to propound puzzles to the grammarians, asking them to characterize the cries of the different animals, as for example: 5 the lamb bleats, the pig squeals, the dove  p43 coos, the hog grunts, the bear growls, the lion roars, the leopard snarls, the elephant trumpets, the frog croaks, the horse neighs, the ass brays, the bull bellows; and in proof he would cite the ancient writers. 6 His favourite books were the works of Serenus Sammonicus,20 addressed to him by Antoninus. 7 He was accustomed, moreover, to have skilful slaves serve meals, and especially dinners, according to a single letter of the alphabet, as, for instance, one in which there were 8 goose, gammon,21 and gadwall,22 or, again, pullet, partridge, peacock, pork, poisson, pig's-thigh, and other kinds of food beginning with this letter, or pheasant, farina, figs and so forth. For this reason he was considered a good comrade, even in his youth.

6 1 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] After the murder of Geta, those soldiers who had not been bribed received the news of the fratricide with anger, and all declared they had sworn allegiance to both sons and ought to maintain it to both.23 They then closed the gates of the Camp and for a long time the Emperor was not admitted. 2 And not until he had quieted their anger by bitter words about Geta and by giving them great sums of money, was Bassianus able to return to Rome. 3 Next, Papinian and many others besides, who had either desired concord or had been partisans of Geta, were killed;24 men of both senatorial and equestrian rank were slain while in the bath, or at table, or in the street, and Papinian himself was struck down with an axe, whereupon Bassianus found fault that the business had not been done with a sword. 4 At last matters came to the point of a mutiny among the city-troops;25 Bassianus, however, brought them to order with no light hand, and their tribune was put to death,  p45 as some relate, or, as others, sent into exile. 5 Yet Bassianus himself was in such fear that he entered the Senate-house wearing a cuirass under his broad-striped tunic and thus clad rendered an account of his actions and of the death of Geta.26 6 It was at this time, too, it is said, that Helvius Pertinax, the son of Pertinax, afterwards killed by Bassianus,27 remarked to the praetor Faustinus, who was reading aloud and had uttered the titles Sarmaticus Maximus28 and Parthicus Maximus, "Add to these also Geticus Maximus," that is to say, Gothicus. 7 This remark sank deep into the heart of Bassianus, as was afterwards proved by his murder of Pertinax, and not of Pertinax alone, but, as we have said before, of many others as well, far and wide and with utter injustice. He suspected Helvius, moreover, of aspiring to the imperial office, merely because he was loved by all and was the son of Pertinax the Emperor — a combination none too safe for any man content to remain a commoner.

7 1 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] The funeral of Geta was too splendid, it is said, for a man supposed to have been killed by his brother. 2 He was laid in the tomb of his ancestors, of Severus, that is, on the Via Appia at the right as you go to the gate;29 it was constructed after the manner of the Septizonium, which Severus during his life had embellished for himself.

3 Antoninus also planned to slay Geta's mother, his own step-mother,30 because she mourned for his brother, and with her the women whom on his return from the Senate-house he found in tears. 4 He was, moreover, so cruel that he lavished his favours particularly on those whom he had destined for death,  p47 so that his favour was viewed with more fear than his anger. 5 It seemed, indeed, strange to all that he himself wept for the death of Geta whenever he heard his name mentioned or saw his portrait or his statue. 6 Such, however, was the caprice, or rather the bloodthirstiness, of Antoninus Bassianus, that he slew, now the partisans of Geta, and now his enemies, according as chance threw them in his way. As a result, Geta was the more regretted.

The Editor's Notes:

1 There is no real evidence for the statement that this name was given to him; see note to Sev. X.5. In inscriptions he is regularly called P. Septimius Geta Nobilissimus Caesar.

2 This is also related in Sev. X.4.

3 See Sev. VIII.10 and note.

4 See Sev. 1.2 and note.

5 The meaning of septenarius, as used here, is unknown.

6 Cf. Sev. XIX.3.

7 In his inscriptions, however, Severus called himself Divi Marci Antonini filius; see note to Sev. X.6.

8 See Hadr. XXIV.1 and note.

9 On this office see note to Hadr. XX.6. On this statement that it was held by Severus see note to Carac. VIII.3.

10 Pius, Marcus Aurelius, Lucius Verus, and Commodus.

11 Cf. Sev. III.9.

12 Flavius Juvenalis, the prefect of the guard, appointed by Didius Julianus and retained in office by Severus; see Sev. VI.5.

13 The play on words in divus, vivus cannot be reproduced. So far from being deified, Geta under which damnatio memoriae; his statues were overthrown, his name erased from public monuments, and coins bearing his effigy were melted down; see Dio, LXXVII.12.6 and inscriptions, e.g., Dessau, Ins. Sel. 458‑460.

14 According to Sev. IV.2, he was born in Rome.

15 Cf. Sev. III.9.

16 Especially the partisans of Clodius Albinus; see Sev. XIII.

17 C. Fulvius Plautianus; see note to Sev. XIV.5.

18 See c. ii.7 and note.

19 See Sev. XVI.4.

20 See Carac. IV.4 and note.

21 Lit., "wild-boar meat."

22 A variety of duck.

23 Repeated from Carac. II.7‑8.

24 See Carac. IV.

25 See Carac. IV.6 and note.

26 See Carac. II.9‑11.

27 See Carac. IV.8.

28 This cognomen was never borne by Caracalla. For the pun of Geticus and Gothicus see Carac. X.6.

29 The biographer has confused the Sepulchrum Hadriani, where the Antonines and Severus (and later Caracalla) were buried (see Sev. XIX.3 and Carac. IX.12), with the Septizonium built by Severus on the Palatine Hill, facing the Via Appia (see Sev. XIX.5).

Thayer's Note: For full details and sources, see the articles Sepulcrum Hadriani and Septizonium in Platner and Ashby's Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome.

30 See note to Carac. X.1.

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Page updated: 19 Feb 05