Top 10 facts about Elagabalus

Ancient Rome has major contributions to evolve language, religion, law, art, and government. Besides, architecture and socio-economic culture make Ancient Rome even more fascinating to know.

However, when it comes to the chase of the Roman throne, the melodrama starts all of a sudden. Every empire might have experienced dramatic changes over the throne. But the Roman Empire was supreme to withdraw and establish emperors in ancient times.

Anyway, if anyone asks about the weirdest Roman Emperors in the past, Elagabalus will come on the top. Here are the top 10 crazy facts about Elagabalus, which can startle your mind.

10. Elagabalus wasn’t born to the emperor’s family but a priest.

Elagabalus family tree
Elagabalus family tree

Elagabalus was born Varius Avitus Bassianus in 204 A.D. at Emesa in Syria, a province of Rome. His parents were Sextus Varius Marcellus and Julia Soaemias Bassiana. His father was a former senator under Emperor Caracalla. At the same time, his mother was a niece of Septimius Severus’s second wife, Julia Domna.

Elagabalus’s family had adopted the hereditary rights to the priesthood of the sun god Elagabal. Elagabalus was the high priest of the sun god Elagabal at Emesa in Roman Syria.

Later, Varius Avitus Bassianus became Elagabalus by adopting the name of the god Elagabal. The word “Elagabalus” symbolizes a Latinized version of the Arabic Ilāh ha-Gaba. It means the god of the mountain.

Elagabalus later imported the god Elagabal to Rome. There He assimilated with the sun god known as “Sol Indiges.

Though Elagabalus was from a priest background, he eventually became the Roman Emperor.

9. Elagabalus was the youngest Roman emperor ever.

Elagabalus, the youngest Roman Emperor
Elagabalus, the youngest Roman Emperor

Before Elagabalus, Macrinus was the Roman emperor. To succeed as emperor, Macrinus had recently assassinated Caracalla. However, Macrinus couldn’t hold the throne for long.

During his reign, Macrinus had banished Julia Maesa, her two daughters, and her eldest grandson Elagabalus. He felt these people be a threat to his reign.

When Julia Maesa returned to Syria, she plotted to overthrow Macrinus from power. For that, she took help from Gannys, who was Elagabalus’s tutor and adviser.

Maesa started spreading rumors that Elagabalus was the illegitimate child of Caracalla. For that, she bribed soldiers of the Third Legion Gallica at Raphana.

On May 16, 218 A.D., Elagabalus was smuggled into the Third Legion’s camp. Later, the Roman commander Comazon declared Elagabalus emperor.

On June 8, 218 A.D., the recently made Roman commander, Gannys, defeated Macrinus and his forces. Macrinus failed to cross the Bosporus at Cappadocia and escape Rome. Along with this, his nine-year son, Diadumenianus, died. And in no time, Macrinus was also killed.

After Macrinus’ death, the claim that Elagabalus was Caracalla’s son was approved. The Roman Senate later declared Elagabalus as Roman Emperor officially.

By the time Elagabalus was only fourteen and became the youngest to ever sit on the throne of the Roman Empire. He remained on the throne for four years.

8. Elagabalus married three women and a man.

Julia Cornelia Paula - Elagabalus first wife
Julia Cornelia Paula – Elagabalus first wife

Elagabalus’ reign remained only for four years. But he divorced multiple times and didn’t stop marrying until he gathered three women and a man.

Julia Cornelia Paula was Elagabalus’ first wife, whom he married before August 29, 219. And on August 28, 220, he divorced Paula.

His second wife was Julia Aquilia Severa, who was Vestal Virgin earlier. But Elagabalus raped and married her in the hope of producing godlike children.

After divorcing Aquilia Severa, Annia Aurelia Faustina became Elagabalus’ third wife. She was a descendant of Marcus Aurelius and the widow of Pomponius Bassus. Elagabalus married her after executing Pomponius.

However, in the last year of Elagabalus’ reign, he divorced Annia Faustina and remarried Aquilia Severa. Elagabalus married three women but produced no children from any of them.

Elagabalus’ sexual orientation was something confusing. Not only did he have an interest in women but also men. With that, he fell for Hierocles, an ex-slave and chariot driver from Caria. He supposedly married Hierocles.

The “Augustan History” also claims that Elagabalus had married a man named Zoticus. Zotius was an athlete from Smyrna. However, Dio claimed that Zoticus was his cubicularius. Whether Elagabalus married Hierocles or Zoticus, it is proved that he was epicene.

7. Elagabalus dressed like a woman where he sold himself as a prostitute.

Elagabalus dressed as a woman
Elagabalus dressed as a woman

Elagabalus was still a teenager and didn’t bother to attend the state matters. Before the end of his teenage, Elagabalus had already married three women. But he couldn’t have found sexual satisfaction.

Elagabalus showed little interest in any of his wives as his tastes preferred the company of men. According to Dio, Elagabalus delighted in being called Hierocles’s mistress, wife, and queen. 

Elagabalus’ taste diverted frequently. He liked to dress like a woman. He would love to paint his eyes and rouge his cheeks and was depilated all over his body. He also wore makeup and wigs, preferred to be called a lady and not a lord. To feel like a woman, Elagabalus offered to any physician who could provide him with a vagina.

His madness was at its highest pick that led him to think even to castrating himself. But to consecrate his priesthood, he confined himself to circumcision only.

Elagabalus was not only a female impersonator but also a bisexual. He always loved to be around young boys and bore the marks on his body, getting thrashed by his lovers.

Historians say that Elagabalus visited brothels frequently. He drove out to the prostitutes and sold himself like a prostitute.

He even separated a room for himself to commit his indecencies inside his palace. There Elagabalus stood nude at the door of the room. Besides, Elagabalus had created public baths to collect men for him.

6. Elagabalus enforced worship of his favorite god.

Elagabalus Temple -- Palatine Hill
Elagabalus Temple — Palatine Hill

Elagabalus didn’t stop his priesthood even after he became the Roman Empire. His grandmother tried to stop it by marrying him to Julia Cornelia Paula. But after marrying his first wife, he ended up making a queue of women one after another.

Elagabalus was always trapped in controversy for his marriage and his religious acts.

Elagabalus was the high priest of the deity Elagabal, a phallic-oriented cult. Elagabal was the sun god who was worshiped in the form of a great, black meteorite.

When Elagabalus became Roman emperor, he tried to install the Syrian cult in Rome. He built a temple on Rome’s Palatine Hill for his god. There he placed Elagabal’s black relic in a chariot decorated with gold and precious stones.

After establishing his favorite god, Elagabalus forced Romans to worship it. He planned to change the traditional Roman religion. Even he wanted to replace Jupiter, the king of the gods, with Elagabal.

5. The transgender practice was tolerated in Elagabalus’ reign.

A portrait of the Roman Emperor, Elagabalus parading
A portrait of the Roman Emperor, Elagabalus parading

Transgender behavior existed before and Elagabalus’ reign, and it was normal in Rome. The Roman populace even respected it. The perfect example of it was the behavior of the male-born priestesses of Cybele, known as the Gallae.

People with strong cross-gender identification celebrated a castration ceremony. There, men would lose their genitalia, bleed like in menstruation or childbirth.

Those who had emotions of the opposite gender could seek out the local Gallae temple to Cybele. They also would have them castrated to please her goddess.

A radical transgender and religious experiment became stronger since Elagabalus’ reign.

4. Elagabalus had created the Women’s Senate.

A parade for Elagabalus
A parade for Elagabalus

Elagabalus received a great contribution from his family, especially from female members. Elagabalus’ mother, Julia Soaemis, and his grandmother, Julia Maesa, were strong contestants.

From the beginning, they helped Elagabalus. Elagabalus wouldn’t be the emperor if his grandmother didn’t help him.

While Elagabalus became the emperor, he was only fourteen. He was unaware of his state activities. There his mothers and grandmothers helped Elagabalus through administrative affairs. His grandmother especially took control of every decision.

Elagabalus had granted his mother and grandmother the title of Augusta. He also permitted them to attend sessions of the Senate. Their influential role could be seen on many coins and inscriptions, a rare honor for Roman women.

Before Elagabalus, women weren’t allowed to enter the Senate. But Elagabalus allowed his mother and grandmother. Elagabalus supposedly built the Women’s Senate.

3. Elagabalus was rumored to sacrifice children to his god.

Elagabalus unique portrait
Elagabalus unique portrait

Killing humans was nothing but a game for Ancient Roman emperors. When it came to the sacrifice based on religion, assassination became simply easy. It didn’t matter what age the victims were.

As a priest, Elagabalus would sacrifice children in honor of his god. He collected the children of noble birth and beautiful appearance from Italy.

Then, Elagabalus performed his rites and magical chants on these children. He finally killed them to thank his god. While performing rites, he would examine the children’s vitals and harm them physically.

Besides, Elagabalus also slaughtered several cattle and sheep to sacrifice to his god. After killing these animals, he laid them on the altars and drenched them with the finest wines. Then, Elagabalus would dance around the altar to the sound of cymbals, flutes, and drums.

To perform a sacrifice, he wore very expensive silken clothes embroidered with gold. He despised wearing Greek and Roman clothes as they were made of wool, a cheap material.

2. Elagabalus pranked people by siccing animals on them.

Elagabalus
Elagabalus

Elagabalus supposedly invented the “Whoopee cushion” during his reign. With this cuisine, Elagabalus invited people to have dinner with him.

When they would come, Elagabalus started making practical jokes on them. It wasn’t something that normal people did. He had tamed animals such as lions and leopards.

At the end of dinner parties, Elagabalus let the beasts inside the party venue. There he tried to drive them closer to guests during the dessert course. Such incidents made guests and guards fed up easily.

Elagabalus had several other acts to disturb people. Once, he collected a ton of smokes and let it loose in the crowd, making them suffocate. Whenever people gathered for frequent games, Elagabalus busted such things.

To increase his tyranny, he drove chariots driven by exotic animals like camels or elephants in the street. Because of Elagabalus’ notorious habit, people felt scared walking in the street.

1. Elagabalus was assassinated by his grandmother.

Roman Emperor Elagabalus
Roman Emperor Elagabalus

Due to his obsession with his religion and sexual orientation, Elagabalus became infamous. Elagabalus was also tagged as the rejected ruler.

It didn’t take much time to consider that Elagabalus was an unsuited emperor for Roman Empire. He would spend his time dancing around the altar of the temple of Egabal. If not, he would buy gold chamber pots and exotic foods.

Elagabalus never bothered to discuss state matters and development. He was very careless in the matter of the empire. He would appoint the officers based on the size of their genitals.

When Elagabalus couldn’t bear any child, he was forced to announce his heir. That time his thirteen-year-old cousin Bassianus Alexanus, the son of Julia Mamaea. Bassianus had assumed the title of Caesar.

When he found his cousin a threat to his throne, he started planning to execute Alexanus. As a result, the family got divided. Julia Soaemis supported her son, Elagabalus. On the other, Julia Maesa and Julia Mamaea stood behind Alexanus.

Julia Maesa had already bribed Praetorian Guards. When Elagabalus ordered the execution of Alexanus, guards didn’t follow him. They supported Alexanus, led by Julia Maesa instead.

On March 13, 222 A.D., Elagabalus and his mother Julia Soaemis were executed on the order of Julia Maesa. Elagabalus and his mother were beheaded, dragged through the streets of Rome. Later they were dumped into the Tiber. Elagabalus was only eighteen when he died.

Conclusion

Elagabalus was the Roman emperor who earned the throne in his teenage. He filled his life with several religious controversies and sexual scandals. His short reign only remained a stigma in Roman history.

His transgender behavior was something that historians have debated frequently. It also pierces me to seek more information. Have you found anything that needs further to explore about Elagabalus? Check out the comment box.

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