And the winner is...the Emperor Elagablus!
It says much about how the authority of Rome’s emperors had been debased and the power of the military increased that a 14-year-old boy could become ruler of the known world simply because the army proclaimed him so.
Of all emperors, including even Nero and Caligula, Elagabalus (203? AD—222 AD) has to have been the most outrageous. Perhaps his monstrous behavior isn’t as well known or remembered as Caligula or Nero’s because Elagabalus’ reign lasted less than four years.
But during that short time, his behavior made the excesses of his predecessors’ seem like models of Augustan restraint.
Syrian by birth, Elagabalus was born the hereditary high priest of the sun god Elagabal, whose name he adopted as his own. His way to power was eased by his mother’s lover, Gannys, who led him to the troops in Syria where they proclaimed the teenager emperor. One of the first things Elagabalus did upon coming to power was to show his gratitude to Gannys by ordering his execution.
In a city jaded by the libertinism of its previous rulers, Elagabalus managed to horrify the Romans with his sexual behavior and alienate them with his religious goals.
Stealing a page from the Jews and Christians, Elagabalus tried to introduce monotheism in Rome with Elagabal as the only god and Elagabalus as his high priest. He further scandalized Rome by marrying a Vestal Virgin despite the fact that the punishment for an unchaste Vestal was being buried alive. Elagabalus hoped that the union of the high priest (himself) and the high priestess (the Vestal Virgin) would produce god-like offspring.
Elagabal was an angry god who demanded human sacrifices of a particularly cruel nature, which as his high priest, Elagabalus performed with what might be called religious devotion. The anonymous author of the Life of Elagabalus wrote, “He kept about him every kind of magician and had them perform daily sacrifices. He would examine the children’s vital and torture the victim after the manner of his own native rights [customs].”
The emperor was a polygamist who married three women without bothering to divorce one before marrying the other. He was also a transvestite who worked the streets of Rome as a prostitute in drag and allegedly once cleared out an entire brothel so he could be its sole employee.
He held a mock marriage to a slave named Hierocles, who was encouraged by his new “bride” to beat Elagabalus. The historian Cassius Dio claimed that Elagabalus would provoke his “husband” by committing “adultery,” and Hierocles would blacken the emperor’s eyes.
Not content to play at being a woman, he asked several doctors to turn him into a transsexual by carving a vertical slit below his belly. When all of them declined, Elagabalus settled for having himself circumcised and forced “many of his companions” to undergo the same painful operation, according to Cassius Dio.
Elagabalus was also what today is known as a “size queen” and sent emissaries throughout the Empire to find men with particularly large endowments and bring them back to Rome for the emperor’s pleasure.
Roman society was as caste-ridden as India and ferociously snobbish, and Elagabalus’ most criticized act was to name a dancer, a profession near the bottom of the Roman hierarchy, to the post of chief of the Praetorian guard. His soldiers took this as a personal insult, and two legions, including the one that had proclaimed him emperor in Syria, revolted, but both revolts were put down.
Elagabalus’ relatives feared that the next revolt might succeed, so they convinced him to name his 13-year-old cousin, Alexander Severus, his heir. Elagabalus resented his cousin’s popularity with the Praetorian guard, and soon regretted his decision to make him his heir so he ordered his execution, but no one would carry out the order.
On March 11, 222 A.D., Elagabalus and his inconvenient heir visited the barracks of the Praetorian guard, who ignored Elagabalus and treated Alexander Severus with respect. Enraged, Elagabalus ordered the execution of guard members who had fawned over Severus, but again no one would obey the emperor’s orders, and several Praetorians chased him to the barracks’ latrine, where he was murdered. He was only 18.
His mother, who had brought him to power and was almost as hated as her son, was also put to death. A mob cut off the head of mother and son and paraded the naked corpses through Rome, before tossing the bodies into the Tiber, a fate usually reserved for common criminals and particularly odious emperors, like Tiberius, whose “mourners” chanted “Tiberius to the Tiber.”
Causes Frank Sanello Supports
ACLU, ASPCA, Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders