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Roman Orient


 A. Fabre                               May 22, 2002


 The story of Syrian emperors is a date, a place and a family



 Before, this is the golden age of Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius and after, comes an era of "Coup d'état permanent " ending with the Tetrarchy and the Orient  Empire

Some benchmarks :

            210 end of the Parthian dynasty of Sassanid Persia

            222: end of the Han Empire: Three Kingdoms

            220: start of the Ethiopian Kingdom of Axum

As central place : Emese (modern name : Homs)

After the Hellenistic period Seleucide empire, Pompey in 64 AJC, made Antioch (Antakya, Turkey today) the capital of Roman Syria and, when the emperor lived there, of the Roman Empire.

 Emèse, near the desert, was an important stopover on the route from Antioch to Palmyra, leaving  the Silk Road in direction of Persia, India, and China. The rural population was Arab, but the inhabitants of the city, especially the imperial administrators, local aristocracy, merchants and artisans were mostly Greeks.

As a religious center, Emèse was also a capital :

            The temple of the sun god El-aiagabal as the temples of Heliopolis (Baalbek) and Hierapolis (Membij) was famous throughout Syria.

            the ruling family, Samsigeramides had kept despite the annexation, all his wealth and prestige ; in brief, religious function as well as policy, was dynastic. One of their descendants, Julius Bassianus, high priest of Emese had a celebrated fate.




The imperial dynasty Severe lasted more than 40 years (193-235).

old family with many writers, poets and rhetoricians. Three main groups :

     Septimius Severus and his son, Caracalla and Geta

     the wives and mothers of the Syrian dynasty

      Syrian emperors, two cousins: Elagabalus and Alexander





Septimius Severus was an absolute monarch, strategist outstanding and ambitious unscrupulous

He had military career in the East in a civil war against the prefect of Syria, Pescennius Nigerum then against the Parthians. Commander of the Fourth Roman legion in Antioch, he meets Julia Domna, daughter of the priest-to Emese, Bassianus and going to marry.

He died in 211 in York leaving two son who will debvenir both emperors




 Caracalla (211) (188 Lyon - Carrhae, Harran 2l7) and Geta

the highlight of his reign was the promulgation of the edict which granted the Roman citizenship to all free men of the Empire

in 212, he murdered his brother and co-emprereur Geta but he must leave Rome where Geta was very popular: it will establish Antioch in Syria.

Leaving his mother, Empress Dowager Domna, head of the Empire, he led the war against the Parthians in the back country and Syria will perish in turn violent death, murdered by Haran pretorien Prefect, Macrinus





 Julius Bassianus, the high priest of Homs had two daughters Domna and Maesa



A married Septimius Severus, when he was only Libyan commander of a Roman legion stationed near Emèse. They had two son, Caracalla and Geta, emperors destiny, we have seen tragic.

Geta was the favorite of his mother, Caracalla was assassinated in front of his mother, the Roman historian Dio shows us Geta crying and begging "mummy, mummy, help me." ..

when Caracalla, his eldest son, was murdered in turn, Domna sinks into depression and soon to die (some speak of a breast tumor?)

Supreme derision: she had asked to be enterree with Geta but his sister Maesa has exhumed his body and reunite the bones to those of Caracalla.



Domna's sister, married an imperial magistrate Syrian Alexianus Julius Avitus, and had two daughters, and Soaemias Mamaea, which will become, respectively, mothers Varius (Heliogabalus) and Alexianus (Alexander Severus). She was also good at politics and "Florentine combinazione" of sorts that her sister

How to get rid of an obstacle on the way to the throne? Maesa, widowed and head of family, seeks to eliminate Macrinus, who succeeded his nephew Caracalla and was banished to Emèse with his grand-son and mother. tactics Maesa was simple but effective: it lived Emese, surrounded by faithful servants, and had free access to the temple treasury, while Macrinus, however, was, in the words of the military, too good manager not to say stingy. In May 218, Macrinus is executed in Chalcedon and Varius (Heliogabalus) became the first Syrian emperor after me scholarly maneuvers his grandmother


How to Become Severe when you are not? Varius and Alexianus were the only male members of the dynasty were but by their great aunt, Domna. After the death of his two sons-Maesa, with the help of his daughters, spreading the rumor that her young son were in fact illegitimate children born of Caracalla. in truth, the reputation Soaemia gave some bases these assertions ...


How to replace a small son by another?             On the death of Heliogabalus, killed with his mother 222, the rumor spread that the coup was mounted by the grandmother who wanted at all costs to get the other little son, Alexander, on the throne.




 Towards the end of the first millennium of Rome (218-235), two young Syrian of a family arrive in Rome: they will become both emperors. Children, they were very close to each other, their mothers were able to make mortal enemies.

Elagabalus (Heliogabal) (218) Varius Avitus Bassianus (Emese 204 - 222 Rome)




Or Varius Elagabalus? the name chosen by posterity, Elaiagabal (El Gelba) evokes the worship of Baal solar Emese says Elagabalus in Latin, Greek or Heliogabalus, "helios," sun. The proposed model was Varius Official Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, Emperor philosopher, author of Meditations was doubly fraudulent adoption, implementation of Maesa, but a reference to the annals severe. Septimius Severus, in fact, took the surprising decision to adopt posthumously Marcus Aurelius as his father, brother and making the Emperor Commodus. In this way, the son of Septimius, Caracalla, was able to receive the name of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus.

Varius means variable : In the words of the time, nomvéritable Heliogabalus, "Varius" was entirely justified: rebellious but true to its roots and  debauched mystic. A sculpture of the Capitoline Museum, better than coins, helps to understand the charm of this insolent ephebe. Today we would call charisma to the dancer whose life was a permanent theatrical representation ...

Vaius the "provo"? In the first year of his reign, at the age of 14 years, during the stay in Nicomedia (Izmit, Sea of Marmara) of the imperial family en route to Rome, Heleiogabale proves gifted to the scandal:

He began by refusing to wear a toga, wool gave him too itchy, or armor, it was too heavy and would not tolerate the silk to the touch of her skin.

He announced plans to enter Rome in long dress wearing a tiara covered in jewels and wearing the foot of sabdales dancer.

The day his mother's lover, Gannys, reproach him for his conduct, he replied, slapping him. Gannys out his sword, Varius apppelle with and killed by soldiers.

Heliogabalus seems to have always had a keen sense of theater organizing increasingly amazing shows:

   Free weddings men and women followed by union public : meal "coordinated" with dishes of the same color (white, black, or purple), surreal banquets for guests bald hernieux or blind prostitutes

The pleasure of the Emperor was openly to make scandal in the Roman society. He brings all the energy of his youth, the devastating acidity of humor and a morbid taste for "practical jokes" going sometimes to sadism:    older senators forced to dress in "drag queens" wearing fishnets and dancing with him or his acolytes troop ..To not mention : musical cushions and lions awakening drunk guests

Heliogabalus the Mysticl

The great-grand-son of the priest of Emese had another side of his personality, and he did not hide the taste of religion:

As emperor, with the burden of Pontifex Maximus, the supreme Pontiffe official Roman cult, he wanted to, by all means, impose Elaiagabal Romans worship the god of Emèse sun entering the Roman Pantheon, a higher rank than that of Jupiter or Neptune ..

There is little information about the rites of the goddess' Atagatis or Cybele Hierapolis in Phrygia (Asia Minor), but we know nothing Eliagabal dedicated to religious ceremonies can be sacrifices humans, castration or prostitution.

The main object of worship was the sacred stone, large black stone, a meteorite that Pliny ensures appeared on coins as a hive or a phallus. After the death of Heliogabalus, the sacred stone back to Syria, where its trace is lost. It would be interesting to find out what happened to this object yet indestructible ...

The tragic death of an artist : The popularity of Heliiogabale was comparable to that of our rock stars. However, the strange behavior of the emperor aroused, increasingly, mistrust and hostility in Roman high society, yet jaded. All  ends in 222, when Elagabalus and his mother were murdered Soaemias can be at the instigation of his grandmother Maesa who wanted to get Alexander on the throne.





Alexander's reign lasted three times longer than that of Heliogabalus, and in a very different style: could we say that perhaps, it was more interesting to be guest of Alexander than dinner Elagabalus with?

• Alexander was a young man (17 years!) Docile after the death of the grandmother, Maesa, power passed into the hands of his mother, who had dismissed the Mamaea wife Orbiana,

• the most necessary measures have been initiated with care: lower taxes, reassessment monnétaire, lending policy moderate interest. At the same time behaved military operations against the Persians and the Germans. improvement of living conditions of military

• However, the army remained hostile to Alexander and his organization assassinnat and his mother, Mamaea, during a campaign in Germany.

 Thus, the "enfant terrible" any objection had much in common:

            Both were sons of dominating mothers who brought them on the throne while they were still teenagers

            Bith died young, Varius at 17 Alexianus 30 years, murdered by their soldiers.

            their mothers have died with them and in the same way





• Emese will lose political power, except for a brief period when Uranius Antoninus wanted to take power at the time of the Roman anarchy.

We should also mention Philip the Arab (born Trachonitide, Saudi (beyond the Jordan, southern Damascus) in 204 - died in Verona 249) who had the honor to celebrate in honor of the 1000th person anniversary of the founding of Rome.

crossroads of major trade routes, Homs (Emèse) has remained a prosperous city for several centuries.



• Certainly, the time of the Syrian emperors is the kick-permanent state.

• However, this is for a period Syria commercial opulence, asset planning and development of agriculture

• reign lasted less than a half-century but it was the last of the great eras of Ancient Rome before the great schism of Byzantium.




Homs, epicenter in East Mediterranean civilization

Civilization goes Westwards journey from East to West, the Route du Soleil

Orient and Rome had the same relations together  than, 2000 yrs later, Europe and USA ?

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Date de dernière mise à jour : 15/07/2013

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