Roman emperor (211-217); son of Septimius Severus. It is said that as a boy of seven he had a Jewish playfellow, and having heard that the latter had been cruelly whipped on account of his religion, he could not for a long time endure the sight either of his own father or of the boy's father, both of whom were responsible for the punishment (Spartianus, "Antoninus Caracalla," i.). The anecdote may be credited, since his mother, Julia Domna, was a Syrian. While still a prince, though already invested with the title "Augustus," his father permitted him to have a triumphal procession on the occasion when the Senate decreed Septimius Severus a Jewish triumph in honor of his successful wars in Syria (Spartianus, "Severus," xvi.); for the words "Cui senatus Judaicum triumphum decreverat" do not refer to Caracalla, as has been erroneously assumed (Grätz, "Gesch. der Juden," 4th ed., iv. 208), but to Septimius Severus, who as a mere amusement allowed even his youthful son to take part in the triumph.
As Augustus, Caracalla, whose real name was Bassianus, assumed the name Antoninus (beginning 198), an official designation under which he is mentioned several times together with his father. A synagogal inscription found in the otherwise little-known place Ḳaisun contains a prayer of the Jews for the welfare of the whole imperial family, naming Septimius Severus, the empress Julia Domna, and their two sons, Antoninus and Geta ("Journal Asiatique," Dec., 1864; "Monatsschrift," 1865, p. 154). Hence Jerome's words in his commentary on Dan. xi. 34: "Hebræorum quidam hæc de Severo et Antonino principibus intelligunt qui Judæos plurimum dilexerunt" (Many of the Jews take this to refer to the emperors Severus and Antoninus, who greatly loved the Jews), are to beinterpreted literally, and do not, as Grätz assumes (ib. iv. 452), refer only to one name, Alexander Severus. This contemporaneous rule of father and son becomes evident also in the laws of the Digesta ("De Decurialibus," Leges 50, II. iii. § 3). Those who followed the Jewish superstition were permitted by the emperors Severus (in some editions erroneously "Verus") and Antoninus to obtain offices ("honores"). This decree must be dated between 198 and 208, since Geta, who became Augustus in 208, is not mentioned therein. In any case there are several witnesses to Caracalla's friendliness toward the Jews, while nothing is known of any inimical measures during his short reign. Hence those scholars may be right who identify with Caracalla the Antoninus who is often mentioned in both the Talmuds as a friend and patron of the patriarch Judah I.
It is known that Caracalla undertook an expedition against the Parthians, during which he passed through Antioch and Syria (217); he may at that time have met R. Judah. On this expedition he was murdered by the subsequent emperor, Macrinus, who is also mentioned in Jewish writings. After his death the nickname "Caracalla" was given to him from a long Gallic garment which he had preferred. Some scholars think that this garment is mentioned also by the Rabbis (Krauss, "Lehnwörter," ii. 592).