Elagabalus

Reece Period attributed: Period 10

Obverse image of a coin of Elagabalus

Member of the The Severans dynasty.

Coins for this issuer were issued from 218 until 222.

Varitus Avitus Bassianus was born in AD 203 or 204, in Syria. He rose to power when 14, because his mother claimed he was Caracalla’s illegitimate child and the army believed her. His mother and grandmother ultimately ran affairs, but Elagabalus was the iconic emperor.

Reportedly beautiful, Elagabalus was the chief priest of the eponymous Syrian sun-god. He attempted to introduce this cult to Rome, even bringing with him the huge stone which represented the god and building it a temple near the Colosseum. Elagabalus also had notorious sexual appetites for both men and women, and promised a huge reward to any doctor who could perform a sex-change operation. He married at least three women within four years. Eventually, the Roman army and senate could no longer respect Elagabalus, and the women behind his administration began quarrelling. He adopted the future Alexander Severus in an attempt to legitimize his power, but the Praetorian Guards murdered Elagabalus and his mother anyway.

Elagabalus had large eyes and a youthful, underdeveloped face. He tended to wear gold or purple tunics, and at times a female diadem.

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Record: SF-02D007
Object type: COIN
Broadperiod: ROMAN
Description: A silver plated contemporary copy of a den…
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Record: NMS-5FC8F7
Object type: COIN
Broadperiod: ROMAN
Description: Worn silver denarius of Elagabalus (A…
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Record: OXON-2835B9
Object type: COIN
Broadperiod: ROMAN
Description: An incomplete silver Roman denarius of Ela…
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Record: PUBLIC-1FBE01
Object type: COIN
Broadperiod: ROMAN
Description: A silver plated contemporary copy of a Rom…
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Information from Wikipedia

  • Preferred label: Elagabalus
  • Full names:
    • Elagabalus
  • Title: Consul of the Roman Empire
  • Predecessor: Macrinus
  • Successor: Severus Alexander
  • Definition: Elagabalus ( EL-ə-GAB-ə-ləs) or Heliogabalus ( HEE-lee-ə-, -⁠lee-oh-; c. 204 – 11 March 222) was Roman emperor from 218 to 222. A member of the Severan dynasty, he was the second son of Julia Soaemias and Sextus Varius Marcellus. In his early youth he served the god Elagabalus as a priest in Emesa, Syria, the hometown of his mother's family, the Arab priest-king Emesan dynasty. As a private citizen, he was probably named Sextus Varius Avitus Bassianus. Upon becoming emperor he took the name Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus. He was called Elagabalus only after his death. In 217, the emperor Caracalla was assassinated and replaced by his Praetorian prefect, Marcus Opellius Macrinus. Caracalla's maternal aunt, Julia Maesa, successfully instigated a revolt among the Third Legion to have her eldest grandson (and Caracalla's cousin), Elagabalus, declared emperor in his place. Macrinus was defeated on 8 June 218 at the Battle of Antioch. Elagabalus, barely 14 years old, became emperor, initiating a reign remembered mainly for sex scandals and religious controversy. Later historians suggest Elagabalus showed a disregard for Roman religious traditions and sexual taboos. He replaced the traditional head of the Roman pantheon, Jupiter, with the deity Elagabalus, of whom he had been high priest. He forced leading members of Rome's government to participate in religious rites celebrating this deity, over which he personally presided. Elagabalus was supposedly "married" as many as five times, and lavished favours on male courtiers popularly thought to have been his lovers. He was also reported to have prostituted himself in the imperial palace. His behavior estranged the Praetorian Guard, the Senate, and the common people alike. Amidst growing opposition, Elagabalus, just 18 years old, was assassinated and replaced by his cousin Severus Alexander on 11 March 222, who ruled for 13 years before his own assassination, which marked the epoch event for the Crisis of the Third Century. The assassination plot against Elagabalus was devised by his grandmother, Julia Maesa, and carried out by disaffected members of the Praetorian Guard. Elagabalus developed a reputation among his contemporaries for extreme eccentricity, decadence, and zealotry. This tradition has persisted, and with writers of the early modern age he suffers one of the worst reputations among Roman emperors. Edward Gibbon, for example, wrote that Elagabalus "abandoned himself to the grossest pleasures with ungoverned fury". According to Barthold Georg Niebuhr, "The name Elagabalus is branded in history above all others" because of his "unspeakably disgusting life". An example of a modern historian's assessment would be Adrian Goldsworthy's: "Elagabalus was not a tyrant, but he was an incompetent, probably the least able emperor Rome had ever had." Elagabalus is considered by some to be an early transgender figure and one of the first on record as seeking sex reassignment surgery.
  • Parents:
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    • Other title(s):
      • List of Roman emperors
      • Consul of the Roman Empire
    • Came After:
      • Came before:
        • Oclatinia (gens)
        • Macrinus
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