Elagabalus
218 - 222 CE
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Now we come to Elagabalus, possibly the most fun emperor since Caligula. The Romans might have forgiven his bizarre sexual antics, but when he arranged a wedding between a Roman goddess and a Syrian rock, well, that was just going too far!

Elagabalus Denarius
About this coin:

Elagabalus was quite the dutiful son, though it may not have appeared so at first. One of his first acts, before they even got to Rome, was to order the execution of his mother's lover, the same fellow who had smuggled him into the military camp so the troops could proclaim him emperor. But mom didn't seem too unhappy -- in fact, it was probably her idea. The man had served his purpose, and now was a nuisance -- especially since he seemed to expect to share in the power that he'd helped them get.

Julia Soaemis Denarius
About this coin:

Being a dutiful son (and only 14 years old to boot), Elagabalus basically left the running of the government to his mother, Julia Soaemis and grandmother Julia Maesa. He was having far too much fun foisting his religion on the upper crust of Roman society. The hereditary high priest of Elagabal (an eastern sun god, from whom he got his nickname), he had brought the Rock of Elagabal with him from Syria. He had a magnificent temple built for it, and would make the Senators and members of the upper class get up with him at dawn to sacrifice to it. This, in itself, might explain (and certainly justifies) what they eventually did to him. But I get ahead of myself.

Julia Paula Denarius
About this coin:

To further shore up Elagabalus's standing, Mom and Grandma arranged a marriage between him and Julia Paula (gads, not another Julia!), a member of a highly influential family in Rome. But he divorced her after a year, claiming she was "bodily unsuitable" to be an emperor's wife. It's left to our imaginations as to what he meant by that.

His second marriage was strictly his own idea, and it scandalized even the jaded Roman society. He arranged to marry Aquilia Severa (a Vestal Virgin), at the same time as his god, Elagabal, was married to the Roman goddess Vesta. Now the Vestal Virgins (attendants of the goddess Vesta) took a 30-year vow of chastity, and so the earthly component of the double wedding was nearly as shocking as the celestial one. He didn't see the problem, though. After all, if Elagabal was making celestial whoopee with Vesta, it seemed only natural for Elagabal's high priest to be doing the earthly equivalent with one of Vesta's attendants.

But the Romans didn't see it that way, and eventually, Grandma pressured him into divorcing Severa and marrying another noblewoman, Annia Faustina. Elagabalus also "divorced" Elagabal from Vesta and re-married him to Venus Caelestis, a lunar fertility goddess. This proved a much less controversial wedding. Somehow, marrying the Syrian sun god to a minor moon goddess of non-Roman origin (and a fertility goddess at that!) just seemed right.

However, it soon became clear to Grandma Julia that her hold on her grandson was weakening. She successfully talked him into raising his cousin, Severus Alexander, to the rank of Caesar, but he went openly against her wishes on the marriage front, divorcing Faustina and re-marrying Severa.

Elagabalus didn't limit himself to women; indeed, he seemed to prefer men. He was "married" to a Greek slave named Hierocles. He behaved as the wife in that relationship, including arranging to be caught in adulterous situations so his "husband" could beat him for his infidelity. He is also accused by ancient historians of dressing up as a woman and visiting taverns to engage in acts of prostitution with male clients. The same historians claim that he also sought to be surgically transformed into a woman.

Soon, nearly everyone (including his grandmother) was thoroughly disgusted with nearly everything about the young emperor. His cousin, Alexander, was gaining in popularity every day. In a fit of jealousy, Elagabalus ordered the soldiers to execute Alexander, but they refused. Later, he flew into a rage and ordered the arrest of supporters of his cousin, but the soldiers had had all they could take and turned on him.

Elagabalus then ran off and hid in the toilet (my sources don't say whether it was the ladies' or the men's room), but was found and stabbed to death. His one remaining supporter -- his mother -- was also hunted down and killed. Both were beheaded and dragged through the streets of Rome, to much general rejoicing. Their bodies were dumped into the Tiber river like common criminals, at last giving their subjects something that they truly wanted.


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