Sunday, October 30, 2011

Hallows Eve Eleven

Varius Avitus Bassino was born in 203 and was Syrian on his mother's side, the son of Julia Soaemias and Sextus Varius Marcellus.  Early in his youth he served as a priest of the god El-Gabal  (Mountain God)at his hometown, Emesa.
In 217, the emperor Caracalla was assassinated and replaced by his Praetorian prefect, Marcus Opellius Macrinus.
When Macrinus came to power, he suppressed the threat against his reign by the family of his assassinated predecessor, Caracalla, by exiling them—Julia Maesa, her two daughters, and her eldest grandson Varius—to their estate at Emesa in Syria. Almost upon arrival in Syria Maesa began a plot, with her eunuch advisor and Varius' tutor Gannys, to overthrow Macrinus and elevate the fourteen-year-old  as emperor.
His mother readily complied and announced, falsely, that he was the illegitimate son of Caracalla, therefore due the loyalties of Roman soldiers and senators who had sworn allegiance to Caracalla. After Julia Maesa displayed her wealth to the Third Legion at Raphana they swore allegiance to Varius.
At sunrise on May 16, 218, Publius Valerius Comazon Eutychianus, commander of the legion, declared him emperor.  To strengthen his legitimacy through further propaganda, Varius assumed Caracalla's names, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus and was known as Antoninus.
In response Macrinus dispatched his Praetorian prefect Ulpius Julianus to the region with a contingent of troops he considered strong enough to crush the rebellion. However, this force soon joined the faction of Antoninus when, during the battle, they turned on their own commanders.
The officers were killed and Julianus' head was sent back to the emperor. Macrinus now sent letters to the Senate denouncing the False Antoninus and claiming he was insane. Both consuls and other high ranking members of Rome's leadership condemned him, and the Senate subsequently declared war on both Antoninus and Julia Maesa.
Macrinus and his son, weakened by the desertion of the Second Legion due to bribes and promises circulated by Julia Maesa, were defeated on June 8, 218 at the Battle of Antioch by troops commanded by Gannys.
Antoninus declared the date of the victory at Antioch to be the beginning of his reign and assumed the imperial titles without prior senatorial approval.  Letters of reconciliation were dispatched to Rome extending amnesty to the Senate and recognizing the laws, while also condemning the administration of Macrinus and his son. The senators responded by acknowledging Antoninus as emperor and accepting his claim to be the son of Caracalla.  Caracalla and Julia Domna were both deified by the Senate, both Julia Maesa and Julia Soaemias were elevated to the rank of Augustae, and the memory of Macrinus and Diadumenianus was condemned and vilified by the Senate.
After affairs in the East had been set in order for him by his grandmother and his advisers (for he was young in years, and lacking in education and administrative experience), he delayed his departure for only a short time, as Maesa was eager to return to her familiar imperial life at Rome.
Leaving Syria,the new emperor proceeded to Nicomedia, where he was forced to spend the winter. Immediately he plunged into his mad activities, performing for his native god the fantastic rites in which he had been trained from childhood. He wore the richest clothing, draping himself in purple robes embroidered in gold; to his necklaces and bracelets he added a crown, a tiara glittering with gold and jewels.
His dress showed the influence of the sacred robe of the Phoenicians and the luxurious garb of the Medes. He loathed Greek and Roman garments because they were made of wool, in his opinion an inferior material; only the Syrian cloth met with his approval. Accompanied by flutes and drums, he went about performing, as it appeared, orgiastic service to his god.
He also drove a chariot wearing a green uniform, privately and at home.
When she saw what he was doing, Maesa was greatly disturbed and tried again and again to persuade the youth to wear Roman dress when he entered the city to visit the Senate. She was afraid that his appearance, obviously foreign and wholly barbaric, would offend those who saw him; they were not used to such garb and considered his ornaments suitable only for women.
Since, however, he wished the Senate and the Roman people to grow accustomed to seeing him in this costume and wished to test their reaction to this exotic sight, before he returned to Rome he had a full-length portrait painted, showing him performing his priestly duties in public. His native god also appeared in the painting and the emperor was depicted sacrificing to him under favorable auspices.
He sent this picture to Rome to be hung in the center of the Senate house, high above the statue of Victory before which each senator burns frankincense and pours a libation of wine upon entering the chamber.
He directed all Roman officials who perform public sacrifices to call upon the new god El Gabal before all the other gods whom they invoke in their rites.  By the time the emperor came to Rome presenting the appearance described above, the Romans saw nothing unusual in it, for the painting had prepared them for what to expect.
Antoninus married and divorced five women, three of whom are known. His first wife was Julia Cornelia Paula, the second was the Vestal Virgin Julia Aquilia Severa,  and Annia Aurelia Faustina, a descendant of Marcus Aurelius and the widow of a man recently executed by Antoninus.
He had returned to Severa by the end of the year, but according to Cassius Dio, his most stable relationship seems to have been with his chariot driver, a blond slave from Caria named Hierocles, whom he referred to as his husband.
Hierocles, a Carian slave fell out of his chariot just opposite the seat of Antonius, losing his helmet in his fall. Being still beardless and adorned with a crown of yellow hair, he attracted the attention of the emperor and was immediately rushed to the palace; and there by his nocturnal feats he captivated more than ever and became exceedingly powerful. Indeed, he even had greater influence than the emperor himself, and it was thought a small thing that his mother, while still a slave, should be brought to Rome by soldiers and be numbered among the wives of ex-consuls.
Certain other men, too, were frequently honoured by the emperor and became powerful, some because they had joined in his uprising and others because they committed adultery with him. For he wished to have the reputation of committing adultery, so that in this respect, too, he might imitate the most lewd women; and he would often allow himself to be caught in the very act, in consequence of which he used to be violently upbraided by his "husband" and beaten, so that he had black eyes.
His affection for this "husband" was no light inclination, but an ardent and firmly fixed passion, so much so that he not only did not become vexed at any such harsh treatment, but on the contrary loved him the more for it and wished to make him Caesar in very fact; and he even threatened his grandmother when she opposed him in this matter, and he became at odds with the soldiers largely on this man's account.
Aurelius Zoticus, a native of Smyrna, whom they also called "Cook," after his father's trade, incurred the emperor's thorough love and thorough hatred, and for the latter reason his life was saved. This Aurelius not only had a body that was beautiful all over, seeing that he was an athlete, but in particular he greatly surpassed all others in the size of his private parts.
This fact was reported to the emperor by those who were on the look-out for such things, and the man was suddenly whisked away from the games and brought to Rome, accompanied by an immense escort.
He was appointed cubicularius before he had even been seen by the emperor, was honoured by the name of the latter's grandfather, Avitus, was adorned with garlands as at a festival, and entered the palace lighted by the glare of many torches.
Antonius on seeing him, sprang up with rhythmic movements  and then, when Aurelius addressed him with the usual salutation, "My Lord Emperor, Hail!" he bent his neck so as to assume a ravishing feminine pose, and turning his eyes upon him with a melting gaze,
answered without any hesitation:
"Call me not Lord, for I am a Lady."
Then the emperor immediately joined him in the bath, and finding him when stripped to be equal to his reputation, burned with even greater lust, reclined on his breast, and took dinner, like some loved mistress in his bosom.  
But Hierocles fearing that Zoticus would captivate the emperor more completely than he himself could, and that he might therefore suffer some terrible fate at his hands, as often happens in the case of rival lovers, caused the cup-bearers, who were well disposed toward him, to administer a drug that abated the other's manly prowess.
And so Zoticus, after a whole night of embarrassment, being unable to secure an erection, was deprived of all the honours that he had received, and was driven out of the palace, out of Rome, and later out of the rest of Italy; and this saved his life.
Cassius Dio reported the emperor would paint his eyes, epilate his hair and wear wigs before prostituting himself in taverns and brothels, and even the imperial palace:
Finally, he set aside a room in the palace and there committed his indecencies, always standing nude at the door of the room, as the harlots do, and shaking the curtain which hung from gold rings, while in a soft and melting voice he solicited the passers-by. There were, of course, men who had been specially instructed to play their part.  For, as in other matters, so in this business, too, he had numerous agents who sought out those who could best please him by their foulness.
So Antoninus married Cornelia Paula, in order, as he said, that he might sooner become a father. On the occasion of his marriage not only the senate and the people order but also the wives of the senators received a largess.  The populace was banqueted at a cost of six hundred sesterces apiece, and the soldiers at a cost of four hundred more; there were contests of gladiators, at which the emperor wore a purple-bordered toga, just as he had done at the ludi votivi; and various wild beasts were slain, including an elephant and fifty one tigers — a larger number than had ever before been despatched at one time.
Afterwards he divorced Paula on the ground that she had some blemish on her body, and cohabited with Aquilia Severa, thereby most flagrantly violating the law; for she was consecrated to Vesta, and yet he most impiously defiled her.
Indeed, he had the boldness to say:
"I did it in order that godlike children might spring from me, the high priest, and from her, the high-priestess."
However, he did not keep even this woman long, but married a second, a third, a fourth, and still another; after that he returned to Severa.
He married many women, and had intercourse with even more without any legal sanction; yet it was not that he had any need of them himself, but simply that he wanted to imitate their actions when he should lie with his lovers and wanted to get accomplices in his wantonness by associating with them indiscriminately. He used his body both for doing and allowing  many strange things.

Constant secret sacrifices that he offered to his god,  slaying boys and using charms, in fact actually shutting up alive in the god's temple a lion, a monkey, and a snake, and throwing in among them human genitals, and practising other unholy rites, while he invariably wore innumerable amulets.
Antonius then made the distribution of money customary at the succession of an emperor and staged lavish and extravagant spectacles of every kind. He erected a huge and magnificent temple to his god and surrounded it with numerous altars. Coming forth early each morning, he sacrificed there hecatombs of bulls and a vast number of sheep. These he placed upon the altars and heaped up spices of every kind; he also set before the altars many jars of the oldest and finest wines, so that the streams of blood mingled with streams of wine.
The emperor danced around the altars to music played on every kind of instrument; women from his own country accompanied him in these dances, carrying cymbals and drums as they circled the altars. The entire senate and all the knights stood watching, like spectators at the theater. The spices and entrails of the sacrificial animals were not carried by servants or men of low birth; rather, they were borne along in gold vessels held on high by the praetorian prefects and the most important magistrates, who wore long-sleeved robes with a broad purple stripe in the center, robes which hung to their feet in the Phoenician style. On their feet were the linen shoes customarily worn by the Eastern prophets.
He had planned, indeed, to cut off his genitals altogether, but that desire was prompted solely by his effeminacy; the circumcision which he publically carried out was a part of the priestly requirements of El gabal, and he accordingly mutilated many of his companions in like manner.
Furthermore, he was frequently seen even in public clad in the barbaric dress which the Syrian priests use, and this had as much to do as anything with his receiving the nickname of "The Assyrian."
When trying someone in court he really had more or less the appearance of a man, but everywhere else he showed affectations in his actions and in the quality of his voice.  For instance, he used to dance, not only in the orchestra, but also, in a way, even while walking, performing sacrifices, receiving salutations, or delivering a speech.
He worked with wool, sometimes wore a hair-net, and painted his eyes, daubing them with white lead and alkanet. Once, indeed, he shaved his chin and held a festival to mark the event; but after that he had the hairs plucked out, so as to look more like a woman.  He carried his lewdness to such a point that he asked the physicians to contrive a woman's vagina in his body by means of an incision, promising them large sums for doing so.
Not content with making a mockery of human marriage, he even sought a wife for the god whose priest he was. He brought into his own bedroom the statue of Pallas which the Romans worship hidden and unseen. Even though this statue had not been moved from the time when it was first brought from Troy, except when the temple of Vesta was destroyed by fire,the emperor moved it now and brought it into the palace to be married to his god.
But proclaiming that his god was not pleased by a goddess of war wearing full armor, he sent for the statue of Urania which the Carthaginians and Libyans especially venerate. This statue they say Dido the Phoenician set up at the time when she cut the hide into strips and founded the ancient city of Carthage.
The Libyans call this goddess Urania, but the Phoenicians worship her as Astroarche, identifying her with the moon.
Claiming that he was arranging a marriage of the sun and the moon, the emperor sent for the statue and all the gold in the temple and ordered the Carthaginians to provide, in addition, a huge sum of money for the goddess' dowry. When the statue arrived, he set it up with his god and ordered all men in Rome and throughout Italy to celebrate with lavish feasts and festivals, publicly and privately, in honor of the marriage of the deities.
In the suburbs of Rome the emperor built a very large and magnificent temple to which every year in midsummer he brought his god. He staged lavish shows and built race tracks and theaters, believing that chariot races, shows, and countless recitals would please the people, who held night-long feasts and celebrations. He placed the sun god in a chariot adorned with gold and jewels and brought him out from the city to the suburbs.
A six-horse chariot bore the sun god, the horses huge and flawlessly white, with expensive gold fittings and rich ornaments. No one held the reins, and no one rode in the chariot; the vehicle was escorted as if the sun god himself were the charioteer.The emperor ran backward in front of the chariot, facing his god and holding the horses' reins. He made the whole journey in this reverse fashion, looking up into the face of his god.
Since he was unable to see where he was going, his route was paved with gold dust to keep him from stumbling and falling, and bodyguards supported him on each side to protect him from injury. The people ran parallel to him, carrying torches and tossing wreaths and flowers. The statues of all the gods, the costly or sacred offerings in the temples, the imperial ornaments, and valuable heirlooms were carried by the cavalry and the entire Praetorian Guard in honor of the sun god.
The most sacred relics from the Roman religion were transferred from their respective shrines to the El Gabalium, including the Great Mother, the fire of Vesta, the Shields of the Salii and the Palladium, so that no other god except El-Gabal would be worshipped
After thus bringing the god out and placing him in the temple, Emperor Antoninus performed the rites and sacrifices described above; then, climbing to the huge, lofty towers which he had erected, he threw down, indiscriminately, cups of gold and silver, clothing, and cloth of every type to the mob below. He also distributed all kinds of tame animals except swine, which, in accordance with Phoenician custom, he shunned.
Many lost their lives in the ensuing scramble, impaled on the soldiers' spears or trampled to death.

Observing his actions, Maesa suspected that the soldiers were outraged by his eccentricities.
She told the emperor what it pleased him to hear, that it was clearly necessary for him to have time to attend to the worship and service of his god and to devote himself to the rites and revelries and divine functions, but that there should be another responsible for human affairs, to afford him leisure and freedom from the cares of empire.
It was not necessary for him, she said, to look for a stranger or someone not a relative; he should entrust these duties to his own cousin.
It was then that the name of Alexianus was changed to Alexander; the name of his grandfather became Alexander the Great, since the Macedonian was very famous and was held in high esteem by the alleged father of them both. Maesa's daughters, and the old woman too, boasted of their adultery with Caracalla, son of Severus, in order to increase the soldiers' love for the youths, who thus appeared to be Caracalla's sons.
On  June 26, 221 Alexander was then appointed caesar and served as consul with Antoninus. Appearing before the Senate, Antoninus confirmed this appointment, and all the senators voted approval of the fantastic and ridiculous situation they were ordered to endorse - that the emperor, who was about sixteen, assume the role of  father to Alexander, who was twelve. After adopting Alexander as caesar, Antoninus undertook to teach him his own practices; he instructed him in dancing and prancing, and, enrolling him in the priesthood, wanted the lad to imitate his appearance and actions.
But his mother Mamaea kept Alexander from taking part.  Privately, she summoned teachers of every subject and had her son trained in the lessons of self-discipline; since he devoted himself to wrestling and to physical exercise as well, he was, by his mother's efforts, educated according to both the Greek and the Roman systems.
Antoninus much annoyed at this, regretted his decision to make Alexander his son and partner in the empire.He therefore banished Alexander's teachers from the imperial palace; he put to death some of the most distinguished and sent others into exile. The emperor offered the most absurd excuses for doing this, claiming that these men, by teaching Alexander self-control, educating him in human affairs, and refusing to allow him to dance and take part in the frenzied orgies, would corrupt his adopted son.
The madness of Antoninus increased to such a degree that he appointed all the actors from the stage and the public theaters to the most important posts in the empire, selecting as his praetorian prefect a man who had from childhood danced publicly in the Roman theater.
He elevated in similar fashion another young actor, putting him in charge of the education and conduct of the Roman youths and of the qualifications of those appointed to membership in the senatorial and equestrian orders. To charioteers, comedians, and actors of mimes he entrusted the most important and responsible imperial posts. To slaves and freedmen, to men notorious for disgraceful acts, he assigned the proconsular provincial governorships.
With everything that formerly had been held sacred being done in a frenzy of arrogance and madness, all the Romans, especially the praetorians, were angered and disgusted. They were annoyed when they saw the emperor, his face painted more elaborately than that of any modest woman, dancing in luxurious robes and effeminately adorned with gold necklaces.
As a result, they were more favorably disposed toward Alexander, for they expected great things of a lad so properly and modestly reared. They kept continual watch upon the youth when they saw that Antoninus was plotting against him. His mother Mamaea did not allow her son to touch any food or drink sent by the emperor, nor did Alexander use the cupbearers or cooks employed in the palace or those who happened to be in their mutual service; only those chosen by his mother, those who seemed most trustworthy, were allowed to handle Alexander's food.
Mamaea secretly distributed money to the praetorians to win their good will for her son.  When he learned this, Antoninus plotted against Alexander and his mother in every conceivable way, but Maesa, the grandmother of them both, foiled all his schemes; she was astute in every way and had spent much of her life in the imperial palace. As the sister of Severus' wife Julia, Maesa had always lived with the empress at the court.
Therefore, none of the emperor's schemes escaped her attention, for he was careless by nature, and his intrigues were always obvious. Since his plots failed, the emperor undertook to strip Alexander of the honor of caesar, and the youth was no longer to be seen at public addresses or in public processions.
On March 11 222  the soldiers called for Alexander and were angry because he had been removed from his imperial post. Antoninus circulated a rumor that Alexander was dying, to see how the praetorians would react to the news. When they did not see the youth, the praetorians were deeply grieved and enraged by the report; they refused to send the regular contingent of guards to the emperor and remained in the camp, demanding to see Alexander in the temple there.
Thoroughly frightened, the emperor placed Alexander in the imperial litter, which was richly decorated with gold and precious gems, and set out with him for the praetorian camp. The guards opened the gates and, receiving them inside, brought the two youths to the temple in the camp.

They welcomed Alexander with enthusiastic cheers, but ignored the emperor. Fuming at this treatment he spent the night in the camp,but  the next morning unleashed the fury of his wrath against the praetorians. He ordered the arrest and punishment of the guards who had cheered Alexander openly and enthusiastically, pretending that these were responsible for the revolt and uproar.
The praetorians were enraged by this order and  wished now to rid themselves of so disgraceful an emperor, and believed, too, that they should rescue the praetorians under arrest. Considering the occasion ideal and the provocation just, they killed Antoninus and his mother Soaemias  together with all his attendants who were seized in the camp and who seemed to be his associates.
They gave the bodies of the emperor and Soaemias to those who wanted to drag them about and abuse them and  when the bodies had been dragged throughout the city, the mutilated corpses were thrown into the public sewer but when the emperor's body wouldn't fit in the hole he was thrown into the Tiber.
The praetorians then proclaimed Alexander emperor and conducted him into the palace while he was still a youth and still being given a thorough education by his mother and his grandmother.

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