(Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus, ca. 203 – 11 March 222) The reason I have picked him as a subject for a post is because in all honesty I do rather love the whacky people! He was also known as Heliogabalus and in his youth before becoming Emperor he served as a priest of the god Elagabal (Elagabalus) a name he was to be given after his death, but before he was emperor he was most likely known as Sextus Varius Avitus as a citizen.
Thanks to the complicated and crazy politics he was made emperor by the age of 14 and the reign of sexual scandal and religious controversy began. The hostile records of his enemies paint the picture of a very rebellious man, he replaced the head of the Roman Pantheon, Jupiter, with the diety of which he had been priest. (This is hardly shocking when you consider Henry VIII gave us the Church of England).
He was married as many as five times, he also gave favours to male courtiers who were thought to have been his lovers and had a penchant for employing whoopee cushions at dinner parties. It was also reported he had prostituted himself in the Imperial Palace!
Four years later the eccentric was assassinated and replaced by his cousin, Alexander Severus on 11th March 222. Of course most of the claims about his decadent life are likely very exaggerated but this only leads to more interest about a young man who seemingly enjoyed four years of opulence and orgies.
The political ramifications of the crazy emperor stretched out far more importantly than just who he was sleeping with in general. He managed to devalue the Roman currency and tried to have his own presumed lover, charioteer Hierocles, declared Caesar and another alledged lover to be appointed to the non-administrative but still influential role of Master of the Chamber. At first his mother and grandmother were a strong part of the relationship, they were both on the senate, but this didn’t stop Elagabalus from going on his own independent course.
Another big controversy for the time was that he married a Vestal Virgin, Aquilla Severa, claiming this marriage would produce “god-like children”. It was a breach of tradition and Roman Law, as it stated that any vestal virgin found engaging in sexual activity was to be buried alive but had already remarried a year later.
Perhaps the part that stood out for me is that he was most likely trapped as a female in a man’s body, this seems to be the root cause of the issues he faces. In a time and place where such things were a controversy, even with the acceptance of homosexuality, the young man was out of the society norms. He had even offered vast sums of money to physicians who could equip him with female genitalia; he simply wanted to be a woman not a man.
Images of Elagabalus (2008; republished as The Crimes of Elagabalus in 2012) re-evaluates his life, the previous historical accounts are most likely gravely over exaggerated or just down right erroneous, after his death moves were made to remove him from the annals of history. However in this book it is suggested that the religious affronts were far more the reason for his grandmother arranging his death, it had little to do with him sleeping around with men.
As a spin off for this lovely character there is a Japanese Manga called Vassalord, Johnny Rayflo is a vampire who is described as the “confined Elagabalus” and judging by the eccentricities it certainly seems to fit his personality. Here goes with a random sketch of mine for Rayflo.