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Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, better known as Heliogabalus or Elagabalus, (born around 203, died March 11, 222) was a Roman emperor of the Severan dynasty who reigned from 218-222. Heliogabalus was the son of Sextus Varius Marcellus and Julia Soaemias Bassiana[?], niece of Julia Domna[?] (the wife of Septimius Severus). His mother claimed that his actual father was her cousin Caracalla (Marcus Aurelius Antoninus), and he adopted Caracalla's name during his short reign. The name by which he was popularly known to the Romans, Heliogabalus, was the name of the presiding deity of the Syrian city of Emesa (modern Homs or Hims). Heliogabalus was serving as hereditary high priest of the deity when his mother and grandmother used him as a figurehead against Macrinus, who had succeeded Caracalla. In 220, having settled in Rome, Heliogabalus attempted to make this deity the supreme god of the Empire under the name Deus Sol Invictus ("God the Invincible Sun").

Heliogabalus is best known for the acts of debauchery that were supposed to have characterised his regime. After his death many stories circulated about his sexual perversities - including the claim that he had an artificial vagina cut into his body. He was also supposed to have smothered to death guests at a dinner with a mass of sweet-smelling rose petals dropped from above (see The Roses of Heliogabalus).

For these reasons Heliogabalus became something of a hero to the Decadent movement in the late nineteenth century. He appears in many paintings and poems as the epitome of an amoral aesthete. Various famous works were inspired by the life and character of Heliogabalus and they include:

  • There is also a French experimental rock band called Héliogabale.

Preceded by:
Macrinus (217 - 218)
Roman emperors
Followed by:
Alexander Severus (222 - 235)

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