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Heliogabalus, A Monster On The Roman Throne: The Literary Construction Of A Bad Emperor

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Chapter Summary

Reading the accounts of authors like Tacitus, Suetonius, and Cassius Dio, one might get the impression that the Roman empire has only been ruled by two kinds of emperor: the good and the bad. This chapter discusses the case study of Heliogabalus to examine the ways in which Greco-Roman authors used literary loci communes to distinguish between ?good? and ?bad? rulers. It discusses the ethnic stereotyping of Heliogabalus because of his Syrian background. The chapter looks at his alleged effeminacy and at the luxurious and licentious lifestyle he supposedly adopted. In the literary representation of Heliogabalus, the accusation of effeminacy features prominently. Cassius Dio once again compares the emperor to Sardanapalus. Extravagant luxury and a licentious lifestyle are standard accusations against emperors who are portrayed as evil tyrants in Greco-Roman historiography.

Keywords: Cassius Dio; Greco-Roman historiography; Heliogabalus; Roman empire; Sardanapalus; Suetonius; Syrian background; Tacitus



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