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Part 1

This webpage reproduces part of the
Historia Augusta

published in the Loeb Classical Library,
1924

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!


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Alexander Severus

(Vol. II) Historia Augusta

p143 The Life of Elagabalus
Part 2

(For the beginning of chapter 18, see Part 1.)

(18)[Legamen ad paginam Latinam]4 Concerning his life many filthy anecdotes have been put into writing, but since they are not worthy of being recorded, I have thought I ought to relate only such deeds as illustrate his extravagance.78 Some of these, it is said, were done before he ascended the throne, others after he was made emperor; for he himself declared that his models were Apicius79 among commoners and, among emperors, Otho and Vitellius. 19 For example, he was the first commoner to cover his couches with golden coverlets — for this was lawful then by authorization of Marcus Antoninus, who had sold at public auction all the imperial trappings.80 2 Also, he gave summer-banquets in various colours, one day a green banquet, another day an iridescent one, and next in order a blue one, varying them continually every day of the summer. 3 Moreover, he was the first to use silver urns and casseroles, p145and vessels of chased silver, one hundred pounds in weight, some of them spoiled by the lewdest designs. 4 He was also the first to concoct wine seasoned with mastich and with pennyroyal and all such mixtures, which our present luxury retains.a 5 And rose-wine, of which he had learned from others, he used to make more fragrant by adding pulverized pine-cone. In fact, all these kinds of cups are not met with in books before the time of Elagabalus. 6 Indeed, for him life was nothing except a search after pleasures. He was the first to make force-meat of fish, or of oysters of various kinds or similar shell-fish, or of lobsters, crayfish and squills. 7 He used to strew roses and all manner of flowers, such as lilies, violets, hyacinths, and narcissus, over his banqueting-rooms, his couches and his porticoes, and then stroll about in them. 8 He would refuse to swim in a pool that was not perfumed with saffron or some other well-known essence. 9 And he could not rest easily on cushions that were not stuffed with rabbit-fur or feathers from under the wings of partridges, and he used, moreover, to change the pillows frequently.

20 1 He often showed contempt for the senate, calling them slaves in togas, while he treated the Roman people as the tiller of a single farm and the equestrian order as nothing at all. 2 He frequently invited the city-prefect to a drinking-bout after a banquet and also summoned the prefects of the guard, sending a master of ceremonies, in case they declined, to compel them to come. 3 And he wished to create a city-prefect for each region of Rome, thus making fourteen for the city;81 and he p147would have done it, too, had he lived, for he was always ready to promote men of the basest character and the lowest calling.b

4 He had couches made of solid silver for use in his banqueting-rooms and his bed-chambers. 5 In imitation of Apicius he frequently ate camels-heels and also cocks-combs taken from the living birds, and the tongues of peacocks and nightingales, because he was told that one who ate them was immune from the plague. 6 He served to the palace-attendants, moreover, huge platters heaped up with the viscera of mullets, and flamingo-brains, partridge-eggs, thrush-brains, and the heads of parrots, pheasants, and peacocks. 7 And the beards of the mullets that he ordered to be served were so large that they were brought on, in place of cress or parsley or pickled beans or fenugreek, in well filled bowls and disk-shaped platters — a particularly amazing performance.

21 1 He fed his dogs on goose-livers.c Among his pets he had lions and leopards, which had been rendered harmless and trained by tamers, and these he would suddenly order during the dessert and the after-dessert to get up on the couches, thereby causing an amusing panic, for none knew that the beastsº were harmless.82 2 He sent grapes from Apamea83 to his stables for his horses, and he fed parrots and pheasants to his lions and other wild animals. 3 For ten successive days, moreover, he served wild sows' udders with the matrices, at the rate of thirty a day, serving, besides, peas with gold-pieces, lentils with onyx, beans with amber, and rice with pearls; 4 and he also sprinkled pearls on fish and truffles in lieu of pepper. 5 In a banqueting-room with a reversible ceiling he once overwhelmed his parasites with violets p149and other flowers,84 so that some were actually smothered to death, being unable to crawl out to the top.d 6 He flavoured his swimming-pools and bath-tubs with essence of spices or of roses or wormwood. And once he invited the common mob to a drinking-bout, and himself drank with the populace, taking so much that on seeing what he alone consumed, people supposed he had been drinking from one of his swimming-pools. 7 As banquet-favours, he gave eunuchs, or four-horse chariots, or horses with saddles, or mules, or litters, or carriages, or a thousand aurei or a hundred pounds of silver. 22 At his banquets he would also distribute chances inscribed on spoons, the chance of one person reading "ten camels," of another "ten flies," of another "ten pounds of gold," of another "ten pounds of lead," of another "ten ostriches," of another "ten hens-eggs," so that they were chances indeed and men tried their luck. 2 These he also gave at his games, distributing chances for ten bears or ten dormice, ten lettuces or ten pounds of gold. Indeed he was the first to introduce this practice of giving chances, which we still maintain.e 3 And the performers too he invited to what really were chances, giving as prizes a dead dog or a pound of beef, or else a hundred aurei, or a hundred pieces of silver, or a hundred coppers,85 and so on. 4 All this so pleased the populace that after each occasion they rejoiced that he was emperor.

23 1 He gave a naval spectacle, it is said, on the p151Circus-canals,86 which had been filled with wine, and he sprinkled the people's cloaks with perfume made from the wild grape; also he drove a chariot drawn by four elephants on the Vatican Hill,87 destroying the tombs which obstructed the way, and he harnessed four camels to a chariot at a private spectacle in the Circus. 2 It is also said that he collected serpents with the aid of priests of the Marsic nation88 and suddenly let them loose before dawn, when the populace usually assembled for the more frequented games, and many people were injured by their fangs as well as in the general panic. 3 He would wear a tunic made wholly of cloth of gold, or one made of purple, or a Persian one studded with jewels, and at such times he would say that he felt oppressed by the weight of his pleasures. 4 He even wore jewels on his shoes, sometimes engraved ones — a practice which aroused the derision of all, as if, forsooth, the engraving of famous artists could be seen on jewels attached to his feet. 5 He wished to wear also a jewelled diadem in order that his beauty might be increased and his face look more like a woman's; and in his own house he did wear one. 6 He promised a phoenix to some guests, it is said, or in lieu of the bird a thousand pounds of gold, and this sum he handed out in the imperial residence. 7 He constructed swimming-pools filled with sea-water in places especially far from the coast, and would hand them over to individual friends who swam in them, or at p153another time he would fill one with fish. 8 One summer he made a mountain of snow in the pleasure-garden attached to his house, having snow carried there for the purpose. When on the sea-coast he never ate fish, but in places most remote from the sea he regularly served all manner of sea-food, and the country-folk in the interior he fed with the milt of lampreys and pikes.

24 1 The fish that he ate were cooked in a bluish sauce that preserved their natural colour, as though they were still in the sea-water. He supplied swimming-pools that he used for the moment with essence of roses and with the flowers themselves, and when he bathed with all his courtiers he would furnish oil of nard for the hot-rooms; he also furnished balsam-oil for the lamps. 2 He never had intercourse with the same woman twice except with his wife, and he opened brothels in his house for his friends, his clients, and his slaves. 3 He never spent less on a banquet than one hundred thousand sesterces, that is, thirty pounds of silver;89 and sometimes he even spent as much as three million when all the cost was computed. In fact, he even outdid the banquets of Vitellius and Apicius.90 4 He would take fish from his ponds by the ox-load, and then, as he passed through the market, bewail the public poverty. 5 He used to bind his parasites to a water-wheel and, by a turn of the wheel, plunge them into the water and then bring them back to the surface again, calling p155them meanwhile river-Ixions. 6 He used Lacedaemonian stone91 and porphyry to pave the open spaces in the Palace, which he called Antonine; this pavement lasted down to within our own memory but was lately torn up and destroyed. 7 And he planned to erect a single column of enormous size, which could be ascended inside, and to place on its summit the god Elagabalus, but he could not find enough stone, even though he planned to bring it from the district of Thebes.92

25 1 When his friends became drunk he would often shut them up, and suddenly during the night let in his lions and leopards and bears — all of them harmless — so that his friends on awakening at dawn, or worse, during the night, would find lions and leopards and bears in the room with themselves;93 and some even died from this cause. 2 Some of his humbler friends he would seat on air-pillows instead of on cushions and let out the air while they were dining, so that often the diners were suddenly found under the table. 3 Finally, he was the first to think of placing a semi-circular group on the ground instead of on couches, with the purpose of having the air-pillows loosened by slaves who stood at the feet of the guests and the air thus let out.

4 When adultery was represented on the stage, he would order what was usually done in pretence to be carried out in fact. 5 He often purchased harlots from all the procurers and then set them free. 6 Once during a private conversation the question arose as to how many ruptured people there were in the city of Rome, and he thereupon issued an order that all p157should be noted and brought to his baths, and then he bathed with them, some of them being men of distinction. 7 Before a banquet he would frequently watch gladiatorial fights and boxing matches, and he had a couch spread for himself in an upper gallery and during luncheon exhibited criminals in a wild-beast hunt.94 9 º His parasites would often be served during dessert with food made of wax or wood or ivory, sometimes of earthenware, or at times even of marble or stone; so that all that he ate himself would be served to them too, but different in substance and only to be looked at,95 and all the while they would merely drink with each course and wash their hands, just as if they had really eaten.

26 1 He was the first of the Romans, it is said, who wore clothing wholly of silk,96 although garments partly of silk97 were in use before his time. Linen that had been washed he would never touch, saying that washed linen was worn only by beggars. 2 He would often appear in public after dinner dressed in a Dalmatian tunic,98 and then he would call himself Fabius Gurges99 or Scipio, because he was wearing the same kind of clothing which Fabius and Cornelius wore when in their youth they were brought out in public by their parents in order to improve their manners.

3 He gathered together in a public building all the harlots from the Circus, the theatre, the Stadium and p159all other places of amusement, and from the public baths, and then delivered a speech to them, as one might to soldiers, calling them "comrades" and discoursing upon various kinds of postures and debaucheries. 4 Afterward he invited to a similar gathering procurers, catamites collected together from all sides, and lascivious boys and young men. 5 And whereas he had appeared before the harlots in a woman's costume and with protruding bosom, he met the catamites in the garb of a boy who is exposed for prostitution. After his speech he announced a largess of three aurei each, just as if they were soldiers, and asked them to pray the gods that they might find others to recommend to him.

6 He used, too, to play jokes on his slaves, even ordering them to bring him a thousand pounds of spiders-webs and offering them a prize; and he collected, it is said, ten thousand pounds, and then remarked that one could realize from that how great a city was Rome.f 7 He also used to send to his parasites jars of frogs, scorpions, snakes, and any other such reptiles, as their yearly allowance of provisions, 8 and he would shut up a vast number of flies in jars of this sort and call them tamed bees.

27 1 He often brought four-horse chariots from the circus into his banqueting-rooms or porticoes while he lunched or dined, compelling his guests to drive, even though they were old men and some of them had held public office. 2 Even when emperor, he would give an order to bring in to him ten thousand mice, a thousand weasels, or a thousand shrew-mice. 3 So skilful were his confectioners and dairymen, that all the various kinds of food that were served by his cooks, either meat-cooks or fruit-cooks, p161they would also serve up, making them now out of confectionery or again out of milk products. 4 His parasites he would serve with dinners made of glass, and at times he would send to their table only embroidered napkins with pictures of the viands that were set before himself, as many in number as the courses which he was to have, so that they were served only with representations made by the needle or the loom. 5 Sometimes, however, paintings too were displayed to them, so that they were served with the whole dinner, as it were, but were all the while tormented by hunger. 6 He would also mix jewels with apples and flowers, and he would throw out of the window quite as much food as he served to his friends. 7 He gave an order, too, that an amount of public grain equal to one year's tribute should be given to all the harlots, procurers, and catamites who were within the walls, and promised an equal amount to those without, for, thanks to the foresight of Severus and Trajan, there was in Rome at that time a store of grain equal to seven years' tribute.100

28 1 He would harness four huge dogs to a chariot and drive about within the royal residence, and he did the same thing, before he was made emperor, on his country-estates. 2 He even appeared in public driving four stags of vast size. Once he harnessed lions to his chariot and called himself the Great Mother, and on another occasion, tigers, and called himself Dionysus; and he always appeared in the particular garb in which the deity that he was representing was usually depicted. 3 He kept at Rome tiny Egyptian snakes, called by the natives "good genii,"101 besides hippopotami, a crocodile, and a rhinoceros, and, in fact, everything Egyptian which was of such a kind that it could be supplied. 4 And p163sometimes at his banquets he served ostriches, saying that the Jews had been commanded to eat them.g

5 It seems indeed a surprising thing that he is said to have done when he invited men of the highest rank to a luncheon and covered a semi-circular couch with saffron-flowers, and then said that he was providing them with the kind of hay102 that their rank demanded. 6 The occupations of the day he performed at night, and those of the night in the daytime, and he considered it a mark of luxury to wait until a late hour before rising from sleep and beginning to hold his levee, and also to remain awake until morning. He received his courtiers every day, and he seldom let any go without a gift, save those whom he found to be thrifty, for he regarded these as worthless.

29 1 His chariots were made of jewels and gold, for he scorned those that were merely of silver or ivory or bronze.103 2 He would harness women of the greatest beauty to a wheel-barrow in fours, in twos, or in threes or even more, and would drive them about, usually naked himself, as were also the women who were pulling him.

3 He had the custom, moreover, of asking to dinner eight bald men, or else eight one-eyed men, or eight men who suffered from gout, or eight deaf men, or eight men of dark complexion, or eight tall men, or, again, eight fat men, his purpose being, in the case of these last, since they could not be accommodated on one couch, to call forth general laughter. 4 He would present to his guests all the silver-plate that he had in the banqueting-room and all the supply of goblets, and he did it very often too. 5 He was the first Roman emperor to serve at a public banquet fish-pickle104 mixed with water, for previously this had p165been only a soldier's dish — a usage which later was promptly restored by Alexander. 6 He would propose to his guests, furthermore, by way of a feat, that they should invent new sauces for giving flavour to the food, and he would offer a very large prize for the man whose invention should please him, even presenting him with a silk garment — then regarded as a rarity and a mark of honour. 7 On the other hand, if the sauce did not please him, the inventor was ordered to continue eating it until he invented a better one. 8 Of course he always sat among flowers or perfumes of great value, 9 and he loved to hear the prices of the food served at his table exaggerated, asserting it was an appetizer for the banquet.

30 1 He got himself up as a confectioner, a perfumer, a cook, a shop-keeper, or a procurer, and he even practised all these occupations in his own house continually. 2 At one dinner where there were many tables he brought in the heads of six hundred ostriches in order that the brains might be eaten. 3 Occasionally he gave a banquet in which he would serve twenty-two courses of extraordinary viands, and between each course he and his guests would bathe and dally with women, all taking an oath that they were deriving enjoyment. 4 And once he gave a banquet in which one course was served in the house of each guest, and although one lived on the Capitoline Hill, one on the Palatine, one beyond the Rampart,105 one on the Caelian Hill, and one across the Tiber, nevertheless each course was served in order in one of the houses, and they went about to the homes of all. 5 It was difficult, therefore, to finish the banquet within a whole day, especially as between the courses they bathed and dallied with women. p1676 He always served a course of Sybariticum, consisting of oil and fish-pickle, which the men of Sybaris invented in the year in which they all perished.106 7 It is further related of him that he constructed baths in many places, bathed in them once, and immediately demolished them, merely in order that he might not derive any advantage from them. And he is said to have done the same with houses, imperial headquarters, and summer-dwellings. 8 However, these and some other things which surpass credence, I believe to have been fabricated by those who wished to vilify Elagabalus in order to curry favour with Alexander.

31 1 He purchased, it is said, a very famous and very beautiful harlot for one hundred thousand sesterces, and then kept her untouched, as though she were a virgin. 2 When some one asked him before he was made emperor, "Are you not afraid of becoming poor?" he replied, so they say, "What could be better than that I should be my own heir and my wife's too?" 3 He had abundant means besides, bequeathed to him by many out of regard for his father. Furthermore, he said that he did not wish to have sons, lest one of them should chance to be thrifty. 4 He would have perfumes from India burned without any coals in order that the fumes might fill his apartments. Even while a commoner he never made a journey with fewer than sixty wagons, though his grandmother Varia107 used to protest that he would squander all his substance; 5 but after he became emperor he would take with him, it is said, as many as six hundred, asserting that the king of the Persians travelled with ten thousand camels and Nero with five hundred carriages.108 6 The reason for all these vehicles was the vast number of his procurers and p169bawds, harlots, catamites and lusty partners in depravity.h 7 In the public baths he always bathed with the women, and he even treated them himself with a depilatory ointment, which he applied also to his own beard, and shameful though it be to say it, in the same place where the women were treated and at the same hour. He shaved his minions' groins, using the razor with his own handi — with which he would then shave his beard. 8 He would strew gold and silver dust about a portico and then lament that he could not strew the dust of amber also; and he did this often when he proceeded on foot to his horse or his carriage, as they do today with golden sand.109

32 1 He never put on the same shoes twice and never, it is said, wore the same ring a second time. He often tore up costly garments. Once he took a whale and weighed it and then sent his friends its weight in fish. 2 He sank some heavily laden ships in the harbour and then said that this was a sign of greatness of soul. He used vessels of gold for relieving himself and his urinals were made of murra or onyx. 3 And he is said to have remarked: "If I ever have an heir, I shall appoint a guardian for him, to make him do what I have myself done and intend to do". 4 He was accustomed, furthermore, to have dinners served to him of the following kind: one day he would eat nothing at all but pheasant,110 serving only pheasant-meat at every course; another day he would serve only chicken, another some kind of fish and again a different kind, again pork, or ostrich, or greens, or fruit, or sweets, or dairy-products. 5 He would often shut up his friends in halting-places for the night with old hags from Ethiopiaj and compel them to stay p171there until morning, saying that the most beautiful women were kept in these places. 6 He did this same thing with boys too — for then, before the time of Philip111 that is, such a thing was lawful. 7 Sometimes he laughed so loud in the theatre that no one else could be heard by the audience. 8 He could sing and dance, play the pipes, the horn and the pandura,112 and have also performed on the organ. 9 On one single day, it is said, he visited every prostitute from the Circus, the theatre, the Amphitheatre, and all the public places of Rome, covering his head with a muleteer's cap in order to escape recognition; he did not, however, gratify his passions, but merely gave an aureus to each prostitute, saying as he did so: "Let no one know it, but this is a present from Antoninus". 33 He invented certain new kinds of vice, even going beyond the perverts used by the debauchees of old, and he was well acquainted with all the arrangements of Tiberius, Caligula, and Nero.113

2 The prophecy had been made to him by some Syrian priests that he would die a violent death. 3 And so he had prepared cords entwined with purple and scarlet silk, in order that, if need arose, he could put an end to his life by the noose. 4 He had gold swords, too, in readiness, with which to stab himself, should any violence impend. 5 He also had poisons ready, in ceraunites and sapphires and emeralds, with which to kill himself if destruction threatened. 6 And he also built a very high tower from which to thrown himself down, constructed of boards gilded and jewelled in his own presence, for even his death, he declared, should be costly and marked by luxury, in order that it might be said that no one had ever died in this fashion. 7 But all these preparations availed him p173nothing, for, as we have said,114 he was slain by common soldiers, dragged through the streets, contemptuously thrust into sewers, and finally cast into the Tiber.

8 He was the last of those in public life to bear the name Antoninus, and all knew that in the case of this Antoninus his life was as false as his name.

34 1 It may perhaps seem strange to some, revered Constantine, that such a scourge as I have described should ever have sat on the throne of the emperors, and, moreover, for nearly three years. Such was the lack at that time in the state of any who could remove him from the government of Rome's majesty, whereas a deliverer from the tyrant had not been wanting in the case of Nero, Vitellius, Caligula,115 and other such emperors. 2 But first of all I ask for pardon for having set down in writing what I have found in various authors, even though I have passed over in silence many vile details and those things which may not even be spoken of without the greatest shame. 3 But whatever I have told, I have covered up as best I could by the use of veiled terms. 4 Then too I have always believed that we must remember what Your Clemency is wont to say: "It is Fortune that makes a man emperor". There have indeed been unrighteous rulers and even very base ones. 5 But, as Your Piety is wont to declare, men must look to it that those be worthy of the imperial office whom the power of Fate has called to the destiny of being emperor. 6 Furthermore, since this man was the last of the Antonines and never again did one of this name appear in public life as emperor, the following fact must also be mentioned, in order that no confusion may arise when I shall begin to tell of the two Gordians, father and son, who desired to be called p175after the family of the Antonines: in the first place, they had not the surname but only the praenomen of the Antonines; 7 in the second, as I find in my books, their name was Antonius, and not Antoninus.116

35 1 So much concerning Elagabalus, the details of whose life you have wished me, though unwilling and reluctant, to gather together from Greek and Latin books and to set down in writing and present to you, inasmuch as I have already presented the lives of earlier emperors. 2 Now I shall begin to write of emperors who followed after. Of these the most righteous and the most worthy of careful narration was Alexander (who was emperor for thirteen years, whereas the others ruled but for six months or at most for one or two years), the most distinguished was Aurelian, but the glory of them all was Claudius, the founder of your family.117 3 About this man I fear to tell the truth in writing to Your Clemency, lest I may seem to the malicious to be a flatterer; but yet I shall be delivered from the envy of evil men, inasmuch as I have seen that in the eyes of others also he was the most illustrious. 4 To these rulers must be joined Diocletian, father of the golden age, and Maximian, father of the iron,118 as they commonly say, and all the others down to the time of Your Piety. But as for you, 5 O revered Augustus, you shall receive honour in the many and more eloquent pages of those to whom a more kindly nature has granted this boon. 6 To these emperors we must add Licinius and Maxentius, all whose power has been made subject to your sway,119 writing of them, however, in such a way p177that full justice shall be done to their prowess. 7 For I will not, as is the wont of many writers, detract from the greatness of those who have been vanquished, since I perceive that if, in writing of them, I shall tell the whole truth concerning the noble qualities which they possessed, it will but enhance your glory.


The Editor's Notes:

78 The rest of this biography is entirely made up of these anecdotes.

79 See Ael. V.9 and note.

80 See Marc. XVII.4‑6; XXI.9.

81 Rome was divided by Augustus into fourteen regiones, each of which was administered by a praetor, aedile, or tribune of the plebs. Later, probably under Hadrian, each regio was administered by one or two curatores of non-senatorial rank, apparently freedmen; see Mommsen, StaatsrechtII3 p1036. The plan of Elagabalus seems to have been carried out, at least in part, by Alexander, who appointed fourteen curatores of consular rank, representing the fourteen (p145)regiones, to act as assistants and advisers to the prefect of the city; see Alex. XXXIII.1.

82 Cf. c. XXV.1.

83 An important city in Syria, on the river Orontes.

84 Nero did this also (Suetonius, NeroXXXI), and a similar ceiling in the house of Trimalchio is described in Petronius, Sat.LX.

85 Follis, as a result of its meaning of "leathern money-bag," was used to denote, in the late empire, various sums of money or coins. The follis aeris was a small copper coin containing a slight admixture of silver and equal in value to two denarii of the depreciated currency of Diocletian (see (p149)note to c. xxiv.3). As the word follis does not seem to have been applied to this coin until the time of Diocletian, the biographer seems to be employing the terminology of his own time and not that of the period of Elagabalus.

86 Euripus, "strait," denoted in particular the narrow channel between Boeotia and Euboea. It then came to mean any canal or ditch, and was applied to the canal around the circuit, dug by Julius Caesar (Suetonius, JuliusXXXIX.2) and filled up by Nero (Pliny, Nat. Hist. VIII.21).

87 The Circus Vaticanus was constructed by Caligula at the north end of the Janiculum (the present site of the Church of St. Peter). Under Nero it was the scene of the tortures inflicted on the Christians; see Tacitus, AnnalsXV.44. The context of the present passage, however, seems to indicate that it was not this circus that was the scene of Elagabalus' exploit, but the immediate vicinity, generally known as Vaticanum, where remains of tombs have been discovered; see O. Richter, Topographie d. Stadt Rom2, p280 f.

88 An ancient people of central Italy living around the Lacus Fucinus or Lago di Celano (see note to Hadr. XXII.12), which has recently been drained. They were famous as snake-charmers; see Vergil, Aeneid, VII.753‑755; Pliny, Nat. Hist. VII.15; XXV.30; Gellius, Noct. AtticaeXVI.11.

89 Sestertium is regularly used to denote the sum of 1000 sestertii. The evaluation of 100,000 sestertii = 30 lbs. silver, however, presents a difficult problem, for the biographer is not using the system in vogue under Elagabalus. According to Mommsen (Ges. Schr., VII p316), he has confused the sestertius with the depreciated denarius of the time of Diocletian, of which 50,000 = 1 lb. gold, or approximate 3700 = 1 lb. silver. Seeck, on the other hand, who contends that the Historia Augusta was composed in the fifth century (see Intro. to Vol. II p. IX), pointed out (Jahrbb., cxli p629 f.) that in the time of Constantine (when this vita purports to have been written) 432,000 den. = 1 lb. gold, an evaluation which is, of course, incompatible with this passage. (p153)He argued, therefore, that the system here presupposed is that introduced in 445 by Valentinian III, according to which 1750 den. = 1 lb. silver, and that the half-denarius is meant here by the term sestertius.

90 See c. xviii.4.

91 A green porphyry — now called serpentino — quarried near Croceae, in southern Laconia and close to the modern village of Stephania. The red porphyry, brought from Egypt, was used in Rome in enormous quantities. The mosaic pavements made of these stones were afterwards called opus Alexandrinum; see Alex. XXV.7.

92 In upper Egypt.

93 Cf. c. XXI.1.

94 Also related of Lucius Verus; see Ver. IV.9.

95 Cf. c. XXVII.4‑5.

96 His fondness for silk clothing is also mentioned by Herodian, V.5.4. Its use was forbidden by later emperors; see Alex. XL.1; Aurel. XLV.4; Tac. X.4; Codex TheodosianusXV.9.1.

97 A mixture of silk and linen or cotton — ordinarily called sericum. Under Tiberius men were forbidden to wear it (Tacitus, AnnalsII.33.1), but Caligula, nevertheless, appeared in public thus clad (Suetonius, Cal. LII). Elagabalus gave garments of this sort as presents; see c. xxix.6.

98 See note to Com. VIII.8.

99 Presumably he meant Q. Fabius Maximus Gurges, consul 292, 276, 265 B.C. No such incident, however, as that described in the text is known, nor can the Scipio be identified. The Dalmaticus was not in use in the republican period, but long-sleeved tunics were worn, though generally considered effeminate; see Gellius, Noct. AtticaeVI (VII).12.

100 See Sev. VIII.5.

101 Apparently the sacred healing snake of the god Knuphis (Chnum), often represented, sometimes with a lion's head, on gems and amulets.

102 i.e. likening them to oxen; cf. the saying faenum edere, cited by Cicero, de Orat. II.233.

103 Those ornamented with ivory or bronze were in common use; see Aurel. XLVI.3. Alexander permitted the use of silver; see Alex. XLIII.1.

104 Garum was a preparation made from the entrails of fish, particularly the mackerel, which were salted down and allowed to ferment. The liquid thus formed was called garum.

105 The Agger Tarquinii Superbi was that portion of the so‑called "Wall of Servius Tullius" (probably a work of the early republican period) which protected Rome on the east, running over the level tops of the Quirinal and Esquiline Hills; see Pliny, Nat. Hist. III.67.

106 510 B.C.

107 i.e. Julia Maesa; see note to Macr. IX.1.

108 According to Suetonius, NeroXXX.3, never with fewer than a thousand.

109 The allusion is obscure; the custom seems to be analogous to that of Caligula and Nero, who had the sand of the Circus sprinkled with chrysocolla, a silicate of copper, in order to give it a greenish colour; see Suetonius, Calig. XVIII.3; Pliny, Nat. Hist. XXXIII.90.

110 See note to Pert. XII.6.

111 The Emperor Philippus Arabs. His prohibition of this vice is also recorded in Alex. XXIV.4, and Victor, Caes. XXVIII.6.

112 A musical instrument with three strings, probably resembling the lute. The name has been perpetuated in a modern Italian instrument of the mandoline type.

113 See Suetonius, Tib. XLIII.1, and Tacitus, AnnalsVI.1.

114 See c. XVII.1‑3.

115 Nero committed suicide. Vitellius was killed by the soldiers of Vespasian, and Caligula was assassinated by a tribune of the praetorian guard.

116 See Gord. IV.7 and note.

117 See Claud. IX.7 and note.

118 Apparently an allusion to his character as a rough soldier and in contrast with his colleague Diocletian, of whom Victor (Caes. XXXIX.8) says: "Eoque ipso, quod dominum dici passus, parentem egit."

119 Maxentius was defeated by Constantine at the Pons (p175)Mulvius near Rome in 312, Licinius near Chalcedon in Bithynia in 324.


Thayer's Notes:

a No; flavored wines of many types are regularly mentioned well before Elagabalus. In Book 14 of his Natural History for example, Pliny writes of wines variously flavored, scented, adulterated, or concocted with honey, myrrh, aloe, nard, sweet rush, pine resin, lavender, cardamom, cinnamon, saffron, dates, hazelwort, pepper, wormwood, sea-water, must, hyssop, hellebore, scammony, gentian, marjoram, dittany, marble dust, pitch, and carrots. Also, Athenaeus (152A) mentions Celts flavoring wine with cumin; he himself was roughly contemporary with our hero, but the customs he writes about are older.

b The device has very little to do with promoting people, worthy or otherwise, and a lot to do with the desire of a repressive régime to control its capital city. For a hundred years or so, until recently, Paris for example had no mayor, but a "mayor" for each of its 20 wards (who even after the late‑20c democratization restoring the office of city-wide mayor, have remained as a check on his power).

c To anyone who lives with a dog, this mustn't seem particularly noteworthy; my own Spots, for example, has been known to cajole me out of chicken liver and gizzards — it beats cluttering up the fridge with one more little container. But here, though Prof. Cary's translation is accurate, the author is almost certainly writing about foie gras, which even today runs about $100/pound and would be considered quite extravagant. The artificial fattening of goose livers, often thought to be a French invention, has been known since Antiquity, and is first mentioned in Latin literature by Spots' namesake, about 150 years before Elagabalus: Nat. Hist. X.52.

d This Elagabalan story, graphic yet suitable for the chastest Victorian ears, found in Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema an illustrator of genius; for an elegantly baroque page, such as the subject deserves, complete with a good photo of his famous painting, see the Encyclopaedia Romana.

e Over 200 years earlier Augustus is recorded as having done so, and with similar impishness (Suet. Aug. 75).

f About 3400 kilograms. If that's all you could find in all of Rome, the city was far cleaner, gentle reader, than your dining-room floor, and maybe even your dining-room table: for the calculations see my note to Tobias Smollett.

g On the contrary, the ostrich is almost universally viewed as not kosher (Leviticus 11.16), despite some uncertainty as to exactly what birds might be meant.

h Actually, the Latin reads bene vasatorum: "well-hung men".

i See Domitian a century before him (Suet. Dom. 22); plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

j One of the rare passages in ancient literature to give the lie to modern revisionist thinking that the Romans were not racists.


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