Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Hostname: page-component-77c89778f8-gvh9x Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-07-23T03:44:40.004Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

8 - Ruling in Purple … and Wearing Make-up: Gendered Adventures of Emperor Elagabalus as seen by Cassius Dio and Herodian

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 September 2020

Allison Surtees
Affiliation:
University of Winnipeg, Canada
Jennifer Dyer
Affiliation:
Memorial University of Newfoundland
Get access

Summary

INTRODUCTION

The reign of Emperor Elagabalus (AD 218–22) is one of the most peculiar episodes in the history of the Roman Empire. Elagabalus, whose birth name was Varius Avitus Bassianus, was the third ruler of the Severan dynasty. Born in AD 203, he had been a priest of the sun-god El‘Gabal in his native city, Emesa of Syria, before becoming emperor. As a ruler, he was officially known as Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus; it appears that only after his death was he called Elagabalus. From a governmental point of view, his short reign has not been considered very significant, and it seems that he was personally not that interested in governing issues (Arrizabalaga y Prado 2010: 278–80; Halsberghe 1972: 71). Instead, he took a great interest in religion, promoting El‘Gabal to become the supreme god of Roman state religion and also taking a Vestal Virgin, Julia Aquilia Severa, as his wife. For many Romans in that time, these were probably acts of sacrilege, and in AD 222 his soldiers mutinied. Elagabalus was murdered and his cousin Alexianus, now known as Severus Alexander, was declared the new emperor (Potter 2004: 148–57).

Elagabalus is particularly famous for his controversial behaviours not only in religious matters, but also with respect to gender expression, gender identity and sexuality in particular. The intention of this chapter is to approach this specific aspect of his portrayal in two accounts of the early third century AD; Roman History by Cassius Dio (c. 155–235 AD) and History of the Empire from the Death of Marcus by Herodian (died probably in the 250s AD). Thus, the purpose of this chapter is not to trace actual, ‘real’ actions of historical Emperor Elagabalus as such. Indeed, tracing ‘real’ Elagabalus would require many more sources than just historical narratives. Ancient historiography was, by its nature, highly rhetorical and ideologically normative, often holding strong links to earlier literary traditions. Consequently it does not provide enough ‘factual’ information about a figure as controversial as Elagabalus (see Arrizabalaga y Prado 2010). Instead, I provide a literary analysis of the two historical accounts, focusing on the issues of gender identity and expression in the acts of Elagabalus as portrayed by Dio and Herodian, and comparing these two narratives from that point of view (see Kemezis 2016 for similar comparison in the context of political propaganda).

Type
Chapter
Information
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2020

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats
×

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats
×