Monday, 27 June 2005

Emperor Elagabalus; the Teenage Pervert



When the emperor Caracalla was murdered in 217, the fourteen-year-old Elagabalus succeeded him. He only ruled for 4 years, but in that short period of time he commited a variety of grotesque and debauched acts, enough to make Caligula and Commodus seem rather plain.

His real name was Bassianus but as he developed an intense interest in worshippng the Syrian god Elagabal, became High Priest of the cult and so had his name changed to Elagabalus. To honor his god, he demanded that hundereds of cattle were slaughtered daily on huge sacrificial altars. He had a temple built on the Palatine Hill and ordered the Romans to worship a statue of a giant phallus, which didn't go down very well at all...
Eventually he decided he was the god embodied. He started to wear women's clothes and make-up, implored his surgeons to cut his penis off and make him a vagina and when they said tehy could not do this he settled for circumcision. His body is said to have been very effeminate and he had a multitude of male companions. At some point it is said that he "married" a freedman called Hierocles and called him his husband.
As well as being a transvestite and obviously rather confused, Elagabalus was also a masochist, arrabging for his lovers to catch him cheating on them so that they would beat the living daylights out of him, therefore giving him even more pleasure. His body was permanently covered with bruises and marks left from these beatings. Cassius Dio informs us:

"...he would go to taverns by night wearing a wig, and there ply the trade of a female prostitute. He frequented the notorious brothels, drove out the prostitutes and played the prostitude himself. he finally set a aside a room in the palace, and there committed his indecencies, always standing nude at teh door of the room...while in a soft and melting voice he solicited the passers by."

He had a public bath built in the palace, so he could go there and pick out the men with the biggest penises.
In 220 A.D. he raped a Vestal Virgin and forced her to marry him. This for the Romans was a terrible thing to do.
His cruelty also had no limits. Once he ordered a servant to fetch him a big packet of cobwebs and when the unfortunate man turned up empty handed, he had him locked up in a cage and eaten alive by hundreds of starving rats.
Elagabalus loved to pin his enemies to the wall and stick hot pokers into them, peel their skin off and dip them in salt.... *cringe*
He ordered mass human sacrifices of young boys and girls to satisfy his god and whenever he entered Rome he demanded that his priests meet him with golden bowls full of children's intestines..

On the 11th March 222 the people had had enough. They hunted him down and in a toilet where he had saught refuge and stabbed him to death. He was 18. His friends were mutilated and impaled.

11 comments:

lenin said...

I've rarely met a teenager who *isn't* a pervert.

Rym Rytr said...

I was instantly aware of how much that "bust" facially resembles Bob Denver, the Star of "Giligan's Island". :o)

John Doom said...

I'm always impressed with the new things I learn from your blog...
You rule.

Aginoth said...

What a nasty piece of work...

Alterior said...

Yes, the phrase "good riddance" is really well deserved for this guy. :-))

Anonymous said...

I imagine rape was a terrible thing to do for any culture.

Alterior said...

I was not refering to the act of rape. The Romans were outraged at the rape of a Vestal Virgin. The Vestal Virgins were supposed to remain virgins all their life, dedicated to the goddess Vesta. If they broke this rule the penalty was to be buried alive. Roman attitudes to rape were very much dependant on who was being raped. A Vestal Virgin or a lady of the aristocracy being raped was seen as outrageous, whereas the rape of a subordinate or slave was not something anyone was shocked about in Ancient Roman society.

Nick said...

Wasn't he the chap with the unfeasible orgy story? Apparently he decided to give his orgiasts a special treat by showering them with rose petals. Unfortunately, he overdid it with the petals & released a torrent of them from a false ceiling in the palace . . . which smothered the party-goers under a layer of petals seven feet deep. They all suffocated. Must've been an interesting way to go . . .

Light said...

Heh. Elagabalus was definitely a new low, and I'm always rather surprised he doesn't get as much publicity as Caligula when it comes to the "bad emperors".

I seem to recall he was followed by another Syrian emperor, Alexander Severus, who was as ineffectual as Elagabalus was extreme. That said, I think there is a case to be made for saying that, by this point in the Empire, the emperor was just a figurehead who was used by whomever his backers were. How else can one explain the likes of Elagabalus? It was only with the coming of Constantine that any measure of authority was truly exercised by an Emperor. And even that only last because of the splitting of East and West.

Alterior said...

Yes, Constantine the Great was a crucial figure in the continuation of the Roman Empire. He was the one who decided to move the capital from Rome to Byzantium.

Elagabalus doesn't get as much attention as Caligula, primarily because he was just a silly teenager and not of Julio Claudian decent. Like commodus, his ancestors were not of great interest to scholars. Of course, if Suetonius had written about him I have no doubt that we would have heard more of him...

kim said...

That was very useful for my project. Although I see you've made small spelling mistakes like "worshipping", "they", and "arrangin". But aside from that nice job!