[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Clicca hic ad Latinam paginam legendam.]

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

[image ALT: link to previous section]

This webpage reproduces part of the
Historia Augusta

published in the Loeb Classical Library,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


[image ALT: link to next section]
Part 2

(Vol. II) Historia Augusta

 p105  The Life of Elagabalus
Part 1

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1 1 The life of Elagabalus Antoninus, also called Varius,1 I should never have put in writing — hoping that it might not be known that he was emperor of the Romans —, were it not that before him this same imperial office had had a Caligula, a Nero, and a Vitellius. 2 But, just as the selfsame earth bears not only poisons but also grain and other helpful things, not only serpents but flocks as well, so the thoughtful reader may find himself some consolation for these monstrous tyrants by reading of Augustus, Trajan, Vespasian, Hadrian, Pius, Titus, and Marcus. 3 º At the same time he will learn of the Romans' discernment, in that these last ruled long and died by natural deaths, whereas the former were murdered, dragged through the streets, officially called tyrants, and no man wishes to mention even their names.

 p107  4 Now when Macrinus had been slain and also his son Diadumenianus,2 who had been given an equal share of the power and also the name Antoninus, the imperial office was bestowed upon Varius Elagabalus, solely because he was reputed to be the son of Bassianus. 5 As a matter of fact, he was the priest of Elagabalus (sometimes called Jupiter, or the Sun),3 and had merely assumed the name Antoninus in order to prove his descent or else because he had learned that this name was so dear to mankind that for its sake even the parricide Bassianus had been greatly beloved. 6 Originally, he had the name Varius, but later he was called Elagabalus because he was priest of this god — whom he afterwards brought with him from Syria to Rome, founding a temple for him on the site of an earlier shrine of Orcus.4 7 Finally, when he received the imperial power, he took the name Antoninus and was the last of the Antonines to rule the Roman Empire.

Legamen ad paginam Latinam 2 1 He was wholly under the control of his mother Symiamira,5 so much so, in fact, that he did no public business without her consent,6 although she lived like a harlot and practised all manner of lewdness in the palace. For that matter, her amour with Antoninus Caracalla was so notorious that Varius, or rather Elagabalus, was commonly supposed to be his son.  p109 2 The name Varius, some say, was given him by his school-fellows because he seemed to be sprung from the seed of "various" men, as would be the case with the son of a harlot.7 3 And then, when his reputed father Antoninus was slain by Macrinus' treachery, he sought refuge in the temple of Elagabalus the god, as in a sanctuary, for fear that Macrinus would kill him; for Macrinus and his wasteful and brutal son were wielding the imperial power with the greatest cruelty.8 4 But enough concerning his name — though he defiled this venerated name of the Antonines, which you, Most Sacred Constantine, so revere that you have had portrayed in gold both Marcus and Pius together with the Constantii and the Claudii, as though they too were your ancestors, just as you have adopted the virtues of the ancients which are naturally suited to your own character, and pleasing and dear to you as well.

Legamen ad paginam Latinam 3 1 But now let us return to Varius Antoninus. After obtaining the imperial power he despatched couriers to Rome,9 and there all classes were filled with enthusiasm, and a great desire for him was aroused in the whole people merely at the mention of the name Antoninus, now restored, as it seemed, not in an empty title (as it had been in the case of Diadumenianus),10 but actually in one of the blood — for he had signed himself son of Antoninus Bassianus.11 2 He had the prestige, furthermore, which usually comes to a new ruler who has succeeded a tyrant; this is permanent only when the highest virtues  p111 are present and has been lost by many a mediocre emperor.

3 In short, when Elagabalus' message was read in the senate, at once good wishes were uttered for Antoninus and curses on Macrinus and his son,12 and, in accordance with the general wish and the eager belief of all in his paternity, Antoninus was hailed as emperor. Such are the pious hopes of men, who are quick to believe when they wish the thing to come true which their hearts desire.

4 As soon as he entered the city,13 however, neglecting all the affairs of the provinces, he established Elagabalus as a god on the Palatine Hill close to the imperial palace;14 and he built him a temple, to which he desired to transfer the emblem of the Great Mother, the fire of Vesta, the Palladium, the shields of the Salii, and all that the Romans held sacred, purposing that no god might be worshipped at Rome save only Elagabalus.15 5 He declared, furthermore, that the religions of the Jews and the Samaritans and the rites of the Christians must also be transferred  p113 to this place,16 in order that the priesthood of Elagabalus17 might include the mysteries of every form of worship.

Legamen ad paginam Latinam 4 1 Then, when he held his first audience with the senate,18 he gave orders that his mother should be asked to come into the senate-chamber. 2 On her arrival she was invited to a place on the consuls' bench and there she took part in the drafting — that is to say, she witnessed the drawing up of the senate's decree.19 And Elagabalus was the only one of all the emperors under whom a woman attended the senate like a man, just as though she belonged to the senatorial order.20

3 He also established a senaculum,21 or women's senate, on the Quirinal Hill. Before his time, in fact, a congress of matrons had met here, but only on certain festivals, or whenever a matron was presented with the insignia of a "consular marriage" — bestowed by the early emperors on their kinswomen, particularly on those whose husbands were not nobles, in order that they might not lose their noble rank.22 4 But now under the influence of Symiamira absurd decrees were enacted concerning rules to be applied to matrons, namely, what kind of clothing each might wear in public, who was to yield precedence and to whom, who was to advance to kiss another, who  p115 might ride in a chariot, on a horse, on a pack-animal, or on an ass, who might drive in a carriage drawn by mules or in one drawn by oxen, who might be carried in a litter, and whether the litter might be made of leather, or of bone, or covered with ivory or with silver, and lastly, who might wear gold or jewels on her shoes.

Legamen ad paginam Latinam 5 1 After he had spent the winter in Nicomedia, living in a depraved manner and indulging in unnatural vice with men,a the soldiers soon began to regret that they had conspired against Macrinus to make this man emperor, and they turned their thoughts toward his cousin Alexander,23 who on the murder of Macrinus had been hailed by the senate as Caesar. 2 For who could tolerate an emperor who indulged in unnatural lusts of every kind, when not even a beast of this sort would be tolerated? 3 And even at Rome he did nothing but send out agents to search for those who had particularly large organs and bring them to the palace in order that he might enjoy their vigour. 4 Moreover, he used to have the story of Paris played in his house, and he himself would take the rôle of Venus, and suddenly drop his clothing to the ground and fall naked on his knees, one hand on his breast, the other before his private parts, his buttocks projecting meanwhile and thrust back in front of his partner in depravity. 5 He would likewise model the expression of his face on that with which Venus is usually painted, and he had his whole body depilated,b deeming it the chief enjoyment of his life to appear fit and worthy to arouse the lusts of the greatest number.

 p117  Legamen ad paginam Latinam 6 1 He took money for honours and distinctions and positions of power, selling them in person or through his slaves and those who served his lusts. 2 He made appointments to the senate without regard to age, property, or rank, and solely at the price of money, and he sold the positions of captain and tribune, legate and general, likewise procuratorships and posts in Palace.24 3 The charioteers Protogenes25 and Cordius,26 originally his comrades in the chariot-race, he later made his associates in his daily life and actions. 4 Many whose personal appearance pleased him he took from the stage, the Circus, and the arena and brought to the palace. 5 And such was his passion for Hierocles27 that he kissed him in a place which it is indecent even to mention,c declaring that he was celebrating the festival of Flora.28

6 He violated the chastity of a Vestal Virgin,29 and by removing the holy shrines he profaned the sacred rites of the Roman nation.30 7 He also desired to extinguish the everlasting fire. In fact, it was his desire to abolish not only the religious ceremonies of the Romans but also those of the whole world, his one wish being that the god Elagabalus should be worshipped everywhere. He even broke into the sanctuary of Vesta, into which only Vestal Virgins and the priests may enter,31 though himself defiled by every moral stain and in the company of  p119 those who had defiled themselves. 8 He also attempted to carry away the sacred shrine,32 but instead of the true one he seized only an earthenware one, which the Senior Vestal had shown him in an attempt to deceive him, and when he found nothing in it, he threw it down and broke it. The cult, however, did not suffer at his hands, for several shrines had been made, it is said, exactly like the true one, in order that none might ever be able to take this one away. 9 Though this be so, he nevertheless carried away the image which he believed to be the Palladium, and after washing it over with gold he placed it in the temple of his god.

Legamen ad paginam Latinam 7 1 He also adopted the worship of the Great Mother33 and celebrated the rite of the taurobolium;34 and he carried off her image and the sacred objects which are kept hidden in a secret place. 2 He would toss his head to and fro among the castrated devotees of the goddess, and he infibulated himself, and did all that the eunuch-priests are wont to do;35 and the image of the goddess which he carried off he placed in the sanctuary of his god. 3 He also celebrated the rite of Salambo36 with all the wailing and the frenzy  p121 of the Syrian cult — thereby foreshadowing his own impending doom. 4 In fact, he asserted that all gods were merely the servants of his god, calling some its chamberlains, others its slaves, and others its attendants for divers purposes. 5 And he planned to carry off from their respective temples the stones which are said to be divine, among them the emblem of Diana, from its holy place at Laodicea,37 where it had been dedicated by Orestes.

6 Now Orestes, they say, dedicated not merely one image of Diana in one place, but many and in many places. 7 And after he purified himself at the Three Rivers in the Hebrus region in obedience to a divine response, he founded the city of Oresta38 — a city destined to be often stained with human blood. 8 As for this city of Oresta, Hadrian, after he had begun to suffer from madness, ordered that it should be called after his own name — also acting in obedience to a divine response, for he had been told to steal into the house or into the name of some madman. 9 Thereupon, they say, he recovered from his madness, which had caused him to order the execution of many senators, all of whom, however, were saved by Antoninus; 10 for he won the surname of Pius by leading them into the senate after all supposed that they had been put to death by the Emperor's order.39

Legamen ad paginam Latinam 8 1 Elagabalus also sacrificed human victims,40 and  p123 for this purpose he collected from the whole of Italy children of noble birth and beautiful appearance, whose fathers and mothers were alive, intending, I suppose, that the sorrow, if suffered by two parents, should be all the greater. 2 º Finally, he kept about him every kind of magician and had them perform daily sacrifices, himself urging them on and giving thanks to the gods because he found them to be well-disposed to these men; and all the while he would examine the children's vitals and torture the victims after the manner of his own native rites.

3 When he entered upon his consulship he threw presents to the populace to be scrambled for, no mere pieces of silver and gold, indeed, or confectionery or little animals, but fatted cattle41 and camels and asses and slaves, declaring that this was an imperial custom.

4 He made a savage attack on the memory of Macrinus and a still more savage one on that of Diadumenianus because he had received the name Antoninus42 — he called him a Pseudo-Antoninus — and because it was asserted that from a veritable profligate he had become very brave and honourable and dignified and austere. 5 And he even forced certain writers to recount concerning his profligacy some details which were unspeakable, or, more properly, intolerable to relate, considering that this was in a biography of him.43

6 He made a public bath in the imperial palace and at the same time threw open the bath of Plautinus44 to the populace, that by this means he might get a supply of men with unusually large organs. 7 He also  p125 took care to have the whole city and the wharves searched for onobeli,45 as those were called who seemed particularly lusty.

Legamen ad paginam Latinam 9 1 When he was making plans to take up the war against the Marcomanni, which Marcus Antoninus46 had fought with great glory, he was told by certain persons that it was by the help of astrologers and magicians that Marcus had made the Marcomanni forever the liegemen and friends of the Roman people, and that it had been done by means of magic rites and a dedication. But when he inquired what this was or where it could be obtained, he could get no response. 2 For it was generally reported that he inquired about this dedication solely for the purpose of destroying it, hoping thereby to bring on the war; for he had been told that there was a prophesy that the Marcomannic war should be ended by an Antoninus — whereas he was called Varius and Elagabalus and a public laughing-stock, and he was, moreover, a disgrace to the name Antoninus, on which he had laid violent hands. 3 This report, moreover, was spread by those most of all who were aggrieved that men well equipped for gratifying his lusts and of larger resources were opposed to themselves. And for this reason they even began to plot his death. So much for domestic affairs.

Legamen ad paginam Latinam 10 1 As for the soldiers, they could not endure to have such a pest clothed with the name of emperor, and they all expressed their views, first one to another, then in groups, turning their thoughts to Alexander, who previously, at the time when Macrinus was  p127 murdered, had been hailed by the senate as Caesar47 — he was the cousin of this Antoninus, for both were grandsons of Varia, from whom Elagabalus had the name Varius.

2 During his reign Zoticus48 had such influence that all the chiefs of the palace-departments treated him as their master's consort. 3 This same Zoticus, furthermore, was the kind to abuse such a degree of intimacy, for under false pretences49 he sold all Elagabalus' promises and favours, and so, as far as he could, he amassed enormous wealth. To some men he held out threats, and to others promises, lying to them all, and as he came out from the emperors's presence, he would go up to each and say, "In regard to you I said this," "in regard to you I was told that," and "in regard to you this action will be taken". 4 That is the way of men of this kind, for, once admitted to too close an intimacy with a ruler, they sell information concerning his intentions, whether he be good or bad, and so, through the stupidity or the innocence of an emperor who does not detect their intrigues, batten on the shameless hawking of rumours.50 5 With this man Elagabalus went through a nuptial ceremony and consummated a marriage, even having a bridal-matron and exclaiming, "Go to work, Cook" — and this at a time when Zoticus was ill. 6 After that he would ask philosophers and even men of the greatest dignity whether they, in they youth, had ever experienced what he was experiencing, — all without the slightest  p129 shame. 7 For indeed he never refrained from filthy conversation and would make indecent signs with his fingers and would show no regard for decency even in public gatherings or in the hearing of the people.

Legamen ad paginam Latinam 11 1 He made his freedmen governors and legates, consuls and generals, and he brought disgrace on all offices of distinction by the appointment of base-born profligates.51 2 On one occasion he invited the nobles of the court52 to a vintage-festival, and when he had seated himself by the baskets of grapes, he began to ask the most dignified of them one by one whether he were responsive to Venus, and when the old men would blush he would cry out, "He is blushing, it's all right," regarding their silence and blushes as a confession. 3 He then narrated his own doings without any cloak of shame. 4 But when he saw that the elders blushed and kept silent, because neither their age nor their dignity was in keeping with such topics, he turned to the young men and began to when them about all their experiences. 5 And when they told him what one would expect of their age, he began to be merry, declaring that a vintage celebrated in such a manner was truly bacchanalian. 6 Many relate, furthermore, that he was the first to devise the custom of having slaves make jibes at their masters' expense during a vintage-festival, even in the hearing of their masters, which jibes he had composed himself, most of them in Greek; several of these, indeed, are quoted by Marius Maximus in his Life of Elagabalus. 7 His courtiers, moreover, were men of  p131 depraved life, some of them old men looking like philosophers, who would do up their hair in nets, declare that they were living a life of depravity, and boast that they had husbands. Some say, however, that they only made a pretence of this in order that by counterfeiting the Emperor's vices they might stand higher in his favour.

Legamen ad paginam Latinam 12 1 As prefect of the guard he appointed a dancer53 who had been on the stage at Rome, as prefect of the watch a chariot-driver named Cordius,54 and as prefect of the grain-supply a barber named Claudius,55 2 and to the other posts of distinction he advanced men whose sole recommendation was the enormous size of their privates. As collector of the five-percent tax on inheritances56 he appointed a mule-driver, a courier, a cook, and a locksmith. 3 When he went to the Camp or the Senate-house he took with him his grandmother, Varia by name, whom I have previously mentioned,57 in order that through her prestige he might get greater respect — for by himself he got none. And never before his time, as I have already said, did a woman come into the Senate-chamber or receive an invitation to take part in the drafting of a decree and express her opinion in the debate. 4 At his banquets he preferred to have perverts placed next to him and took special delight in touching or fondling them, and whenever he drank one of them was usually selected to hand him the cup.

Legamen ad paginam Latinam 13 1 Among the base actions of his life of depravity he gave orders that Alexander, whom he had  p133 formally adopted, he removed from his presence,58 saying that he regretted the adoption. 2 Then he commanded the senate to take away from Alexander the name of Caesar. But when this was announced to the senate, there was a profound silence. For Alexander was an excellent youth, as was afterwards shown by the character of his rule, even though, because he was chaste, he was displeasing to his adoptive father — 3 he was also, as some declare, his cousin. Besides, he was loved by the soldiers and acceptable to the senate and the equestrian order.59 4 Yet the Emperor's madness went the length of an attempt to carry out the basest design; for he despatched assassins to kill Alexander, and that in the following way: 5 Leaving his mother, grandmother, and cousin in the Palace, he himself withdrew to the Gardens of Spes Vetus60 on the ground that he was forming designs against some new youth, and there he issued an order to slay Alexander, a most excellent young man and one of whom the state had need. 6 He also sent a written order to the soldiers bidding them take away from Alexander the name of Caesar, 7 and he despatched men to smear mud on the inscriptions on his statues in the Camp,61 as is usually done to a tyrant. 8 He sent, furthermore, to Alexander's guardians, ordering them, if they hoped for rewards and distinctions, to kill him in any way they wished, either in his bath, or by poison, or with the sword. Legamen ad paginam Latinam 14 1 But evil men can accomplish nothing against the upright. For no power could induce any to commit so great a crime,  p135 and the weapons which he was making ready for others were turned against himself, and it was by the same violent means that he was directing at others that he himself was put to death.

2 But immediately after the inscriptions on Alexander's statues were smeared with mud, all the soldiers were fired with anger, and they set out, some for the Palace and some for the gardens where Varius was, with the purpose of protecting Alexander and finally ridding the state of this filthy creature full of murderous intent. 3 And when they had come to the Palace they set a guard about Alexander and his mother and grandmother and then escorted them with the greatest care to the Camp; 4 Symiamira, Elagabalus' mother, followed them on foot, filled with anxiety about her son. 5 Then the soldiers went to the gardens, where they found Varius making preparations for a chariot-race and at the same time eagerly awaiting the news of his cousin's murder. 6 Alarmed by the sudden clatter of the soldiers, he crouched down in a corner and covered himself with the curtain which was at the door of the bed-chamber, 7 sending one of the prefects to the Camp to quiet the soldiers there and the other to placate those who had just entered the gardens. 8 Then Antiochianus,62 one of the prefects, reminded the soldiers who had come to the gardens of their oath of allegiance and finally persuaded them not to kill the Emperor — for, in fact, only a few had come and the majority had remained with the standard, which the tribune Aristomachus had kept back. So much for what happened in the gardens. Legamen ad paginam Latinam 15 1 In the Camp, on the other hand, the soldiers replied to the entreaties of the prefect that they would spare Elagabalus' life on the condition  p137 that he would send away all his filthy creatures, his chariot-drivers, and his actors, and return to a decent mode of living, dismissing particularly those who, to the general sorrow, possessed the greatest influence over him and sold all his decisions, actual or pretended. 2 He did, finally, dismiss Hierocles, Cordius,63 and Mirissimus64 and two other base favourites who were making him even more of a fool than he was naturally. 3 The soldiers, furthermore, charged the prefects not to permit him to continue longer his present mode of living, and also to keep watch over Alexander that no violence might be done him, and at the same time to prevent the Caesar from seeing any of the friends of the Augustus, lest he imitate their baseness. 4 But Elagabalus with earnest entreaties kept demanding back Hierocles, that most shameless of men, and daily increased his plotting against Alexander. 5 Finally, on the Kalends of January, he refused to appear in public with his cousin65 — for they had been designated joint consuls. 6 At last, however, when he was told by his grandmother and mother that the soldiers were threatening that they would kill him unless they saw that harmony was established between himself and his cousin, he put on the bordered toga and at the sixth hour of the day entered the senate, inviting his grandmother to the session and escorting her to a seat. 7 But then he refused to proceed to the Capitolium to assume the vows for the state and conduct the usual ceremonies, and accordingly everything was done by the city-praetor, just as if there were no consuls there.

Legamen ad paginam Latinam 16 1 Nevertheless he did not give up the murder of his cousin, but first, for fear that if he killed him the senate would only turn to some one else, he gave  p139 orders that the senate should at once leave the city. Even all those senators who had no carriages or slaves were ordered to set out at once, some of them being carried by porters, others using animals that chance threw in their way or that they hired for money. 2 And because Sabinus,66 a man of consular rank, to whom Ulpian67 dedicated some of his books, remained in the city, the Emperor called a centurion and ordered him to kill him, speaking in a low tone. 3 But the centurion, who was rather deaf, thought that he was being ordered to eject Sabinus from the city and acted accordingly; and so a centurion's infirmity saved Sabinus' life. 4 He dismissed both Ulpian the jurist because he was a righteous man and Silvinus the rhetorician, whom he had appointed tutor to Alexander. Silvinus, in fact, was put to death, but Ulpian was spared.

5 The soldiers, however, and particularly the members of the guard, either because they knew what evils were in store for Elagabalus, or because they foresaw his hatred for themselves, formed a conspiracy to set the state free. First they attacked the accomplices in his plan of murdering Alexander, killing some by tearing out the vital organs and others by piercing the anus, so that their deaths were as evil as their lives. Legamen ad paginam Latinam 17 1 Next they fell upon Elagabalus himself and slew him in a latrine in which he had taken refuge. Then his body was dragged through the streets, and the soldiers further insulted it by thrusting it into a sewer. 2 But since the sewer chanced to be too small to admit the corpse, they attached a weight to it to keep it from floating, and hurled it  p141 from the Aemilian Bridge68 into the Tiber, in order that it might never be buried. 3 The body was also dragged around the Circus before it was thrown into the Tiber.

4 His name, that is to say the name Antoninus, was erased from the public records by order of the senate69 — though the name Varius Elagabalus was left70 —, for he had used the name Antoninus without valid claim, wishing to be thought the son of Antoninus. 5 After his death he was dubbed the Tiberine,71 the Dragged, the Filthy, and many other such names, all of which were to signify what seemed to have been done during his rule. 6 And he was the only one of all the emperors whose body was dragged through the streets, thrust into a sewer, and hurled into the Tiber. 7 This befell him as a result of the general hatred of all, against which particularly emperors must be on their guard, since those who do not win the love of the senate, the people, and the soldiers do not win the right of burial.

8 No public works of his are in existence, save the temple of the god Elagabalus (called by some the Sun, by others Jupiter), the Amphitheatre72 as restored after its destruction by fire, and the public bath in the Vicus Sulpicius,73 begun by Antoninus, the son of Severus. 9 This bath, in fact, had been dedicated by Antoninus Caracalla, who bathed in it himself and opened it to the public, but the portico was left unbuilt, and this was added after his death by this spurious Antoninus, though actually completed by Alexander.74

 p143  Legamen ad paginam Latinam 18 1 He was the last of the Antonines (though many think that later the Gordians had the cognomen Antoninus, whereas they were really called Antonius and not Antoninus),75 a man so detestable for his life, his character, and his utter depravity that the senate expunged from the records even his name. 2 I myself should not have referred to him as Antoninus save for the sake of identification, which frequently makes it necessary to use even those names which officially have been abolished.

With him was also slain his mother Symiamira,76 a most depraved woman and one worthy of such a son. 3 And the first measure enacted after the death of Antoninus Elagabalus provided that no woman should ever enter the senate,77 and that whoever should cause a woman to enter, his life should be declared doomed and forfeited to the kingdom of the dead.

(For the end of chapter 18, continue on to Part 2.)

The Editor's Notes:

1 His original name was Varius Avitus. He was the son of Julia Soaemias (or Symiamira, see note to c. ii.1) and Sex. Varius Marcellus (see CIL X.6569 = Dessau, Ins. Sel. 478). In order to strengthen his claim to the throne his grandmother Maesa declared that he was the natural son of Caracalla (see Carac. ix.2; Marc. ix.4), and he became emperor under the name of M. Aurelius Antoninus, by which he was officially known; in his inscriptions he is regularly styled son of Antoninus (Caracalla) and grandson of Severus. As the hereditary priest of Elagabalus, the patron-deity of Emesa (see note to §5), he was called by the name of his god, but this name was never official, and there is no evidence that it (p105)was applied to him during his lifetime; see O. F. Butler, Studies in the Life of Heliogabalus (New York, 1910), p119. This name the Latin writers (Hist. Aug., Victor, Eutropius) always reproduce in the erroneous form Heliogabalus. He is sometimes called Bassianus (e.g. Macr. viii.4; ix.4; Herodian, V.3.6), but there is no real evidence that he ever bore this name.

2 See Macr. ix‑x.

3 The patron-god of Emesa, where he was worshipped in the form of a conical black stone, or βαίτυλος, supposed to have fallen from Heaven; see Herodian, V.3.5. He was popularly regarded as a sun-god, and in Rome after his importation by the new Emperor (see c. iii.4) he was officially called Deus Sol Elagabalus or Invictus Sol Elagabalus. This identification was responsible for the erroneous form Heliogabalus, applied both to the god and to the emperor.

4 See note on c. iii.4.

5 The correct form of her name is Julia Soaemias Bassiana; see CIL VIII.2564; X.6569. On her coins she is regularly called Julia Soaemias Augusta; see Cohen, IV2 pp387‑389. (p107)The masculine form Σόαιμος (or Suhaim) is a well-established Syrian name. The peculiar forms Symiamira, by which she is known in this biography and in the Macrinus (ix.2), and Symiasera, as she is called by Eutropius (viii.22), have not been satisfactorily explained. They may be derivations from the name of the Syrian goddess Simea; see O. F. Butler, p120, and Ronzevalle, Rev. Arch. ii (1903), p48.

6 This is over-stated. The controlling influence was that of Maesa; see O. F. Butler, p40.

7 See note to c. i.1. The manner of life imputed to Soaemias in this passage is certainly much exaggerated and quite in keeping with the general tone of this biography. An amour between her and Ganys, her son's tutor, is alluded to by Dio (LXXIX.6.2).

8 See Macr. xi‑xii. There is no evidence, however, that Macrinus showed any cruelty to the relatives of Caracalla. Dio (LXXVIII.23.2) emphasizes his considerate treatment of Julia Domna. The statement (repeated also by Victor, Caes. xxiii.1) that Elagabalus fled to the temple at Emesa is a wholly incorrect inference from his permanent residence there as hereditary high-priest.

9 From Antioch; see Dio, LXXIX.1.

10 See Diad. i.3‑8.

11 He also assumed all the imperial titles; see Dio, LXXIX.2.2.

12 According to Dio, LXXIX.2, and Herodian, V.5.2, the senate acclaimed him emperor only out of fear of the soldiers.

13 In July, 219; see O. F. Butler, p75. He spent the winter of 218‑219 at Nicomedia in Bithynia; see c. v.1.

14 He brought the sacred stone of Elagabalus to Rome with him and built two temples for the god, one on the Palatine — the so‑called Eliogabalium (Mommsen, Chron. Min. i.147) — and the other in the suburb known as Ad Spem Veterem east of the city, near the modern Porta Maggiore; see O. Richter, Top. d. Stadt Rom2, p315. On the other hand, nothing is known of the Aedes Orci mentioned in c. i.6.

15 His plan was to unite all cults and to make Elagabalus the chief deity of Rome; see Dio, LXXIX.11.1; Herodian, V.5.7. He particularly desired to form a union between his god and Vesta as the representative of the Roman state, and to this end he transferred to the Eliogabalium the fire of (p111)Vesta and the sacred objects kept in her temple, such as the Ancilia and the Palladium. The latter, an image of Pallas, supposedly of Trojan origin, he seems to have regarded as the image of Vesta, who, in fact, was not represented in image-form. He further symbolised the union between the two deities by his own marriage with a Vestal; see c. vi.6 and note. Since his combination of these cults aroused the greatest indignation in Rome, he divorced the Vestal and chose a new consort for his god in the Carthaginian deity Caelestis (see note to Pert. iv.2), whose image was brought to Rome and placed in the Eliogabalium; see Dio, LXXIX.12.1. Since she was frequently identified with the Magna Mater the Matris typus of the text probably refers to this image; see O. F. Butler, p91 f.

16 This statement is almost certainly a later addition, for there would be no significance in a combination of these sects with the cult of Elagabalus; see O. F. Butler, p126.

17 He himself bore the title sacerdos amplissimus Dei Solis Elagabali, giving this sacred office a higher place than that of Pontifex Maximus; see G. Wissowa, Religion u. Kultus der Römer, p305.

18 On his arrival in Rome in July, 219.

19 There is no other voucher for this statement. According to c. xii.3 it was his grandmother Maesa who came into the senate.

20 Nero's mother Agrippina was allowed to be present at a meeting of the senate, but concealed behind a curtain; see Tacitus, Annals, xiii.5.

21 Mentioned also in Aurel. xlix.6. Senaculum properly denotes a place in which the senators waited while the senate was not in session; the name seems to have been applied to  p113 this gathering of matrons merely for the purpose of giving it a quasi-political importance; see Mommsen, Staatsrecht, iii p914. The conventus matronalis was an organization dating from the early republican period. Its rulings — here concerned with matters of court etiquette — seem to have received some sort of official recognition and hence are incorrectly called senatus consulta.

22 A woman who married a man of lower status lost her rank, unless authorized to retain it by imperial decree.

23 The son of Julia Avita Mamaea, younger daughter of Julia Maesa, and Gessius Marcianus. He was originally called Alexionos (Herodian, V.3.) or Bassianus (Dio, LXXVIII.30.3), but after he was formally adopted by Elagabalus in 221 and given the title of Caesar, he was known as M. Aurelius Alexander. On his accession to the throne he took the name M. Aurelius Severus Alexander. The biography is (p115)here in error in the statement that Alexander received the title of Caesar on the death of Macrinus.

24 Cf. c. xi.1; xii.1‑2. The same charge is made by Herodian (V.3.6‑7).

25 Otherwise unknown.

26 Called Gordius by Dio (LXXIX.15.1). He was appointed praefectus vigilum (c. xii.1) but was removed from office at the demand of the soldiers (c. xv.2).

27 Originally a slave, from Caria, the pupil and favourite of Cordius; see Dio, LXXIX.15. In 221 the praetorian guard forced Elagabalus to dismiss him, together with other of his unworthy favourites; see c. xv.2‑4; Dio, LXXIX.19.3. He was finally killed by the soldiers after Elagabalus' murder; see Dio, LXXIX.21.1.

28 An ancient festival, held 28 April‑3 May. The theatrical performances held in conjunction with it were characterized by lack of decorum and even lewdness and were the target for (p117)the criticism of early Christian writers; see Lactantius, Inst. I.20.10; Tertullian, de Spect. 17.

Thayer's Note: For fuller details and sources, see the article Floralia in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. The passage in Tertullian does not relate specifically to the Floralia.

29 Aquilia Severa, whom he married early in 221, after the divorce of his first wife Paula. On this marriage see note to c. iii.4.

30 On this and the following statements see c. iii.4 and note.

31 As Pontifex Maximus he was entitled to enter.

32 In the Penus Vestae, the Holy of Holies of the Temple of Vesta, were preserved various sacred objects which none but the Vestals and the Pontifex Maximus might look upon. According to Servius (note to Aeneid vii.188), there were seven of these pignora, including the Palladium. They seem to have been kept in a large earthenware crock; Plutarch, Camillus xx, records that two such vessels were kept in the sanctuary, one of which was empty — a belief which seems to be responsible for the statements made here.

33 See c. iii.4 and note.

34 A rite connected with the worship of Caelestis and especially with that of the Magna Mater and in great vogue in Rome in the second and third centuries. Originally a sacrifice of a bull and a ram, it came to have an especial significance as a rite of purification and initiation. The neophyte stood in a pit covered with perforated boards on which a bull was slaughtered. The blood flowing down upon (p119)the person beneath signified his purification and spiritual re-birth and at the same time his initiation as priest of the Magna Mater; see G. Wissowa, Religion u. Kultus d. Römer, p268 f.

35 Orgiastic rites, including the act of castration practised in connexion with various eastern cults and especially with that of the Magna Mater, seem to have been performed in the worship of the god Elagabalus. It was believed that magic rites also were celebrated and children sacrificed in his honour; see c. viii.1‑2 and Dio, LXXIX.11.3.

36 A Semitic goddess, probably akin to Aphrodite and Tanith-Caelestis, associated with a ceremony of lamentation like the mourning for Adonis.

37 On the Syrian coast, now Latakiyeh. The tutelary goddess of the place was assimilated to the Greek Artemis Ταυροπόλος, who, as a result of the similarity in name, was blended with the Tauric goddess, brought to Attica, according to Euripides, by Orestes and Iphigenia. The sacred image at Laodicea, presented by King Seleucus, was alleged, like many others in various sanctuaries, to be the original one brought by Orestes, which, it was claimed, had been carried away from Attica to Susa by the Persians; see Pausanias, III.16.8.

38 An ancient Thracian town called by various names, among them Orestias, re-founded by Hadrian as Hadrianopolis, now Adrianople. It became famous as the scene of a battle between Constantine and Licinius in 323 and of the defeat of (p121)Valens by the Goths in 378. Both these battles seem to be alluded to in this passage, and this has been used as an argument for the theory that the Historia Augusta was written at the end of the fourth century; see Intro. to vol. II p. viii f. This whole paragraph, however, breaks the continuity of the narrative and is evidently a later addition.

39 See Hadr. xxiv.4; Pius ii.4.

40 See c. vii.2 and note.

41 This is related by Herodian (V.6.9) in connection with the removal of the god Elagabalus from the Palatine to his suburban temple (see note to c. iii.4).

42 See Diad. i.3; vi.10.

43 These details are not in the Vita Diadumeni.

44 Otherwise unknown.

45 i.e. like an ass in this respect.

46 Probably Caracalla's campaign against the Alamanni is meant; see note to Carac. v.3. Perhaps, however, it is an (p125)allusion to the Marcomannic war of Marcus Aurelius, as a result of which the Marcomanni accepted terms like those described here; see Dio, LXXII.2.

47 An error; see note to c. v.1. This paragraph forms a transition to the narrative of the attempted assassination of Alexander and the consequent outbreak among the soldiers (c. xiii‑xv). The connexion is broken by the more personal material contained in c. x.2‑xii.

48 Aurelius Zoticus, an athlete from Smyrna, brought to Rome by order of Elagabalus. His father had been a cook and he was accordingly given the nickname of Μάγειρος (= cook). For a further account of him see Dio, LXXIX.16.

49 See note to Pius vi.4.

50 An implicit comparison with the policy of Alexander; see Alex. xxxi.8; lxvii.2.

51 Cf. c. vi.1‑4; xii.1‑2.

52 The term amici Augusti denoted those persons who were officially recognized as qualified to enter the emperor's presence, and the word amici is used in this sense in this and the following biographies and occasionally also in the preceding, e.g. Hadr. xviii.1; Pius vi.11; Marc. vii.3; x.3; xxvii‑xxix; Com. iii.1. The amici included probably all the senators and selected members of the equestrian order; their names were announced in the Acta Urbis (see note to Com. xv.4) and were probably entered in an official register. From their numbers were taken the consiliarii Augusti (see (p129)note to Hadr. viii.9) and the comites (Hadr. xviii.1; Ver. vii.6‑8; Alex. xxxii.1), who were officially appointed to accompany the emperor on his journeys.

53 Probably Valerius Comazon Eutychianus, a freedman; see Dio, LXXVIII.31.3; LXXIX.4.1‑2; Herodian, V.7.6. He aided in the overthrow of Macrinus and was appointed prefect of the guard. Later he received the consular insignia and in 220 was Elagabalus' colleague in the consulship. He was prefect of the city on three different occasions.

54 See c. vi.3 and note.

55 Otherwise unknown.

56 See note to Marc. xi.8.

57 See c. iv.2 and note.

58 The account of the attempt to remove Alexander and the ensuing mutiny of the troops and the story of Elagabalus' downfall as contained in c. xiii‑xvii form a coherent and seemingly correct narrative, which presents a great contrast to the ill-arranged and often absurd details contained in the earlier chapters of the biography. It is evidently taken from a different source, and it is fuller and clearer than the account of either Dio or Herodian.

59 The general popularity of Alexander is attested by Dio, LXXIX.19.1. According to Herodian, V.8.2‑3, the soldiers' devotion to him was strengthened by Mamaea, who secretly distributed money among them.

60 See note to c. iii.4.

61 See note to Carac. ii.4.

62 Otherwise unknown, but evidently prefect of the guard.

63 See c. vi.3‑5.

64 Otherwise unknown.

65 For their formal inauguration as consuls in the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus on the Capitolium.

66 Perhaps Fabius Sabinus, later a member of Alexander's consilium; see Alex. lxviii.1.

67 Domitius Ulpianus, the famous jurist, often quoted in the Digesta. He had been appointed assistant to Papinian, the prefect of the guard, by Severus and had held other cabinet-offices; see Pesc. Nig. vii.4. He was made prefect of the guard by Alexander and had great influence during the latter's (p139)reign; see Alex. pass. He was finally killed by the mutinous praetorians; see Dio, LXXX.2.

68 Crossing the Tiber at the Forum Boarium, approximately the position of the modern Ponte Emilio.

69 It is erased in many of his inscriptions; see Dessau, Ins. Sel. 468 f.

70 See note to c. i.1.

71 Because his body was thrown into the Tiber; so also Dio, LXXIX.21.3.

72 The Colosseum. It had been struck by lightning during the reign of Macrinus (Dio, LXXVII.25.2‑3).

73 See Carac. ix.4 and 9 and notes.

74 See Alex. xxv.6.

75 See Gord. iv.7 and notes.

76 According to Dio, LXXIX.20.2, he was killed in her arms and her body was dragged about the streets with his.

77 See c. iv.1‑2.

Thayer's Notes:

a The Latin text (q.v.) has neither "unnatural" or "vice", although it's plain it might as well have; what it does have is a clearer statement of just what Elagabalus was doing: ". . . and being penetrated by men and sodomizing them (in turn)". Similarly, in the next sentence "who indulged in unnatural lusts of every kind" actually reads "who received lust in all the orifices of his body".

b Depilation had become common well before the time of Elagabalus, so much so that Quintilian, writing towards the end of the 1c A.D. already, refers to it as the practice of a majority (or at least so he can be understood, I.6.44). In that passage he is likely speaking of women, but in at least two others, of men, if disapprovingly (V.9.14; VIII, Preface.19). For men's facial hair, we also have several other authorities: see the article Barba in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. The emperor's depravity thus merely consisted of depilating all of his body.

None of this may matter, though:

[image ALT: an extreme closeup of the face of a marble statue of a teenage boy, showing downy beginnings of a mustache and sideburns. It is a portrait of the Roman emperor Elagabalus.]

This contemporary portrait, in the Stanza degli Imperatori in the Capitoline Museums in Rome, is identified as that of Elagabalus. He is shown with the normal facial down of a teenager.

Do we believe the Historia Augusta then, or not? Usually I'd say not, but this is a tricky one. The evidence in Dio and other authors unanimously agrees with the Historia, pointing to a very fem young man of the "flaming queen" type, who might well be expected to depilate his whole body; yet Roman portrait sculpture is known for its brutal frankness, as this very piece shows: would you want your son to be depicted like this?

Mind you, scholars have wondered to just what extent the Roman scruples in portraiture — call it "truth in advertising", originally of a religious nature — might have been bent in the case of emperors: J. C. Rolfe for example, the translator of Suetonius, in his note on Tib. 68.3, argues that truth went pretty much out the window. Yet what of the unflattering portraits of Vespasian or Caracalla, among many others?

c a bowdlerized English translation. The Latin text manages to be both prudish and prurient: "he kissed him in the crotch, a place which it is indecent even to mention".

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 13 Sep 17