Elagabălus in Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities

M. Aurelius Anton─źnus, a Roman emperor. He was the grandson of Maesa, sister to the empress Iulia, the wife of Septimius Severus. Maesa had two daughters, Soaemias or Semiamira, the mother of the subject of this Elagabalus. (Bust in the Capitol, Rome.) article, and Mammaea, mother of Alexander Severus. The true name of Elagabalus was Varius Avitus Bassianus, and he was reported to have been the illegitimate son of Caracalla. He was born at Antioch, A.D. 204. Maesa took care of his infancy, and placed him, when five years of age, in the temple of the Sun at Emesa, to be educated as a priest; and through her influence he was made, while yet a boy, high- priest of the Sun. That divinity was called in Syria Elagabal, whence the young Varius assumed the name of Elagabalus. After the death of Caracalla and the elevation of Macrinus, the latter having incurred by his severity the dislike of the soldiers, Maesa availed herself of this feeling to induce the officers to rise in favour of her grandson, whom she presented to them as the son of the murdered Caracalla. Elagabalus, who was then in his fifteenth year, was proclaimed emperor by the legion stationed at Emesa. Having put himself at their head, he was attacked by Macrinus, who at first had the advantage; but he and his mother Soaemias, with great spirit, brought the soldiers again to the charge and defeated Macrinus, who was overtaken in his flight and put to death, A.D. 218. Elagabalus, having entered Antioch, wrote a letter to the Senate, professing to take for his model Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, a name revered at Rome; and he also assumed that emperor's name. The Senate acknowledged him, and he set out for Rome, but delayed for several months on his way amid festivities and amusements, and at last stopped at Nicomedia for the winter. In the following year he arrived at Rome and began a career of debauchery, extravagance, and cruelty which lasted the remaining three years of his reign, and the disgusting details of which are given by Lampridius, Herodian, and Dio Cassius. He surrounded himself with gladiators, actors, and other base favourites, who made an unworthy use of their influence. He married several wives, among others a Vestal. The imperial palace became a scene of debauch and open prostitution. Elagabalus, being attached to the superstitions of the East, raised a temple on the Palatine Hill to the Syrian god whose name he bore, and plundered the temples of the Roman gods to enrich his own. He put to death many senators, and established a senate of women, under the presidency of his mother, Soaemias, which body decided all questions relative to women's dresses, and to visits, precedence, and amusements. He wore his pontifical vest as high-priest of the Sun, with a rich tiara on his head. His grandmother Maesa, seeing his folly, thought of conciliating the Romans by associating with him, as Caesar, his younger cousin, Alexander Severus, who soon became a favourite with the people. Elagabalus, who had consented to the association, became afterwards jealous of his cousin and wished to deprive him of his honours, but he could not obtain the consent of the Senate. His next measure was to spread the report of Alexander's death, which produced an insurrection among the praetorians; and Elagabalus, having repaired to the camp to quell the mutiny, was murdered, together with his mother and his favourites, and his body was thrown into the Tiber, A.D. 222. He was succeeded by Alexander Severus. Elagabalus was eighteen years of age at the time of his death, and had reigned three years, nine months, and four days (Lamprid. Elagab.; Herodian, v. 3 foll.; Dio Cass. lxxviii. 31 foll.; lxxix. 1 foll.).

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