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  • Roman Emperor Elagabalus was assassinated, March 11, 222.

    Beatriz Camino

    Roman Emperor Elagabalus was assassinated, March 11, 222.

    Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (c. 204 – 11 March 222), better known by his nickname Elagabalus, was the Roman emperor from 218 to 222.

    Early Life

    Varius Avitus Bassianus, commonly known as Elagabalus, was born around 204 in Emesa, Syria. His parents were Sextus Varius Marcellus, a former senator under Emperor Caracalla, and Julia Soaemias, the niece of Julia Domna, Septimius Severus’ second wife. When Elagabalus became Emperor, he held the hereditary position of high priest at the Temple of the Sun, dedicated to the Syrian sun god Elagabal. His intense devotion to his religion eventually played a role in his downfall.

    In 217, emperor Caracalla, who was Julia Soaemias’ cousin, was murdered and replaced by the praetorian prefect Macrinus. Following this, Macrinus quelled the potential threat from the family of his predecessor by banishing Julia Maesa, who was Caracalla's aunt, along with her two daughters and grandson, Elagabalus, to their estate in Emesa, Syria. Upon reaching Syria, Maesa plotted to overthrow Macrinus and elevate the fourteen-year-old Elagabalus to the imperial throne. She initiated a rumour claiming that he was Caracalla’s illegitimate child, asserting his right to the allegiance of Roman soldiers and senators who had sworn loyalty to Caracalla. The Third Legion Gallica at Raphana, influenced by Maesa’s wealth and resentment towards Macrinus, backed this assertion. On May 16, 218, at sunrise, Elagabalus was proclaimed emperor by Comazon, the legion’s commander. To bolster his legitimacy, Elagabalus adopted the same name Caracalla had as emperor, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus.

    Following this event, Macrinus sought the Senate’s denouncement of Elagabalus as the “False Antoninus”, declaring war against him and his family. However, Elagabalus’s forces defeated Macrinus at the Battle of Antioch on June 8, 218. Macrinus fled the battlefield, but he was intercepted near Chalcedon and executed in Cappadocia.

    In that month, Elagabalus, without waiting for senatorial approval, assumed imperial titles and extended amnesty to the Senate, condemning Macrinus’ administration. The Senate acknowledged Elagabalus as emperor, accepted his claim to be Caracalla’s son, and appointed him consul for the year 218 in mid-June. The memory of Macrinus was erased by the Senate, and Elagabalus was recognized as Pater Patriae by July 13. On July 14, he was inducted into all the Roman priesthoods, including the College of Pontiffs, naming him Pontifex Maximus.

    His Rule

    Upon reaching Rome in 219, Elagabalus gained official recognition as emperor, as the Senate hoped for stability after the turbulent reigns of Caracalla and Macrinus. However, controversy soon arose when the emperor, as a high priest, revealed plans to replace Rome’s traditional religion with the worship of the Syrian god Elagabal, even superseding Jupiter in Roman mythology. To solidify his intentions, he had a large, black conical-shaped stone brought from Syria – a symbol of his religion – and installed on the Palatine Hill. The Elagabalium, a new temple dedicated to Elagabal, was erected.

    In an attempt to improve public relations and divert attention from the new religion, Elagabalus was advised to marry into a Roman aristocratic family. He had three wives – Julia Paula, Annia Faustina, and Aquilia Severa. The last marriage sparked heightened controversy due to Aquilia Severa’s status as a Vestal Virgin and was quickly annulled to prevent further uproar. Still, Elagabalus demonstrated little interest in his wives, showing a preference for the company of men. Rumours circulated about his nocturnal wanderings in Rome, sometimes dressed as a woman, and his purported marriage to a male slave.

    The young ruler neglected day-to-day governance, spending more time indulging in frivolous activities. He delegated responsibilities to his mother and grandmother, who exercised influence over the emperor throughout his reign. Both became the first women allowed into the Senate, received senatorial titles, and are found on many coins and inscriptions, a rare honour for Roman women.

    Fall from Power & Death

    It didn’t take long for Elagabalus’s family and people across the empire to recognize his unsuitability for the imperial role.  Uprisings within the army erupted across the provinces, and there was even an unsuccessful attempt to replace him on the throne. In the summer of 221, the emperor was persuaded by his family to designate an heir. His thirteen-year-old cousin, Bassianus Alexanus (the future Alexander Severus), son of Julia Mamaea, was given the title of Caesar. Viewing his cousin as a serious threat, Elagabalus plotted against him, causing division among his family - Julia Soaemis stood by her son, Elagabalus, while Julia Maesa and Julia Mamaea supported Alexanus.

    On March 11, 222, Elagabalus ordered the execution of Alexanus, but the Praetorian Guard refused, siding with Alexanus. On that day, while at the Praetorian Guard camp, the emperor and his mother were executed, beheaded, and their bodies dragged through the streets of Rome before being dumped into the Tiber. At the age of eighteen, Elagabalus had ruled for just four years. Upon learning of his death, the Senate condemned his memory and appointed Alexanus as the new emperor, who, with the assistance of his mother, would rule until 235 when he too would face assassination.


    Elagabalus, 218-222, Denarius 218-219 RomeAnnia Faustina (wife of Elagabalus) Æ17 of Antioch, Pisidia. AD 221.Julia Maesa, Grandmother of Elagabalus 218-224 A.D. Sestertius Rome Mint Near EF ex. CNR XLV.2 'Empress Collection,' with ticket.

    Elagabalus AR Denarius Libertas, Pileus Lustrous Extremely FineRoman Empire: ELAGABALUS Antoninien Rome Silver, 218-222 AD, 5.65gm, 23mm, EFJudaea, Aelia Capitolina. Elagabalus. Æ 26 mm. Tyche-Astarte.


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