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Elagabalus

Emperor A.D 218 - 222

Elagabalus was made emperor through the diligence and bravery of his grandmother, Julia Maesa. A powerful and immensely wealthy woman of the Severan family, she incited the Syrian legions stationed at Emesa to revolt against Macrinus in favor of her grandson. Elagabalus Roman name was Bassianus, but he was made high priest of Elagabal, the Syrian god Baal. Thus, he has been known in history as Elagabalus or Heliogabalus, though his coins bear the name Antoninus.

Elagabalus was one of the most depraved and perverted emperors in Roman history. His behavior was offensive even to his contemporaries, and these were especially corrupt and dissolute times. He gave wild parties at which any kind of excess or wanton behavior was encouraged. He married three women and a man, not to mention countless concubines and male lovers. He publicly styled himself as either a man or a woman as the fancy struck him. The Eastern gods he worshipped and brought to Rome were strange and foreign to even the permissive Roman society of the day. Perhaps the thing that his Roman subjects found most scandalous was when he decided to marry a Vestal Virgin, Aquilia Severa. According to ancient tradition, the Vestal Virgins took an oath to stay single for thirty years so they could tend the eternal fire in the temple of Vesta. They were symbols of purity, piety, motherhood, and decency to the Romans and were condemned to be buried alive if they ever broke their oath of virginity before the thirty years were up. To the Romans this act of Elagabalus not only desecrated their religion but desecrated their heritage. Elagabalus' mother, Julia Soaemias, used her son's depravity to concentrate her power even further. She was hated almost as much as he was.

Julia Maesa attempted to regain control of the situation and halt the depredations of Elagabalus by having her other grandson, Severus Alexander, declared Caesar so Elagabalus could devote more time to serving his god. When Elagabalus revoked this promotion the Praetorian Guard, encouraged by Julia Maesa, rebelled and hunted down both Elagabalus and his mother. Mother and son were found trembling in each other's arms while trying to hide from the rampaging soldiers in the camp privy. The soldiers quickly ran them through with their swords and their bodies were dragged through the streets of Rome to be thrown into the Tiber.


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