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From Priest To Emperor To Priest-Emperor: The Failed Legitimation Of Elagabalus

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Chapter Summary

Among the emperors of Rome, Elagabalus is famous - or rather, infamous - for his devotion to an exotic god, whom he worshipped with extravagant rites and placed at the head of the Roman pantheon, usurping Jupiter's supreme position. Moreover, the ancient literary sources accuse the so-called priest-emperor of just about every sort of scandalous behaviour and malpractice imaginable, from corruption and cruelty to a whole range of sexual escapades. The historian presents Elagabalus as an 'Oriental' whose strange religion and luxurious tastes stand in bold contrast to Roman values and traditions. Herodian records a second Elagabal temple in the suburbs, which may have been located in Trastevere. Elagabalus's acts as high priest of Elagabal were certainly not in accordance with the role that an emperor was traditionally expected to play, i.e. that of a moderate, benign prince who upheld Roman traditions.

Keywords: Elagabalus; Herodian; priest-emperor; Roman traditions



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