Elagabalus. 218-219 AD. Rome mint

Elagabalus. 218-219 AD. Rome mint


Æ Sestertius, 25.05g (30mm, 12h). IMP CAES M AVR ANTONINVS PIVS AVG Laureate, draped and cuirassed bust right of emperor / Emperor driving slow quadriga left, holding branch and sceptre, star in field, SC in exergue.

Pedigree: E.A. Sydenham Collection, Glendining Auction, 10 December 1941, lot 258

References: RIC 308; BMC 429; C 173; Sear 7574

Grade: Brown patina with overall wear. Good strike with all elements visible. Good VF (re1025)

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The reign of Elagabalus was short and convulsive.  Chosen to succeed the assassinated Caracalla at the young age of fourteen in 218 by a massive outlay of wealth to the legionary garrison at Raphaneae in Syria, where the boy was a chief priest of the Semitic sun god El-Gabal (a fact that would play no small part in his downfall), Elagabalus began traveling west to Rome.  Upon his arrival in the port of Bithynia, his religious beliefs and rites caused no small riot that resulted in the deaths of some of the young emperor’s closest adherents. The imperial party reached Rome in the early autumn of 219, when, to the shock and dismay of not only the senate but the populace in general, many of Elagabalus’s Syrian religious adherents were appointed to positions of great power and esteem, including Praetorian prefect and city prefect.

Elagabalus’s inner circle faced a difficult task.  The young emperor was fiercely independent, and was, to the dismay of the aristocracy, an open and unconcealed homosexual.  While homosexuality had long been tolerated in Rome so long as it remained a sideline to heterosexual family-rearing, the patience of the senate and populace wore thin as the emperor routinely wore women’s clothing and cosmetics, often displaying himself in the nude publicly.

The final act to seal Elagabalus’s fate came not from his sexual proclivities, but from his religious beliefs.  He installed the aforementioned Syrian god El-Gabal in the center of the Roman Pantheon, while he himself headed-up his worship, requiring Roman officials to be circumcised and attend the rites of the Syrian god.  On March 11, 222, the senate and the Praetorian Guard could stand no more, and Elagabalus was violently assassinated, his body dragged through the streets of Rome and thrown into the Tiber.