Heliogabalus (hēˌlēōgăbˈələs) [key] or Elagabalus ĕləgăbˈələs, c.205–222, Roman emperor (218–22). He was a priest of the local sun god, Elagabalus, at Emesa and was named Varius Avitus Bassianus. He was a cousin of Caracalla; according to the claims (almost certainly false) of his ambitious mother and grandmother, he was the son of Caracalla. He was chosen by the troops in Syria as emperor in opposition to Macrinus, who had killed and succeeded Caracalla. When Macrinus was defeated and killed at Antioch, Heliogabalus became emperor as Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. His reign was a tragic farce. He imported the cult of which he was priest, and Rome was shocked and disgusted by the indecency of the rites as well as by the private life of the emperor, who gave high offices to an actor, a charioteer, and a barber. His grandmother, Julia Maesa, induced him to adopt his young cousin, Alexander Severus, but Heliogabalus later tried to have the boy killed. Heliogabalus and his mother were murdered in an uprising of the Praetorian Guard. Alexander Severus succeeded.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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