Gibbon; The Emperor Elagabalus

A rational voluptuary adheres with invariable respect to the temperate dictates of nature, and improves the gratifications of sense by social intercourse, endearing connections, and the soft colouring of taste and the imagination. But Elagabalus, (I speak of the emperor of that name,) corrupted by his youth, his country, and his fortune, abandoned himself to the grossest pleasures with ungoverned fury, and soon found disgust and satiety in the midst of his enjoyments. The inflammatory powers of art were summoned to his aid: the confused multitude of women, of wines, and of dishes, and the studied variety of attitude and sauces, served to revive his languid appetites. New terms and new inventions in these sciences, the only ones cultivated and patronised by the monarch, signalised his reign, and transmitted his infamy to succeeding times. A capricious prodigality supplied the want of taste and elegance; and whilst Elagabalus lavished away the treasures of his people in the wildest extravagance, his own voice and that of his flatterers applauded a spirit of magnificence unknown to the tameness of his predecessors. To confound the order of seasons and climates, to sport with the passions and prejudices of his subjects, and to subvert every law of nature and decency, were in the number of his most delicious amusements. A long train of concubines, and a rapid succession of wives, among whom was a vestal virgin, ravished by force from her sacred asylum, were insufficient to satisfy the impotence of his passions. The master of the Roman world affected to copy the dress and manners of the female sex, preferred the distaff to the sceptre, and dishonoured the principal dignities of the empire by distributing them among his numerous lovers; one of whom was publicly invested with the title and authority of the emperor’s, or, as he more properly styled himself, of the empress’s husband.

Gibbon; Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire

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4 Comments on Gibbon; The Emperor Elagabalus

  1. Ever since reading the novel about Elagabalus ‘Family Favourites’ by Alfred Duggan, I’ve had rather a soft spot for the fun loving iconoclast. He might have been a sex crazed, luxury loving heretic with a taste for vestal virgins but he never actually hurt anyone. His vices were private, his virtues public.

      • His successors went out of their way to blacken his name. Frankly, an Emperor killing a few of the political classes was part and parcel of the way things ran. He was peaceful and didn’t carry out any particular tyrannies against the people. What’s a few dead Senators between friends?

        • You contradict yourself. If killing people was ‘part and parcel of the way things ran’, how could it be used to ‘blacken his name? An Emperor killing senators was not part of the way things ran in the previous century. Herodian also says he killed many people. So what’s your big source of information to the contrary?