Elagabalus (Queen of Rome) In 217AD the notoriously cruel and rapacious Emperor Caracalla was murdered by a a bodyguard whilst urinating at a roadside. He was succeeded as Emperor by the Prefect of the Praetorian Guard, Marcus Opellius Macrinus, who was almost certainly in on the assassination plot. Aware that he had no rightful claim to the throne, Macrinus sent into exile the remaining members of the Imperial Family, to avoid any plots against him or attempts at vengeance on their part. He did not succeed. Julia Maesa, the murdered Emperor Caracalla's maiden aunt, immediately set about using her immense wealth to bribe the Legions into supporting the claim to the throne of her grandson, Elagabalus. Conspiring with her grandson's tutor, the eunuch Gannys, they together persuaded the commander of the Third Legion, Publius Valerius Comazon, to openly declare for her grandson. The conspiracy soon grew and troops sent by Macrinus to crush the rebellion simply changed sides. A furious Macrinus now led his armies East in person. But his troops could not be relied upon attracted as they were by the great wealth on offer for their support. In the ensuing Battle of Antioch, Macrinus was defeated and killed. The outcome was particularly satisfying for Julia Maesa, who hated Macrinus for having previously executed her sister. The day following the death of Macrinus, 9 June, 218AD, Elagabalus was declared Emperor. He was just fourteen.
Elagabalus, whose real name was Varius Ativus Bassianus, though Phoenician by birth and raised in the Syrian city of Emesa, was a scion of the Severan clan. He was also the hereditary High Priest of the religion of the Sun God El-Gabal (Baal) from whom he took the name Elagabalus. From the outset his reign as Emperor was mired in controversy. He imposed his new religion on the people of Rome, renaming it Deus Sol Invictus. The supreme God Jupiter was replaced and every summer the new God was celebrated in a festival during which Elagabalus handed out free food to the people of Rome. The people loved him for it but the establishment never forgave him. He only reinforced their resentment when he removed all Rome's holy relics from their shrines and housed them instead in the newly created Elagabalium where the Black Stone of El-Gabal was housed so that only the one religion could be worshipped. Soon after arriving in Rome he outraged society by marrying the Vestal Virgin Aquilia Severa. This broke all taboos and Roman law. A Vestal Virgin was expected to remain so all her life. If she broke her vows and had sex then the punishment was that she should be buried alive. Any man who besmirched a Vestal Virgin was to be executed. Elagabalus was indeed to be married five times, but he had no sexual interest in women. The great love of his life was the blond charioteer and slave, Hierocles, whom he liked to refer to as his husband; and he delighted in being called, "the mistress, the wife, the Queen of Hierocles". He made no attempt to hide his sexuality and as his behaviour became increasingly outrageous so did the offence it caused. In a great public ceremony he married a male athlete named Zoticus. He would become angry when accused of wearing too much make-up. The historian Cassius Dio (a contemporary) wrote of him: "Elagabalus would paint his eyes, epilate his hair, and wear wigs before prostituting himself in the
taverns and brothels". "Finally, he set aside a room in the Palace and there committed his indecencies, always standing nude at the door of the room, as the harlots do, and shaking the curtain which hung from gold rings, while in a soft and melting voice he solicited the passers-by". He also had a masochistic streak and liked to play a game where he would be caught having sex by a boyfriend who would then beat and whip him for his adultery. It was often remarked upon how bruised his body would be. He was also known for his cruelty and delighted in finding new ways of torturing and killing people. He would peel the skin from his victims and then rub salt into the wounds; or have his victims placed in a cage to be eaten alive by wild animals. He could be extremely capricious and was known to execute those who would not subscribe to his view of himself as the Queen of Rome. He offered a fortune to any doctor who could provide him with female genitalia. Publius Valerius Comazon, who had been effectively running the Empire from his position as Consul while Elagabalus indulged himself, tried to get the young Emperor to moderate his behaviour, but to no avail. He soon lost all respect; the Legions were in turmoil, the Praetorian Guard wanted rid of him. Julia Maesa, who had been pivotal in Elagabalus ascending to the throne, now changed her mind. Worried that the Praetorian Guard might take things into their own hands she now turned to her other grandson, the thirteen year old Alexander Severus. She persuaded Elagabalus to shower him with honours, make him Consul, and name him his designated successor. Elagabalus's mother, however, Julia Soaemias, who had been behind the religious changes, could see that this was an attempt to replace him as Emperor. Elagabalus soon stripped his cousin Severus of all his honours and titles and revoked his Consulship. Believing that the Praetorian Guard preferred his cousin over himself he decided to test the water. He had the rumour spread that Severus had been injured in a fall and was near death. It was a catastrophic mistake. Riots broke out throughout the city. The Praetorian Guard refused to restore order instead insisting that Elagabalus present himself before them along with his mother and Severus. Elagabalus complied with their demands. On 11 March, 222AD, Elagabalus arrived at the Praetorian Guard's Camp. He was given a frosty reception, the appearance of his cousin, however, was greeted with applause and outbreaks of cheering. Furious, Elagabalus ordered the summary execution of all those who had cheered his cousin. Instead the Praetorians turned on the Emperor and attacked him and his mother, who fled in panic. They did not get far. Chased into a toilet, Julia Soaemias held her son in a tight embrace, so tight they had to be physically parted. His last words were "let my mother be" before both were decapitated. Their bodies were then stripped naked and dragged through the streets of Rome before being tossed into the River Tiber. Those close to Elagabalus were also hunted down and killed in an orgy of violence, including Comazon, Hierocles, and Zoticus.