Page:Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire vol 1 (1897).djvu/218

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144
THE DECLINE AND FALL

administration; and he affected to dwell with pride on the striking resemblance of his own age and fortunes with those of Augustus, who in the earliest youth had revenged by a successful war the murder of his father. By adopting the style of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, son of Antoninus, and grandson of Severus, he tacitly asserted his hereditary claim to empire; but, by assuming the tribunitian and proconsular powers[1] before they had been conferred on him by a decree of the senate, he offended the delicacy of Roman prejudice. This new and injudicious violation of the constitution was probably dictated either by the ignorance of his Syrian courtiers, or the fierce disdain of his military followers.[2]

Picture of Elagabus, A.D. 219 As the attention of the new emperor was diverted by the most trifling amusements, he wasted many months in his luxurious progress from Syria to Italy, passed at Nicomedia the first winter after his victory, and deferred till the ensuing summer his triumphal entry into the capital. A faithful picture, however, which preceded his arrival, and was placed by his immediate order over the altar of Victory in the senate-house, conveyed to the Romans the just but unworthy resemblance of his person and manners. He was drawn in his sacerdotal robes of silk and gold, after the loose flowing fashion of the Medes and Phœnicians; his head was covered with a lofty tiara, his numerous collars and bracelets were adorned with gems of an inestimable value. His eye-brows were tinged with black, and his cheeks painted with an artificial red and white.[3] The grave senators confessed with a sigh, that, after having long experienced the stern tyranny of their own countrymen, Rome was at length humbled beneath the effeminate luxury of Oriental despotism.

His superstition The sun was worshipped at Emesa under the name of Elagabalus,[4] and under the form of a black conical stone, which, as it was universally believed, had fallen from heaven on that sacred place. To this protecting deity, Antoninus, not without some reason, ascribed his elevation to the throne. The display of superstitious gratitude was the only serious business of his
  1. [Pius felix proconsul trib. pot. was the form stereotyped by Caracalla. The senate conferred the title Augusta on Julia Mæsa.]
  2. Dion, 1. lxxix. p. 1353 [4].
  3. Dion, 1. lxxix. p. 1363 [14]. Herodian, 1. v. p. 189 [5].
  4. This name is derived by the learned, from two Syriac words, Ela, a god, and Gabal, to form, the forming, or plastic God; a proper, and even happy epithet for the Sun. Wotton's History of Rome, p. 378. [The newer derivation is al gebal, "the mountain". The Greeks made the name into Helio-gabalos by a tempting popular etymology.]