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Elagabalus, 16 May 218 - 11 March 222 A.D.

Ancient Roman coins of Elagabalus for sale in the Forum Ancient Coins consignment shop.

Elagabalus came to power through the scheming of his grandmother Julia Maesa. Elagabalus repeatedly shocked the population with increasingly bizarre behavior including cross dressing and marrying a vestal virgin. Eventually his grandmother replaced him on the throne with Severus Alexander, and Elagabalus and his mother were murdered, dragged through the streets of Rome and dumped into the Tiber.

Also see ERIC - Elagabalus


By Jim Phelps

One of the more unusual rulers of the Roman Empire has to be Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. Born Varius Avitus Bassianus in 204, he belonged to the family who were the high priests of the Syrian sun god, Elagabalus, the local version of Baal. Because of his dedication to his god, Avitus has come to be known as Elagabalus.

More importantly for his eventual rule, he was also the grand-nephew of Septimius Severus, and therefore the cousin of the emperors Caracalla and Geta. His grandmother, Julia Maesa was the sister of the former empress, Julia Domna. Maesa convinced (perhaps bribed) a Syrian legion to proclaim the 14-year old Elagabalus as emperor, and the Severan dynasty was quickly restored.

His 4-year reign was remarkable for his disregard and disrespect for Roman traditions. Though roundly condemned for this, it is important to remember that he was used as an excuse or a figurehead for Maesa 's revolt. He had no apparent military training and would undoubtedly have lived his life quite contentedly in service to the Syrian sun god. Roman religious traditions were totally unlike Eastern, and his following of these Eastern religious rites shocked Rome. The fact that he had absolute rule from such a young age meant that his eccentricities developed quickly into outright perversions.

His coinage includes his grandmother Julia Maesa, which continued under his cousin Severus Alexander. It also includes the three wives that he married and divorced in quick succession, before remarrying his second wife. An unusual feature of the coinage is the horn extending forward from Elagabalus ' forehead on a few of the series. Though less common than the non-horned portraits, they are still fairly easy to acquire. Horns were a long-established symbol of divinity in Eastern religions, and many examples can be seen in the coins of the Hellenistic dynasties. In artwork the Judeo-Christian prophet Moses sometimes even is shown with horns.

The group of coins below all show a horned bust, proclaiming the divinity of the emperor himself. The reverses show the emperor sacrificing to his god with legends identifying him more as a priest rather than a ruler. From a simple engraving standpoint, the star should have been behind Elagabalus, lending more balance to the design. The fact that it is shown directly in front of the emperor leaves no question that the star represents the sun-god to whom Elagabalus sacrifices.

Silver Denarius minted 220-222
Obv: IMP ANTONINVS PIVS AVG - Laureate and draped bust right, with horn.
Rev: INVICTVS SACERDOS AVG - "The Unconquerable Priest Augustus" - Elagabalus in Syrian religious dress facing, holding a club upright and sacrificing from a patera over a lit altar. A bull lies behind the altar, and a star is in the left field above.
Van Meter 36/2, RSC III 61

Silver Denarius minted 220-222
Obv: IMP ANTONINVS PIVS AVG - Laureate and draped bust right, with horn.
Rev: SVMMVS SACERDOS AVG - "The High Priest Augustus" - Elagabalus in Syrian religious dress standing half-left, holding a branch downward and sacrificing from a patera over a lit tripod altar. A star is in the left field above.
Van Meter 63/1, RSC III 276

Silver Denarius minted 220-222
Obv: IMP ANTONINVS PIVS AVG - Laureate and draped bust right, with horn.
Rev: SACERD DEI SOLIS ELAGAB - "The Priest of the Sun God Baal" - Elagabalus in Syrian religious dress standing right, holding a club upright and sacrificing from a patera over an altar. A star is in the right field above.
Van Meter 56, RSC III 246


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Mattingly, H., E. Sydenham & C.H.V. Sutherland. The Roman Imperial Coinage, Vol IV, From Pertinax to Uranius Antoninus. (London, 1986).
Mattingly, H. & R. Carson. Coins of the Roman Empire in the British Museum, Vol. 5: Pertinax to Elagabalus. (London, 1950).
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Please add updates or make corrections to the NumisWiki text version as appropriate.

ELAGABALUS, Emperor -- Varius Avitus Bassianus, surnamed Elagabalus, from the name of the divinity, whose worship he had introduced into Rome, was born at Emesa, in Syria A.V.C. 958 (A.D. 205). He was son of Sextus Varius Marcellus and of Julia Soaemias, daughter of Julia Maesa, and niece of Julia Domna; consequently he was cousin to Caracalla. The wealth of his grandmother, added to his relationship with the imperial family of Severus, obtained for him the advantage of being appointed Priest of Elagabalus, or Heliogabalus, a deity the object of particular adoration at Emesa. The same honor was conferred on his cousin Alexander Severus, son of Mamaea, second daughter of Julia Maesa. In 971 (A.D. 218), Maesa, having in view to obtain the empire for her grandson, changed his names into those of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, and pretended that he was no the son of his mother 's husband, but the fruit of Caracalla 's intimacy with Soaemias. The soldiers encamped near Emesa, gained over by the riches of Julia Maesa; and perhaps giving credence to this adulterous parentage, which besides had nothing of unlikelihood in it, proclaimed the Antoninus emperor. The troops of Macrinus having been defeated, Elagabalus, at thirteen years of age, became sole master of the Roman world. After having entered Antioch as conqueror, he addressed to the Senate letters in which, without waiting for the decree of that body, he assumed the titles of "Caesar, son of Antoninus, grandson of Severus, Pius, Felix, Augustus, Pro-consul, and invested with the Tribunitian power."  At the same time, he named himself consul in the place of Macrinus. He afterwards took the road to Rome, but on his way thither passed the winter at Nicomedia. In 972 (A.D. 219), Elagabalus was consul for the second time at Nicomedia. On his arrival at Rome, he gave there some magnificent spectacles, and caused a temple to be built in honor of his Syrian god. A.D. 220 is the date of his third consulate. In 221 he was consul for the fourth time. Julia Maesa, perceiving that the manners of Elagabalus were displeasing to the Romans, persuaded him to adopt his cousin Alexander Severus, above named. To this Elagabalus consented, and designated him consul with himself for the following year. A short time after, repenting of his compliance with his mother 's suggestion, he sought to make away with Severus Alexander; whose life, however was protected by the vigilant care of Maesa, and still better defended by the affection which the soldiers began to entertain for him. In A.D. 222, the praetorians having discovered that Elagabalus was fully bent on the destruction of his cousin, raised a tumult, and required that Alexander, who had been shut up in the palace some days, should be immediately shewn to them.  Elagabalus, yielding to necessity, repaired to the camp of the praetorians, on a car, with the youthful Alexander. The next day, as Elagabalus had given orders to arrest those who had taken a leading part in the insurrection movement of the day before--the rest of the soldiers took advantage of that occasion to get rid of a prince they detested; and they killed Elagabalus, together with his mother Soaemias, and his principal confidants. His body, after having been dragged through the city, was thrown into the Tiber.  Thus perished, on the 11th of March, on of the most cruel, debauched and shameless wretches, that ever disgraced humanity, or polluted a throne, after a reign of three years and nine months, disfigured with every feature of hideous criminality and extravagant folly, not having attained more than the eighteenth year of his age.

Elagabalus celebrated (or rather desecrated) several nuptials. His first wife was Julia Cornelia Paula; but her he soon divorced, for some alleged personal blemish. He next stole away from the sacred college of Vestals, and married, Aquilia Severa, whom he also repudiated, and afterwards took her again. His third wife was Annia Faustina, whom he forcibly possessed himself of (after causing her husband Pomponius Bassus to be slain), but whom he quickly dismissed, to reunite himself with Aquilia Severa.  Some of his Latin coins represent him with Aquilia Severa, and his mother Soaemias; also, a doubtful one, with Annia Faustina.  The coins of this emperor are numerous.  His gold and first brass are rare; his silver, and second and small brass for the most part are common.

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