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Roman Empire

Ruler: Elagabalus
Reigned: 218 - 222 AD
Denomination: AR Denarius
Mint: Rome
Date of Issue: 220-222 AD
Obverse: Laureate, draped bust right. "IMP. ANTONINVS PIVS AVG."
Reverse: Abundance standing left, emptying cornucopiae. Star in field left. "ABVNDANTIA AVG."
Reference: RCV 2091, RSC 1b, RCVM 7501, RIC 56
Weight: 3.2 gms
Diameter: 18 mm

ELAGABALUS (Varius Avitus Bassianus)

  • Elagabalus was born Varius Avitus Bassianus, in 205 A.D. at Emesa in Syria, the son of Julia Soaemias and Sextus Varius Marcellus, a Syrian who had risen to the rank of senator under Caracalla. He was the grandson of Julia Maesa, younger sister of Julia Domna, wife of Septimius Severus. Avitus was hereditary high priest of the syrian god Elagabal.
  • The plan to make Avitus emperor came from Gannys, his mother's lover, who took the two of them under cover of darkness to the camp of the Third Legion 'Gallica' and had him acclaimed emperor by the troops on 16th May 218.
  • The rebels defeated the troops loyal to Macrinus, the reigning emperor, with victory outside Antioch on 8th June 218 which led to the recognition of Elagabalus as emperor.
  • In the spring of 219, Elagabalus set off for Rome from Nicomedia taking with him the black stone, cult symbol of the god Elagabalus, from the temple at Emesa, whence it was installed on the Palatine Hill in a new temple called the Elagaballium.
  • Elagabalus set himself up as high priest of the new religion, to the detriment of Rome's traditional gods.
  • Soon after his arrival in Rome in 219 he had married Julia Cornelia Paula, a lady of distinguished family. In 220 he divorced her and married Julia Aquilia Severa, a Vestal Virgin. This enraged the Roman citizens, as this was against the law and tradition, which held that any Vestal found guilty of sexual intercourse should be buried alive.
  • As well as his religious mania, Elagabalus also indulged in extravagant sexual practices with both men and women.
  • Elagabalus was also criticised for his appointment of men of humble origin to important positions of state, such as, Publius Valerius Comazon, who was appointed commander of the praetorian guard in 218, and whose family were dancers or actors.
  • The army was not impressed and there were rebellions during his reign by the Third and Fourth Legions, but they failed.
  • In 221, Elagabalus was persuaded to adopt his cousin Bassianus Alexianus, a boy of 13, as Caesar and heir. They became rivals for power, with Elagabalus's mother, Julia Soaemias, supporting him and Alexander being supported by his mother Julia Mamaea and grandmother Julia Maesa.
  • Elagabalus tried to have his cousin murdered, and on 11th March 222, during a visit to the praetorian camp, the emperor became enraged at the soldiers who would not obey his orders and tried to have them punished. Instead he himself was killed and his body with that of his mother were dragged naked around the streets of Rome, and thrown into the Tiber
  • The new emperor was Bassianus Alexianus - Severus Alexander.

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