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Heliogabalus

The name adopted by Varius Avitus Bassianus, Roman emperor (218-222)

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* Published by Encyclopedia Press, 1913.


Heliogabalus (ELAGABAL), the name adopted by Varius Avitus Bassianus, Roman emperor (218-222), born of a Syrian family and a grandnephew of Julia Domna, the consort of Emperor Septimius Severus. When Emperor Caracalla had fallen a victim to a conspiracy of his officers at Carrhae in 217, the praetorian prefect, M. Opellius Macrinus, seized the reins of power. Empress Julia Domna committed suicide; her sister, Julia Maesa, was exiled to Emesa with her daughters and her eldest grandchild, Avitus Bassianus. The latter was appointed priest of the sun-god Elagabal, whose name he adopted. A report was then spread among the soldiers in Syria, that Elagabalus was a son of Caracalla, and by appointment the fifteen-year-old youth betook himself to the Roman camp in 218, and allowed himself to be elected emperor on May 16 by the soldiers. He received the official name of M. Aurelius Antoninus in recognition of the general desire to pay a tribute to the memory of the glorious Antonine. A rising in favor of Macrinus failed, as well as his attempt to win over the soldiers and the inhabitants of Rome by bribery. An important battle, fought on the borders of Syria and Phoenicia to the east of Antioch, was decided in favor of Heliogabalus; the troops of Macrinus, bribed by money and promises, joined the army of his opponent, while Macrinus himself was put to death during the flight. Heliogabalus lived in Rome as an oriental despot and, giving himself up to detestable sensual pleasures, degraded the imperial office to the lowest point by most shameful vices, which had their origin in certain rites of oriental naturalistic religion. His mother Soaemias and his grandmother Julia Maesa, who also took part in the sessions of the Senate, exercised a controlling influence over Heliogabalus. A conical, black, meteoric stone from Emesa served as the idol of the sun-god, which Heliogabalus married to the Syrian moon-goddess Astarte, introduced from Carthage, and whose high-priest became pontifex maximus of Rome. This led to the greatest religious confusion and disintegration among the pagans in the city, the Christians affording a marked contrast in the manner in which they maintained the integrity of their faith. Influenced by his grandmother, the emperor adopted his so far uncorrupted twelve-year-old cousin Aurelius Alexander, and assigned him the title of Caesar. The repeated attempts of Heliogabalus to encompass his cousin's death were always frustrated by the soldiers. In a mutiny in favor of Alexander (March 11, 222) Heliogabalus was murdered, together with his mother.

KARL HOEBER


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