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Portrait of the emperor Caracalla, 217 — Ancient Rome, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Portrait of the emperor Caracalla

Ancient Rome

Royalty

You have to admire the honesty of ancient Roman portraits. In this bronze sculpture, as in all his portraits, the Roman Emperor Caracalla looks like a square-jawed, growly bull of a man. Caracalla is nearly always shown his brow furrowed with an intensity unique to men who feel they're being treated unfairly by the world that hails them as king. And perhaps Caracalla was given the short end of the imperial stick. When he became emperor in 198 CE, the Roman empire was sliding toward ruin. The Gothic tribes in Germany were claiming Roman territory, and the value of currency was slipping. To add insult to injury, the newly appointed emperor had to co-run the country with his elderly father and his younger brother, until 201 CE when his father died, and he swiftly murdered his brother. After all this, Caracalla went to the German front to lead his army, who hated him so much that just six years later a disaffected solder stabbed him to death while he was taking a piss by the side of the road.

Submitted by Reed Engermetmuseum.org
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