Here comes the sun.
And the sun god.
And a dude claiming the name of the sun god.
This is turning into one giant stack of Russian Nesting Dolls.
Picking up where we left off, the throne has, once again changed hands and, once again, did so under fairly usurpatious conditions. It is now the residence of BASSIANUS, who started calling himself ANTONIUS, and now is calling himself ELAGABALUS. Best of all, Gibbon does very little to note that last bit. In fact, I spent a couple minutes trying to make sure that he didn’t time jump or that I hadn’t started reading the wrong chapter!
And of all the wordy names to pick! ELAGABALUS!?!?!?
Why not hyphenate them? Bassianus-Antonius-Elagabalus.
Or better yet, why not amalgamate them? Bassiantonilagabalus.
Still got nothin’ on Princess Angelina Contessa Louisa Francesca Banana-Fana Bo-Besca the Third.
I quickly gave up on repeatedly typing ELAGABALUS or having the clipboard loaded with that for copy/pasting, so fasten your seatbelts.
PART III AND IV!
Sadly for Rome, Elakshfbdishbsjbhs is about as good for Rome as you’d expect. He’s a disgusting undisciplined pervert who would fit in well as one of the kids in an edgy R rated Willy Wonka reboot. Life at the palace becomes a constant “WE’RE GONNA LIVE FOREVER!” primal scream session. Priorities at the palace? Let’s see:
“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.”
What might this include?
He used and discarded women incessantly (including kidnapping a vestal virgin for one of his wives), dressed up and acted like a woman, at one point acted like one of his wives was really the emperor and that he was the empress’s husband, and he became obsessed with food and had a reality show contest for the creation of SAUCE. That’s the short list.
“Secure of impunity, careless of censure, they lived without restraint in the patient and humble society of their slaves and parasites. The emperor, in his turn, viewing every rank of his subjects with the same contemptuous indifference, asserted without control his sovereign privilege of lust and luxury.”
Then the editors pull a bait and switch: he likely wasn’t quite as over-the-top as Gibbon paints him, though the records are a bit unclear. BUT. One footnote later they put Eisnflskdnfbcjxksmsox in the same sentence with Nero, Domitian, and Caracalla so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ . Sounds like very little actual governing occurred. Well, except the farcical wedding of the sun and moon gods which prompted a call for monetary tributes from Roman citizens to be given as wedding gifts. For the gods that don’t exist. I really wonder where that cash went. Right. Such mystery. Very wow. Reminds me of hearing from a friend about some shrines (I do not recall if they were Buddhist or Shinto) that he had visited where people can burn cash as a sacrifice…. or they can buy fake money from the temple to burn in lieu of the real stuff.
Anyways, Egosodvoejndcosdk spends time in total YOLO mode. So who is actually in charge? Ah. That’s a great question and it turns out that it’s the mastermind of his assent to the throne: Mæsa, his grandma. Knowing it isn’t sustainable and that Erugngdvoindjnf will eventually destroy himself, she gets him to adopt his cousin, Alexander. LOLOLOL players gonna play. So Eopfunvbcuadydr starts realizing that just about everyone likes Alexander better. And his jealousy and envy fuels multiple amateurish assassination attempts, which, hilariously, he’s so bad at that he mimics Joe Biden’s foreign policy of announcing attacks prior to them happening. Then he demoted Alex from the Caesarship, which went over like a lead balloon in the senate and Praetorian ranks. Result: Elwojabdihbeow had to beg for his life and Alexander got some great new bodyguards. A unstable truce, for sure, but a truce nonetheless.
But remember: Etiwhbksjbdijwk is an idiot. He’s a Santa Barbera trust fund surfer bro who sleeps on the beach and won’t work. And that’s a massive insult to Santa Barbera trust fund surfer bros who sleep on the beach and won’t work! This guy just wants to use, abuse, and stay the life of the party.
So he decides to test the waters of his popularity contest and starts a rumor that Alexander died. Result: attempted mutiny. I’ll leave the rest of the story to Gibbon:
“Provoked at this new instance of their affection for his cousin, and their contempt for his person, the emperor ventured to punish some of the leaders of the mutiny. His unseasonable severity proved instantly fatal to his minions, his mother, and himself. Elagabalus was massacred by the indignant Prætorians, his mutilated corpse dragged through the streets of the city, and thrown into the Tiber. His memory was branded with eternal infamy by the senate; the justice of whose decree has been ratified by posterity.”
Exit Emperor Eglaoeneoaownexhsinz (and his insane mother).
Alexander, taking the name Alexander Severus, became Emperor at age 17. Mom (Mamæa) and Grandma Mæsa (albeit briefly in grandma’s case) run the show, though. Ironically, there was also a law passed to block women from the Senate because Eiridbwowndjsks broke a centuries long tradition by making his mother a member of the Senate. Anywho, they swiftly move on sweeping out the special interests and the lobbyists and getting rid of Eorhekskcbdkelwmwmszk’s deep state. Notably, though this is not exactly the first order of business. In fact they moved on this after “they had purged the city from foreign superstition and luxury, the remains of the capricious tyranny of Elagabalus”. Everyone say it together now: politics is downstream from culture. And following this purge and culture reset, appropriate quality of character was once again made the key qualification for government and military work.
We now pause for a brief word from our sponsor.
I spent considerable time thinking about this statement from Gibbon, “a female reign would have appeared an inexpiable prodigy in the eyes of those primitive Romans, who married without love, or loved without delicacy and respect.” This was supported by a footnote that observed, “Metellus Numidicus, the censor, acknowledged to the Roman people, in a public oration, that had kind nature allowed us to exist without the help of women, we should be delivered from a very troublesome companion; and he could recommend matrimony only as the sacrifice of private pleasure to public duty.”
Where do I begin? What a messed up, pagan outlook. Of course, Rome was a seriously messed up pagan empire and, as I have mentioned in prior posts, this fact is one of the reasons that I don’t like the elevation of Rome as some pinnacle society worthy of emulation. It was a morally bankrupt culture that indulged power and glamorized death, abuse, and perversion. It is little wonder that marriage was reduced to the “public duty” of tolerating a “very troublesome companion” at the “sacrifice of private pleasure.” That is just the tip of the disgusting, rotten iceberg that is the Roman view of love and sex.
Let’s get this back on square one:
“then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”
“Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”
“The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’ Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
“And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Literally within the first 1,500 words of the Bible, God creates the family unit, the pinnacle creation of an entire created
universe existence. Later, Paul writes of marriage as the ideal image of the relationship of Christ and the church and discusses the emulation of Christ in Godly marriage:
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”
There is clearly something we don’t fully understand about marriage, but it is something that we have a glimmer of. I mean Paul calls it a profound mystery and he’s the one trying to explain it! But we know enough to know this:
- It’s important.
- There is divine purpose for marriage and God gave plainly obvious instructions for male/female relationships and how marriage should look and function.
- Whatever Rome was doing? Yeah, that ain’t it.
Bottom line: Satan hates women and does everything possible to contort and destroy the relationship between man and woman that God created and intended. It should never be surprising that pagan cultures distort this relationship at best, though the reality is often much, much worse. Women are treated terribly and abused… and then men are, too (Satan also hates kids, btw and will also do anything to destroy them). God’s design is ignored in pagan societies. And we see today that an alarming number of people are willing to go so far as to try explaining away basic, obvious, elementary biology to deny God. At the wedding of some good friends of mine about 8 years ago – a high-school sweetheart story for the ages – the pastor officiating the service talked about cultural perceptions of marriage and attempts to redefine and minimize its meaning and importance. Little could anyone have guessed how much the following years would live up (down?) to that observation.
I’ll stop there lest this turn into book.
We now return you to your regularly scheduled program:
Mother Mamæa set about to make sure that Alex was well schooled and virtuous, lest he go the way of his predecessor. Importantly, she was successful in this task. He spent his days as the consummate statesman, working with advisors and pondering Virgil, Horace, Plato and Cicero. He worked hard all day, then spent the evenings answering letters and petitions. He was surrounded by the learned men of empire. In other words, he got a classical education.
Interestingly, Guizot slides into the footnotes to rip Gibbon for shortchanging the impact of Christianity on this and the possibility that Mother Mamæa was actually Christian – or at least had tended in that direction. A result of this was that Alex actually created better environments for both Jews and Christians to practice their faith. Milman does jump in to knock Guizot for making an issue of this, contending that this isn’t an omission by Gibbon but rather a choice to discuss it in more detail in a later chapter.
Anyways, Gibbon observes Alexander reversed the extreme taxation that Caracella and his fake kid imposed upon Rome, after which the prices of good went down, prosperity went up, and Milton Friedman smiled. However, despite painting a genuine Bob Ross happy painting of Rome under Alexander, one of our editors jumps in to be like “but the endless wars and insurrections, tho.”
And Go Go Gadget “Guess what Gibbon talks about literally in the next paragraph?”
The perfect calm is disturbed by the military which he struggled to reign in. Eventually, this blew up INTO FULL SCALE CIVIL WAR IN THE WALLS OF ROME ITSELF. So much for Gibbon’s peace and tranquility picture, eh? The Praetorians focused their rage on the Praefect Ulpian, who was protected by the citizenry of Rome for several days until they grew to fear being wholesale massacred by the Praetorians and let him be captured and killed. Alexander… who was half raised by Ulpian and considered him a dear friend… really didn’t do much about it because he was timid and fearful of the Praetorians.
Yep. The military pushes the boundaries even further, though this leads to the ultimate Alex Severus mic drop. After some troops had been discovered in a women’s bathhouse, Alex went to perform some minor discipline but they started to push for insurrection. I’ll let Gibbon masterfully relay the rest:
“Their clamors interrupted his mild expostulation. ‘Reserve your shout,’ said the undaunted emperor, ‘till you take the field against the Persians, the Germans, and the Sarmatians. Be silent in the presence of your sovereign and benefactor, who bestows upon you the corn, the clothing, and the money of the provinces. Be silent, or I shall no longer style you solders, but citizens, if those indeed who disclaim the laws of Rome deserve to be ranked among the meanest of the people.’ His menaces inflamed the fury of the legion, and their brandished arms already threatened his person. ‘Your courage,’ resumed the intrepid Alexander, ‘would be more nobly displayed in the field of battle; me you may destroy, you cannot intimidate; and the severe justice of the republic would punish your crime and revenge my death.’ The legion still persisted in clamorous sedition, when the emperor pronounced, with a loud voice, the decisive sentence, ‘Citizens! lay down your arms, and depart in peace to your respective habitations.’ The tempest was instantly appeased: the soldiers, filled with grief and shame, silently confessed the justice of their punishment, and the power of discipline, yielded up their arms and military ensigns, and military ensigns, and retired in confusion, not to their camp, but to the several inns of the city. Alexander enjoyed, during thirty days, the edifying spectacle of their repentance; nor did he restore them to their former rank in the army, till he had punished with death those tribunes whose connivance had occasioned the mutiny. The grateful legion served the emperor whilst living, and revenged him when dead.”
However, Mother Mamæa didn’t do any favors by continuing to be as overbearing and helicopter parenty with Alex as she was in his youth. And then Gibbon smoothly morphs into a full scale history of taxation and regulation in in Rome? Milton Friedman smiles upon us again!
In short, Rome constantly see-sawed between regulation/high taxes and deregulation/low taxes and the contentedness and stability of the empire was typically connected with this. I do recommend you read Anna’s take on this as she has excellent thoughts on Gibbon’s discussion on taxation of so-called “eastern commodities,” a list that includes eunuch slaves, something that Gibbon observed increased in usage and value correlated to the progression of the empire’s decline. Oh, really? I’m shocked. SHOCKED.
Gibbon eventually swings back to Alex at the end of the chapter, but mainly focuses on the temperament of the Roman people and military. His conclusion: Caracalla and the impostor son Bassianus-Antonius-Elagabalus basically broke whatever was left of Rome. It caused regional class breakdown and essentially barred people from certain areas from aspiring to a greater careers and self-improvement, which disastrous results fair the empire in the long term. The average Joe became the barbarian brute, constantly upending order because of no where else to go. Pure, violent, mob rule. Seems like a reference to the ominous chapter end a few weeks back when Gibbon talked about people no longer capable of living with freedom in an empire so massive that is essentially a prison.
Fun thought, ain’t it?
Some interesting taxation quotes:
“That high-spirited people (such is often the generous enthusiasm of freedom) cheerfully submitted to the most excessive but voluntary burdens, in the just confidence that they should speedily enjoy the rich harvest of their labors. Their expectations were not disappointed. In the course of a few years, the riches of Syracuse, of Carthage, of Macedonia, and of Asia, were brought in triumph to Rome. The treasures of Perseus alone amounted to near two millions sterling, and the Roman people, the sovereign of so many nations, was forever delivered from the weight of taxes. The increasing revenue of the provinces was found sufficient to defray the ordinary establishment of war and government, and the superfluous mass of gold and silver was deposited in the temple of Saturn, and reserved for any unforeseen emergency of the state.”
“Notwithstanding the seeming probability of both these conclusions, the latter of them at least is positively disowned by the language and conduct of Augustus. It is not easy to determine whether, on this occasion, he acted as the common father of the Roman world, or as the oppressor of liberty; whether he wished to relieve the provinces, or to impoverish the senate and the equestrian order. But no sooner had he assumed the reins of government, than he frequently intimated the insufficiency of the tributes, and the necessity of throwing an equitable proportion of the public burden upon Rome and Italy. 961 In the prosecution of this unpopular design, he advanced, however, by cautious and well-weighed steps. The introduction of customs was followed by the establishment of an excise, and the scheme of taxation was completed by an artful assessment on the real and personal property of the Roman citizens, who had been exempted from any kind of contribution above a century and a half.”
“In the first and golden years of the reign of Nero, that prince, from a desire of popularity, and perhaps from a blind impulse of benevolence, conceived a wish of abolishing the oppression of the customs and excise. The wisest senators applauded his magnanimity: but they diverted him from the execution of a design which would have dissolved the strength and resources of the republic. Had it indeed been possible to realize this dream of fancy, such princes as Trajan and the Antonines would surely have embraced with ardor the glorious opportunity of conferring so signal an obligation on mankind. Satisfied, however, with alleviating the public burden, they attempted not to remove it.”
“To supply the deficiency, the emperor suggested a new tax of five per cent. on all legacies and inheritances. But the nobles of Rome were more tenacious of property than of freedom. Their indignant murmurs were received by Augustus with his usual temper.”
BRING THE PAIN, MILTON!