Mark Avreliy Geliogabal

Mark Avreliy Geliogabal

Roman Emperor (218–222)
Country: Italy

  1. Biography of Marcus Aurelius Elagabalus
  2. Early Life and Rise to Power
  3. Reign as Emperor
  4. Downfall and Death

Biography of Marcus Aurelius Elagabalus

Marcus Aurelius Elagabalus, also known as Elagabalus, was a Roman emperor from 218 to 222. He was a devoted follower of the Sun god and was notorious for organizing extravagant festivals and religious ceremonies in Rome, characterized by wild and extravagant rituals. His behavior earned him widespread contempt and hatred among the people.

Early Life and Rise to Power

Elagabalus, born Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, came from the Syrian aristocratic Varian family and was commonly known as Bassianus Baries Avitus. His paternal ancestors were priests of the Phoenician sun god Elagabalus in Emesa. On his mother's side, Bassianus had a close connection to the imperial family. His grandmother, Julia Maesa, was the sister of Julia Domna, the wife of emperors Septimius Severus and Caracalla.

In 217, after the assassination of Caracalla, Emperor Macrinus ordered Julia Maesa and her family to return to their estates in Emesa. As the eldest member of the Varian family, Bassianus was entrusted with the responsibility of overseeing the cult of Elagabalus. He was highly admired for his beauty and charm, and people gathered to watch him perform rituals and dances at the altars, accompanied by the sound of flutes and pipes. Among the spectators were also soldiers, as the Third Gallic Legion had a camp near Emesa. Some soldiers were clients of Julia Maesa and enjoyed her patronage. Rumors spread among the troops that Bassianus was the son of Caracalla, and that Julia Maesa would reward them handsomely if they helped restore her family to power.

After much discussion, the legionnaires agreed to proclaim Bassianus as emperor. One night, Julia Maesa's clients allowed her and her daughters to enter the camp with their grandchildren. The assembled soldiers immediately draped Bassianus in a purple cloak and declared him Emperor Antoninus. When Macrinus was informed of this in Antioch, he sent troops to suppress the Gallic Legion, but they immediately switched sides and joined Antoninus. Macrinus fled, and on June 8, 218, he met the rebels at the border of Phoenicia. A fierce battle ensued, but before a winner could be determined, Macrinus fled. His legions joined Antoninus, and Macrinus was eventually killed.

Reign as Emperor

Once his position was confirmed, Antoninus, now known as Elagabalus, was brought to Rome by Julia Maesa in 219. The people enthusiastically welcomed the new emperor, placing their hopes on him. However, his behavior soon caused confusion and outrage among the population.

From the very beginning, Elagabalus made it clear that he intended to continue serving his god as before. A temple for Elagabalus was built on the Palatine Hill near the palace, which was to become the main sanctuary in Rome. All the revered objects of worship, including the Phrygian Mother Goddess, the eternal flame of Vesta, the Palladium, and sacred shields, were moved there. Elagabalus wanted only his god to be worshipped in the capital. He even suggested transferring Jewish and Christian religious ceremonies to the temple of Elagabalus, so that his priesthood could hold control over all cults. He referred to all other gods as servants of his god, calling them his bed companions and slaves.

Simultaneously, the emperor indulged in various excesses and debaucheries. He danced ecstatically around the statue of his god, refused to wear Roman clothes, preferring extravagant barbarian attire, adorned himself with golden purple fabrics, necklaces, and bracelets, and even wore makeup and colored his eyes. Every morning, he sacrificed and offered hundreds of cattle and a large number of small animals at the altars, accompanied by various incenses, and poured amphorae of very old, excellent wine in front of the altars. Then he engaged in a wild dance to the sound of cymbals and tambourines, accompanied by women from his tribe, while horsemen and senators stood around watching as spectators.

Elagabalus did not hesitate to offer human sacrifices, slaughtering several prominent and beautiful boys in honor of Elagabalus. He also coerced many to participate in his orgies, which disgusted and outraged the Romans. Special envoys were sent to public baths to find people with large genitals and bring them to the palace so that the emperor could engage in sexual activities with them. He appointed his lovers, people of low status, as consuls, prefects, governors, and military commanders. His Praetorian Prefect was a dancer named Eutychian, the head of his guard was a charioteer named Cordius, and the head of the supply department was a barber named Claudius. Elagabalus openly performed acts that his predecessors had done in secret, in front of many people. He publicly showed affection to his lovers, such as kissing Gyracles on the groin when they met.

In 221, Elagabalus declared a Vestal Virgin, whose sacred duty was to maintain virginity for life, as his wife. This was his second marriage, and like the first, he soon sent her away to marry a third wife. In the end, Elagabalus married his lover, a charioteer named Zoticus, openly as a woman. Zoticus held immense influence throughout Elagabalus' reign.

Downfall and Death

The emperor's extravagance and outrageous behavior reached such extreme levels that he never wore the same clothes or jewelry twice. Some even claim that he never bathed twice in the same bath, ordering them to be destroyed after use. He defecated only in golden vessels, bathed exclusively in ponds filled with fragrant ointments or saffron essence, and ordered Indian incense to be burned to warm his apartments, without the use of charcoal. His banquets surpassed even those of Vitellius. Lentils were served with gold balls, beans with amber, and rice with white pearls. Fish were sprinkled with pearls and truffles instead of pepper. His dogs were fed with goose liver, and his horses' mangers were filled with grapes from Anamia.

Witnessing all this, and suspecting that the soldiers disliked such a lifestyle, Julia Maesa convinced Elagabalus to declare his cousin Alexianus, another of her grandsons from the second daughter of Maesa, as Caesar and co-ruler. In 221, Elagabalus adopted his younger cousin under the name Alexander. However, he soon regretted this decision as the nobility and soldiers turned their attention to Alexander and placed their hopes in him, seeing him as a well-educated and sensible young man. Elagabalus attempted to take away Alexander's title of Caesar, but the soldiers were outraged by this, and Elagabalus, fearing for his life, took Alexander in his litter and went to the Praetorian camp. He seemingly wanted to reconcile with the troops, but upon seeing how enthusiastically the legionnaires greeted his co-ruler, he became furious once again. He ordered the arrest of those who warmly welcomed Alexander and punished them as instigators of rebellion.

Outraged by this order, the soldiers attacked the emperor, killing him and his mother. Their bodies were allowed to be dragged and dishonored by anyone who wished. They were paraded throughout the city before being disfigured and thrown into the sewer waters of the Tiber. Alexander was proclaimed emperor.