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One of the Worst by Joseph Kleinman

In my last submission I shared some historical information associated with the Emperor Nero. Nero although by no means a sweetheart nevertheless had some redeeming qualities. This time I will introduce an individual who in my opinion was one of the worst emperors to ever govern the Roman Empire. He is known by the name Elagabalus. Elagabalus, however, is not his name — it is the name of the god he worshipped. The name he took after becoming emperor was Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, after one of the most pious and good emperors. This particular individual was a boy of 14 when his grandmother Julia Mesea, related to the Emperor Septimius Severus, initiated a coup against the then Emperor Macrinus. These events accord in AD 218. Once becoming emperor he and his family journeyed to Rome arriving in July of 219. Once there he began a career of vice and cruelty which deeply offended the more conservative Romans. Among his more outrageous offences was his marriage to three different women of the patrician class one of whom was a Vestal Virgin. One of his wives was a noble women Anna Faustina who was of the house of Marcus Aurelius and was reported to be between 35 and 45 years of age. So vile and gross were his amusements that they cannot be related in a publication of this nature but can be accessed by reading the ancient historians, one of whom is Dio Cassius. The 19th century historian S.W. Stevenson called Elagabalus “the most cruel and infamous wretch that ever disgraced humanity and polluted a throne.” As a consequence of his well deserved unpopularity, his grandmother persuaded him to declare his cousin Severus Alexander as Caesar. The young Alexander soon became popular with the army and Elagabalus tried on several occasions to have him assassinated. Finally in the year 222 the Praetorian Guard placed Alexander under their protection and murdered their emperor and his mother and threw their bodies into the River Tiber to the general rejoicing of the Roman World.

The coin is a Silver Denarius showing the emperor’s bust and the naked figure of the sun god whom he worshipped.

Photo credits: Alan van Arsdale and Dave Surber of WildWinds.
Click on photo to enlarge.