29 January 2010
A dedication to Elagabal by Alexianus (Römisches Museum, Augsburg)
The Syrian nobleman Gaius Julius Avitus Alexianus (c.155-217) is not among the most famous Romans, and yet he was one of the most important officials during the reigns of the emperors Septimius Severus (193-211) and Caracalla (211-217). He was the husband of Severus’ sister-in-law, Julia Maesa; the couple had two daughters, Julia Soaemias and Julia Mamaea, who were to become the mothers of the emperors Heliogabalus and Severus Alexander.
Alexianus’ own career is quite interesting. After the usual military offices, he was responsible for the food supply of Rome, and may have played a role during the coup of Severus. He appears to have taken part in the campaign against Pescennius Niger and the Parthian Empire as commander of the Fourth Legion Flavia Felix, and was made governor of Raetia. After his consulship, his career came to a standstill, probably because it was obstructed by Plautianus; after his fall, he occupied several other prefectures and governorships. There’s more about him here.
22 May 2008
Elagabal was a Syrian sun god, who was worshipped with rituals that are strongly reminiscent of the Babylonian Akitu festival. He is probably best known because an attempt to introduce his cult in Rome was made by the emperor Heliogabalus – whose real name was Varius Avitus Bassianus, but who was always called after his god.
His reign was from 218 to 222, and it is often assumed that he was responsible for the spread of the cult to other parts of the world. However, there is an interesting inscription in the City Museum of Woerden (Netherlands), that proves that the cult of the Syrian sun god was already known on the other side of the empire more than half a century before the reign of Heliogabalus.
It was erected by a soldier who may have been born somewhere along the Danube, but who may as well have been a native from the Low Countries. Here is the text:
|Pro Salute Imperatoris Caesaris Titi Aelii HAdriani
Antonini Avgusti Pii
BALO ET MINERvae
BASSVS Signifer COHortis
|For the good health of the emperor caesar Titus Aelius Hadrianus
Antoninus Augustus Pius,
to the sun Elaga-
bal and Minerva has
Bassus, standard bearer of the third
unit of Breuci [erected this altar].