This fellow’s primary appeal is his delightful name. Try it out; a phonetic rendition is ‘HELL ee oh GOBble us’. Some fun, huh? It turns out that this fellow was the worst emperor in Roman history. He came to power when a predecessor was assassinated. He was only 14 years old, but apparently he had already reached puberty, because he immediately set to work setting new records for sexual depravity. He retained a number of male lovers, but he also married women – five times in four years. One of his wives was a Vestal Virgin, whom as you may guess was supposed to remain a virgin, but Heliogabalus didn’t much care about violating one of Rome’s oldest and most sacred traditions.
He liked to engage in prostitution for fun. He’d set up in some sleazy area of Rome and try to entice customers; the money he earned for turning tricks was a source of great pride to him. What he didn’t know was that all his johns were setups, sent by his ever-helpful subordinates. It seems that Heliogabalus had a bit of a temper, and when he lost his temper, courtiers lost their heads, so they wanted to keep him happy.
He also decided to upend Roman religious traditions and promoted a minor Roman god to ‘top god’ status. He then forced Roman big shots to participate in the ceremonies honoring his god over Jupiter, the traditional Roman top god. They did not appreciate this.
This guy was so bad that his own grandmother decided that he had to go. She set up his cousin, Alexander, in a position of power in anticipation of ousting Heliogabalus. The Praetorian Guards, who made and unmade emperors, appeared to prefer Alexander over Heliogabalus. Upon hearing this, Heliogabalus stripped Alexander of all his titles. This upset the Praetorian Guard, who demanded that Heliogabalus bring Alexander to their camp for a meeting. When they arrived, the Praetorian Guard broke into cheers for Alexander and ignored Heliogabalus.
Here’s where Heliogabalus showed his social skills. Here he was inside the camp of the Praetorian Guard, and they’ve just cheered his cousin. So Heliogabalus ordered the immediate execution of all the people who had cheered Alexander.
Can you guess who got executed?