#2_Lourance Alma Tadema, The rose of Ela
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Elagabalo, a Roman way of life: decadent, anarchic, doomed hero

From the dawn of our civilization Plato in his Symposium defined androgyny as the perfect myth that originally led humanity to unity, "humanity included three sexes: male, female and those who considered themselves both ". In 218 AD. the fifteen-year-old Elagabalus became the first transgender emperor in the history of Rome: he dressed as a woman and wanted to change sex.

He was Born in Homs, and named Sesto Vario Avito Bassiano, at 14 he became Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus better known as Elagabalus /El-Gabal, which in Syrian means "God of the mountain" a Semitic deity of the Sun, an asteroid, to which he was a devotee and high priest. His mother and grandmother two Syrian noblewomen, related to the Severi dynasty, had spread the news that he was the illegitimate son of Emperor Caracalla and with military assistance managed to turn the boy into emperor. A bust at the Capitoline Museums of Rome describes him as young, with large eyes and wavy hair, sideburns and a fluff on his face, full cheeks and abundant lips. He was the twenty-fifth Caesar and lasted only 1395 days, from May 16 218 to March 11 222 AD.

He did not like the clothes that the Greeks and Romans wore nor did he like to wear mens clothing.  When not dressed as Venus, he wore a large gold embroidered scarlet silk drape and wore many necklaces, bracelets and rings, used dazzling robes, or dressed in the mode of Phoenician priests or in the Persian fashion, for this reason he was satirically called "the Assyrian". He married five aristocratic Roman women for eugenics because he desired to produce children similar to gods, but had no children. He also married two eastern men out of passion: the charioteer Ierocle, who he considered "wife and queen", and then a manly and highly gifted athlete named Zotico. He prostituted himself in a brothel under the name of "the lady", he was completely shaved,   excessively made up and wore a wig (Roman women loved wigs, and wore many different colors, including green). He was circumcised for religious reasons but he wanted to change sex and was willing to give half of the Roman Empire to the doctor who would find a way to transplant female genitalia on to him.

The mother and grandmother attended meetings of the consulate sitting in seats  reserved for consuls, a taboo punishable by death that only Agrippina, Nero's mother, had violated by hiding behind a curtain, Elagabalus instituted, therefore, a senate of women in place an ancient "band of virtuous matrons". He was a protector of prostitutes, ransomed slaves and freed them, built public housing for them, gave them a lot of money and a lot of grain. The military and senators of Rome had been accustomed for centuries to the excesses of nobles and the most impudent emperors, power and wealth never came with asceticism and Elagabalus was even more extravagant than Nero: rains of petals, fragrant pools, gold cushions and silver pots, wines with exotic aromas and incredible "finger food" dishes: camel heels, nightingales tongues , flamingo brains, and mullet beards.

The custodians of the res publica (public affairs) did not like Elagabalus, the soldiers were disgusted that "a prince welcomed lust in all his holes" (at least so openly), senators did not like to be "servants in togas" and be excluded from more important positions that the emperor gave (in their opinion) to dissolute friends. But above all what was tolerated the least was the worship of one god and the exotic rituals that - by force or for love - Elagabalus tried to transplant to Rome. On the Palatine Hill, in front of the Colosseum, he built the Elagabalium, a temple where he housed the religious and ancestral symbols of Rome along with those of Jews and Christians, but imposed the cult of the Sun and decided that there was no other god except Elagabalus, an asteroid, in Latin Sol Invictus, a deity from his hometown Emesa, modern day Homs in Syria. No one understood that new spirituality, monotheism, and the strangeness of its rites and liturgies, and it was bizarre to see the emperor and high priest dancing to music around the altar with "groans and contortions", sacrificing bulls and sheep and occasionally children.

The military guards began to show signs of impatience, the Pretorians mutinied and decided to hunt him down, the emperor hid in a urinal but was found and beheaded and the body dragged to circus Maximus and then thrown into the Tiber. The meteor revered as Sol Invictus Elagabalus was sent back to Syria.

Over time the awful and judgmental ancient biographies made him the most lascivious flame of Rome and the dregs of history. Later writers called him even worse: <the most dirty of men> (Boccaccio, 14th century), <had preferred the mantis shrimp to the scepter> (Edward Gibbon, 18th century). From the nineteenth century onwards Elagabalus was rehabilitated as a decadent, anarchic and doomed hero. He has been put into music, performed in theatre, in ballets and in paintings. Some historians have explained his excesses as an anti-elite policy and his orgiastic fury as signs of a particular religious devotion.

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Elagabalo, a Roman way of life: decadent, anarchic, doomed hero

#1_ Elagabalus bust_Roma
#1_ Elagabalus bust_Roma
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#2_Lourance Alma Tadema, The rose of Ela
#2_Lourance Alma Tadema, The rose of Ela
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#3_Elagabalus_Aureus_Depiction of a quad
#3_Elagabalus_Aureus_Depiction of a quad
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