The Amazing Emperor Heliogabalus/Chapter X
THE EXTRAVAGANCES OF THE EMPEROR ELAGABALUS
The Rome of Elagabalus was a dream aflame with gold, "a city of triumphal arches, enchanted temples, royal dwellings, vast porticoes, and wide, hospitable streets; a Rome purely Greek in conception and design. On its heart, from the Circus Maximus to the Forum's edge, the remains of the gigantic Palace of Nero still shone, fronted by a stretch of columns a mile in length; a palace so wonderful that even the cellars were frescoed. In the baths of porphyry and verd-antique you had waters cold or sulphurous at will, and these Elagabalus threw open to all whose forms pleased him, men and women alike" (a custom of mixed bathing which had been abolished by Hadrian and was again proscribed by Alexander Severus). "The dining-halls had ivory ceilings, from which flowers fell, and wainscots that changed at every service. The walls were alive with the glisten of gems, with marbles rarer than jewels. In one hall was a dome of sapphire, a floor of malachite, crystal columns and red gold walls; about the palace were green savannahs, forest reaches, the call of the bird and deer; before it was a lake, eight acres of which Vespasian had drained and replaced by an amphitheatre, which is still the wonder of the world."
Into this profusion of aesthetic loveliness the youth of fourteen summers stepped proudly, realising how fitting a background it made to his glorious beauty. It was Nero's creation, and here was a young Nero (in face and manner) suddenly reappeared to enjoy what he had been prematurely forced to leave.
In spite of everything, Nero was still the idol of the masses. For years fresh roses had lain on his tomb, the memory of his festivals was unforgettable, regret for him refused to be stilled; he was more than a god, he was a tradition, and his second advent was confidently expected. The Egyptians had proclaimed that the soul has its avatars; the Romans had sneered in their philosophical fashion at all ideas of soul migration till Elagabalus sauntered from that distant Emesa, an Antonine at the head of an adoring army; then they began to think that the Egyptians were wiser than they looked, for in the blue eyes of the young Emperor the spirit of Nero's magnificence shone.
All men were charmed; the Senate with their Aurelius, the people with their Nero, the army with their Antonine. Certainly in profusion Elagabalus was destined to rival his prototype. His prodigalities were more excessive, his mignons more blatant, his wives more numerous, and his processions more splendid. Only in cruelty (at which none can cavil) did the resemblance fail. Nero had regretted his ability to write when first a death-warrant was presented for his signature; he appended his name and soon found the taste for blood. Elagabalus wept at the sight of suffering, poverty and misery to the end of his life; and as he never avoided seeing it, he must have wept often. In fact, a favourite pastime, according to Herodian, was wandering disguised through the purlieus of the city; sometimes he would serve as potboy in the taverns, or as barber's assistant in the slums, as itinerant vendor of vegetables and perfumes about the streets; which antics assume a most reprehensible flavour in the mouth of the historians after the Emperor had conceived the notion of taking the world into his confidence and had ordered paintings of himself in the plebeian garbs above mentioned. Any way, Elagabalus tried to alleviate distress, which was more practical than tears, though an unusual extravagance amongst the Emperors of the decadence.
From his infancy the boy had gloried in extravagance. Even as a private citizen we are told that he refused to stir without a procession of sixty chariots following, a foible which had caused Maesa to gnash her teeth instead of adopting measures which would prevent the recurrence of such ostentation. He had never even thought of austerity, simplicity, and poverty as necessary evils, let alone as Christian virtues, to be borne with fortitude and temperance. Once when a friend asked him whether he was not afraid that his prodigalities would land him in ultimate necessity, he replied with an astounding self-complacency, "What can be better for me than to be heir to myself." Like many a modern child, he objected to woollen garments, and his parents were foolish enough to give way to his whimsies; he disliked the feel of wool, he said. Another prejudice was against linen that had been washed. So dainty was he that he never used the same garments, the same jewels, the same woman twice (unless it were his wife), says Lampridius. But in Rome wool was necessary; Rome was never healthy. Maesa knew it by experience, but was more than willing to tempt providence by returning thither. The Tramontana visited it then as now; fever too, and sudden death. Wool was certainly necessary; besides, it was the accustomed dress of the country, and Rome was intensely conservative, she would not endure an Emperor who came dressed as an Eastern barbarian; the boy of thirteen years must adopt the clothes, habits, and customs of his adopted country, of his reputed father; thus the grandmother argued till Elagabalus was bored with the discussion, and told the lady so. He was devising, moreover, he announced, garments more splendid and more bizarre than any Rome had found outside the temple at Jerusalem. His fancy was a frail tunic of purple silk diapered with gold, or that even more resplendent vestment which was woven throughout of fine gold and encrusted with gems. Alone of the garments he had seen, this enhanced his beauty and gave dignity to his movements. The sleeves were long and full, reaching to his heels, open to show the rounded softness of his girlish arms; gilded leather covered his feet and reached to his thighs; it was softer than wool and certainly showed his form to better advantage. Sometimes after supper he would appear in public dressed in the stiff dalmatic of a young deacon, calling himself Fabius Gurgis, and Scipio, because the parents of these youths had formerly shown them to the people in this costume in order to correct their bad manners.
Encircling his curls (but in the palace only) was a diadem of heavy gold, studded with jewels; not the simple golden circlet known to the Roman world, but one after a Persian design, first introduced by Caracalla, rich, splendid, and brilliant with the numbers of rubies, sapphires, and emeralds which he thought became him. Unfortunately, his taste for precious stones did not stop here. Lampridius and Herodian pour deserved scorn on the numerous bracelets, rings and necklaces, all as rich and costly as could be made, with which he decked his person; but, perhaps unnecessarily, on his shoe-buckles, whose stones, engraved cameo and intaglio, were the wonder of the beholder, and their cry has been increased to a howl by later commentators, who seem to consider it a species of indecency that the Emperor's shoes should be of fine leather, his stones priceless, while theirs were of ill-dressed cowhide, held together with buckles of paste.
Of course, it is not a pleasant taste, this overlaying of the body with an inordinate display of wealth, even when done merely for the honour of one's God, as Elagabalus protested. Unfortunately, it is still known both in the Plutocratic and Sacerdotal worlds. Certain minds still revolt, still see its snobbery, vanity and degeneracy, are even foolish enough to imagine that the personal vanity of such functionaries will one day renounce what is their main means of attraction.
Elagabalus' love of extravagance comes out most strongly in his ritual of worship. Never in the history of Rome had such daily waste of life and liquor, such profusion of colour and gold, flowers, music, and movement displayed the honour of God or man. The Emperor's one idea was to eclipse all that his predecessors had imagined. It was a stupendous task to surpass Nero in fantasy, Otho and Vitellius in greediness; but he had read Suetonius, and not an eccentricity of the Caesars had escaped his notice. He knew, too, where to exceed them, and still lives on the reputation of a work accomplished.
The hecatombs of oxen and innumerable quantities of sheep which came daily to the temple of the Only God required a perfect army of butchers that their slaughter might do homage to the Deity while daylight lasted. These, with the spices, wine, and flowers, were but part payment of the interest which the high priest felt his family owed to Elagabal for the past and present successes of his house, while his most beloved title was that which styled him "Invictus Sacerdos, Dei Soli." There is a great variety in his medals, both in those coined by the Senate and in those struck by himself, whereon this priesthood of his is described. Chief Priest and Invincible Priest of Elagabal, or the Sun, are commonly to be met with round his image, which stands in a sacrificing posture, with a censer in his hand, over an altar. It was in this supreme ineffable spirit that the Emperor put his trust, to him he ascribed his health, wealth, and security, together with that of his whole catholic church militant here on earth.
On his arrival in Rome in the year A.D. 219, Elagabalus thought well to carry through the laudable custom (for the poor) of bestowing the usual congiary on the people. If Mediobarbus were to be trusted, he gave six such during his short reign of approximately four years, besides the soldiers' donatives (which to his cost and undoing he foolishly neglected as time went on). To-day such liberalities on the part of a sovereign take the form of free meals and a limited supply of beer, but are amiable and satisfying methods of spending the public money in an ingratiating fashion. What Elagabalus gave was from the private funds of his house, and was given in a manner quite his own. Formerly it had been usual to distribute gold and silver (Nero had added eccentric gifts, of course) on such occasions, but Elagabalus signalised his assumption of the Consulship by the distribution of fat oxen, camels, eunuchs, slaves, caparisoned saddle-horses, closed sedans and carriages, hoping, as he remarked, that all men would remember these were the gifts of the Emperor; as though any were likely to forget when they found themselves saddled with a dromedary, and expected to conduct it safely to their own backyard through the crowded lanes of the city. Such gifts were often more trouble than they were worth, and the scramble at the distribution much what it would be now, at least, according to Lampridius' description of those yearly distributions which followed the translation of the Great God to his temple in the suburbs.
At times Elagabalus gave money; witness the congiary and donative to celebrate his marriage with Cornelia Paula, when, as Herodian tells us, not only the people, but also the Senators, Equites, and even the Senators' wives partook of the liberality, receiving 150 denares each, the soldiers 250, on account, presumably, of their superior usefulness.
Had this boy's megalomania stopped short at donatives and congiaries, we should know little but good of him; unfortunately, he considered that to love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance, and spent his money as best pleased his fancy at the moment, which was always with a taste for resplendency.
We can imagine the beauty of his reclining couches, solid silver, richly chased, the cushions upholstered in purple woven with pure gold. Entire services in silver for table use, very massive; even the saucepans were in the same metal, and elegantly fashioned vases or cups containing 100 lbs. weight of precious metal apiece, with the most obvious indecencies engraved or repoussed on the sides; the strange part of it all being that he took delight, not so much in the possession of all this splendour as in the giving of it to his friends, so much so that the silversmiths could scarce keep pace with his generosity. It is a good feeling that of giving generously, better to give than to receive, and what Elagabalus got in return cost the giver so little pain.
To food and drink the Emperor was as much addicted as the traditional city alderman, though his imagination certainly surpassed that of the retired tradesman, at least in quality and design. His chief authority was Apicius, the renowned author of a book entitled De re coquinaria, but he had other models almost as famous, if not as long-lived, in the Emperors Otho and Vitellius, and managed to outdo them all in extravagance. Lampridius states that no feast cost Elagabalus less than 100,000 sesterces, and often reached the stupendous figure of 300,000, tout compris. The number of dishes has been reached, if not surpassed, by modern luxury, but to Lampridius' twenty-two courses sounded absurd; not so, however, the ablutions and courtesans who always attended and utilised the intervals in an unbecoming manner. Occasionally these intervals were of some length, caused by the removal of whole services of plate to the possession of some guest who had said the right thing at the psychological moment. Another means of delay was found in the practice, which Elagabalus instituted, of taking each course in the house of a different friend, an arrangement which necessitated the transference of the whole party in their gold and ivory chariots from the Capitol to the Palatine, thence to the Coelian Hill, and again to another friend who might live beyond the walls, or yet to another in Trastevere. This, with the usual impedimenta, arriving at the house of each, for the dishes in their order, took time, and in such a fashion we can well believe the chronicler who states that a single feast was scarce finished in the daytime, especially as the intervals for customary enjoyments were arranged with due regard for the utmost desires of the guests.
It is charming to imagine a feast such as is recorded of Maecenas, where "in ungirdled tunics the guests lay on silver beds, the head and neck encircled with amaranthe—whose perfume, in opening the pores, neutralises the fumes of wine—fanned by boys, whose curly hair they used as napkins. Under the supervision of butlers the courses were served on silver platters, so large that they covered the tables. Sows' breasts with Lybian truffles; dormice baked in poppies and honey; peacocks' tongues flavoured with cinnamon; oysters stewed in garum—a sort of anchovy sauce made of the intestines of fish—flamingoes' and ostriches' brains, followed by the brains of thrushes, parroquets, pheasants, and peacocks, also a yellow pig cooked after the Trojan fashion, from which, when carved, hot sausages fell and live thrushes flew; sea-wolves from the Baltic, sturgeons from Rhodes, fig-peckers from Samos, African snails and the rest." A full list of the dainties set forth would weary the amateur, might even make him envious of the times that are now long dead, times when the ceaseless round of beef and mutton would have been considered monotonous or bad art, and year in year out plain boiled greens were unknown; times when the Emperor served, as we have recorded, grains of gold with his peas, rubies with lentils, beans and amber, for the mere pleasure of sight; though his salads of mullets' fins with cress, balm mint, and fenugreek, we should probably have found no greater delicacy than the undercooked vegetables of this twentieth century of our salvation and discomfort.
As with food, so with wine, Elagabalus was a glutton. Mulsum, that cup composed of white wine, roses, nard, absinthe and honey, was vieux jeu. The delicate wines of Greece were always palatable; so was the crusty Falernian of the year 632 A.U.C., to those who were of an age to appreciate its worth. The young gourmet thought otherwise, and rendered them noisome by the addition of crushed pine kernels and fir cones. It was a youthful taste, such as we still distrust, but scarcely immoral in the generally accepted sense of the term. As regards a tendency to over-indulgence in good liquor, we have no data; there is a passage in Lampridius (though evidently faulty) which asserts that the Emperor used to mix wine with the baths and then invite the guests to drink, the basin from which he had drunk being easily distinguishable by the fall in its level; an utter impossibility, and not even clever as a bit of scandal. Another extravagance culled from the same biographer tells how this child realised the summer by feasts at which all was of one colour, food as well as fittings, and how he would order all the dishes of a certain day to be composed of a single sort of flesh: it might be pheasant under twenty different garbs, fowls served on the same scale, even fish, if the Court happened to be at a distance from the sea. At another time you would be served with a vegetarian diet, or occasionally with nothing but pork, which sounds inconsistent when we consider that the same author has sneered copiously at the Emperor's adoption of the Jewish superstition in this matter. He further tells us that it was not magnificent enough for this child's fancy to recline on silver beds, with covers fashioned in cloth of gold; his cushions were of hare's fur, or down from under the partridge's wing, whilst the whole was strewn thick with flowers and perfumes, those of important guests with saffron and gold dust. Wherever he went were flowers strewing the way—lilies, violets, roses, and narcissus.
No mention of psychological extravagance would be complete without a certain disquisition on the use of perfumes. Here, as everywhere else, Lampridius tells us that Elagabalus contrived to outdo his predecessors. The use he made of unguents was little short of dissolute. As usual, the biographer would have us believe that the failing was an idiosyncrasy peculiar to the Emperor, whose life he was decrying. He had obviously not heard of the soporific nastiness of Solomon's beloved, a lady who is represented to us by the writer of the Canticles as a cluster of camphire, a mountain of myrrh, a hill of frankincense, spikenard and cinnamon, additions which would not only have made her sticky, but noisome to boot. Mahommed and his pavement of musk was beyond Lampridius' ken, but he had certainly heard of the perfumes which scented the temple at Jerusalem, and it would have been no new sight for him to have watched Elagabalus pour tons of aromatics upon the new altars erected to the ancient gods.
Even to-day we know something about the odour of sanctity and occasionally inhale its delights by stealth, because, despite undoubted legal prohibition, the clergy have persuaded us that the Gods still love the smell of incense. Our point is, however, that everything sacred and profane stank horribly at the period. Thank heaven, the personal use of mille fleurs which then obsessed the world has now given place to a smell of the open. But there was nothing unusual during the third century in the fact that Elagabalus burnt Indian aromatics instead of coal in his dining-rooms, balm instead of petroleum in his lamps, and heated his stoves and bathrooms with odours instead of the more commonplace materials. What is repulsive is the depraved use which the world made of perfume. The tunics of men, their baths, beds, horses, rooms, streets, servants, even their food smelt. Caligula had wasted a fortune on perfumes. Nero had waded in them. Myrrh, aloes, and cassia, saffron and cinnamon, not to mention others equally objectionable and even more costly; these all made life heavy and cloying, turned conceptions of wrong into right, made the unholy adorable, stained the thoughts and depraved the mind, just as M. Huysmans (in À Rebours) describes what he succeeded in doing during his stay at Fontenay.
Not that Rome was as objectionable as Athens. There, we are told that both men and women painted their faces with white lead, their eyelids with kohl, and their nails with henna; and in order to draw attention to their depravity, they perfumed their hair with marjoram, rubbed their arms with mint, their legs with ivy, and the soles of their feet with baccaris. In Greece this idea of attention to personal beauty was a perfect cult—the latest recipes for artificial adornments were engraved on tablets and exhibited in the temples of Aesculapius, and, this done, the state imposed a fine for a slatternly appearance; but for all that it was decadent and nasty. People, of course, still spend money on their personal appearance, but patchouli, thank heaven! has gone, even from Piccadilly.
The Emperor's fondness for fish was tempered by its rarity. He would never eat of its living things whilst he sojourned near the sea; he would have them transported to the immense salt-water tanks he had constructed amongst the mountains and in the interior of the country, both for their preservation and his own amusement. We are told that he invented a method of fishing in which oxen figured, a conceit which later years has not revived.
First in history he conceived of sausages made from lampreys' roes, soft-shelled oysters, lobsters, and crayfish, and fed the country peasants on the same. Indeed, his generosity here, as in Rome, was unbounded, the chroniclers relating how he would throw from the windows as many dishes as he offered to his own guests then at table. There was nothing of our niggardly idea of charity here, no notion that any crusts were good enough for the hungry. His dogs were fed on foie-gras, his horses on grapes, his lions on pheasants and parroquets—an unnecessary and unpleasant waste when one knows how much these beasts would have preferred a more ordinary fare.
His fish sauce was a triumph of the culinary art, which is utterly lost. It was a transparent bluish-green, the counterpart of sea water, in which the fish looked alive and natural, utterly unlike the ragged ugliness which is now presented for our consumption. So famous were his dishes that the pastrycooks and dairymen of the day were wont to reproduce them in their own particular wares, selling the same as imperial affectations.
The menus also were his own conception, embroidered on the tablecloth—not the mere list of dishes, but pictures drawn with the needle of the dishes themselves—which, of course, necessitated a change of cloth with each service. He first, we are told, made the public feasts, as well as private dinners, great and magnificent. Formerly these feasts had been of a military simplicity. Elagabalus could not see why even political guests should not enjoy themselves when they came to dine with him, and served them with hydrogarum, the then last word in Sybaritic enjoyment. His successor Alexander thought differently, and reverted to the old order, a proceeding which pleased no one save the flatulent.
Elagabalus was, unfortunately, tainted with what is perhaps natural in young people, though in elderly plutocrats is an acquired vice, that of overt snobbery. It is recorded by more than one of his guests that he would often ask them to price his dishes, in order to hear an excessive value suggested, remarking that great cost gave a good appetite, especially when one knew that dishes were scarce and out of season. Of course, it was bad form, even in a boy, but how much else that happens is the same? There are other things in plenty to cavil at.
It was not by food alone that Elagabalus drained the treasury; he had other ways of flattering the sovereign people of Rome. The spectacles which he gave in the amphitheatre were unique. Fancy 80,000 people on ascending galleries, protected from the sun by a canopy of spangled silk, an arena three acres in extent, carpeted with sane, vermilion, and borax, in that arena were naval displays on lakes of wine, and the death of whole menageries of Egyptian beasts (in one show, Herodian tells us, fifty-one tigers alone were killed). There were chariot races, in which not only horses, but also stags, lions, tigers, dogs, and even women figured, till the spectators showed a colossal delight. The magnificence of the spectacle almost surpasses belief: from below came the blare of a thousand brass instruments, and from above the caresses of flutes, while the air, sweet with flowers and perfume (for the Emperor had provided saffron even for the cloaks of the crowd), was alive with multicoloured motes. The terraces were parterres of blending hues, when into that splendour a hundred lions, their tasselled tails sweeping the sand, entered obliquely, and anon a rush of wild elephants, attacked on either side; another moment of sheer delight, in which the hunters were tossed upon the terraces, tossed back again by the spectators, and trampled to death. By way of interlude, the ring was peopled with acrobats, who flew up in the air like birds, and formed pyramids together, much in the fashion that we know them to-day. There was a troop of tamed lions, their manes gilded, that walked on tight-ropes, wrote obscenities in Greek, and danced to cymbals, which one of them played; a chase of ostriches and feats of horsemanship on zebras from Madagascar. The interlude at an end, the sand was re-raked. Then, preceded by the pomp of lictors, interminable files of gladiators entered, while the eyes of the women lighted and glowed; artistic death was their chiefest joy, for there was no cowardice in the arena. The gladiators fought for applause, for liberty, for death—fought manfully, skillfully, terribly too, and received the point of the sword or the palm of victory with an equally unmoved expression, an unchanged face. It was a magnificent conception on which the Romans, or, more exactly, the Etruscans, their predecessors, had devised to train their children for war and allay the fear of blood. It had been serviceable indeed, and though the need of it had gone, the spectacle endured, and, enduring, constituted the chief delight of the Vestals and of Rome. By its means a bankrupt became Consul, an Emperor beloved. It had stayed revolutions, because it was felt to be the tax of the proletariat on the rich. Silver and bread were for the individual, but these things were for the crowd. When evening descended, so did torches and the Emperor to take chief part in the ballet which he considered as the culminating point in the performance.
In a robe, immaterial as a moonbeam, his eyelids darkened with antimony, his face painted in imitation of the courtesans who sat on high chairs and ogled passers-by in the Suburra, he entered the arena, and there, to the incitement of crotals, he danced with his Syrians before the multitude, a protecting claque of 80,000 persons toasting the performer with the magnificent cry, "Io Triumphe!" whatever they thought of its indecency. Lampridius tells us of his importing from Egypt those little serpents, known under the name of "good genius," and letting them loose amongst the audience, among whom many were bitten, many killed, in the stampede. It was quite a likely prank to play—is even heard of to-day—but one cannot imagine that Elagabalus wanted to disperse the audience, as his biographer suggests, before they had witnessed the magnificence which he had prepared for their delectation. It would have been too foolish, especially if he wanted an appreciative reception for his own turn.
So much for his public appearances. Many of his private pleasures are quite repeatable, though all are extravagant, such as his chariot races in the palace and in the Gardens of Hope, his teams of great dogs to draw him from place to place, his naked women for the same purpose, or when he himself, in the attributes and customary undress of Bacchus, was drawn by lions, tigers, and the female sex. In driving, Elagabalus had a splendid nerve, as we learn from the record of his chariot races with camels and elephants even over the Vatican and its tombs. He seems to have imagined that others were possessed of the same daring and hardihood. Witness his requests to guests that they should drive chariots, to which were harnessed four wild stags, through the porticoes in front of his dining-rooms, which porticoes were strewn thick with gold and silver dust, because he could not get electrum. Many found the task most unpleasant, especially if they were portly, or Senators whose pomposity ought to have put such antics out of the question; but Elagabalus was no respecter of persons, unless, of course, they were young, beautiful, and full of lust; to such he was ever considerate, whether they were men or women. One day, because they pleased him, he presented to the courtesans and procurers of the city the whole supply of corn for a year's provisions, and promised a like amount to those dwelling outside the walls. On another he collected the cocottes of the theatres and circuses, and, having harangued them as "companions in arms," presented them with a soldier's donative of three pieces of gold, saying, "Tell no one that Antonine has given you this."
Elagabalus is the originator of lotteries, which have since become a source of profit to European states. There was one for the people, one for the comedians. Of course, he provide the prizes, and there does not seem to have been any purchase of tickets. These were singular, as were all his other gifts, and varied from 1 lb. of beef to 100 pieces of gold or 1000 of silver.
In summer he had the audacity to erect a snow mountain in his orchard, in order that cool airs might relieve the oppressiveness of Sol in Leone. Even in the relief of natural functions he was magnificent, using only vases of gold, onyx, and myrrhin. Whether this last is a metal or sort of agate has been disputed, but Pliny had no doubt as to its extreme worth. He tells us that a drinking cup was sold for 70,000 sesterces, and a sacrificial capis for 1,000,000, to his own knowledge.
The progresses of Elagabalus were a sight that made even the citizens of Rome stare open-mouthed. Nero had taken a train of 500 carriages, and the boy Emperor was not to be outdone. He ordered a following of 600 at a time, saying that the King of Persia had a train of 10,000 camels, and for himself, his numerous courtesans, procurers, and the rest, whom he had bought and freed, all richly habited, could not be accommodated with less, wherein he showed a certain chivalry, as also in the case of the very famous cocotte, whom he had bought for 10,000 sesterces, and then relegated to perpetual virginity.
The Syrian astrologers had told Elagabalus that he would meet with a violent death, which information seems in no way to have disturbed his equanimity; it merely added to his extravagances, in that he built a tower, from which he designed to throw himself, when his hour was come, on to a pavement of gold encrusted with gems, in order that men might say, "qualis artifex periit." To make assurance doubly sure, he carried with him little cases fashioned in emeralds and rubies, containing deadly poisons, also cords of purple silk, with which he might strangle himself if he were in any real trouble, though the adulation of the people made it doubtful if such a thing could ever happen. Was it a wonderful thing that the people loved him — the originator of lotteries where no one but the Emperor was the loser, the distributor of an incessant shower of tickets that were exchangeable, not for bread or trivial sums, but for gems, pictures, slaves, fortunes, ships, villas, and estates? Such a one was bound to be adored; indeed, his lavishness deified him in the eyes of the sovereign people of Rome.
There is one record of wanton waste which Lampridius has laid to his charge, namely, that of sinking laden ships in the harbours in order to show men at what a price he valued his wealth, that it could pay any compensation, could stand any strain. It is a foolish and criminal fault for a statesman to squander the wealth of his country, but an accusation which is still levelled against the statesmen of our own time, and that not infrequently. They may not attempt to realise the greatness of their country by collecting cobwebs by the ton, as Elagabalus once managed to do, saying that he wished thus to realise the greatness of Rome, but they are perfectly capable of ordering equally unproductive labour and paying for it at an enormous price, which is, ethically speaking, much the same thing. The psychology of extravagance has not yet been examined, so we are still free to condemn what we do not fully understand. Megalomania we all know something about and can all condemn as experts. It was Elagabalus' success, as it has tended to the progress of other equally well-known persons.