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Bible Dictionaries

A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography

Elagabalus, Emperor

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Elagabalus. The short reign of this feeble and profligate emperor, though not coming into direct contact with the history of the Christian church, is not without interest as a phase of the religious condition of the empire.

Varius Avitus Bassianus, as he was named at his birth, was of Phoenician descent, and born at Emesa, in Syria, c. a.d. 205. His mother, Julia Soëmia, and aunt, Julia Mammaea, were devoted to the worship of El-gabal (=God the Creator, or, according to less probable etymology, God of the Mountains), and he and his cousin Alexander Severus were in early childhood consecrated as priests of that deity, and the young Bassianus took the name of the god to whom he ministered.

Julia Mammaea had eclectic tendencies, and by her invitation the great Origen came to Antioch (probably, however, after the death of Elagabalus), and was received with many marks of honour. Eusebius, who relates the fact (H. E. vi. 21), speaks of her as a woman of exceptional piety ( γυνὴ θεοσεβεστάτη εἰ καὶ τις ἄλλη γεγονυία ), and we may trace her influence in the character of her son Alexander Severus. [See Severus (2).] After spending some time at Nicomedia, where he entered on his second consulship, Elagabalus proceeded in a.d. 219 (the year in which Callistus succeeded Zephyrinus as bp. of Rome) to the capital. His short reign there was a frenzy of idolatrous impurity. His jealousy and suspicion led him to imprison Alexander Severus, whose virtue attracted the admiration both of soldiers and people, and whom, at his mother's advice, he had adopted and proclaimed as Caesar soon after arriving in Rome. The troops rose and rescued their favourite. The two sisters, each with her son, appeared at the head of their supporters, and the followers of Severus were victorious. Soëmia and the boy-emperor were thrown into the Tiber (hence the epithet Tiberinus afterwards attached to him in derision), and the senate branded his name with eternal infamy. Dio. Cass. lxxvii. 30-41, lxxix.; Herodian, v. 4-23; Lamprid. Elagab. ; Capitolin. Macrinus ; Eutrop. viii. 13; Aurel. Victor, de Caes. xxiii., Epit. xxiii.)

[E.H.P.]


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Bibliography Information
Wace, Henry. Entry for 'Elagabalus, Emperor'. A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hwd/e/elagabalus-emperor.html. 1911.

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Friday, September 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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