History of Rome podcasts. Episode 104 Here Comes the Sun was music to my ears, when Mike Duncan started off by praising the role of grandmothers and mothers amongst the Roman emperors (although I must admit it was not always to the good). The Julias had been part of the now-dead Caracella’s court and they had networks to call on to bring Caracella’s cousin Antoninus out into open opposition with Macrinus. Antoninus was part of the Severan family, and since childhood he had acted as a priest to the sun God El-Gabal – hence his nickname Elagabalus, although during his reign he was known as Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. But it’s easier to call him Elagabalus, given how many Antoninus’s and Aurelius’s there were. Rumours abounded that he was actually Caracella’s illegitimate son instead of cousin, and thus he had the support of the troops. Macrinus tried to win the troops over, but his envoys kept getting converted to Elagabalus’ side. There are differing accounts among the sources, but either way Macrinus ended up dead. Elagabalus’ mother Julia Maesa, who had been plotting away in exile, was very influential because Elagabalus was only 14. She insisted that she be allowed to attend the Senate (first woman to do so). However, he was pretty scandalous, married four times including to a Vestal Virgin, was probably transgender and even his Nanna turned against him, and decided to promote her other grandson, Severus Alexander instead. The two cousins were made co-Consuls but in the end the Praetorian Guard turned against Elagabalus and assassinated him. The lesson? Don’t mess with Nanna.
Emperors of Rome Really, with Elagabalus championing the role of the Sun God in Rome, no podcaster could resist calling the episode ‘Here Comes the Sun’ and the Emperors of Rome podcast couldn’t either, with Episode CXXIII – Here Comes the Sun (Elagabalus I) Most of this episode is involved with the death of Macrinis, who fled when he realized that the tide was turning against him. He got quite some distance, but was killed nonetheless. Historians have generally been fairly hostile towards Macrinis. Cassius Dio admits that he had his strengths, but says that he deserved his fate because he was ‘only’ an equestrian. Episode CXXIV – The Lowest Depths of Foulness (Elagabalus II) Elagabalus took the scenic route back to Rome, taking more than a year. He sent the people of Rome his portrait though, so they would recognize him when he arrived. He was only 14 and wanted to consolidate his position in the East, and needed to appoint his own people to important positions. Once he arrived in Rome, he started executing senators. Of course, Nero and Caracella had done the same thing but he took it to a whole new level. Worse still, he insisted on keeping his role as a priest of the Sun God Ela-Gabel, and built a big temple to Ela Gabel called the Elagabalium and elevated Ela-Gabel over Jupiter. Episode CXXV – Call Me Not a Lord, for I Am a Lady (Elagabalus III). Good heavens, this was rather explicit in a giggly sort of way. Cassius Dio had provided a lot of detail about Elagabalus’ sexual perversions. He justified marrying a Vestal Virgin (actually, he married her twice) by saying that he was bringing together Ela-Gabel and the Roman goddess Vesta to make little god children. In the end, he had no children at all despite four or five marriages. He wanted to castrate himself, and had a desire for a ‘hole’ to be put into his body (a vagina?) Dr Caillan Davenport says that in teaching about Elagabalus to students of much the same age, he sees him as a troubled young man, rather than good or bad. No wonder his grandmother was worried about him.
History Extra: I’m just about the last person on earth to watch The Crown. I’m up to the third series, with the Mountbatten plot. Did this really happen?? I went in search of a podcast to find out, but the closest that I could come up with was The Mountbattens: Success and Scandal. In this podcast, author Andrew Lownie discusses his book The Mountbattens: Their Lives & Loves, which looks at the relationship between Louis and Edwina Mountbatten. He gives Mountbatten a bare pass on India, saying that it was an impossible situation. The podcast didn’t really mention the Mountbatten plot, being more concerned with who was bonking whom. Although, he does mention that when some recent files concerned with Mountbatten and young boys became accessible, they mysteriously ‘disappeared’. As we have seen with the Palace Letters here in Australia, the Crown is quite active in protecting its archives.