217 - 218 CE
|There's no proof that Macrinus took part in Caracalla's murder, but it seems likely. Regardless, Caracalla's mom played on the soldiers' love for her son to make sure his reign was short and unpleasant.|
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Macrinus may have participated in the conspiracy to assassinate Caracalla, but he did not seem overly earger to take what he'd won . It took him three days before he sought the acclamation of the troops. He was the Praetorian commander at the time of the assassination; with Caracalla childless and not having named an heir, he was one of the obvious candidates.
But he made one serious tactical mistake. He allowed Caracalla's mother, Julia Domna, to remain in Syria with easy access to the soldiers. Now, though many detested Caracalla for his brutality, the soldiers had been rather fond of him. When Macrinus learned that she was attempting (with some success) to undermine his support with the troops, he ordered her to leave Syria; instead, being already at the advanced stages of breast cancer, she chose to make a martyr of herself and starved herself to death.
Macrinus then further undercut himself with the soldiers with two bold strokes. First, when the Parthians proved better prepared to face the Roman troops than they had the previous year, he paid them off to break off the battle. Then, he started trying to cut back on the pay hikes and privileges that Caracalla had given the soldiers. Not a move designed to keep the folks with the swords on your side.
At this point, Julia Domna's sister, Julia Maesa, made her move. She arranged to have her grandson, Varius Avitus (the future emperor Elagabalus) smuggled into a legionary camp and proclaimed Emperor by the troops. To further bolster his claim to the purple, his mother, Julia Soaemis (geez, couldn't they have been a bit more imaginative when picking names ... ?) made the claim that he was the illegitimate son of Caracalla, her first cousin. Now, this claim was provably false, but what the heck.
Faced with open rebellion, Macrinus raised his nine year old son Diadumenian to co-emperor status, using the occasion to hand out monetary gifts to the military in hopes of winning them back. But it didn't work. He tried to alter his appearance by shaving his beard and cutting his hair, and headed toward Rome in hopes of rallying support there. He also had his son try to escape to Parthia. But both were captured and executed, proving once again that cutting the pay and privilege of the guys with swords could prove very hazardous to an emperor's health.