The Amazing Emperor Heliogabalus/Chapter IV
|←Chapter III||The Amazing Emperor Heliogabalus by
|With introduction by J.B. Bury (1911)|
Saluted by the whole army on the evening of 8th June 218, the young Emperor. Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, set out to cover the 20 odd miles which separated Immae from Antioch, the Eastern capital. Next morning, we are told by Dion, he entered the city amidst the customary rejoicings. It had been a principle with the late Caracalla to give conquered cities over to the rapacity of the soldiers, and here the conquering host imagined, nay, strongly urged, that this laudable custom should be revived, but the present Antonine saw no reason for any such proceeding. With a singular lack of subservience, which is, we are told, the first mark of a born sovereign, he informed them that a regular toll would be taken from the citizens instead, and each man paid a sum of 500 drachmae from the imperial exchequer ; he thus satisfied their natural expectation of reward, and promised the population that no pillage would take place ; that, on the other hand, the ordinary contributions to the exchequer (the marks of settled government in times of peace) were sufficient, while pillage would suggest the wars and disturbances which were now over.
It was certainly a bold act, this crossing the will of the soldiers at the very outset, too bold for either a woman or a boy of fourteen to have devised; but Antonine intended to make that city his temporary capital, and had in consequence more than soldiers to conciliate.
As to the question of principal adviser and chief minister, we have a most difficult matter to face from the outset. Lampridius asserts that Soaemias was in the position of absolute director of the Emperor and his government, an assertion utterly ludicrous to any one who understands that lady's character, as Lampridius himself has expounded it. Soaemias would have been, psychologically speaking, quite incapable of directing any operations other than those of the nuptial couch; though she may have thought out some of the details of costume, etiquette, and precedence which later fell to her share as president of the Senate on the Quirinal; besides which, her name always follows that of Maesa on inscriptions and records where the two names appear together, Herodian, on the other hand, states that Maesa was the ruling spirit, which is much more likely. Maesa's character is very different, if less attractive ; crafty, cunning, able, and persistent, she had not schemed, fought, and expended her treasure except for her own ultimate good, and to her the ultimate good was the possession of power and authority. Besides which, she was fully au fait with all governmental procedure in Rome, and was, in consequence, the fit and proper person to direct the immediate policy.
But there was much to temper her power. There was an element which even she, far-sighted as she was, had forgotten, and left out of count, namely, the Emperor himself. From the moment of his elevation he showed that he had a mind and will of his own; probably he had possessed them all along, but his grandmother had never thought that they would get in her way till she was brought face to face with them.
By nature Bassianus was gentle and affectionate, with no other passions than an innocent fanaticism for the cult of the only God, and a hereditary temperament, which we know to-day is less of a vice than a perversion ; a temperament which Suetonius assures us he shared with the majority of his predecessors, and Dion says was common amongst the Syrian clergy. Caracalla had, innate in his being, jealousy, hatred, and revenge. Bassianus hated no one ; he was, in fact, only too prone to love his fellows, but, like Caracalla, he had a strong and imperious will. He had no sooner grasped the limitless possibilities of the imperial position than vertigo seems to have overtaken him. But fancy the position! On a peak piercing the heavens, shadowing the earth, a precipice on either side, the young Emperors of Old Rome stood. Did they look below, they could scarce see the world. From above, delirium came; while the horizon, though it hemmed the limits of their vision, could not mark the frontiers of their dream. In addition, there was the exaltation that altitudes produce.
The Emperor was alone ; henceforward his will was unopposed. His grandmother tried to make herself felt; on each occasion she had to give way, to retire beaten, till one can well imagine that lady's despair at the unforeseen development,--almost anticipate the final resolve of that crafty old sinner, to rid herself of the grandson whom she had set up, fondly imagining him her mere puppet. Still, advisers were necessary. From what we can see of the available men (and a man would certainly be Antonine's choice) there is but one for whom consistently through his life the Emperor had respect, namely, Eutychianus. He had, so Dion states, conceived the plot of the proclamation, and carried it out by himself, while the women were still unconscious of what was going forward. He was immediately made Praetorian Praefect, later he was Consul, and twice City Praefect, which frequent recurrence of office, being unusual in one person, is put down by Dion as a gross breach of the constitution-—where no constitution existed except the imperial will. The sneer of Xiphilinus at his buffooneries is obviously an untruth, considering the fact that we know of him as a soldier as far back as Commodus' reign. If he had been a mere nonentity or a worthless person, it is incredible that, in the proscriptions and murders that followed that of Antonine, Eutychianus should have been reappointed to the office of Praefect of Rome for at least the ensuing year. Taking all the evidence into consideration, it is probable that from the outset the soldier Eutychianus was chief minister and director of the government, and as such sup- ported Antonine against his grandmother. To him therefore, as well as to Maesa, may be attributed much of the sane common-sense work that was done; work which, especially in the dealings with the soldiers, shows a man's hand, a soldier's touch, indeed that of a soldier who knows, by reason of his position, just how far he can go.
The first recorded act of the new government was to announce to the Roman Fathers the restoration of the house of Antonine. Now the Senate of the Roman people was in no very pleasant position, considering the possibilities and the knowledge that the imperial house had not a few grudges to settle with their august assembly. Rome, as we know from the record of the Arval Brothers' meeting held on 30th May, was expecting some announcement almost daily, either of the accession or extirpation of the late imperial connection. The last communication from the East had been signed by Macrinus. It was a distracted and illiterate epistle announcing the elevation of his small son to the empire, and the speedy fall of the pseudo-Antonine. In all probability the news which had reached the Arval Brothers was common property, and the Senate was not so sure of the result of the revolt as Macrinus would have liked them to be. The main cause for anxiety was their answer, which was probably still on its way to Macrinus: a dutiful response to his demand—made about 20th April—that the Antonine family should be proscribed and declared enemies to the state. With their usual subservience, the Conscript Fathers had decreed as desired, had even gone out of their way to level invectives and ordures against the memory of the house of Severus, and this with a hearty goodwill that showed their genuineness.
Now, if these tactless epistles, as the Fathers feared, had reached Antioch either just before or just after the new monarch's arrival, they were likely to cause an infinity of trouble, especially if they fell into the wrong hands, which, as luck would have it, they promptly did. This circumstance quite decided Elagabalus on the amount of respect which it was necessary to pay to the "Slaves in Togas" either in his own or in any other state. Judge of their apprehensions when an answer to their obedient proscriptions was brought into the Senate House, within the first fortnight of July, if not earlier, by a herald declaring his mission from the august Emperor, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, Antoninus' son, Severus' grandson, Pius and Happy, Tribune and Proconsul, without so much as by your leave or with your leave from the assembled Fathers. (Dion omits the title of Consul, despite the fact that there are inscriptions which call Antonine Consul at that date.) Think how willingly now the Fathers would have given their right hands to repair the egregious mistake they had just made. They had been too precipitate, too hurried altogether, and they knew from past experience that the house of Antonine did not visit such mistakes in a chastened spirit.
At last the imperial message was laid before the house. It was as though the Gods had been for once propitious to human stupidity. The letter contained gracious words, "dropping as the gentle dew from heaven." Was it a mere ruse, such as former Antonines had played, or was it in reality the herald of a new world to come ? Surely yes, for it promised amnesty, on the word of the Emperor, to the Senate and people of Rome, for all words, acts, and proscriptions formerly promulgated against the divine Caesar, by command of the usurping murderer Macrinus ; to whom the same Senate and people were commanded to give neither help nor assistance, but rather to condemn and execrate, in the precise terms they had so recently applied to the divine Emperor now happily reigning. For was he not an enemy to the state who had not only murdered his master, whom he had been appointed to guard, but also in that he, who was neither Senator nor otherwise worthy, had pretended to Empire, being a mere slave and gladiator, whom Caracalla had raised to the rank of Praetorian Praefect ?
There was some more biting sarcasm on the ease with which that august body had accepted the pretensions of the ex-slave without question, and had been persuaded to confirm him in the position of his murdered master. For himself, Antonine makes the mere announcement of his succession, much as Macrinus had done on the occasion of his son's elevation, with the obvious implication that the Fathers will confirm the accomplished facts with as little delay as is compatible with the usual decencies. He tells them that to err is human, but Antonine, mirabile dictu, will forgive, on the conditions mentioned, of course ; which conditions taken as fulfilled, the Emperor continues with an explanation of the happy auguries for the commencement of his reign. He was come, he said, a second Augustus ; like Augustus he was eighteen years of age (an obvious lie, and they knew it, but an Emperor of fourteen did not sound well) ; like Augustus his reign started with a victory which revenged the murder of his father, and the success, with which both he and Augustus had met, was a good omen for the people, who might expect great things from a prince who proposed to unite the wisdom of Augustus with that of the philosopher Marcus Aurelius, and to rule after these truly admirable examples. Another letter to the soldiers was delivered at the same time, which contained extracts from Macrinus' correspondence with Marius Maximus, Praefect of the City. In this the vacillating duplicity of the late Macrinus and his opinion of the army generally was made the most of, his innate civilian distrust of the military held up to ridicule and scorn.
To crown these admirable productions of literary persuasiveness was a promise to the soldiers of their immediate return to the privileges and conditions existent under Caracalla in the case of each and several of the Emperor's beloved comrades. They were certainly admirable letters, designed to rejoice the hearts of both guards and people, and to leave the Senate in pleasurable anticipation of favours to come, if they took immediate advan- tage of the opportunity now given them to change their minds, — otherwise — well, the more stringent methods of Augustus might have to be employed, and orders were sent to Pollio, Consul Suffectus, to this effect. Undoubtedly the Fathers made up their minds with admirable promptitude — they do not seem to have made a single inquiry as to the fate of the Moor who was nominally reigning Emperor. Never was their voice more willingly given; public thanksgivings were decreed for the restoration of the house of Antonine, and the acts of an Emperor who had treated them as so much garden refuse were lauded most fulsomely. Proscription was the lot of the "Tyrant and Murderer," who had usurped the imperial styles, titles, and addresses ; in fact anything that lay in their power to oblige with they were most happy to offer ; more than he had ever thought of asking the Fathers hastened to lay at the feet of the child whose origin, whose sentiments, whose feminine beauty, whose very female relatives breathed divinity from every pore.
There is no better example of the vast comprehensiveness of mind possessed by bodies of men fulfilling the functions which Aristotle calls the "collective wisdom of the many," than this instance of the wonderful facility with which they are able to see all points of view in succession, especially the more advantageous. Only a few short weeks back the infallible wisdom had decreed that the new deities were enemies to the state. Now they knew that the existence of these very enemies was only another way of stating the life and being of the state itself. Their one regret was that they had not known it sooner ; as it was, they were forced to admit that, if the well-bred can contradict other people, the wise must contradict themselves.
Of course the young Emperor was pleased with the transports of loyalty with which Rome greeted his accession ; Maesa and Soaemias at the joint title of Augusta which the Emperor and Senate conferred upon them ; but for precaution's sake, Pollio might as well keep the soldiers on the qui vive, as a sort of reminder to the Conscript Fathers that it would be as well to take no more comprehensive views of the circumstances just at present, especially as the Emperor had no intention of proceeding to Rome just yet. But it was not wise to talk, and the Fathers knew it ; they were content, for the present, to praise the Gods for their safety, and to register any decrees which august personages might see fit to send for their confirmation, otherwise they decided to keep their mouths tightly closed as to the inner thoughts of the heart.
The announcement of his succession having been posted to Rome, and agents dispatched to secure the person of the ex-Emperor, Antonine seems to have turned his attention to rewards and the management of the army. As was quite natural, the first offices were bestowed on Eutychianus, the man whom we have just mentioned. In all probability it was to him that the success at Immae was actually due ; he was the soldier, the trained leader, while Gannys, the boy's tutor, to whom Xiphilinus ascribes the victory, was admittedly an effete and uxorious leman of both Soaemias and Maesa, who could never have been a real leader of men, even though he were personally popular with the troops, as the Valesian Fragment states. It is obvious that the work and abilities of the two men (Eutychianus and Gannys) have got muddled. Xiphilinus (78.31.1) ascribes the plot to Eutychianus ; later (79.6), still presumably quoting Dion, he states that Gannys was solely responsible for the whole plot. Dion (Frag. Vales.) states that Eutychianus had contrived the whole revolution. Clearly some scribe has erred in the insertion of names, or Xiphilinus is not a trustworthy abbreviator. If we can judge by results, we see that Eutychianus was immediately appointed Praefect of the Praetorian Guard in the room of Ulpius Julianus, deceased, while Gannys, the personal favourite of the Emperor and his women, got no sort of distinction. Eutychianus' elevation was not altogether popular. Xiphilinus considered that he had no right to the post (though he had just remarked that he alone set the Emperor on the throne), and that the frequency with which he was reappointed was actually a constitutional scandal ; but he certainly did good and useful work throughout his tenure of office.
The first move was to rectify the error of Macrinus in keeping troops out in the field unnecessarily. The new government sent back to their quarters all the soldiers gathered for the Parthian war by Caracalla, and that with expedition. There are various inscriptions at Lambesa, in Pannonia, and other places which testify to this, while at Moguntiacum in Upper Germany there is a record of the arrival of a legion as early as 23rd July 218, and which, by the way, gives the Emperor the title of Consul, as well as the other imperial addresses which Dion has mentioned that he assumed as of right.
This dismissal of the soldiers was a prudent measure. It not only pleased them, and gave them something to do besides stirring up strife, but also made it possible to preserve discipline without resorting to the enormous gifts which had impoverished the government heretofore. This may certainly be traced to Eutychianus' influence rather than to that of Maesa, who would probably have preferred to keep the soldiers a little longer, in order to see how things settled down ; whereas the troops must have been sent back to their quarters the very week of the battle, and before Macrinus' death, in order to have arrived in Upper Germany by 23rd July. This action, to whomsoever attributable, shows the perfect confidence of the new government in its own stability from the very outset. It was also a bold measure, and a measure which could only have been taken by a general who knew his troops, who to keep and with whom to dispense, because trouble was sure to arise through ambition and similar causes.
Dion tells us of at least two notables who thought themselves capax imperii, because they imagined that the state was disturbed, the occasion propitious. One was Verus, or Severus, tribune of the third Gallic, another Gellius Maximus, tribune of the fourth Scythian Legion ; both were Senators who aspired to empire and found futurity. The same historian mentions three others, insignificant persons ; one the son of a centurion in the third Gallic Legion (which legion, by the way, on account of these two bids for notoriety, was practically disbanded, the men being transferred to the third Augustan Legion). Another was a clothier ; the third a mere private person, whose temerity led him to an attempt, the object of which was to subvert the fleet stationed at Cyzicus during the winter of 218-219, presumably for the protection of the Emperor when he arrived at Nicomedia. The attempts of these persons met with the reward due to folly, and did but strengthen the position of the Emperor by giving him an excuse to put to death others, whose complicity or sympathy pointed them out as perilous to the state. They were all friends of Macrinus, says Wotton, who were making difficulties for the new government. All authorities state very clearly that there was no man who suffered for any assistance given to Macrinus ; neither was there any inquisition made after enemies or neutrals. The heads of the opposition party were merely put to death when they refused to acknowledge the fait accompli; when they did so they were confirmed in their offices as a matter of course. The number put to death, besides the five aspirants to the imperial position, is placed by Dion at eight — no enormous holocaust, when one thinks of the legions of imperial servants confirmed in their offices. The names include Julianus Nestor, Captain of the Guards to the late Emperor; Fabius Agrippinus, Governor of Syria ; Pica Caerianus, Governor of Arabia ; Aelius Decius Triccianus, a man of mean origin, whose death the 2nd Parthian Legion demanded on account of his cruelty towards them ; Castinus, a friend and officer of Macrinus ; Claudius Attalus, Lieutenant-Governor of Cyprus, a man who had been expelled from the Senate by Severus and stupidly readmitted by Caracalla. It was not clear on what count this man actually suffered, and in consequence the story of an enmity between him and Eutychianus, during the campaign in Thrace — when he is said to have cashiered the new Praefect of the Praetorian Guards — is regarded as sufficient reason for saying that Eutychianus demanded his death.
During this same winter there was another pretender to kingship, helped by another governor friend of Macrinus, a certain Senator Valerianus Paetus. This man's crime lay in the fact that, after the imperial custom, he had coined gold pieces bearing his own image and superscription, and distributed these amongst the people of Cappadocia and Galatia, which was considered tantamount to a declaration of imperial proclamation. His defence, when apprehended, was that the medals were actually intended for the adornment of his mistresses. The court found, however, that no sane man could reasonably possess this luxury in sufficient numbers to justify the coining of the amount of medals discovered ; besides which, his accomplice Sylla, Governor of Cappadocia, who had just before been tampering with the loyalty of the Gallic Legions, on their way through Bithynia, was mixed up in the plot quite inextricably. So the judgment given was, "guilty of usurping imperial functions, and aspiring to empire" ; rather a larger count, all considered, than the kindred count of "coining," which merited death in this enlightened and humane country up to the year of grace 1832. Throughout the trials we are given to infer that the usual course of judicial procedure was adhered to ; the condemnation was after trial and just cause found ; while those who know anything of Roman legal procedure are aware that every chance was given to the accused, and that the burden of proof lay on the accuser.
But to return to the chronological arrangement of the events during this sojourn in the East. As we have said, on 9th June 218 Antonine entered Antioch amidst the applause of the world. As far as we can judge from Herodian's statement, he must have stayed there for some months. The pressure of immediate government business would be enormous, the various legates had to be sent forth, the submission of governors received, and the army question settled, along with other outstanding difficulties, and in consequence the season was far advanced, says Herodian, when the imperial family reached Nicomedia, too late for them to attempt the crossing into Europe. Besides the business delays, much time must have been wasted by the Emperor's determination to take the image of the Great God with him, and wherever he should reign, there to set up the temple of that supreme ineffable Deity.
Duruy states that during his residence at Antioch, or on the journey across Asia Minor, the Emperor reconsecrated to Elagabal the temple of Faustina which Marcus Aurelius had erected on Mount Taurus. If this be so, it could only have been as a temporary resting-place. The Deity, we are assured, had no settled home after leaving Emesa until the great temple or Eliogabalium was erected on the Palatine. There was one person to whom these delays appeared as highly unnecessary, namely, the Dowager Empress Julia Maesa.
In the full flush of her newly acquired position, she had every intention of wintering in the capital. It was much more to her liking than the provincial life to which the late Emperor had relegated her. In consequence of this intention, we are led to infer that the lady gave orders. Here the Emperor showed his paternity. Maesa may not have fully credited her own assertion before, henceforward she was called upon to believe it whether she would or no. Her grandson, perhaps merely self-willed, perhaps wishing to settle business, certainly intending to stay in the voluptuous East, told the lady to be quiet, and revoked the orders. She tried reasoning, but was told that it wearied his youthful augustitude. She persisted further, and then thought that she had triumphed, because the Emperor, with true Antonine guile, packed up and commanded the Court to set out for Rome. Not that he had the slightest intention of facing the Tramontana, possibly even snow, but it looked gracious, and many things might be done en route. For many reasons the journey was slow and difficult ; the dignity of the God had to be considered ; the procession across Asia would take some weeks. We have no idea as to the route taken, though Roerth has informed us of an inscription from Prusias, where, he says, the Emperor stayed ; if so, it was probably his last halting-place before Nicomedia, where he had decided to winter instead of trusting himself on the billows of a wintry sea. It was here that Antonine's imperial life actually began ; here, under the eastern sky and surrounded by the pomp and colour of the Orient, that the Emperor shaped his reign, and developed the two main features of his life — his religion and his psychology.
Before discussing either of these, however, it will be well to sum up what we know of the work done during this winter spent in Asia Minor. According to Hydatius' statement, drawn from the Consularia Constantinopolitana, Antonine ordered the records of indebtedness to the fiscus to be burnt, which burning took thirty days. If the story be true, it was either a foolish waste of indebtedness to the government, or an acknowledgment of the hopelessness of collecting the debts, though how the new government could have grasped this fact so quickly is not recorded ; in any case, it was a real bid for popularity.
Much time would also be spent in the legal proceedings which settled the fate of the various pretenders, malcontents, and traitors. Again, the consideration of grants to legions, fitting rewards for assistance given in time of need, in fact the thousand and one things which occupy the official mind in the ordinary course of events, let alone on the restoration of a house banished and proscribed by imperial predecessors, had all to be discussed and would certainly take time. Cohen tell us of one of these measures, of which we know nothing save from the coins of 218, some of which bear the legend "Annona Augusti," which he says is a reference to some measure relative to the grain supply, instituted for the benefit of the people.
There was certainly enough to occupy every one's attention, but it does not quite account for the whole Court staying at Nicomedia until May 219. Cohen has, however, discovered a fact that no historians mention, namely that during this period the Emperor was unwell, as some of the coins of 219 bear the legend "Salus Augusti," "Salus Antonini Augusti," which are supposed to announce his recovery. If this illness had happened after he arrived in Rome, we should probably have heard about it, besides which it might have been a bar to his matrimony ; if in Nicomedia, as Cohen thinks, it accounts for the length of the stay.
Business apart, of which they say little or nothing (facts have to be culled from coins, inscriptions, reports, etc., not from the pages of paid traducers), the historians now begin their tirades against the Emperor's conduct and religion. The obvious inference is that the self-willed boy was already beginning to get on somebody's nerves ; on whose more likely than on Maesa's and his sensitive aunt Julia Mamaea, who so ardently desired her own son to occupy his room. Maesa must have learned by now, from her own sense of the fitting and the insistent representations of Mamaea, that she would have been much better advised, even from her own point of view, if she had set up her younger grandson instead of this headstrong youth who was flouting her at every turn. Of course, it was a question whether Alexianus' elevation would even have been possible, while an elder and a more charming son of Caracalla was known to the soldiers, nevertheless Maesa ruminated and left records which her scribes have copied.
"One of the blackest of his crimes," to quote Xiphilinus, the monk of Trebizond, the abbreviator of Dion Cassius, "was the worship of his God, which he introduced into Rome (though it was a foreign God), whom he revered more religiously than any other, so far as to set him above Jupiter, and to get himself declared his priest by decree of the Senate. He was so extravagant as to be circumcised and abstained from hogs' flesh. He appeared often in public in the habit resembling that of the priests of Syria, which caused him to be named the Assyrian. Is it necessary to mention those whom he put to death without reason ? since he did not spare his best friends, whose wise and wholesome remonstrances he could not bear." These are the sum total of the great crimes which during this period Xiphilinus brings against the Emperor, to which Herodian adds the accusation of a disordered life. Let us examine the statements in order.
"The blackest of his crimes was the worship of his God and the introduction of a foreign God into Rome." To Xiphilinus the ecclesiastic, in all probability the worship of any God except his own was a foul and insolent crime, best dealt with by the holy office of the Inquisition, or whatever took the place of that most useful body (for general purposes of extermination) at the period. But at the moment the knowledge and worship of Xiphilinus' God was, for all practical purposes, confined in Rome to washerwomen or to people of their mental calibre. Xiphilinus' idea that Rome had no foreign Gods is equally ecclesiastical, since only the wilfully blind did not know that Rome was comprehensively, sceptically polytheist, and that she admitted and was deeply attached to many similarly monotheistic Eastern cults, notably those of Mithra and Isis. Why then decry the worship of Elagabal alone ? One can see no reason except the exclusiveness of that worship, the vast monotheistic ideal to which the Emperor had attached himself, and which he was minded to spread throughout the length and breadth of the empire, by every fair means in his power. It was this idea, later centred in Mithraism, which was the most determined opponent of the similarly monotheistic ideal of Xiphilinus, and, as its strongest opponent, called forth the monk's hatred. Rome, however, had a different reason for disliking Elagabal. It was because he, like Jehovah, dethroned all other deities. Rome would willingly have accepted the Syrian Deity amongst the lupanar of divinities whose residence was the Pantheon and whose rites were obscene ; but such was not Antonine's scheme, even primus inter pares was impossible. Elagabal was over all supreme ; even Jupiter Capitolinus, Jehovah, and Vesta must serve the one God. But Rome, whose atriums dripped not blood but metaphysics, knew too well the futility of all Gods to wish for any exclusive cult ; such must fall to the washerwomen, because they were unwanted, unlearned, barbaric, and out of date. But the Emperor persisted, which annoyed his grandmother and other people hugely (she seems to have been generally annoyed, however, so this may be taken as said on other occasions). She had told the boy at Emesa that religion was only a means to the end, and he, with his usual contrariness, had flouted her opinion, backed up by his mother, and persisted in making it the main end of his life. In so doing he went clean contrary to the Zeitgeist, and eventually suffered for his folly in not hanging up the fishing-net when once the fish was landed. Xiphilinus makes another egregious mistake in declaring that Antonine caused the Senate to declare him priest of Elagabal, since it was the possession of that hereditary rank or office which had paved the way to empire at all. Again, we are asked to believe that to this period belong his circumcision and resolve to abstain from hogs' flesh, whereas Cheyne considers that these two religious peculiarities were common to all Syrian religious, as well as to the Egyptian and Semitic peoples, and dated with him in all probability from the usual age at which circumcision was performed, the age of puberty, which corresponded with his assumption of the priesthood in 217 or early 218. Lampridius, on the other hand, dates the commencement of these observances as part of the fanaticism of the later period in Rome ; when the Emperor formulated his scheme for one universal church, which was to include the distinctive rites of all religions, an inference which is not by any means necessary, Antonine's religion was undoubtedly exclusive and fanatical, though even here it was not peculiar, as the Christian history gives us far more pitiable records of these vices. Antonine's religion was never cruel, it never persecuted, whereas from the moment that Christianity attained the ascendancy she has considered persecution her especial role. There may be joy in heaven over the sinner that repents ; in Christendom the joy is at his downfall. We can fancy the difference with which the monk would have treated this Emperor's memory had he been successful, had he even had the foresight to affiliate his church with the kindred worship of Jerusalem, to call his Deity Jehovah in the later adaptation of the term, and had then died as other martyrs had done, a victim to the conviction that in him resided the fulness of the godhead bodily, and further, in the prosecution of a scheme for monotheistic worship, such as no Emperor had ever yet formulated. It is a thousand pities for his reputation that he did not see ahead. In that case, though he would not have formed a fourth part of the ineffable Trinity, his life would at least have become blameless, not only by the baptism of blood, but also in the pages of ecclesiastical historians. We might then have seen St. Antoninus "Athleta Christi," a holy martyr worshipped throughout the length and breadth of Christendom, as the upholder of monotheism against the forces of his polytheistic surroundings.
In connection with this question, one act of pride is recorded of the sojourn of Nicomedia, an act which well shows the temper of the boy, namely, his assumption of the latinized name of his God, Elagabalus (though, apparently, this was not done for official purposes, as it never occurs on the coins or inscriptions of his reign). Earlier Emperors had been deified at their death ; latterly it had been customary to accord divine honours during the lifetime of the monarch. Elagabalus did not believe that, a senatorial patent aiding, he could become a new God. He did believe, unfortunately, like so many prophets and other religious maniacs, that he could associate himself with his God as his earthly emanation or expression ; and henceforward, says Lampridius, none might address him officially except on the knee. It was a weird fancy, but no uncommon delusion, and the world has connived at his conceit by giving him that title when all others are forgotten save amongst numismatists. That Antonine intended others to regard him in this light, and was thus a constant menace to Christ, is certain from the fact (recorded by Herodian) that he sent to the imperial city during this winter his portrait, painted in the full splendour of his Aaronic vestments, with the command that it should be placed in the Senate House, immediately above the statue of Victory, and that each Senator on entering should offer incense and an oblation to Deus Solus in the image of his High Priest on earth. Herodian records another effort, made during this winter, to introduce the worship of Deus Solus into the minds of men. This was an order sent to magistrates officiating at the public sacrifices that this name should take the first and most important place ; an order which, we are told, even Montanist Christians were able to obey, especially as there were no penalties attaching to the refusal.
It had obviously been a gross error of judgment on Maesa's part to introduce a boy of such a temperament to a religion of any sort, much more so to have made him the directing force thereof; but it was done, and with it went the clothes she now hated so cordially. At Emesa, Antonine had accustomed himself to the clinging softness of the silken raiment worn by that priesthood ; now he declined to lay it aside. He hated wool and refused to wear it, neither did linen take his fancy. Silk and cloth of gold encrusted with jewels was his ostentatious conceit, and he was going to wear what his soul delighted in, now that he was free to indulge his proclivities, but what had been entirely proper and fitting at Emesa would not do for the War Lord of the Roman Empire. One knows that circumstances alter cases, and can fancy the state of Maesa's mind when she contemplated the wide-eyed astonishment which would greet the painted priest as he made his entry into Rome the con- servative. The Emperor thought he knew better than his elders ; he had found the secret of popularity with the army, and thought that similar attractions would bring the city captive to his feet. Money, beauty, and voluptuousness, says Capitolinus, had brought him to the throne of the world, and he had artistic taste enough to realise that his beauty, height, and grace were enhanced when he was robed in the silken garments of his choice. He did not realise that the clothes were too rich for a soldier ; that bracelets, necklaces, and tiaras were the means by which priests rule women, not soldiers the hearts of men ; that now he must put away childish things, since he had begun to be a man, the leader of armies. Again Maesa was right, but she was overruled, and made more entries against the day when the sum of this grandson's iniquities against her should be so complete that she might put another in his room. It is only fair to state, however, that Dion totally disagrees with this other "eye-witness" when he remarks, that Antonine always wore the Toga Praetexta at the games and shows, thus restricting the use of the Syrian clothes to religious and family appearances.
But, to proceed to Xiphilinus' third charge, that of putting men, even his best friends, to death without reason. This almost certainly refers to the death of Gannys, his mother's and grandmother's obliging servant, and the Emperor's tutor, to whom, Herodian tells us, he was much attached. Forquet de Dorne says that this man considered himself authorised to remonstrate continually with the Emperor on his conduct, just as though his relations' grumblings did not weary him sufficiently. Further, Wotton tells us that a marriage had been arranged between him and one of the imperial ladies, and that there was an idea of declaring him Caesar. Probably these two circumstances led to the tragedy or accident which resulted in Gannys' death, and which, we are told, Antonine always bitterly regretted.
The tutor was nagging and pedagogic. Further, a plot was unmasked. Gannys did not realise that the Antonine temper, when developed, was not a thing to play with. The Emperor forgot himself, and in a fit of mad anger rushed at his tormentor with his sword or knife drawn, struck, and even wounded him. As was only natural, Gannys drew to defend himself, and the guards, fearing for Antonine's life, interposed, and the unfortunate man was no more. Gannys' fault lay in neglecting the boy's training for amorous converse with his female relations ; putting off his duty of moulding the plastic character until all was set, hard as bronze, in a misshapen and distorted mould. He had put everything off till a time when reformation was impossible, and the reckoning must be paid by the defaulter. There is no other murder or act of cruelty, either recorded or hinted at by any one of the men who were paid to ruin his reputation. The worst that they can say is, that his character was debased, and small wonder.
As we read this Emperor's life, we are bound to admit that his nature was debased ; but we are struck, not so much by this fact, as by the necessary conclusion that he could never have had the opportunity of being anything else. His faults are admittedly the faults of children, magnified by the fact that he was a child suddenly placed in the unfortunate position where all restraint from outside was impossible, and where his wayward petulancy forbade any to tempt the trial. To him the possession of supreme power meant the holding of limitless privileges, with practically no training for the responsibilities involved. The whole position calls for our pity rather than our censure, if we realise that his only training was neurotic or religious, and phallic at that. All things considered, it is a marvel that no deeds of murder, rapine, envy, hatred, or malice have been laid to his charge, even by his enemies ; such as have been laid to the charge not only of his predecessors, but even at the door of those whom the world honours as the righteous, the salt of the earth. No history is immaculate. If it were, it would relate to a better world ; unable to be immaculate, history is usually stupid, more usually false. Concerning Elagabalus, it has contrived to be absurd, by means of the impossibility of the statements for which it attempts to offer neither proof nor likelihood.
It is during this period at Nicomedia, we are told by the historians of the reign, that his popularity disappears — a statement which, on the evidence of the medals and inscriptions, as well as from what we know of his extraordinary generosity, is and must be utterly false. A further statement that the soldiers already regretted their action in deposing Macrinus is equally absurd, as they had no sort of reason to do this, and, being largely returned to their quarters, would know little or nothing of any scandals of which they had fully approved a few months previously. The impression left by the adjectives used on inscriptions, medals and coins is, that the Emperor was wildly popular, not only with the military, but also with the civil population. The titles are fulsome, the use of superlatives unparalleled. The frequent use of the adjective indulgentissimus tells its own story, explains what Rome thought of his character. There is not the smallest doubt that his generous prodigalities endeared him to the whole population as few, if any, of the Emperors were ever endeared, and the adjectives are indicative of the popular sentiment. Another reason for the popularity of the Emperor was the Pax Romana which he brought to the whole world. That such was popular and advantageous is abundantly testified by the inscriptions and many coins still known to us.
The fatal influences of peace were as yet unrecognized, and a happy scepticism tranquillised the mind, gave free play to the senses. Life was nonchalant, though the world still had its one great passion — Rome, its greatness and renown. The wheels of empire were well oiled ; they now ran with wonderful smoothness, even in provinces which the rigidity of the Republic had alienated. It was a time when, even in far-distant Dacia, the lover quoted Horace to his maid under the light of the moon, a time when the toga protected the world. Life was sweet, because of the abundance of its pleasant things. The treasure of the world was such as has never been realised since, the resources of wealth wonderful. During three hundred years, from Augustus to Diocletian, no new tax was created, and at the beginning of the third century the contributions of the citizens, fixed two centuries earlier, had become so nominal, with the growing power of money, that their weight was almost infinitesimal. The Roman world owed all to its Imperium ; small wonder that its people adored the youth who personified its all with such grace and liberality.