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Plautilla


Publia Fulvia Plautilla. Palazzo Massimo, Roma (Italy). Photo Jona Lendering.
Bust of Plautilla (Palazzo Massimo, Rome)
Publia Fulvia Plautilla (c.187-211): name of a Roman princess, wife of Caracalla.

Plautilla was the daughter of Gaius Fulvius Plautianus, the praetorian prefect of the Roman emperor Septimius Severus (r.193-211), and a woman who was probably named Hortensia. Because she married to the emperor's son, Caracalla, in April 202, and because Roman girls usually married at the age of fifteen, she was probably born in c.187, when her father had not yet achieved the position for which he was to become famous. In fact, he was still a lowly ranking equestrian officer in Africa, perhaps even an exile (HerodianHistory of the Roman Empire, 3.10.6).

Plautilla's father's fortunes improved when his friend Septimius Severus became emperor (193) and he was promoted to praefectus vigilum (commander of Rome's watchmen) and, in 196, to praetorian prefect. He became one of the most powerful men in Rome, and our sources are generally hostile about him:
Ancient-Warfare.com, the online home of Ancient Warfare magazine
A young Caracalla. Bust from the North Market in Corinth. Photo Marco Prins.
A young Caracalla (bust from the North Market in Corinth)

At home he castrated a hundred Roman citizens of noble birth. ... Nor was it boys or youths alone that he castrated, but grown men as well, some of whom had wives. His purpose was that Plautilla, his daughter, whom Caracalla afterwards married, should have only eunuchs as her attendants in general, and especially as her teachers in music and other branches of art.
[Cassius Dio, Roman History, 76.14;
tr. E. Cary]

This is of course slander, but between the lines we can read that Plautianus made sure that his daughter was well-educated. Her marriage to the crown prince was important, not just for her father's career, but also for the emperor, who wanted to end the opposition between his family and the prefect by creating a shared interest. The wedding was scheduled for April 203, when he would celebrate his decennalia, the tenth anniversary of his coming to power. To prevent that Caracalla would marry below his rank, Plautianus - a mere equestrian - first had to receive a consulship, which he indeed obtained in January 203. The wedding took place, but the marriage was unhappy.

In January 205, Plautianus was killed, and Caracalla immediately sent his wife into exile to Lipara, one of the Aeolian Islands. When he succeeded his father, in 211, one of his first acts was to send an assassin to murder his wife.
© Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2007
Revision: 3 January 2010
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